How the Canadian Grand Prix got away from Alonso and Vettel
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Jun 2012   |  10:04 am GMT  |  144 comments

The Canadian Grand Prix was always set to be a close finish because of the nature of the track, the options for race strategy and the effectiveness of the DRS rear wing for overtaking.

And the data shows that the performance of the McLaren, Red Bull and Ferrari on race day was remarkably close, perhaps only a tenth or two of a second in it. The difference was tyre management and, more importantly, strategy.

Post race, Red Bull and Ferrari have been accused of making strategy errors which cost the race, but is it true?

Here is our customary in depth analysis of how – and why – the big decisions got taken, with input and data from some of the decision makers.

The race had three leaders, any one of whom could have won: pole sitter Sebastian Vettel finished fourth, Fernando Alonso led with seven laps to go and finished 5th, while Lewis Hamilton was the only driver to make a 2 stop strategy really work and he won.


The danger with doing one stop in Montreal is that, although you are in front of a two stopper when he comes out from his second stop, he’s on fresh tyres and with the DRS wing he will find it easy to pass you. However with a 71% chance of a safety car, which would swing the race to the one stoppers, it can be worth a gamble for midfield runners looking to make up places.

To gamble from the front row of the grid, however is a different matter.

Practice on Friday had shown the teams that the tyre degradation was not a problem and that it would be possible to do one stop effectively, even if it would mean a fair amount of nursing the tyres. However McLaren were convinced that they needed to do two stops, so it would be an attacking race for Lewis Hamilton. They believed that a two stop would be around 10 seconds faster than a one stop.

McLaren only really had one car running on Friday, as Jenson Button lost most of the day to an and oil leak and double gearbox change. Meanwhile Ferrari didn’t really do any long running, the longest run was a 12 lap stint by Massa, but this was punctuated by slow laps. And this may well have contributed to what happened on Sunday.

But the track temperature on race day was 15 degrees hotter than Friday and going into the race even teams who had plenty of data on the long run performance of the tyres could not be sure that one stop would turn out better. The only way to find out would be to try it and to monitor the heat degradation, because when it comes in with these Pirelli tyres it is very sudden and the lap times drop off straight away.

The rear tyres were the limitation, and the soft tyre looked like the preferred race tyre.

How the race got away from Alonso and Vettel and went towards Hamilton
The leaders got away in grid order with Vettel leading Hamilton and Alonso. But at the first round of stops, where they all switched from used supersofts to new softs the order changed: Vettel pitted first on lap 16, Hamilton on lap 17 and Alonso on lap 19. Hamilton jumped Vettel in the stops and Alonso jumped both of them. But it took Alonso’s Ferrari time to warm up the tyres and Hamilton attacked and repassed him for the lead.

So for the second stint the order was Hamilton, Alonso, Vettel. At this point all three had the option to stop again.

Only Hamilton knew for sure that he would be doing that and so, with clear air ahead of him, he kept pushing. He opened out a gap of four seconds on Alonso and maintained it. For Alonso and Vettel the problem was not knowing how hard to push, as they didn’t want to find themselves one stopping and have the tyres go off at the end, but equally they didn’t want to do too little and find at the end that the tyres still had plenty to offer.

Decision time
Hamilton noticed that the other two were not staying with him and asked his team if they were certain that Alonso and Vettel were not one-stopping. The team reassured him. This confirmed to Red Bull and Ferrari that Hamilton was stopping again and they will have recalculated their race model based on this information. It will have shown them ahead of him after his second stop, but the unknown was still the tyre degradation on this warm day.

In the laps leading up to Hamilton’s stop, Alonso’s pace was consistent; in the high 1m 17s and low 1m 18s. Vettel’s was a few tenths slower and he sat 3 seconds behind Alonso.

When Hamilton pitted on lap 50 Ferrari and Red Bull had a decision to make. Should they react and pit too? In Vettel’s case he would not have got ahead of Hamilton by doing that, but he may have got Alonso.

Ferrari’s decision was more finely balanced. As he came down the back straight, Alonso had a lead of 14.8 seconds over Hamilton, about the time it takes to make a four second pitstop. With Ferrari’s strong pit stop performance there was every reason to believe that Alonso would be at least side by side with Hamilton as he exited the pits, but more likely just ahead. However they knew from the first stops that Hamilton might be able to pass them again as they struggled to warm the tyres.

But they were concerned about Vettel too. So they did not pit Alonso on lap 51. But they had perhaps also taken their eye off the other cars coming through from behind, especially Grosjean.

At this stage Alonso could have pitted and rejoined ahead of Grosjean, consolidating his position. However they had some time to reflect, because even if they were to pit and come out behind Grosjean, the Ferrari on fresh tyres and with DRS would have no problem passing the Lotus on worn tyres.

The longer they and Red Bull left it, the more other cars came into the picture, like Perez, who’s signature strategy seems to be to get to the flag quickly on one stop. So even a delayed pitstop in the laps after Hamilton’s would still have given both Alonso and Vettel a podium, but they didn’t do that either.

This is one of those situations where it is easy to say with hindsight that they made a mistake. Ferrari argues that they thought they would get similar tyre performance to Lotus and Sauber and make a one stop work.

However what puzzles rival strategists is that by the decisive moment around lap 51/52, the other Ferrari driver Felipe Massa’s tyres were 40 laps old and already showing signs of going off. Perhaps Ferrari estimated that Alonso would have better wear, but they were looking to get 51 laps out of Alonso’s tyres, ten more than Massa had done to that point.

So it’s hard to see where their confidence to stick with one stop came from.

Even as late as lap 60, when Grosjean was just 10 seconds behind Alonso, the models showed that Ferrari could have pitted Alonso, who would have rejoined 5 seconds behind the Frenchman and on fresh tyres Alonso would have been able to pass him in the 10 remaining laps, as Vettel did with Alonso when Red Bull realised their mistake and belatedly brought Vettel in with seven laps to go.

Lessons from Canada
Grosjean’s result shows that the Lotus has the potential at times to do one stop less than some of its rivals and still be competitive. It’s weakness lies in single lap qualifying pace; if Grosjean or Raikkonen could start in the front five, ahead of Rosberg for example, then they could really make their tyre advantage pay.

Perez’ excellent podium again highlights his ability to keep the pace up while also protecting the tyres. It must be a combination of many details in his driving, that he has brought with him into F1, because Kobayashi in the other car can rarely stretch the tyres out in the same way.

Perhaps more worryingly, this was the second race which could be done by cruising around on a one stop strategy and although the climax was exciting due to Hamilton’s strategy, the majority of the race was quite dull and processional.

These cars and tyres work best in two or three stop races, where the drivers are able to have periods when they can push more.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli

Tyre Choices, Canadian GP

SS= Supersoft; S= Soft: N= New; U= Used, DT= Drive through penalty; (17) = Pit Stop lap

Hamilton SSU SN(17) SN(50)
Grosjean SSU SU(21)
Perez SN SSN(41)
Vettel SSU SN(16) SSU(63)
Alonso SSU SU(19)
Rosberg SSU SN(19) SU(38)
Webber SSU SN(17) SN(52)
Raikkonen SN SSU(40)
Kobayashi SSN SN(24) SN(25)
Massa SSU SN(12) SSU(58)
Di Resta SSU SN(13) SN(44)
Hulkenberg SN SSN(21) SN(42)
Maldonado SN SSN(29)
Ricciardo SSU SN(17) SSN (58)
Vergne SSN SN(16) SN (43) DT (47)
Button SU SSU(15) SSU(33) SN(52)
Senna SSU SN(23)
Kovalainen SS SN(17) SN(42)
Petrov SSN SN (18) SN(43)
Pic SSN SN (28)

RACE HISTORY, Supplied by Williams F1 Team

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

i really dont understand james allens conclusion here – he says that the race was dull and processional because they were cruising around and it was only 1 stop.

why does he conclude that the drivers are pushing if it was 2 or 3 stops?

the only reason why they 1 stopped in monaco and canada is because they could – both circuits have very low tyre deg, compared to any other circuit encountered so far.

but in all cases, the drivers have always been cruising around. Just because the races we’ve seen up to now have been 2 or 3 stops, does Not mean that in those races the drivers have been pushing.

They visibly haven’t been. And that is why theres an argument over these tyres.

This was actually the 1st race all year, where drivers COULD push – you had the option to conserve and do 1 stop, or push and do 2 stops – in that sense it was very much like Classic F1.

Hamilton had to push, to make his strategy work.

So actually i completely disagree with James Allens conclusion. It’s the other way around. More durable tyres have meant 2 clear strategic options. Less durable tyres means 1 very clear strategy, and dull racing where drivers aren’t pushing at all, in any stint.


Hi James,

From the data displayed during the race, it took an average of 21 seconds to complete a pit-stop. I am not sure how you are arriving at the 15 second window mentioned in your article.




It’s the difference between the time it takes to come in, make a stop, rejoin and the time it takes to stay on track and go across start line to Turn 1.


After the first pitstop I think it became clear that McLaren had got the set up and balance of Hamilton’s car near perfect for this race. That coupled with the fastest strategy (2 stop) meant that Hamilton was always going to win. A safety car of course could have upset the applecart, but it of course it depends when in the race it came out.

The middle part of the race was fairly processional, but Hamilton’s final stint made up for that. These tyres do mix up the order though as midfield cars are promoted with good set up and strategy, and front running cars demoted if the set up and balance relative to the tyres on a particular circuit has proven elusive. The car and drivers relative peformance becoming secondary to that condition means that the result is not always representative.


James – in my view since the end of refuelling in 2009, and race-lasting tyres in 2010, tyre information should be published post qualifying. In 2009 they had fuel weights of the Q3 runners. Why not do something similar (maybe just for Q3, or maybe for the entire grid) which tells people which drivers have used/new option/prime sets?

It could be as simple as just, SSU SSU SSN SN SN SU

or some such. I mean just saying which tyres have/haven’t been used. I think it’s only fair given that they used to publish the Q3 fuel weights in 2008/2009, and as consolation for the lack of running teams do for tyre saving in qualifying now.


Also, given that there really are two values for “top speed” of each team – I think FOM should release two datasets instead of 1 – 1 where DRS was used, and the other one is their non-DRS topspeed for each driver.

You could probably add in a simple telemetry filter – if the guy doesn’t activate DRS in any way after the last braking point, then the data goes into the non-DRS speedtrap.

Would you bring these suggestions up James? Pretty please?

David from Sydney

Hi James,

Just wondering, in Montreal we saw the soft tyres last in some cases about half race distance, yet on a circuit like Melbourne they only lasted a quarter of the race distance. Any explanation?


No long high energy corners and lower roughness of asphalt track surface


Hi James,

Can you please clarify how a safety car would have helped the 1 stoppers? I thought it would help the 2 stoppers as they get to pit while the others are circulating at reduced speed, then they get to bunch up after rejoining. As you pointed out, Montreal has one of the shortest pit lanes and is also easy to pass on, so surely a 2 stopper would have the advantage of fresh tyres and DRS to pass 1 stoppers after the saftey car pulls in? Add to this the new rule allowing lapped traffic to unlap themselves, would also mean less backmarkers between the leaders and 2 stoppers.




A safety car would have helped in the sense that after Hamilton’s second stop Alonso and Vettel could have pitted under safety car conditions, come out still second and third with the grid bunched up but on much fresher rubber to be able to attack for the win.


It would have to come in the first or second stint. An early SC period would mean the 1-stoppers can prepare their tyres for the upcoming brutality, while the 2stoppers will have less “racing laps” to make up the gap.


Why are the Red Bulls so slow (top speed)? – from the graphics they looked almost 20kmh slower than other cars.

Same max rpm, same size tyres – all it can be is shorter top gear – so its not ‘to get the power down on corner exit’.

Why make it easy for everybody else to pass you when they can just increase the gap between 6 & 7th (like everybody else)


It’s drag. Red Bull have chosen a setup that is draggier than other cars, but it gives them more downforce too, making the laptime in the corners rather than on the straights.

Bring Back Murray

Perhaps its time for Red Bull to have a re-think on this. They aren’t flying around at the front as regulary as they were for the last two seasons. They’ll need a bit more top end speed to overtake people!


The “X” factor in all of this was Lewis Hamilton putting in a really great drive. That cannot be discounted. He did an outstanding job! I wasn’t watching live timing along with the race but our excellent announcers on Speed in the USA kept saying “Lewis is purple in sector 1” . 5 minutes later “Lewis is purple in sectors 2 & 3” ect. You could see it too, on screen. He really pushed.





it Would have been nice if the article read

“How Hamilton/Mclaren won the Race” rather than how another team lost it.

Especially considering that even had Alonso pitted he was not guraunteed the win anyway.

Ignores Hamilton keeping Vettel honest in the first stint ( all Vettel Hamilton had little to do with things), Mclaren able to get him in front of Vettel or Hamilton, on cold tyres, keeping Vettel, on warmed up tyres, at bay.

it ignores Hamilton snatching the lead back from Alonso (if it was only down to Alonso’s colder tyres how come Vettel had not been able to do the same to Hamilton earlier?).

it completely ignores the series of purple sectors Hamilton kept banging in to reel them both in.

reporting the race from the perspective of other teams ignores Hamilton’s effort completely.


We did the race report on Sunday. This is a strategy analysis answering a question about Ferrari and Red Bull’s decision not to pit


Hamilton deserved the win more than anyone because of his overall performance this year.

Fernando was 3 seconds slower on his next lap after the pits while Hamilton vetted and even Massa were only 1 second slower.

At the same time the super soft was proving also slower from on its first lap. This meant that the undercut was impossible.

This also opened 2 windows for Hamilton to win the race. Stay out and react to cover only if someone else pits, or continue with plan A (2stops). But Ferrari and Redbull had only the option of a 1 stop race to win in case something bad happened to Lewis.. MacLaren seemed sure though that 2 pits was the way to go. Their pit stop errors also did not made them wanna try their luck.

So for me whoever came out in front after the first pit stop would also have been the rce winner.

Fernando lost as he failed to heat his tyres quickly after the first stop.


Hi James, Just to clarify did both Mclarens use different suspension’s?

As Jenson felt that the ‘electronic trickery’ used on the rear suspension to control the car’s adjustable roll control was confusing his feel for the car and causing him to make poor set up choices.

However Lewis’s car has a suspension set up that uses less anti squat built into its geometry. Therefore allowing his car to squat under acceleration and dive under braking to provide the driver with traction.

As Jenson’s car does not have the Lewis spec suspension, as he was trying to understand his problems during the last three GP’s. More important Jenson lost valuable time on Friday due to the oil leak on his gearbox and more work required during the whole practice session.

Now moving forward, I believe Mclaren will have solved the handling problems for race pace as shown by Lewis’s car.

Another key question James, will the suspension geometry be key in generating traction and to help with ride over tight corners, apexes, and fast flowing corners?.

Time will tell, as these tyres require a could sweet spot to work with as demonstrated with all the victories this year, 7 different winners, now who win the 8th GP?……

Thanks in advance.


Ron Dennis said both cars were technically same on Qualifying and Race.


It just seems strange that both cars were well off the pace, must be that Jenson did not get the available time to perfect the set up. But I do believe Mclaren are on to something with regards to the suspension setup i.e. to squat under acceleration and braking as seen by Lewis on Sunday. If the engineers can set their cars to the drivers liking i.e. to carry speed over corners etc and to minimise tyre wear but to slow this process down.



It’s believed McLaren was taking advantage of the production tolerance allowed for the floor – which has to be flat but which is allowed a few millimetres tolerance – by considering the splitter as part of the floor. The clarification put a stop to this. McLaren insists this had no serious impact upon the car’s aerodynamic performance, but others are less sure. Could it have allowed just enough rake on the car for even Jenson to get the front tyres up to temperature? It’s only a theory. But at the time of writing, theories were all even Button and the team had.’


Compare the last portion of the graphs for Vettel, Alonso, and Massa.

Red Bull pitted Vettel precisely at the point were his laptimes just started to flatten out. Ferrari did the same for Massa. But if you look at Alonso, his graph has the same shape at the end as Massa and Vettel in terms of where it first starts to faltten out due to tire wear. The difference of course is that Ferrari chose not to pit Alonso. When I was watching the race I thought it was unfair to criticize Ferrari as it was only with hindsight that it looked like a mistake. However, now by looking at the graph data I think it is clear that the info was there to show that pitting late would have been better, but for some reason Ferrari missed or ignored the data.


Thanks, James, now I can see the race a lot better!

“So it’s hard to see where their confidence to stick with one stop came from”

Ferrari [mod] greed, I suppose! They were suddenly leading the championship. I was surprised Felipe didn’t crash when Hamilton was getting closer to Fernando. LOL

What if Hamilton went for the super-soft on his 2nd stop — was he able to win the race, would the tyres have made it 20 laps long?


I’ve read a few articles analyzing what happened on the last 20 laps of the race and to me it was at the time and still is now pretty straight forward. Once Hamilton pitted the second time, he was almost immediately one second per lap faster than Alonso and Vettel. That should have been the only relevant indicator at that point as to what to do and the only reasonable answer was to pit again. Period. What Horner and Domenicali are arguing today doesn’t make sense.


perhaps so ; but they didn’t know for how long the tyres would be that fast as hamilton was clearly going for it

not that obvious therefore , as it happened hamilton was told he had time to cruise up behind the leaders , and the tyres lasted easily


Exactly. You don’t need an Einstein to figure that out.

Tornillo Amarillo

Hi James, can we have some more analysis about Grosjean? Why in the graphic his line is not falling down like Alonso’s?

And if the answer is because he hasn’t had a high degradation, why some few laps before the end did not speed up to try a win?


Looking in his mirrors to keep ahead of Perez?


HI James,

It was hard to watch Alonso 10 laps from glory. If Ferrari wanted to gamble they should have put Alonso on super softs. Whats your opinion on that move?


Spot on with the analysis James. And frankly I’m tired of Ferrari using hindsight as an excuse. At least Red Bull made the right call after. In my opinion, Ferrari failed twice. I’m not sure about fuel remaining, but Alonso was fast on super softs, so there is every reason he could have been as fast as Vettel and even faster. I’m no expert, just been a fan for a long time, and even after Vettel pitted I felt Alonso should have automatically pitted on the next lap. As each lap went on I still felt he should. While I don’t begrudge Grosjean and Perez, they were gifted podiums.


“So it’s hard to see where [Ferrari’s] confidence to stick with one stop came from.”

Maybe they thought Alonso would maintain the tires better than Massa at a similar stage in the race.

James, I’d like to hear your opinion on this. How do you think Gilles Villeneuve or Senna would have done with these tires? I agree that great drivers adapt the best but do you think any other drivers from the past would have done better with these tires?


Villeneuve I don’t know, great driver but before my time so no idea how adaptable he was.

Senna would have found a way, he was obsessive about figuring out the secret to getting tyres to work. He figured out a technique for getting the release agent (from when tyres are in the mould) removed before mounting the Goodyear tyres which gave him an edge for a while until someone spotted his mechanics shaving tyres…


Villeneuve for me was the best driver of all BUT for sure he would have struggled with this tyres because his way of driving was way too agressive/attack mode and “sliding”, something that he gained from his racing on snow…he was a kind of Collin Mcrae racing on a Formula 1


That is very interesting. Thank you!

"Martin" one time F3 driver

“until someone spotted his mechanics shaving tyres…”

As was common practice in 1970’s FF….


Great detailed analysis. I’m afraid whatever you say in defence of Ferrari’s strategy it was just a mistake, and that’s not hindsight talking, it was obvious Lewis was going to catch Alonso with a good handful of laps left from a long way out. At the very least when Vettel pitted Ferrari should have covered this off.

A question – would it be possible with the qualifying report to include a table similar to the one above, showing what tyres everybody used and (in the case of the top 10) will start the race on?

Bring Back Murray

To James. Exactly how many seconds per lap was Massa down on his prime lap time after 40 laps? Was it a noticable drop off in pace, enough for them to really anticipate such an extreme drop off in Alonso’s pace during the last few laps?

Great website BTW.


After 40 laps on primes Massa was doing 1m 18.8s laps. Alonso’s pace at that time was 1m17.9 on 33 lap old primes


“So it’s hard to see where their confidence to stick with one stop came from”

Exactly,that is my point. I believe Alonso does not want the italian media to kill the team and said what he said after the race to made it look like 1 stop was always their strategy. Congrats to RB for swallowing their pride and fix the mistake. In a close season like this 1 or 2 points could be what you need to win the championship.


Hi James, Strategy Report is a must! thank you..

We were told by italian tv that Alonso had a supersoft set with only a lap on it for the race. Do you think his Ferrari could be eventually faster than Hamilton’s McLaren with it on, in the last 20 laps? Thx!




James, once we had allready seven GP´s and seven diferente winners on seven pretty distints race tracks, can you give us your opinion on tyre managment and use of them in terms of the caracteristics of the asphalt. Because i´m not seeing proper diferences on the car performance in terms of the layout of the track, i´m seein much more diference and starting making a point if the asphalt is abrasive or smooth.

Thank you


Following a comment I made in a previous post, I’d like to say I loved the alternatives of the race and I’d much rather watch races like this being won by the same two or three drivers than six different drivers winning straightforward races.

The great trade off in racing, imo, is having the option to be slower but deriving some advantage from it, such as making less pit stops. It’s the old turtle vs hare thing.

I feel the old Indy/CART from the early to middle 1990s was great at that, with fuel mixture and turbo power options that would let drivers keep quiet and pop up ahead of everybody who pitted near the end of a race. And there was no huge difference between the cars, as the fuel load to finish the race was similar (the turtle might have a little less) and the tyres were also similar (the hare could have slightly newer ones).

With turbos and ERS in the horizon, introducing this sort of thing might be interesting. Perhaps reconsider refueling?


“…the Lotus has the potential at times to do one stop less than some of its rivals and still be competitive. It’s weakness lies in single lap qualifying pace…”

Surely both characteristics are likely to be dependent on the car’s setup ?

If they improve qualifying speeds, they’re likely to degrade their ability to run extended stints.

“Perhaps more worryingly, this was the second race which could be done by cruising around on a one stop strategy…”

Agreed. It doesn’t matter so much at a track like Montreal, where both strategies are feasible, and the interaction of the two can be compelling. At tracks where it’s difficult to overtake, then tedium does indeed threaten.

Perhaps the answer is to redesign the tyres with greater wear, but less degradation ?

The Kitchen Cynic

A one-stopper seems to be as much a Sauber MO as specifically Perez. I seem to remember HHF always cruising round full of fuel in the mid 90s when everyone else was 3 stopping.


HHF was great at doing this, shame he didn’t get the chance to win more.

I remember when he won the French GP, he had to save lots of fuel.

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