Could Alonso and Ferrari have won Silverstone with better race strategy?
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Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  10 Jul 2012   |  12:51 pm GMT  |  110 comments

The British Grand Prix was a tense strategic battle between Red Bull and Ferrari. They went different ways on race strategy and ultimately Red Bull prevailed, Webber passing Alonso five laps from the end. So could Alonso and Ferrari have held on for the win if they had played the strategy differently? That’s one of the questions we’ll be addressing.

The challenge of McLaren was blunted again, Lewis Hamilton losing ground on his championship rivals while Lotus again scored strongly with both cars as Grosjean did a unique strategy on Sunday.

Background to the race

Heavy rain during practice and qualifying days had left the teams with very little information about how the tyres would perform on race day. There was only the one hour practice on Saturday morning to go on and this showed that on a cold track surface the soft compound tyre was graining badly (the top surface of the rubber rolling up) so Ferrari in particular were wary about it on race day.

The weather was very erratic all weekend and it stayed dry for the race, against expectations. Many teams including Mercedes and McLaren had planned for a wet race. Although the track temperature was shown as above 24 degrees, the ground was still too cold to get the soft tyre working well and the hard compound turned out to be the better race tyre. The key to doing well in the race, then, was to manage the soft tyre.


Could Alonso have won the race with different strategy?

Ferrari and Alonso were wise to start with the hard tyre, as it proved the best tyre to race on. They started out wanting to minimise the time spent on the soft tyre and as soon as the tyre covers came off on the grid it was clear what the pattern of the race would be. Alonso would run two stints on hard tyres and a short final stint on softs, Webber would do the opposite; an opening stint on soft and then two longer stints on hard.

Alonso’s race would be dictated by keeping the soft tyre stint to a minimum at the end, while Webber’s would be all about staying in touch with Alonso in the opening stint and then coming on strong at the end.

Ferrari had another weapon at their disposal; they sent Massa out on softs for the first stint, so they would have data on tyre performance. This turned out to be less helpful than imagined…

Massa’s first stint was 13 laps during which time the team came to believe that the soft tyres were not as bad as expected. This would prove crucial later in the race, as it meant that Alonso committed to a 15 lap final stint on softs. Had he pitted a couple of laps later on each of his first two stops, he probably would not have lost the lead at the end. Without that data they would have been more inclined to stay off the soft tyre and would have done a strategy, which might have brought Alonso the win.

Alonso built a lead of five seconds over Webber and when the Australian stopped on lap 14, Alonso went just one lap longer. His pace on the hard tyres was still good, he set a couple of quick laps before his stop on lap 15, certainly comparable with Webber’s first two or three laps on new hard tyres in the second stint. So there was margin there to play with.

The gap between them was maintained at five seconds throughout the middle stint. Webber pitted again on lap 33, which left him with 19 laps to go to the finish on another set of hard tyres.

Alonso stayed out four more laps, pitting on lap 37 with a lead of four seconds to protect in the final stint. Although Webber had a couple of faster laps than Alonso before the Ferrari stop, Alonso again was able to find speed from the used hard tyres prior to his stop and another lap would have been possible. With two or three more laps in the opening stint and another lap in the second, this would have put him back out on track after a stop on lap 41 with a small margin over Webber, but just 10 or 11 laps to do on soft tyres to the finish. On this basis he would probably have been able to hold onto the lead to the end. Alternatively, he could have done what Hamilton did and run a short middle stint on softs of no more than 10 laps, reacted to Webber’s stop on lap 33 and finished on the same hard tyres as the Red Bull driver.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially the day after the Grand Prix when one can look at all the what-ifs. Ferrari and Alonso have done brilliantly to lead the championship at this stage and Silverstone was their strongest points haul of the season, with a fine fourth place for Massa. They move into second place in the Constructors’ Championship.

They have made a few strategic mistakes this season which have cost Alonso points, but on the whole they’ve been consistent in taking their opportunities. However there’s no getting away from the fact that, although their hunch at the start was correct that the hard was the better race tyre, there was definitely a win to be had on Sunday with a slightly more imaginative approach to the soft tyre in race strategy.


Doing things differently: Hamilton and Grosjean

There were two other interesting strategies on Sunday from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Lotus F1’s Romain Grosjean, which also shed light on what might have been for Alonso.

Both teams decided early on, like Ferrari that the hard tyre would be the faster race tyre. Hamilton, like Alonso, started on it, while Grosjean was involved in a first lap incident with Vettel and had to pit on lap two. He went to the hard tyre and then did the whole race on it, with only one further stop, So essentially he did a one stop strategy. He did a 24 lap stint and a 26 lap stint on it and was competitive. He was 22nd and last on lap 3, but came through to finish 6th behind his team mate Raikkonen, who had raced with Vettel and Massa. On lap 50, his tyres 24 laps old, he set the second fastest lap of the race.

It was another stunning performance by Grosjean and an illustration of the pace and durability of the hard Pirelli tyre, as well as the Lotus’ ability to find great race pace. With better qualifying performance, they would have a car capable of winning races.

Hamilton went for a hard/soft/hard strategy and did a long first stint, which appeared to have got him into a position to race Grosjean for sixth. He got the soft tyre out of the way with a short middle stint, but he didn’t have the pace in the final stint and faded. McLaren have problems balancing front and rear tyre temperatures and it’s costing them badly.

SILVERSTONE TYRE CHOICES

Webber: SN, HN(14) HN(33)
Alonso : HN, HN(15), SN(37)
Vettel: SN, HN(10), HN(37)
Massa: SN, HN (13), HN (35)
Raikkonen: SN, HN(13), HN (34)
Grosjean: SN, HN(2), HN(26)
Schumacher: SN, HN(12), HN (34)
Hamilton HN, SN (21), HN (28)
Senna: SN, HN (14) HN (30)
Button: HN, SN (16), HN (31)
Kobayashi: HN, HN(16) SN(37)
Hulkenberg HN, HN (16), SN(35)
Ricciardo: HN, SN(16), HN (29)
Vergne: SN, HN (14), HN (32)

Rosberg: HN, HN (15), SN (37)
Maldonado: SN, HN (11), HN (12)
Kovalainen: SN, HN(12), HN(29)
Glock HN, HN(18), SN(38)
Pic: SN, HN (13), HN (32)
De la Rosa: SN, SN(27)
Kartikeyan HN, HN(16), SN(35)

Perez: SN, HN (11) – Retired
Di Resta: SN, HN(1) – Retired
Petrov: Did Not Start

S= Soft; H=Hard; N=New; U= Used;

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

RACE HISTORY GRAPH
Kindly provided by Williams F1 Team

Notice the pace Alonso has at the end of the first and second stints and the margin he has over Webber at the first and second stops.

Note also the way Webber catches Alonso in the final stint.

Note Hamilton’s lack of pace from the outset of the final stint on hard tyres. Compare that with Grosjean’s pace on hard tyres throughout the race

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1

I just watched the race a 2nd time, I wounder why Ferrari did not ask Massa to stay out longer before changing tyres for his last stint.

Webber was behind Massa by about 4 seconds and gaining fast.

He could have delayed Webber by a few seconds to help Alonso maintain the lead.

2

James,

What’s the insiders’ review, Ferrari’s boost in Silverstone (that Massa’s pace proved too) had more relation to sheer upgrades or to the weather/track temperature&conditions, or both of these factors?

3

Upgrades, set up and also some clever stuff to FI with front tyre warm up.

4
Steven Pritchard

As I’ve commented before… Mclaren have experienced issues since they changed their nose. Why fix something that isn’t broken!

5

James,

What’s the insiders’ review, Ferrari’s boost in Silverstone (that Massa’s pace proved too) had had more relation to sheer upgrades or to the weather/track temperature&conditions, or both of these factors?

6

Im looking at the chart above and wondering why Grosjean’s performance was PRed as a comeback from P22. He had this early pit but it turned out to be a better strategy. He had clean track to race on better tires for most of the race. Look where he ended up after the first wave of stops. Thats what one should look at. The issue here was that tires could not last till the end but primes proved to be so good, they definitely took the beating. I wonder if Lotus pitted Raikkonen on lap 7-8 where would they end up.

7

They are leading the championship in a sub par car and you want heads to roll ?

8

James, can you tell me who had the fastest pit stops?

9

McLaren

10

For the Championship 2nd place is good. With hindsight you can always say a) they should started the race with the soft tyres or b) they could have stayed out longer with the harder ones.

The right question to ask at this time would be: Why did Red Bull think it’s best to get rid of the softs as quickly as possible and Ferrari didn’t? And also: Was it a gamble or not?

Fact is that Mark said he realised he could pass Alonso only when he was 2,5 sec behind. This means they didn’t know until then.

11

Think that’s the 3rd time this year that Ferrari lost Alonso points by stopped on tires that were still doing fine. This race, Canada, and one other.

Why stop 1 or 2 laps after Massa on far more durable tires that were still doing fine? And it made more sense to me to get the softs out of the way in the middle stint — just until they started going off the cliff. Then there would be no need to risk repeating Canada.

Like in 2010, were they so busy “covering” Webber that they blew the overall strategy?

12

You should consider that as much as pit wall Alonso has a say about strategy they are fallowing during the races (fact). There for one can not go very harsh about pit wall.

13

I would like to know why Vettel was so slow compared to Mark this race. Was it down to losing a piece of his front wing with Massa or his tussle with romain

14

Webber qualified 2nd, Vettel 4th.

15

The problem for Lotus is that they keep getting stuck behind a slow McLaren or Mercedes in the opening stints of races or a Maldonado that blocks or runs you off the road in the first few corners, thus ruining their chances for victory.

Their up and down quali performances are compounded by bad luck as well, like Raikonnen’s KERS failure, or Grosjean missing Q3.

They just can’t seem to put a clean weekend together, otherwise I think they have the second fastest car!

16

How does a major player like Ferrari get it wrong, time and again without a big personnel shake up? This race seemed so Canada re dux.

17

This time, I do not think it is so super clear what was a better strategy. If it would rain in the middle of the race, Ferrari would come on top and you would say they are the best….it did not work this time. In Valencia, the strategy was identical to Canada and yet Alonso won. So….it is not all straight forward.

18

James

A bit off topic and might be worth a story another day, but just a few ?’s about tyres in F1

– Once in the garages, do the tyres now belong to the teams or do Pirelli retain ownership at all times?

– I know all the teams have a Pirelli guy in their garage, but is that guy loyal to the team 1st or Pirelli? By that I mean if a team discovers something about the tyres performance that other teams might not know, will the Pirelli guy share it with all the other Pirelli guys?

– If that’s the case, do teams ever try to keep discoveries from the Pirelli guy?

– Do the Pirelli guys compete with each other? Or are they just expected to share everything at all times about tyres?

Thanks

19

1. Pirelli

2. They work for Pirelli, but have a liaison role with the team

They share data, but there is inevitably some excitement about winning with your team. But as they win anyway as a company it’s not such a huge thing

20
pear-shaped pete

Well I have sympathy for the Red team. I suppose it’s basically calculated gamble for Ferrari (and others). Do you cover off? Webber had to cover off Vettel, Ferrari had a simple choice. Although there was some margin,they chose “safer” way. We would criticize if it turned out they gave up track position easily, no?

And whilst the soft tyres were lousy all day, I understand Alonso did his fastest lap after Webber passed him! I know low fuel, but wow!

cheers

pear-shaped pete

21

Sometimes two same set of tyres may not perform as expected.

This may be the simple reason why Alonso could not hold his position.

Massa did not struggle with soft tyres as much as Alonso. There may be some set up differences between Alonso and Massa but also what Hamilton said after the race was interesting.

He said with the 2nd set of hard tyres he was not as fast as the first set hard tyres.

Actually it is a very complicated thing (especially tyre performance) and no one can know better than teams. Sometimes even producer of tyres are clueless.

22

I wonder if it’s because a light fuel load was too gentle on the tires to get them properly up to temperature.

23

I suspect Red Bull knew that they were in with a chance (given no rain) after the first half-dozen laps when Webber R-B Softs couldn’t challenge the Ferrari Hards but could keep up with it. That meant when the roles were reversed the R-B on Hards was likely to run-over the Ferrari on Softs. It is also likely that Ferrari were well aware of that possibility – hence their side bet on rain (that didn’t eventuate).

Classic F1 racing.

I can understand why Mark Webber would stay at Red-Bull – but I’d like to see him in a Ferrari on day.

Just hope he continues to get his share of the good bits (and magic-dusted tyres)for the rest of the season.

24

Vettel was the first of the front runners who made the first pit stop. And this earned him 3rd place.

I heard a guy from Pirelli on Friday saying that the hard tyers could las up to 6o laps. Have the teams taken notice of that?

25

I think romain was definitely listening.

26

James, if you have to say, who has the last word if a driver and team don’t agree about which tyre or strategy they will go for? I mean in a case like this,a double world champion and not a rookie.

27

Varies. Driver has a feel but team has data

28

I don’t think it’s fair to judge Ferrari’s strategy with the benefit of hindsight since they had race tested the option tyre by running Massa on it earlier in the race.

If any criticism is due, then maybe Pirelli should be taking it, for producing a tyre which is downright perverse at times.

MvLaren are in a tough spot. they lost one GP’s testing opportunity owing to the weather, and are not only therefore an upgrade behind their competition (who brought upgrades to the previous GP), but also don’t seem to understand their current car.

If it rains again in Germany (and the weather at the moment looks similar to ours), then they are in real trouble.

29

James, do you feel that Mclaren were running a wet set up, as both drivers were not fast?. Another point why did Hamilton do a short run on the hard tyre during the start, OR why didn’t they run a short soft come in lap 18, soft and then Hards?. I feel Mclaren cannot get the tyres to work or like you said getting heat at either front or at the rears. I believe a raft of upgrades are needed to sweet talk the tyres. Thank you.

30

I don’t think you look at wet set up any more in terms of downforce, as the cars are close to max downforce most places now with the DRS etc.

It’s more about the mechanical side, car balance, switching the tyres on

31

I understand that for many of its fans Ferrari lost the win. Look. For one 2nd is not too bad as a result.Two, how can we be sure the adjusted strategy as recommended by many here would have kept FA up front? Of course we can’t be sure. To me in some case you can say: The team got it wrong!. But here it seems, while the improved strategy could do the job, it would have been very close. MW would still have had a chance at FA.

I feel that Lotus is toying with our expectations. It seems to show that it has what it takes to go top but, can’t seem to string up a whole week end together. I want very much to see it happen in the hands of either driver, although I would enjoy that win much more with RG at the wheel. So glad it got a second chance in F1.

Bit long but last. I hope MC Laren will find a way out of the hole it finds itself in. To have started the season as they did and find themselves in this position now, is unworthy of them.

Plus if they emerge again, it would mean more contenders to the throne.

Marc

32

I agree to an extent with jayteeniftb above.

Has it been underplayed that Lotus could be in a much better position?

Or are they actually doing well? Seems a shame that Kimi seems to point out that he has better pace, but too late in the race. Don’t hear much about their strategy calls.

They were always on the ball when it was Symonds/Briatore (+Piquet Jnr!)….

33

Interesting point about the Lotuses and their qualifying.

I’ve always wondered how Kimi somehow always manages to set the fastest race lap (or close too it), yet can’t qualify better in the same car, on newer tires, with the same if not less fuel, the day before.

He used to do that fastest lap trick in the dog of the Ferrari too in 2008. At that time everyone looked on as proof of his lack of motivation and not lack of speed.

Regardless, it’s interesting how it seems that he is basically a one lap specialist, just not in qualifying.

34

Dog car?

Actually F2008 was the fastest car of the season in most races which let Massa to challenge for wdc.

35

I wouldn’t say he is a one lap specialist. For example, at Silverstone he was banging (together with Romain) fastest laps all the time. His problem in qualifying is that he is not able to heat up the tires fast enough, within the one warm-up lap. In race, this is not a problem.

36

Oh by the way, was listening to James on 5 live extra on my radio at the track.

The difference between the jokers on Silverstone TV/radio (my wife was listening to) was stark.

I’m sure broadcasting rights issues could be resolved and Silverstone would benefit the fans from transmitting BBC radio coverage during the race.

The only difficulty I had was because it was on my phone there was about a 30 second delay, so I’d seen overtaking moves on the big screen and James was describing them half a minute later.

However, it didn’t matter for 95% of the time as the discussions and debates taking place were not time specific. Great Job James.

37

Thanks. Really enjoyed the work this weekend on 5 Live

38
Pulkit Tripathi

Hi James, What is the problem with Lotus team? is that after 2006 they didn’t had the opportunity of these racing conditions? why they have this mistake of tyre choice- pit stop- race strategy

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