Why the US Grand Prix turned out as it did on “Unique” Austin circuit
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Nov 2012   |  8:27 pm GMT  |  73 comments

Pre-Race Expectations

Before the race started, teams were certain that this would be a one-stop race. The Pirelli tyre choice of Medium and hard was quite conservative and there were no signs of the extreme degradation that had been such a feature of the first half of the season. Degradation was 0.02 sec per lap for the medium and 0.01 sec per lap for the Hard.

Pirelli had been influenced by the high temperatures in the November 18 week last year and for most of this year the temperatures have been 5 degrees warmer than seasonal average. So everyone expected it to be hotter than it was.

So the tyres would take time to warm up in the cool ambient conditions. But drivers were able to push to the limits for all 56 laps without needing to nurse the tyres.

This had a knock on effect on strategy for qualifying as drivers found themselves doing a five lap run in order to get the tyres to their perfect condition for a quick lap.

However Austin proved to be a unique circuit on the current F1 calendar, by far the most difficult to align the temperatures of the front and rear tyres. Even with all the knowledge the teams had developed over the season, they were all scratching their heads about getting the tyre temperatures balanced front to rear.

On the first day of practice in Austin the grip level had been very low, due to the recently laid tarmac having a sheen of bitumen on the surface. This began to be ripped away, revealing the grippy stones underneath, but only on the racing line. As the weekend wore on and more rubber went down the grip level came up, giving a 10% improvement compared to Friday.

The biggest concern was what this would mean at the start, with the dirty side of the grid estimated to be one second slower reaching Turn 1 than the clean side. There were estimates of two positions lost at the start for cars on the dirty side. As a result, Ferrari opted to deliberately penalise Felipe Massa, starting 6th on the grid, by giving him a five-place gearbox penalty, which allowed team mate Alonso, who had underperformed in qualifying, to start 7th on the clean side of the track. It was a strategic decision and it worked very effectively, as Alonso made up three places at the start, giving him the platform for a podium finish, despite the poor qualifying pace of the Ferrari.

All the front running teams identified backmarkers as a potential problem in the Esses before the long straight – lose time through there and you would be vulnerable to a DRS overtake on the straight.

The duel for the win

Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel fought a great duel for the victory in Austin and there were fine differences between the two cars’ performance on the tyres. The Red Bull was able to bring the tyres in more quickly and as a consequence Vettel did six laps on his tyres of which only two were at pace down laps. However Hamilton did seven, with three hard laps.

Although they lost the battle for pole position, on race day the McLaren had a slight pace advantage over the Red Bull. Both cars were strong on the medium tyre, Hamilton able to bridge a 2.5 second gap once he got clear of Mark Webber to close up to Vettel. But then his slightly older tyres reached the point where the performance dropped off. He lost almost two seconds in the three laps before his stop on lap 20. When he exited the pits he was behind Raikkonen and spent four laps behind the Lotus.

Vettel pitted a lap later, to cover Hamilton and re-emerged in the lead. However it soon became clear that the pattern we have seen recently of the McLaren being stronger on the harder prime tyre was being born out again. Hamilton was primed to strike as they reached half distance in the race. Although the McLaren had a pace advantage, Hamilton was not able to get close enough to Vettel in the DRS detection zone at Turn 11 to challenge using the DRS on the straight. On lap 42 he took advantage of Vettel encountering the back-marker HRT of Narain Karthikeyan in the Esses to close up and make his move on the straight.

Because of Red Bull’s tactic of setting the car up for down force, rather than straight-line speed, the McLaren had an 11km/h speed advantage over the Red Bull for this race and with the extra 10km/h from the DRS effect, Hamilton was able to pass. Although Vettel came back at him, the straight-line speed deficit meant that he couldn’t get close enough.

Button makes a counter strategy work

Jenson Button was forced to start the race from 12th place on the grid after a throttle failure in qualifying. This gave him the right to choose what tyre to start on and to use new tyres. Many team strategists felt that starting on the hard would not be competitive but Button was able to use the pace advantage of the McLaren to good effect. The strategy was to run a longer first stint and use the more sustained performance of the hard tyre to gain track position when the cars ahead made their stops after lap 20.

He lost around six seconds sitting in a train behind Di Resta, Perez and Senna in the run up to their stops, but once clear of them he had very good pace on the hard tyre and managed to get faster every lap until his stop on lap 35. McLaren were monitoring the gap to Grosjean in the Lotus and when they saw on lap 34 that Grosjean was faster than Button they pitted him, despite the fact that Button’s pace was still improving. This brought him out close to the Frenchman, but he fell behind. He was able to exploit the extra grip on the softer tyres to make overtakes under braking, such as the pass on Grosjean and was quick once he passed the two Lotus cars, but wasn’t going to catch Massa for fourth.

Interestingly Fernando Alonso seemed to struggle getting the hard tyres warmed up and Ferrari technical director Pat Fry admitted after the race that the car had not had the pace of its rivals on that tyre. As this same tyre combination is set to be used again in Sao Paolo, this is a concern for Ferrari, if the race is held in the dry. At the moment the forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain on Saturday and Sunday. However Felipe Massa seemed to have fewer problems on the hard tyre so there will be something to be learned from his data.

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


Hamilton: MU HN (20) 1 stop
Vettel: MU HN (21) 1
Alonso: MU HU (20) 1
Massa: MU HU (26) 1
Button: HN MN (35) 1
Räikkönen: MU HU (24) 1
Grosjean: MU HN (9) 1
Hülkenberg: MU HN (17) 1
Maldonado: MU HN (21) 1
Senna: MN HN (20) 1
Perez: MN HN (22) 1
Ricciardo: MN HN (30) 1
Rosberg: HN MN (34) 1
Kobayashi: MN HN (13) 1
Di Resta: MN HN (21) HN (31) 2
Schumacher: MU HN (14) HN (39) 2
Petrov: MN HN (23) 1
Kovalainen: MN HN (21) 1
Glock: MN HN (21) 1
Pic: MN HN (26) 1
De La Rosa: MN HN (24) 1
Karthikeyan: MN HN (25) 1

RACE HISTORY GRAPH, Kindly supplied by Williams F1 Team

Note the relative pace of Massa and Alonso on the hard tyre in the second stint, note also Button’s pace at the end of the first stint, still improving on the hard tyre after 34 laps.

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I am tired of hearing the back markers getting blamed for ‘getting in the way’ of the leaders. Getting past cars on the circuit, faster or slower ones, is all part of the skill set of an accomplished driver.

Vettel just wants to gallop into the distance with no one in his way and more often than not, the Red Bull allows him to do this.

I think he and other drivers have a misplaced understanding of what the sport is about when they complain about being slowed down by other drivers. Just deal with it.

On a related point, I really don’t see why there is a need to have Blue Flags in the sport. Why should a driver, even a slower one, jump out of the way of another? If you are good enough and quick enough you don’t need the assistance of Blue Flags. Navigating back markers is all part of the tension of a race.


I think the COTA designers knew when they put that sequence in before the DRS zone that back markers would be important through there. I think it was planned and it worked out


Oh Christian, Lewis just took advantage and passed me surely that’s not fair! No one is allowed to pass me someone deserves a penalty for that back marker getting in my way. Surely the race should be stopped for such an outrageous stunt. Has the FIA been informed? – Vettel!

Vettel has been spoilt in that car, and one day Hamilton is going to give him a dam good thrashing! What d’you say he just did. Oh!


Does anyone know why teams aren’t allowed to change the car setup for race after qualifying? Now teams have to make a compromise between qualifying and race pace. It would be more exiting if the teams could the out the maximum in both sessions.

Also, removing the need to start the race with Q3 tire would open more tire strategy options.


Hi James,

Nice article (as usual). I have a question regarding Ferrari’s tire warm up issues. Ever since Red Bull complained about rival teams using tricky brake systems (http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/103958), Ferrari seems to be struggling with tire warm up. Even in Abu Dhabi, Alonso could not make use of safety cars and kept losing lot of time at the restart. Is there any word about this in the paddock? I could be completely wrong here, given that Massa is not struggling with tire temperatures as much as Alonso is.

If its true then as a Ferrari fan I would be gutted, ’cause I doubt if rain would help Ferrari as many people predict, since they can’t bring the tires up to temperature.



I have to be honest… this Ferrari team can’t tell their ass from their elbow. There is no hope of the title this year and really do Ferrari deserve the WDC? The only one who does is their driver. They have been poor in every area since the start, their performance only improved after a few races because they corrected their own incompetence. Since then they have made no progress. The drivers have been saying for weeks now that the car is unchanged and when they did make changes the car is even slower! After safety cars the Ferraris struggle while lesser teams are up to speed. There isn’t a single area they excel in. In the previous race when Vettel had those 2 safety cars after hitting a car and the marker…if that wasn’t a sign of fate I don’t know what is. I’m quite tired of di montezemolo and his garbage war cries… he never seems to mention that they haven’t put together a car capable of actually winning races in the last few years. I’m already thinking about next year….


On a completely different topic, could someone ask the FIA (nicely) to break their podium rules just once and after the Brazilian race have Michael Schumacher up there as well, wherever he finishes. Whatever you think of him, he’s surely earned that.


On another topic next year when marussia have kers they will be wiping the floor with caterham. Will be in the points before caterham I think especially if caterham have to go down the pay driver avenue with both cars and let heikki go. Be a shame if he isn’t in f1 and other worse drivers are.


I believe the conservative tyre choice really hurt the Sauber team, considering how their car is traditionally known to be really kind to its tyres. Couple that with a slippery track surface and there was no way Kobayashi or Perez were going to do much damage.


Stop blaming the car for everything. The Ferrari is fast.

Other than when Massa was negotiating his way through the field his lap pace was on a par with the leaders. Alonso was on average 0.7 seconds of the lap pace.

Obviously the Ferrari was capable of resonable race pace, why Alonso could not get that pace out of his car is down to set up, car “improvements” and his drive on the day.


Actually his pace in clear air was nowhere near the leaders, and that was with a car which didn’t have the slower updates on.

The ferrari is quick, a certainly in the right conditions it can challenge the slower of the maccas/RB, but ultimately they are lacking slightly overall.


I did not say the Farrari was the fastest car on the track. However it was cleary capable of a better race pace than Alonso achieved.

You can blame the upgrades for this if you like but answer this, why did Ferrari not revert back to the set up Massa had if the upgrades were the problem.


I have to say, during this race my rating of Vettel went up a couple of notches.

For here was a bloke fighting for the championship with somebody out of contention and yet he was going at it like his life depended on it.

I believe lots of other drivers wouldn’t have put up such a spirited fight with the aim of trying to avoid a collision.

And not only that, but when Lewis passed him, he didn’t let him go and try to race at his own rhythm, no sir, he too decided to dish out some pressure of his own.

So yes, it appears 2012 was the year a certain kid grew up into a man in terms racing.

As for Ferrari, maybe they should make a switch between Massa & Alonso’s cars for sure, something not working right with Alonso’s car.


i just can agree to this post

wanted to post the same a few postings further up..



Interesting that Hamilton has come out saying that he forced Vettel into a mistake because he put pressure on him.

He still seems vulnerable at times Vettel in a way Alonso is not. Will be interesting to see how that plays out this weekend


Vettel is good under pressure, a bit implusive but doesn’t really crack. I don’t think he put a foot wrong in Austin. Held Hamilton back when Hamilton was faster.


No it was the dirty air that held Hamilton back. A car travelling behind another is operating with reduced downforce because of it.


Best overtake of the year – Kimi on Hulk.


Kimi’s overtakes have been terrific and usually, as here, out of DRS.

Best overtaker we currently have. Button’s move on Kimi was also phenomenal


Couldn’t agree more! Another great one was Kimi passing Di Resta at Hockenheim and his clever move on Schumacher at Spa just before the DRS to make sure Schumacher wouldn’t be able to repass with DRS like a lap before the move. It’s been very exciting to watch his race craft all season long.


A neutral observation

VET: delivered in quali, p1. Good drive but could not have resisted a DRS overtake by a car with matching pace. P2

ALO: underperformed in quali, p9. Gained from luck, rule manipulating, and a good drive. P3.

But why underperform? His car ain’t all that bad in the hands of his team mate, for both quali and race pace


It simply wasnt the same car, new diffuser underperforming the old one on massa’s car cost ihm a worse tyre wear and time per lap.


James article makes it look like Hamilton only won because he had a better car, when all indications pointed toward the RB8 having the edge. If the Mclaren was better it would have pulled away after passing the RB8, similar to Button pulling away from Raikkonen, but it did not.


I think Kimi’s race was seriously compromised by a 6.4 second pit stop, which put him out just behind Alonso. Had he been in front, I doubt if Alonso had the car on hard tires to pass, and he would have been a buffer between Raikkonen and Massa/Button. Loved the open feeling of the track, the esses, and the organization was superb. For all who think of Americans as egocentric, loud-mouthed bores, the people of Austin could not have been friendlier. The only loud-mouthed bore I encountered was a McClaren VIP who lessened everyone’s dining experience at the outstanding Uchiko Sunday night. I thought the British knew how to imbibe with dignity.


Kimi’s race was compromised by that pit stop, certainly, but Alonso suffered similar poor pit stop, so in that regard Kimi and Alonso were dealt similar cards.


4,3 sec to 6.4 sec, while Kimi only needed 2 secs to get out ahead so even if the pit stops were equally compromised he would have got out in front of Alonso. Lotus pitstops this year have been rubbish, I really hope they sort it out for next year.


I think Lewis was determined to take the win if at all possible, and while the McLaren has better straight line speed over a lap the red Bull is probably faster over a single lap. Traffic is a fact of life in any GP, and perhaps Vettel could have done more in terms of anticipation. In Senna’s day I doubt that he would have eased off at all while passing the slow traffic such was his mindset. The real problem is the dirty air from the leading car making overtaking very difficult due to the resulting drop in downforce. DRS is really the wrong cure for the ailment in cars that are too aero dependant.


I was just thinking that maybe Vettel could have tried to pass the HRT on the outside as he was so much faster? I’m not sure as admittedly off the racing line was very dirty and slippery, but imagine if he pulled the move off and left Hamilton stuck behind he could have stayed ahead. Any thoughts?


100% right about the dirty air affecting downforce on the car behind. Amazing that Lewis was able to follow so closely through the esses, lap after lap.


Yes I think it was the more durable hard/medium tyres that allowed that to happen which has been my argument for a long time. The last two races are testimony enough for that. All the high deg. tyres do is protect the leading car travelling in clean air. – Absolutely absurd idea. With extreme high degradation tyres he would have had possibly one attempt and then the tyres would drag him back. – Silly stupid idea to run high degradation tyres with current aerodynamics.


Yes it was a great race, but of course we have to remember those first medium tyres had done a lot of work by then in qualifying, and then the first stint in the race. The harder compound tyre was of course new and possibly could be worked harder and longer than the medium, but the McLarens particularly ran well on the hard tyre once they were up to temperature. It’s a great pity McLaren dropped the ball this year as with another potential win in Brazil would surely have won him the championship this year.


Yes, although Hamilton was dropping back quite a bit at the end of his first stint, on laps 18-20. The gap went from 1.4s to over 3.0s.

Hamilton came in at the end of lap 20 (will say lap 21 I’m sure on FIA website, b/c the finish line was just before RBR’s pit), Vettel a lap later. On the hard, after a few laps to get them into working temperature (and after overtaking Kimi), Hamilton was again able to close the gap to Vettel.

Agreed that softer tires might not have allowed close-following for so long, and we wouldn’t have got the great race we did.


Read the article. Mclaren was the faster race car on sunday. This is rather different than the common (completely incorrect) notion on the driver of the day forum that the Mclaren was much slower.

I agree traffic wise, should get rid of the blue flags, give the faster drivers something more to worry about. Give more opportunities to pass when cars are closely matched in the midfield.


I think that’s something only the drivers could answer as to the condition off line, however some great moves have been made off line, but so have some disasters. I think it’s a question of judgement on the particular day, on the particular piece of track. As they say fortune favours the brave!


Well I did read the article, but cars are in the same condition in the race apart from fuel as they are in qualifying, and heavy fuel has never hampered Red Bull before. Red Bull set their car up for fastest lap time not straight line speed. No I think it was Lewis that made the difference on Sunday.


Well I think you should read what’s written and not put your own interpretation on it. Hamilton’s car was faster where the overtaking was done as they have better straight line speed, moreover everthing was turned up for the overtake making it just possible. Over a lap Vettel’s car was faster in qualifying trim moreover he was able to stay fairly close to Hamilton until the finish. Vettel was not able to re-take the lead because he did not have sufficient straight line speed to get through the dirty air. Note that after qualifying cars are in parc femme and cannot be ostensibly changed apart from tyre pressures and wing.


Not denying that HAM had a great race, the man is a great eqaul to Vettel, Schu, Senna etc. What I object to (I am a Ferrari Fan) is that Vettel gets no credit for the job he does. HAM had a faster car on race day, but gets credit for moving the earth compared to Vettel who by all accounts on this forum is competely useless.


I expected serious marbles off the racing line with cars spinning out of control. The track make-up, especially with new ckts, would be interesting to know.



I’m interested by Grosjean – got ahead of Kimi early on, but made a mistake which dropped him way down the field, pitted on lap 9 and finished only a few seconds behind Kimi (who had a trouble-free race). I can see why Lotus still have faith in him…


I think Kimi struggled with the tires for a period there. And then suddenly he picked up much better pace at the end. He actually had the third fastest lap, but earlier on he struggled enormously on the same tires. It was all about if he could switch the tires on or not. A temperature drop when it got more cloudy was enough for him to start struggling.


Very long final stint indeed.


(correction, he’s missing of the legend, he’s on the chart)

Alberto Martínez


Did you notice that in the first stint both Massa and Raikkonen have better pace than even Hamilton and Vettel when they are in free air? That was from lap 11 onwards for Massa and from lap 13 onwards for Raikkonen. I was amazed by this fact when I did my own analysis.

It seems that the diffuser didn´t work as expected in Alonso´s car so that could be the root case of his underperforming form in comparation with Massa. Do you know something about that?


Very interesting. And Kimi had a distinct pick up in pace from lap 51.

Did Kimi say that his tyres worked better when the sun was shining, and cooled down when there was cloud cover?


Also, Timo is missing off the chart!



Do you think the conservative tyre choice by Pirelli is something that could encouraged/mandated by Bernie or the FIA in the future? It really does allow the drivers to push their cars without going over the edge and the result is the type of racing we saw in Austin. A cracking good race I’d say


Ferrari race was hurt for the lack of tire performance on both tire types (about 14 sec on the first stint, 20 on the second). Even though the second set started to work out late, performing quite similar to VET and HAM tires. I wonder if +5C more could have helped Ferrari…in any case, under normal race conditions, there’s anything ALO and MAS would do in Brazil. the car is not able to get those tires to work


It was a Hailton race when he qualify second on

the grid,and only two and a bit tens of Vetel

a drift,looking at Hamilton drive he was far much smoother in the turns catching Vettel

hand over fist and it was not ” if ” but when

he was to pass and win the race.

One realy must question Vettels abilitty when

under pressure,he does not want to encounter

anybody ahead of him, what a joke ? may be the

Indian Ocean will suit him, he must realise this time in Austin he had a real racer behind

him who don’t believe in taking prisoners.


There is not a single driver on the track that would not have complained had they been in Vettels scenario with Karthykayen. How many replays done every week show one driver or another flipping hands at a driver who just got in their way?


For one example where a driver didn’t wave the hand was when Hamilton had to take evasive action to avoid hitting the back of Schumacher in FP1 (or FP2, can’t recall exactly). Surely the fact that Hamilton’s going there next year was part of it, but it was a definite opportunity to hand-wave.


I love these charts which you have (which is no surprise considering my work on Squawka!), but I’d really appreciate some more detailed information on what they show.

For instance, why does the leader start off at 0 time difference, then end on 0, but vary through the race.

I could understand the chart being shown as a delta from the leader’s lap time on that lap, or compared to the fastest lap time during the race, or to just show the driver’s lap-time.

Anyway, I’m sure with a 1 line explanation I could get it!

Anyway, great blog, and keep it up! 🙂


Just wanted to say thanks to everyone for their replies! Much appreciated.


The zero line is the line of an imaginary car that finishes the race in the same time as the winner but which puts in the same lap time each lap. So in the early laps the real winner is lapping slower than this imaginary car, and so falls behind it, but towards the end is lapping faster than it, so catches it up.


In short, they show the time difference to a (ghost) car that laps every lap at the winners average speed.

In the beginning the difference is zero, then it first grows (since cars are slower than average) and in the end starts to diminish as car become faster and they start to catch the “average car”. In the end, the winner obviously just catches that ghost car.


Think of the straight line across the top of the chart as the progress of a hypothetical car that does every lap at the AVERAGE speed (or lap time) of the winner. In a typical race the winner goes slower at the start of the race, and so falls behind this hypothetical car. The vertical axes shows how far behind he is in seconds on each lap.

As he burns off fuel the winner (along with everybody else) speeds up,and of course the winner finishes 0 secs behind the hypothetical car that did every lap at his (the winner’s) average speed.

I kept looking for a race where because of safety cars, the average speed was quite low, and the winner got ahead of the hypothetical car at some point. If you look at the chart for the Abu Dhabi race (http://jaonf1.wpengine.com/2012/11/was-vettel-lucky-in-abu-dhabi-race-strategy-analysis/) you will see that this happened.


The zero line is a “ghost car”, which is the leaders total time for the race distance, divided evenly by the 56 laps, to give a constant average lap time. Naturally, the fuel-loaded cars are slower than this average lap time at the start of the race, but faster than it at the end of the race.


0= average speed of the winner over the entite race..

The chart itself are the laptimes of the drivers, compared to the average speed of the winner, =0


The zero line is the progress of a hypothetical driver running constantly at the eventual winner’s final mean lap time (i.e. not their progressive mean, but their final race time divided by race laps run at the chequered flag). Everyone else’s line shows their time gap from that hypothetical driver at the end of every lap.

Thus, in most races, the winner is behind his average time throughout but catches it on the line at the chequered flag.

On some few occasions, such as when the race starts dry but heavy rain falls quite late on, then the eventual winner, and others, might spend some of the mid-race ahead of the hypothetical driver — who is running, by our definition above, (and regardless of rain, shine, or pace car) at what turns out to have been the mean lap time of the winner.

Hope that covers it without burrying it, so to speak!


As you guessed it is the delta, but to the winners average lap time, and is accumulative.

Let’s use an example using round numbers over 4 laps;

average lap time = 2 mins

cars lapping slower than average lap time;

lap 1 = 2:22 accumulative delta = 22 secs

lap 2 = 2:10 accumulative delta = (22 + 10) 32 secs

care lapping faster than average lap time;

lap 3 = 1:50 accumulative delta = (32 – 10) 22 secs

lap 4 = 1:38 accumulative delta = (22 – 22) 0 secs

Hope that helps.


Difference to winner’s mean pace.

(That’s one line for ya!)


0 line is an imaginary line representing a car that puts in identical lap times from start to finish with an overall time the same as the race winner.

All drivers start at 0, due to fuel they go much slower than this imaginary car i.e. they fall further behind the imaginary car. You can tell when a driver is going slower than the average lap time because the gradient of the line is negative (it is going down).

As drivers burn off fuel they become quicker than this imaginary car travelling at average speed. This means that they start to catch this car. You can tell when a driver is going quicker than the average lap time because the gradient of the line is positive (it is going up).

Finally as the 0 line is calculated by taking the winners overall time and then dividing it by the number of laps, the winner must return to the 0 line at the end.

Further clarification, the sudden steep drops are where drivers take pit stops.

Only on occasions where the safety car is deployed or a race moves from dry to wet conditions is likely to produce a graph where the drivers are ahead of the imaginary average speed car (above the 0 line).

I hope this helps


I will miss these strategy reports once the season is finished…

James, I think you forgot to add Glock in the history bit. No worries, he’s the pink line 🙂

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