Was Vettel “lucky” in Abu Dhabi? Race Strategy Analysis
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  06 Nov 2012   |  4:29 pm GMT  |  290 comments

Safety cars in Abu Dhabi are a rare occurrence, but Fernando Alonso has reason to curse them; they have now twice come along to upset the race strategies and both times dealt a blow to his hopes of winning a championship for Ferrari

In 2010 a Safety Car at the start of the race allowed Vitaly Petrov to pit for new tyres, enabling him to run the end of the race, blocking Alonso and wrecking his strategy.

Last weekend, the Abu Dhabi Safety Car struck again, this time to help his main rival. Red Bull had offered Ferrari an open goal by making a fuel load mistake in qualifying which demoted Sebastian Vettel to the back of the grid, but Vettel’s recovery was greatly helped by two Safety Car periods, which brought the strategy initiative to Vettel and allowed the German to make up ground and end the race on the podium. In front of an open goal, instead of making up 10 to 15 points on Vettel, Aionso made up only three.

Pre-race expectations

Once again a conservative choice of soft and medium Pirelli tyres meant that the teams had the ability to do the race with only one stop, with the drivers able to push to the limit without fear of degradation or excessive wear.

Was Sebastian Vettel “lucky”?

Vettel’s strategy on Sunday didn’t just revolve around tyre choice and pit stop timing. Red Bull opted to take Vettel’s car out of parc ferme and to make changes to the set up, which would allow him to overtake more easily. Wings were altered and a longer seventh gear was added which would mean greater straight line speed for DRS overtaking. It improved his top speed by 10km/h to 321 km/h.

With two DRS zones on the circuit and a very fast car coming through the field, Yas Marina Circuit was no longer the overtaking desert it was for Alonso in 2010.

Vettel’s strategy was to start on the medium tyre, run a longer first stint than the others and make up some places when they stopped, then switch to the faster soft tyre for the final stint and try to pick up a few more places in the closing laps. But it didn’t turn out remotely like that. Instead he was forced into an early stop for a front wing change and this put him a half-stop sequence out from the rest of the field. This turned out to be a blessing.

By lap 9 he was already up to 12th place, when the first Safety Car was deployed. At this stage he was 23 seconds behind the leader. However he had damaged his front wing in early exchanges and then damaged it further behind Ricciardo and was forced to pit behind the safety car. This dropped him to 21st place. Having started on the harder tyre, he took the softer tyre at the first stop, which turned out to be the faster race tyre on Sunday.

Crucially, in that same Safety Car period, Grosjean also pitted and like Vettel, went from medium to soft. His plan from there was to try to get to the finish without stopping again. This would provide the barrier to the rest of the field, holding back Webber, Perez and Maldonado after their stops. As the gap widened between Grosjean and the car in front (Button) this created an opportunity for Vettel to push hard on his new soft tyres and then slot into the gap after a second stop. It meant that a minimum fourth place was up for grabs.

Red Bull spotted it immediately and although they considered not stopping Vettel again, because he managed to get into second place, ahead of Alonso and Button when they pitted, the radio messages early in the second stint indicated that they wanted him to push on the tyres, so clearly the intention was to stop again. This was the less risky option in championship terms, with a guaranteed fourth place there for the taking.

However, had Red Bull been in the mood to gamble, rival engineers believe that Vettel would have been able to do 42 laps on the softs and make it to the finish. This would almost certainly have led to a thrilling duel in the closing stages between the two world title contenders, Alonso and Vettel over second place. Alonso was very fast at the end of the race as he tried to catch Raikkonen, but Vettel’s straight line speed, even on worn tyres meant he would have been able to put up quite a fight to hold onto second place.

When the one stop pit window opened on lap 25 Vettel was in 10th place and 22 seconds behind the leader, essentially where he was before the front wing incident. But by putting himself out of synch with the other cars, this helped him at the crucial stage of the race when the pit stop window opened.

Between laps 24 and 31 he went from 10th to 2nd and then by pitting again on lap 37 he ensured that he held onto all but two of those places. Only Alonso and Button got back ahead of him due to his second stop.

The real stroke of luck was the second safety car. Vettel was very fortunate that just as he came out on fresh soft tyres the safety car came out and cut Button’s lead over him from 15 secs with 17 laps to go to nothing. That set Vettel up for the podium. Button gave him plenty of room when he made the passing move, not wanting to affect the championship. Had Vettel tried that move at the start of the season, he might have ended up off the track.

Raikkonen gets his win – finally

Kimi Raikkonen finally got his comeback victory in the Lotus. It had been clear from the long runs in Friday practice that once again, the Lotus was quick enough to challenge for the win. Qualifying had been the stumbling block all season but here Ferrari tripped up and then with Vettel’s penalty, Raikkonen found himself fourth.

His win was built on a stunning start, which moved him up to second place and then when Lewis Hamilton stopped, Raikkonen was able to do something he’d dreamed of all season; run in clear air at the front, as all of the seven winners in the first seven races had been able to do.

Raikkonen showed what Lotus has had to offer all season, twice building leads of ten seconds, only to have them cut by the safety cars.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is prepared by James Allen, with input and data from several F1 teams and from Pirelli.


S=Soft; H= Hard; N= New; U=Used; SG = Stop and Go Penalty

Räikkönen: SU MN (31) 1
Alonso: SU MN (28) 1
Vettel: MN SU (13) SU (37) 2
Button: SU MN (29) 1
Maldonado: SN MN (29) 1
Kobayashi: SN MN (25) 1
Massa: SU MN (26) 1
Senna: MN SU (32) 1
Di Resta: SN MN (1) MN (9) SU (39) 3
Ricciardo: SN MN (26) SU (38) 2
Schumacher: MN SN (27) SU (41) 2
Vergne: SN MN (9) SN (33) 2
Kovalainen: SN MN (28) 1
Glock: SN MN (27) 1
Perez: SN MN (30) MU (38) SG (44) 3
Petrov: SN MN (27) 1
De La Rosa: SN MN (28) 1


Kindly supplied by Williams F1 Team

Note how the Lotus pulls away from the Ferrari on the soft tyre in the first stint, but there is nothing to choose between them on the medium tyre in the second stint.

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Exactly why the ferrari is not here for the proof.


Yeah he drove very stupidly but the luck was him.


You mean the race where Button drove into his teammate and knocked Alonso out of the race whilst not getting a penalty?


Sorry this was a reply to someone else


OK, I think a fair few people are missing a fair few points in the waht-if analysis.

1. It’s worse to start from the pits than 24th in absolute terms. Starting from the pit means you only exit after ALL the cars are safely past by a distance, leaving you a gap to even the last car off the Grid. If Vettel started at the back of the Grid, in a RB, you’d expect him to make up a few spots off the line itelf! Yes, of course there’s the risk of a shunt, but that’s one that everyone faces. In terms of pure time, it’s a disadvantage.

2. The nose he destroyed was BEHIND the first SC when he was in 12th. Without that SC, he’d be 12th and NOT need a stop to change the nose.

3. The second SC was irrelevant for him as he’d have made 4th / 3rd on pure speed alone.

So, while it may seem like the SC periods helped, I’d say he would have finished 3rd anyway or worst, 4th!


Luck = Preparation + Opportunity. This first part you can plan for and Red-Bull did. The second is ‘unplanned’ but they were ready for opportunities as they arose. As was Kimi & Lotus/Renault, and as Kimi won he I would have to be the luckier.

One thing in all this stands out.

Repeatedly this season Mark Webber has been trapped behind mid-field cars unable to pass owing to the low R-B top speed. Why haven’t Red-Bull been running Mark Webber on lower-aero and higher-gearing all season. It would have made a huge difference to his year. Frankly for a Red-Bull car if it is not going to be up-front at the start, better to run it in high-speed mode as Vettel clearly demonstrated.


Luck plays very little in racing. Had Vettel not driven hard to move up, luck would not have helped him get to the podium. His driving and the teams prep work got him to where he ended up. He also recovered from two errors that cost him collisions that were minor, but destroyed the wing, along with his strategy, and cost him positions, that demanded he drive harder still. While the 2nd SC period worked out for many up front, stopping later for tires, rather than trying to go the remaining laps, cost him 2 additional places, which put him behind Button and the hard slog to earn 3rd. Kimi, Alonso and Vettel all potentially benefited in position from Hamilton’s retirement, assuming his pace was such that they would not have caught him later. Kimi drove as well as he has all season, so made his own fortune by holding off Alonso, who missed an opportunity at the 2nd restart to get a few seconds nearer Kimi, costing him the win. No luck here, regardless of spectator bench racer banter to the contrary.


My thoughts exactly. Vettel was lucky, but mostly because of the drivers crashing into each other rather than the safety cars. Still, a brilliant drive.



I could swear that Vettel speeded in the pit lane when driving in to get his front wing repaired? Did anyone check this?


You should show Ferrari and the FIA your proof


Yes, it’s all controlled by sensors and timing transponders.

There was no talk of that


Here is my 2 pence worth.

The important question is how many cars would have got stuck behind Grosjean/Di Resta without the 1st safety car?

Bottling up those cars, and it was only actually Webber and Perez as everybody else was a distance behind, created the gap which allowed Vettel to stop a second time/ potentially a 1st time if not for the 1st safety car.

With regards to the 1st safety car I do not believed he gained, (other than the potential Grosjean issue). He never climbed to the position he achieved before the 1st safety car and the gap soon returned to what it had been pre-safety car when he was fighting with Grosjean. Furthermore Alonso/ Button exited the pits only a couple of seconds ahead of Senna, who Vettel had originally cleared very early. Thus, he would probably have been in the same position, after everybody else stopped, as he found himself in, only still on the harder tyres.

He stops, comes out ahead of Grosjean and finds himself behind Button, but a lot further back.

The second safety car gives him 3rd place thus he only actually benefitted to the tune of 1 place.

Vettel mainly benefitted from everybody else crashing into each other. Can he be classed as being lucky for that?


My thoughts exactly. Vettel was lucky, but mostly because of the drivers crashing into eachother rather than the safety cars. Still, a brilliant drive.


To make SV scond best driver image change RBR tried to deliver the extraordinary and make all believe it.

It was maybe even more than luck, since Abu Dhabi race was heavily spoiled / manipulated by various incidents. It was a joke how RBR was allowed to modify their RB8 for cutting through the field with optimized gear ratio, high speed downforce and suspension set up and a completely new gearbox. How abt the brakes ?! They were penalised for their errors / risk and so they chose to start from pitlane being able to completely rebuild their car …….

After BE personal sign off at the start, it was clear that SV had other cards at hand………. perfect set up, crashes on demand it seemed, making clean air room for SV, and three, high quality tyre sets for him as well. Only when hitting JB passing became a difficult one, due to fear / capability of SV not because his younger tyres and better car …. So he chose for the surprise attack knowing JB would not push him off track. Well, imho JB should shut the door……Spa 2011.

How can a car cut through almost the complete field twice from P24 and reach P1 ( SV made 2 severe driving errors – Senna & Riccardio- to prevent that actually happening) while the front runners are no sleepers ? Especially if one considers the faster Webber (on P2) was nowhere in the race and eventually seemed sacrificed for another SC …….

Consider that if SV would have started from P3 the risk might have been that he would get a DNF like Alonso had twice ….

Games are being played and these games are far beyond winning a race or titles.


Consider that if SV would have started from P3 the risk might have been that he would get a DNF like Alonso had twice…


Or he may well have won the race given that Webber had his usual poor start and Hamilton retired.


As it shows, anything can happen even if you are leading in P1. And reliability is not exactly RBR` best friend, so this rebuild was probably highly welcome.

Rosberg launching himself was the worst thing that happened in Abu Dhabi, but nobody shouted at Narthikeyan this time ……

We can expect further TNT in Austin and Sao Paulo with reinforced wings !


Well I think we are now in no doubt that Vettel was very lucky, however a couple of old phrases come to mind “fortune favours the brave” and “one manufactures ones own luck,” and I think Red Bull were and did exactly that on top of the given safety car aspect. It’s an aspect that in the same situation McLaren, given this years form, would have messed up. I really do have to hand it to the Red Bull team in being for being on the ball.



What would have been the outcome of Vettel’s race if he didn’t ruin his front wing? Could he have finished even higher?


Good question. Imho P1 would have been possible but SV screwed that up with 2 driving errors…..


James: How was Reb Bull allowed to completely alter their car setup after qualifying. I understand that they were disqualified from Qualifying for insufficient fuel for sampling, but the car had essentially completed Q3 and otherwise would have been headed for parc ferme. I thought the rules in parc ferme only allow you to correct/repair specific items the FIA authorize. Technically the car didn’t make it to parc ferme, but what Reb Bull did in my opinion was an unfair advantage. How does this work?


They took it out of parc ferme to work on it which is allowed

But that meant they had to start from pit lane


Is there a limit to the gear ratio of the highest (seventh) gear? I think by changing Vettel’s gears, he had another 10km/hr added to his top speed. Are even higher gears available for an extra 20km/hr if the team so chooses?

Given that 7th gear is probably only used mostly on the straights, why don’t the teams use the highest ratio possible?



Does this raise a concern about altering the car when its in parc ferme? My concern is that there was nothing wrong with the car, it was just under fueled, but the team clearly broke parc ferme to boost their race chances instead of fixing a problem. Could this hurt F1?

If I were a team, Id try to underfuel a little in Q3 to get an advantage, and if I got caught by the FIA, Id start from the pit lane and change the setup to be geared toward the race.

Should teams be allowed to do this if theres nothing wrong with the car? Do you think it rendered the penalty useless?


Everyone thinks that Ferrari did the best strategy given the situation. I disagree. They should have pitted Massa for fresh tyres while there was gap down to Vettel to keep him as a buffer to Alonso, Button etc. Instead they kept him out way to long on worn tyres and spinning trying to fight Webber. Never beeing an obstackle to Vettel. A really bad choise from Ferrari.


many complain about RB “cheating” with changing the setup -and they also write that any average driver would have finished 3rd with such a car, please do it 😉

But what about Ferrari breaking twice the curfew in one weekend? I thought this was also not expected to happen?


Changing set up out of parc ferme is not cheating, it’s permitted in the rules


That’s the ‘rule’ that should be changed. Many of the things that happen according to the’rules’ are a complete mystery to the average viewer/spectator & these affect F1s image adversely.

Several of my friends who are not particular fans of F1, regard it as corrupt, or at the least dishonest & worst of all, certainly not a ‘sport’.

When I explain launch-control, DRS, the tyre situation etc, they just shake their heads in disbelief. We’re all fans, but how many people will F1 attract in the future unless there is more ‘transparency?’


Any chance you can work on this graphical representation for next season James? I know a few people have offered to do the necessary coding required to make the race history graph interactive.

Option to switch on/off specific cars and scale the axes would be good.

Really hard to see any detail in this week’s race due to safety car bunching field up twice – although that in itself is an interesting feature showing how the SC compresses the field.


Just highlighting the Rosberg, Karthikeyan accident, that was close to making contact with Karthikeyan’s head. We have seen several incidents like this over the last few years, one being Alonso in Spa this year, and Wurz a couple of years back in Australia. Is it not possible to introduce a regulation for higher cockpit sides in order to protect the drivers head. With the helmet and the HANS device restricting a lot of head movement in modern F1, you cant see a great deal to your sides anyway. I just think we’re waiting for another Senna or Simoncelli accident to occur in F1 for it to hit home just how dangerous the sport is and the holes in the safety at present.


Vettel was extremely lucky. Not to mention the fact that the car setup was better for the race thanks to the pitlane start. I think if everyone did’nt crash off in front of him and get the safety car out, he would have struggled.


All the field was lucky, accept those, who didn`t finish the race, because all the others were able to finish the race without loosing any of four wheels.


What is luck, Kimi and Alonso made no mistakes, Vettel is hitting more trouble is starting from the pitlane and is finishing 4 sec behind the leader in a F1 car where even a slow pitstop can rune your race under normal circumstances.

F1 cars on the track look like balls on a roulette table. I enjoyed watching but I’m more and more not sure about this being racing….


I agree to some extent. Safety car actually spoils the fun most the times. I think re-fueling should be brought back. At least then strategy will have a lot more to do with winning a race rather than putting the car on pole and winning from there.


I’m not trying to take anything away from Vettel, but, please, the four second gap to the race winner hardly means anything considering the late safety car, does it?


I did find it quite ironic that Button, Hamilton and Whitmarsh all took away from Vettel’s drive in Abu Dhabi claiming he was lucky with safety cars, yet Jenson’s win in Canada last year was lauded as a heroic drive even though safety cars helped him out just as much.


I think the analysis and posts above shows that Vettel was Lucky – whilst making the best of his equipment (fair play to him).

JB in Canada did not have the pace of the front runners in qualifying (7th on the grid 1:13.838 – 8 10th’s of a second behind Vettel’s time). Very little was known about the New Pirelli wet/intermediate tyres at this stage of the season.

Vettel was running away with the title at this stage showing his dominance & JB didn’t get to change his setup like Vettel did.

Jenson pitted 6 times in the race (YES 6) and was dead last with 30 laps to go. At the end of the race Jenson was lapping between 2.5 to 3 seconds faster than Vettel and won the race.

Whilst Vettel coming through the field was good and exciting, it is implausible to even compare it to Canada 2011.

Not that I’m the biggest Fan of JB – but he was stunning that day


One further note. All this talk that they started from pitlane and did so well is just goosedream. They were just victims of FIA, well, even they approche to rules the way, it`s easier for them to applay it.

James, you should explain this, because my english is not good and you should know better how F1 tanks are built and from where they take the fuel for examples. They just missed 200ml of it anyway and the place they take it from, contains max 2 litre anyway. And in order to protect the highpressure pump that feeds it in to the engine, they had to shut the engine, because the container from where the pump takes the fuel, started in some reason to dry out. But in the tank, there was fuel. And they saved the engine. But they tried to shut it as quikly as possible in order to hope that in that container is still enought fuel for FIA. But it was not.


No, in the tank there was not enough fuel. If you look at the list of parts changed before the race, it says gearbox but no mention of fuel tank. So it must have been working because he raced with it


Which gives rise to the question ‘Are Red Bull using transferable liquid ballast?’

During Q? in Abu Dhabi, Vettel left the pits with some fluid pouring out of the bottom of the Red Bull. He was soon back in the garage while the car was worked on, only leaving to continue Q? with 6mins. to spare.

The fluid did not look like water, it was sort of a milky colour, but there was plenty on the garage floor.

Could there be separate bag-tanks which allow liquid ballast to be moved about as the fuel load comes down?

Sort of a modified Tyrrell water tank, without the lead shot!


James if they had to ….given the curfew, could they have still pulled the bad tank and put in a new one??


Defination of luck, guys, please. Without you telling me the essence of that word, i have to relay to my owne: Luck is, when preparation meets to opportunity! So, in that point of view – they changed many parametres in car to aid overtaking. Sebastians mindset was to attack, because that was the essence of that car. They were prepared. I think that you guys are lucky, according to your`s definations, that you are not striked with meteor yet.


Hi nice analysis, James do you think Vettel was unlucky to start at the back of the grid? Would this be the same luck as an engine failing?

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