How Massa got second place and why Perez couldn’t copy him in Japan
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  09 Oct 2012   |  11:10 am GMT  |  62 comments

The Japanese Grand Prix this year was a fairly straight forward race, largely due to the lack of competition at the front, after Fernando Alonso was eliminated at the start and Mark Webber and Romain Grosjean were thrown down the order following their collision.

Nevertheless strategy played a central part in Felipe Massa’s break-though result and led to some of the other talking points of the race, like the Perez vs Hamilton battle and Schumacher’s challenge for points from the back of the grid.

Pre-race thinking

Before the race, the thinking was that two stops was the way to go, the main concern was the blistering of the Pirelli tyres, which does not initially affect the pace, but does upset the balance, due to vibration. The inside shoulder of the front tyres was a particular concern. Pirelli had brought hard and soft tyres to Suzuka and the soft had proved to be a second a lap faster in qualifying conditions and around 0.4secs per lap faster in race conditions.

The hard tyres were slower, but did not blister as much as the soft tyres and were also more durable. To make it to 53 laps starting with a set of soft tyres that had already done three laps in qualifying, meant getting to around lap 14/15 before the first stop and then two stints of up to 20 laps each.

Our Strategy Calculator tool had predicted stops for new hard tyres on laps 14 and 34 was a likely strategy and so it proved, although in some cases the first stop was delayed by a couple of laps thanks to the Safety Car, deployed for the startline accidents.

Simulations showed that two stops would be faster than three stops by 10 seconds, but teams were prepared to switch to three if the tyre degradation proved too much. It didn’t.

In the end, because of the two accidents at the start, which eliminated Alonso and Rosberg and put Grosjean and Webber down the order, the race was a foregone conclusion for Vettel and strategies were conservative and the stint lengths were pretty even. Also the Lap 1 safety car helped drivers extend the first stint by a couple of laps, which made a difference.

Massa: Playing it long pays dividends!

Felipe Massa had a very strong drive in the second Ferrari, starting 10th he finished in second place, his first podium for two years.

It was built on great strategy and a fantastic start, which saw Massa rise from 10th to fourth on the opening lap, thanks to avoiding the chaos of the Webber/Grosjean collision and the Alonso/Raikkonen incident.

Because he had failed to reach the final part of qualifying, Massa had a set of new soft tyres to start the race with and two new sets of hards available and his strategy was based on making maximum use of these. Thanks to his strong start he found himself racing Button and Kobayashi for second place and his new soft tyres gave him a tactical advantage in the opening stint, as he could run a couple of laps longer than Button and Kobayashi.

The McLaren was a little harder on its tyres in Japan so Button was in on lap 13, Kobayashi a lap later. Button’s pace when he stopped was similar to Massa’s and he believes that the team stopped him too early. He’s right.

When he came out of the pits he was behind Ricciardo in the Toro Rosso, who had been between 0.8s and 1.2s per lap slower than him prior to the stop. Another lap or two at that pace and he should have cleared him, but clearly the tyres were close to the “cliff”, so McLaren played it safe.

This turned out to be crucial because Button was 16 seconds behind Massa when he came out of the pits and that went out to 19 seconds in three laps, enough for Massa to pit and clear both him and Kobayashi who was also stuck behind Ricciardo.

New tyres for Massa at the start meant that he could run a crucial three laps longer than them in the first stint and take second place by running longer.

Massa was also quick on the hard tyres and posted his best result for two years, which shows that he hasn’t lost his speed. Perhaps his problem of the last two seasons has been more psychological.

Other strategies worth noting

Sergio Perez tried to do the same thing as Massa, running a longer first stint in order to jump Kimi Raikkonen. Although behind him on the track, the Sauber was faster in the first stint than the Lotus and Sauber’s strategists tried to run two laps longer than Raikkonen, who stopped on lap 13. Raikkonen was vulnerable because he had had to substitute an older set of tyres for the start, having damaged his qualifying tyres in a spin.

Sauber’s plan failed because Perez ran out of tyre life with the result that when he came out from his stop on lap 15 he was not only still behind Raikkonen, but now also behind Hamilton.

The psychology of being behind the man he’s replacing at McLaren next season was interesting and Perez appeared keen to prove a point, but he lost control of his car when battling with Hamilton and was out.

Mark Webber recovered well from his first lap incident with Grosjean. He finished in ninth place, eight seconds behind the fifth placed car.

Webber pitted on lap one for new tyres and then had the misfortune of seeing the race restarted when he had still not caught up to the pack behind the Safety Car. He was still 17 seconds behind the last car at the restart!

He effectively did a one stop strategy from there, using another new set of hard tyres at his stop on lap 26 and driving to the flag. This showed that the revised Red Bull is not only very fast but also good at looking after its tyres thanks to updates on the rear suspension and rear aerodynamics, which improve traction and reduce wheelspin.

Michael Schuamcher also had to come through the field from 23rd on the grid after a penalty. He started on new hard tyres and his strategy made use of the fact that he had two new sets of soft tyres available, so he stopped for them on laps 17 and 36. He gained 12 places, but the underlying car pace wasn’t there as it was for Webber, so he missed out on points. He spent much of the first half of the race behind Paul di Resta.

Thanks to his start, up from 23rd to 16th, Schumacher also avoided having to pass the Caterham/Marussia/HRT cars all of which Webber had to get through in the first 17 laps.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several teams’ strategists and from Pirelli.


S= soft; H = Hard; N= New; U= Used; DT= Drive through penalty

Vettel: SU HN (17) HN (37) 2 Stops
Massa: SN HN (17) HN (36) 2
Kobayashi: SU HN (14) HN (31) 2
Button: SU HN (13) HN (35) 2
Hamilton: SU HN (16) HN (31) 2
Räikkönen: SU HN (13) HN (30) 2
Hülkenberg: SN HN (13) HN (31) 2
Maldonado: SU SN (16) HN (33) 2
Webber: SU HN (1) HN (26) 2
Ricciardo: SN SU (17) HN (34) 2
Schumacher: HN SN (17) SN (36) 2
Di Resta: SN HN (13) HN (32) 2
Vergne: HN SN (18) SU (35) 2
Senna: SN HN (1) HN (16) DT (21) SN (34) 4
Kovalainen: SN HN (18) HN (41) 2
Glock: SN HN (20) HN (40) 2
Petrov: SN HN (19) SU (42) DT (48) 3
De La Rosa: SN SU (17) HN (36) 2
Grosjean: SU HN (1) SG (7) HN (22) 3


Shows the gaps between the cars throughout the race. The zero line represents every lap turned at the winner’s average lap time. Courtesy of Williams F1 Team

Note the enormous pace advantage of Vettel’s Red Bull car.

Strategy Insights
Strategy Briefings
Share This:
Posted by:

Add comment

E-mail is already registered on the site. Please use the Login form or enter another.

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

James, I’m surprised there’s never any comment on how ridiculously fragile the tyres are. The tiniest of touches and Alonso is out, and that spoiled the race and could determine the WDC.

Why do the rules permit such fragile tyres? It must mean there is more danger in the racing than there needs to be.

Why do the rules permit such sharp aero parts? If all external surfaces had to be a minimum 5mm thick and with a rounded edge, wouldn’t that reduce punctures? Cars would be slower, but same for everybody.


A question for you James Allen,

Who will be the winner of the race in case 2 driver crossing the finish line together.


I think it’s just McLaren using green and they DO seem to be on all the time. I haven’t seen any explanation for them though.

Even further off-topic: Is the tattoo that was evident on the back of Alonso’s neck as he suited up for the race, something new? Presumably the bulk of the design, whatever it may be, is on his shoulders/back. Has anybody got any info on what it is and when he got it?


Its a Samurai. He got it before 2012 preseason i think.


I cant get past that second stint of Webber’s on the hard tyres. 26 laps and look at the graph… he kept getting quicker and quicker…. oh, if only the first lap wild man hadn’t rammed him, would have been a great race


Off topic,

What’s the idea behind the green rear lights in some of the cars that I’d noticed in the past weekends? If I’m not wrong, I may have seen some turned on during dry session (maybe in practice,quali or race. Can’t remember…)

AFAIK, it used to be red and turned on only during wet races.

I may sound absolutely bonkers, but why green and not red anymore? Why dry and not solely for wet conditions?

Cast a light , anyone?

Adrian Newey Jnr

James – interesting that in other races, drivers with spare tyre sets (eg missing Q3) have been able to make the best of it. Clearly it also worked here for a number. Just not Schumacher. Even with a tyre advantage, is there an explanation for the lack of pace?


Any thoughts on Massa’s rolling start?

Tornillo Amarillo

I had the feeling everybody except Button settle their positions too early favoring “consistency”, too boring


James, I really dont get why Button came in when he did – as you say it was too soon – unless the tyres were gone. reminds of Monza a couple of years back where they seemingly lost a potential victory just by stopping and losing track position. Surely the plan would be to stay out as long as possible until losing ground?


Also, what about the Macca super computer that runs a million races to get the optimum strategy, perhaps they have so much tech thinking going on the plain and obvious get over looked?!


Ferrari has not had the best car for any single Grand Prix since 2008 except for the 2010 Italian GP. How many years have they had this wind tunnel issue? It speaks to a fundamental management problem and highlights just how much Alonso has contributed to any success they have had in the period. I think Vettel to Ferrari in 2014 does not make any sense for Seb unless he’s taking Newey with him. Vettel to Mercedes or to McLaren makes just as much sense as any other speculation.


No-one should forget that Hamilton could and should have won this race.

He just needed the fastest car and the race to be no longer than one lap!


I hope for Massa’s sake that Suzuka marks a return to consistent form, but we’ll have to wait and see. He did make the tyres last in each stint, which is the first time in the Pirelli era that I can recall him doing that while maintaining pace.


Would Mclaren have won the race if they were at the front?….the double DRS proved critical for Sebastian in qualifying and the rear suspension update helped traction to build a lead. However and a big if, what if the two Mclarens had qualified 3rd and 4th (excluding the gearbox penalty), I belive that with Jenson’s car Mclarn could have gone for a win or a second place. With the second Mclaren, we have seen after 20 laps the performance came back??? I am thinking of rear diffuser issue or suspension, as Lewis said of a large thud and then performance came back?.


There’s was now way anyone was going to get close to Sebastians Redbull he was a comfortable 1 sec quicker. Even when Massa made up ground he just up the ante and was quicker again. Traction + top end speed = goodbye. Especially given it always had mid high speed corner advantage which was why Suzuka favoured them anyway.


Perez had run wide to avoid the Grosjean incident. Then he tried an over-agressive move on Kimi and took another trip through the gravel. No wonder his tyres ran out.

And then those moves on Hamilton. Third time was a charm and he beached it permanetly. The Mclaren seat seems to have gone to his head. Never seem him drive so agressively.


Thanks James. Of particular note is the last stints of Raikkonen (22 laps), Kobayashi & Di Resta(21 laps) the consistency particularly good. The Lotus was a little twitchy all weekend and the touch with Alonso couldn’t have helped. I’m trying not to be the fan but this again tells just how truly outstanding a driver Kimi is- he was fighting that car all day and what’s more impressive -he kept Hulkenburg at bay in the first stint when Hulk had new softs on. Was it mainly high positive camber of many corners at Suzuka is what was continually causing the blistering on the inner shoulder ?-I’m guessing Red bull have found a way to run less neg camber by balancing the air flow through the DDRS on rear lower wing and floor.

As for Massa the best thing he did was avoid the first corners incidents which was no mean feat. The new tyres where always going to outshine those around him. I too was impressed by how he did not over drive his tyres -as long as I could remember – this was what has been killing his chances since Pirelli came on deck! I also think the biggest trajedy (with hindsight) for Felipe was sticking with Ferrari as clearly the loyalty- for both parties had hindered his ability (phsycologically &politically-ironically this is what got him in!!)) to perform at top level- I can’t help but wonder how he would have been in a Mclaren or even Lotus -guess we will never know only that he sees out his time improving like he did at Suzuka- Personally I would love to hear “..Felipe Fernando is faster than…” to wit he replies ” f/off” ) no offence to Fernando fan boys- only for Felipe!


Yes and no, did Massa really do that much in the race (after turn 3)other than get the correct pit stop window to pass Button and Kobayashi, which he wouldnt of if Alonso was on track? He did show decent pace, but as James said had new tyres! Agreed Alonso must affect his head though, good luck to him either way to be competitive again


I know this article is about Massa doing well, but I am really disheartened by Mclaren Strategies- they gave track position to Massa for sure, and possible lost us a very interesting race between Button Massa and Kobayashi


This race showed how much Alonso has affected Massa’s confidence over the last two years. One race without Alonso and Massa finds his form.


Not entirely. I would also suggest that Massa is in the fight of his life retaining his seat, and has driven the last 4 or so GPs accordingly. He has performed well not just at this GP but at other recent races too. It is in Ferrari’s interests to keep Massa in this mindset, keep him guessing, and offer him the seat again in another 2 or 3 GP from now.


I would question any driver who suddenly puts in “career saving” drives when his seat is under pressure. If you are only driving at 95% of your potential for most of the season and then perform at 100% when you are about to be sacked then there is a very strong argument that you dont deserve the seat at all.


Exactly & regardless of the reasons it’s been happening for 3 seasons not just this one.! It’s insanity I tell you


Actually, I think it is Ferrari. Remember Raikonen when he was a #2 in 2009? Once Massa was out, Raikonen drove in a way the simulators said impossible. Same with BAR when MSC was not around.

Ferrari has a unique way of destroying their #2s.


Exactly! And Ferrari’s strategy of putting all there eggs in one basket is going to backfire once again this year. Especially, when their ‘chosen one’ has started showing signs of pressure and pulled a ‘Grosjean’ on Kimi at Suzuka.


@thisisanitbsb- so true. The same way they destroy no2 they create a ‘god’ like no1 which is bizarre & I can’t wait to see them “fall on their sword” again this year as a result!- I never thought I say this but I don’t even mind if RBR win again.


It wasn’t just the first pit stop that was too early for Button. Had he stayed out a little longer before his second stop he could have gone on to the softs and really pushed Kobayashi in the closing laps.

Another overly conservative strategy call by McLaren


I missed the start & just caught a replay of the start.

What happened to Webber off the start? He looked to be going slow when he was hit by Grosjean. Was that an illusion or did he get a slow start?


Webber was slow off the line as per usual and fell to 3rd place at the first corner as Kobayashi moved in front of him. He seemed to be dropping back from Kamui’s banzai charge when he was turned and hit by Grosjean, who was too busy racing Perez to notice traffic ahead of him on the road.


Grosjean was obviously going faster than Webber, so the question is was Grosjean going too fast to make the corner, or was Webber going slowly? I couldn’t tell, but the general view seems to be that Grosjean wasn’t going too fast, he just didn’t anticipate Webber being in his way and didn’t brake early enough to avoid hitting him. If that is true, it kind of suggests that Webber was going slowly. The accident was still Grosjean’s fault, but maybe if Webber had been fully up to speed it wouldn’t have happened.


He was coming into the slower turn 2 and Grosjean was too busy trying not to make contact with Perez on his left and keep in front of him that he just completely ignored what was going on directly ahead of him and just took much speed into a slowing Webber.

Seemed to be just another case of Grosjean not being fully aware of whats going on around him and focusing on a single issue, rather than taking in all of the angles around him. As Johnny Herbert and Martin Brundle were saying..race starts are instinct and something you can’t really teach.


Did Kimi loose any downforce when he lost

that part on the front wing when Alonso clipped him at the start?

It was probably better not to change it but how much performance did he loose?


His engineer said, it was not significant. Lotus just wasn’t fast enough and more importantly in this case pit crew was not fast enough.

Got to give it to the McLaren crew, with all the fuss in the beginning of the season, they just keep on pumping light-speed pit-stops one after another.


Great report as always.

Love them.

I hear blistering every race weekend from teams especially on fridays then it never happens.

Pirelli said that we have one less pitstop on average this year. Pirelli has choosen very hard tyres second half of the season.

I think the racing was better first half. Now it is much more procedural and not much real overtaking on track.

The only thing that stirs things up is the first pitstop when the top 3-4 cars cannot pit and go out in clear air all the time.

I hope they have a solution for next year.

Tyres you can be behind a car without destroy them and that will degrade and cause troubles.

Now noone struggles. Webber did a onestop since he pitted on the first lap. That is the wrong way to go.


The racing in the first half was Hollywood racing with all kind of Pirelli gambles. I still dislike them as I dislike DRS as well. Too artificial for my taste.


Isn’t it amazing what Massa can do with a stable psyche and a little attention from “his” team. Ferrari take note, an on-song Massa could be a crucial asset in Alonso’s challenge for WDC. Have to give 2 thumbs-up to Webber & Schumacher, against the odds, both drove like professionals.



Nope,Massa lost his balls in Hungary.

He totaly contributed =( 0 )zilch towards

his team or his team mate since 2010.

His car was second quickest on the grid,his

quote before the race and after it, the car

was good, over all very happy with it,if Alonso

was in his place Vetel would not have finished

almost 20 sec ahead.

Yup,the weakest link Ferrari has, its Domenicalli,Massa and the Greek in design dep.

Come what may all three are gonsky by the end

of the year,come on down Flavio and Kubica.


Flavio at Ferrari? He’d be useless at Maranello – they are already well built on F1 politics;

Kubica at Ferrari? Unfortunately, he can barely drive a rally car – a F1 would be too much for his physical condition.


I agree wholeheartedly.


This is a great article yet again.

“The psychology of being behind the man he’s replacing at McLaren next season was interesting and Perez appeared keen to prove a point, but he lost control of his car when battling with Hamilton and was out.”

I think Perez went a little crazy behind Hamilton. An early suggestion that Perez has a few frailties in the ego department that need resolving. I bet the grin was crocodile-wide in Hamilton’s helmet when Perez went off. Not sure what Perez is trying to prove, the fact is that he has that drive next year because Hamilton did not want it. McLaren have openly said they did all they could to resign Hamilton – which makes a mockery of all the crazies that proclaim on the internet that McLaren did not want Hamilton. Why say you tried and failed if you did not want him in the first place? Why proclaim, as Whitmarsh did earlier in the season, that Hamilton would be in the car next year? Why would you want to get rid of perhaps the fastest driver on the circuit in the year that he has matured (on track) and not put a foot wrong? They’d happily manage the public side of Hamilton in exchange for his brilliance, after all they ‘exist to win’ right?

The battle between Button and Perez next year will be fascinating. If Button routinely outqualifies Perez McLaren will know for sure that they are not getting the best out of the car as Hamilton has tanned Button this year in qualy. However, if Perez routinely outqualifies Button they still will not be sure as they will be asking themselves, could Hamilton have gone even faster…..


McLaren was very early out to put pressure on Hamilton to sign for cheap.

Bad economy. Less sponsors.

Rates are going down on drivers.

He was offered much less than current salary,

less than Button now has.

They thought he had nowhere to go and was almost right. No spot in another top team.

I think McLaren offered a very good deal in the end but that was too late. He did not feel wanted or valued any longer. Maybe not true but still the same.

McLaren had the chance to sign him early and with no fuss but played hardball and lost out in the end.


I’m not sure how to feel about McLaren trying to build team around Button. Should have just paid most of Hamilton’s salary to Button to compensate for all the PR work he was going to do after they signed Kimi for 2013. (Kimi don’t care about money, thanks to Ferrari)


Bit of a point at the end about next year. It’s like McLaren saying, “What if we had Vettel in the car this year during qualifying?” Yes, over one lap, I think Vettel is consistently the best.


*Bit of a moot point…. [grr!]


Agreed! Get a room!




It’s true, Jamie, I do love you! There it’s said, I can’t unsay it – do you love me to?


I think Wayne’s in love


Yet Vettel is not known quantity to McLaren in the way Lewis is, is he?


It doesnt really matter Wayne, hes not driving for them, and what about the times Button outraces him, even outqualifies him? Hasnt he scored somthing like 4 less points in his time at McLaren which makes your points invalid really, good luck to both teams but Lewis is at Merc, McLaren have there 2 drivers

Good post about the race tactics as always, hijacked as always by more Hamilton trivia


The question mark is whether Perez offers anything very different to Button. Similar styles, only Button is clearly more skilled at overtaking. Maybe Perez can learn. But the fact is Hamilton is much quicker in qualifying (the fact Button outqualifies him once in a while really fails to disprove this fact, you must realize that). That means McLaren could struggle to get their drivers high up the grid, and be stuck using the same race strategy for both. They can at least adapt the car to suit both drivers better maybe.


I’m not sure that we know enough about Perez yet to predict which way it will go.

But one interesting thing : after all this time with the team, Lewis can still make a total balls-up of setting up the car (see Spa and Suzuka). Will Perez be better at it ? Perhaps the indicator of next year is here. I’m not sure we (= I) know much about his talents in this direction yet, or indeed how Sauber works in setting-up. James, please, do you have any indications ?


Button had a great year last year, no question. But was there really any pressure on him in the second half when he really took off? The DWC was pretty much all wrapped up already. Not the same as being that consistent when there is the DWC to fight for and potentially lose.

Ricky-Bobbyism’s: “if you ain’t first, yer last!”


Hijacked by Hamilton Trivia? Have you seen the amount of posts that a Hamilton article arrtacts on this and ever other site? You may not like it but it is a fact of F1 life that Hamilton is probably the biggest talking point in current F1. Right or wrong.

And I said Hamilton was a benchmark for speed – not consistency, so it very much does matter.


Yes, but all your stuff about Hamilton and McLaren is irrelevant to this strategy report. Hamilton didn’t even feature as a strategic figure! Hamilton has been discussed plenty in the articles on his situation.


True, a little off topic though imho, still dont see why its relevent, what Perez does against Button has nothing to do with Hamilton next year if there beating him or visa versa, its just an imaginary my drivers faster than your driver scenario


Perez ended up in the gravel because after catching Lewis unaware in the first overtake, Lewis was paying more attention the second time round and positioned his car where Perez would have wanted to be on the track – the middle of the road going into the hairpin.

Because, this wrong footed Perez meaning he had to change where the car was pointing and on top of that, later on the breaks. Perez tried well to try and hold on to the car and not take Lewis out – just didnt quite work out.

The boy has a fighting spirit but needs the experience that Lewis now has. Will be interesting watching Perez next season, but his move was far from reckless in my opinion – you just cant win ’em all!


I wouldn’t read too much into it. The curve before the hairpin is tighter than it looks on TV and it’s fairly easy to wrong foot it.


I can’t help but think that his fighting spirit (which is great and the sort of mistake we used to see Hamilton making in his unbridled aggression early in his f1 career) was fuelled a little more than normal though because he sensed an opportunity to ‘get one up’ on Hamilton and prove that he deserves that seat next year. He need not prove anything until next year when he is in the seat though.


I think several things added up to Perez error under pressure:

1. Kamui ahead on Q3 (have to beat team mate)

2. off the road on the Webber/Grosjean incident (remebering SPA) losing I think Felipe and Jenson

3. off line when fighting Kimi, losing Kimi and Lewis (just feeling stupid)

4. finding the car is faster than both Kimi and Lewis and not wanting to be stuck behind (becoming desperate)

5. pitting ahead of Lewis when about to pass Kimi and coming out behind them (pissed at the team)

And then with all this on his head he becomes overconfident: if I passed Lewis once I can do it again (underestimating competitors)

The fact that the passed, to be passed again car was Lewis only made matters worse

I think it was a big error in the sense that this was a track to collect points (10 would be fine) instead of trying to win

He would have held his 9th place in the standings and Sauber would be really close to Mercedes

I do hope he learns from it for McLarens’ sake

Top Tags
SEARCH Strategy