A game of strategy between Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull on record day for leaders
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Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Mar 2013   |  1:59 pm GMT  |  248 comments

The Australian Grand Prix got the new season off to a great start, with seven different leaders – a modern day record – and a fascinating strategic battle between Lotus, Ferrari and Red Bull.

There were many talking points from the race and things to analyse closely; Lotus’ confidence in opting for two stops; how Red Bull managed to lose a race for which they had qualified in pole position by over a second; how strategy cost Massa a podium finish; why Mercedes switched Hamilton’s plan half way through the race and some desperate moves by McLaren to try to salvage something from a difficult weekend.


Confident Lotus execute plan to perfection
After confirmation of their long run pace in testing at Barcelona and on Friday in Australia, Lotus planned to make 2 stops on Sunday, knowing that their main rivals would struggle to do the same. The key to it was being able to get to lap 8 or 9 on the supersofts at the start. This left them with 25 laps on the first set of medium tyres and 24 on the second set. That Kimi Raikkonen was able to use one less set of tyres than his rivals but still maintain the pace, says a lot for the Lotus pace as well as its tyre management (see graph at bottom of post)

The strategy team at Lotus were confident their plan would work and it got a boost when Raikkonen gained three places on the opening lap to come around fourth. Knowing that their main rival Fernando Alonso was three stopping and would be fast in the final stint, they did not want to pit Raikkonen too early second time around. So the laps between 25 and 34 were the only nervous time for the team. Had Raikkonen been forced to pit before lap 30, the race could have been lost to Ferrari.

Once Raikkonen had passed that marker, when he reported that the tyres were staring to go, they pitted him and he was able to run comfortably to the finish, with Alonso well covered. The impressive note was that Raikkonen set the fastest lap near the end, 1.2 seconds faster than the Red Bull, having been 1.2 seconds slower in qualifying than Vettel.


Ferrari cost Massa a podium and give points to Red Bull
Felipe Massa felt after the race that he had lost a podium through strategy and he is right. At the end of the second stint, Massa was behind of Vettel and ahead of Alonso. But the Brazilian was left out too long on his second stint and lost time. Ideally he should have pitted first, but as soon as Alonso pitted on lap 20 Massa had to react, as Vettel did. Instead he went to lap 23, losing time and two track positions in the process, trying to outrun Vettel who was now on new tyres. This handed three championship points to Red Bull and Vettel which could be important later in the season. It is no surprise that Ferrari prioritised Alonso’s race, but Massa was fast enough to beat Vettel in Melbourne and it hinged on this moment. It shows how fine the margins are in decision making.

That said, the fuel corrected graphs (botom of post) show that Massa held Alonso up in the opening 20 laps and Ferrari didn’t swap them over. Massa had outqualified and outstarted his team mate so was in position on merit and he had the fastest pit stops. But it definitely took something away from Alonso’s race effort. It’s debatable whether Alonso could have beaten Raikkonen had he been clear, probably not.

Mercedes salvage result despite strategy switch
The Mercedes qualified very well and had looked quick in the wet. So the question was, would they be hard on their tyres as in the past? The strategy team clearly tried to do the same as Lotus and cover the race in two stops, but the plan fell apart and Hamilton was forced to pit for a third time on lap 42. He finished fifth, 12 seconds behind Massa, whom he was racing. He would have been better off from third on the grid setting out to do three stops; he would have spaced them out more evenly to have optimum tyre performance.

For example – Hamilton stayed out until lap 13 on the supersofts. He was 7.3 seconds behind the Ferrari before it stopped on lap 8, but after losing time staying out, he was 16.7 seconds behind in the second stint. Without the consistency of the Lotus he was forced to pit on lap 31, which meant he was trying to do a final stint of 27 laps. They gave up the plan on lap 42 when it was clear it wasn’t going to work. There were plenty of positives for Mercedes to take away, but in Malaysia they will surely be working more carefully studying tyre life on long runs during Friday practice.


McLaren make some desperate moves

All the strategists in the pit lane were mystified by McLaren’s decision to put Sergio Perez on the supersoft tyres at the first stop, having taken the sensible decision to starting him on the medium, as Force India did with Sutil.

Perez started the race in 15th, while Sutil was 12th, so they had the same idea. But by taking the supersoft on lap 16 and then being forced to come in again on lap 23, it pushed Perez back into the traffic. Earlier, in qualifying, McLaren had also taken a big gamble with him on the supersoft on a wet track and that didn’t pay off either.

With a slower than expected car and clearly some problems to deal with, it looked like there was an element of desperation about their moves; shake the tree and hope something happens. On his first outing in a top team it was a tough way to welcome the young Mexican.

McLaren’s pit stops were shaky too: they were only 6th best on combined average stops in Melbourne at 22.462secs, whereas Ferrari’s combined average was 21.646secs.

Sutil and the Force India strategy team pulled their plan off brilliantly. He started behind Di Resta but had the advantage of starting on new medium tyres. He did the longest first stint of anyone at 21 laps, keeping the pace up and although Di Resta caught him at the end, the team told the drivers to hold station, finishing 7th and 8th.

With points for midfielders likely to be harder to get this year, it was the best possible way to start the year.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists, from Pirelli and from JA on F1 Technical Adviser Mark Gillan.

Graph – Fuel corrected lap times


This graph, prepared by Mark Gillan, shows the fuel corrected pace of the leading cars in Melbourne and can teach us a number of things about the relative performance of the packages.

The lap times in seconds are shown down the vertical axis (ie The lower the number the faster the pace)

The first thing to note is Raikkonen’s fundamental pace. Last year Lotus relied on good tyre management to get the results. This year they have combined that with a fast car as well as good tyre management and that is clear from this graph. If they can keep up that pace while using the tyres for longer than rivals, it means that they will be a threat for the forseeable future as this is the optimum for race performance on Pirelli tyres.

Secondly you can clearly see that Alonso loses time early on behind Massa but his Ferrari is very quick when he gets clear. Also note his final stint, to the right, where he pushes very hard in the early laps and damages the tyres, with the result that his pace drops off. Ferrari had to stop three times to do the lap times Lotus were doing with two.

Considering Vettel’s pace, it’s clear from this graph that the Red Bull didn’t have anything like the pace in race conditions that it had in qualifying. This could be due to a number of factors, but thermal tyre management is the most likely culprit. Having been a second faster than the Ferraris and 1.3s faster than the Lotus in qualifying, they are reduced to third fastest car in the race. And Vettel’s fastest race lap is 1.2 slower than the Lotus, despite using one more new set of new tyres in the race than Raikkonen.

This is perhaps the most telling stat of all. If they can repeat that in the heat of Malaysia then the championship will get really interesting.

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1

Why people still use to read news papers when in this technological globe all is available on net?

2

A fundamental thing to note was Kimi Raikkonen’s racecraft which was genuinely superior to everyone. If you note in supersoft his attack on Hamilton was aggressive and then closed in on the Ferraris, but after going on his mediums which were scheduled for long runs he deliberately dropped his pace and maintained a two second margin to the car in front, but when he had to overtake, such as he did to Sutil, he closed in without a moment’s hesitation he passed him, he was staying away from the rumble strips to extract that extra lap from the tires, while others were nose-to-tail and destroying their tires.

So, it was lesson by Kimi on how to deal with 2013 Pirellis.

3

Unfortunately, Ferrari screwed Massa’s race in favor of Alonso’s. That’s fact. Leaving him that long on track with old rubber made him lost positions and be back on track stuck behind Sutil.

Not fair to compare races between similar drives in different “clean air conditions”

4

Yep, but the fact that he first out-qualified Alonso and then still came in fourth after they stuffed up his strategy speaks volumes for his potential this year 🙂

5
Tornillo Amarillo

Hamilton was never fast enough in the race, either with plan A or plan B, he was losing time with the front-runners.

Not nice also to go backwards, he cannot feel good about that. For him maybe should be better to qualify 6th and get P5 than starting 3rd and getting also P5 at the end…

Also he cannot be happy when you negotiate to keep the trophies and then you don’t reach the podium, so nothing physical to grab and bring home proudly, but anyway, he will be there soon, hopefully, he is very capable.

6

Hi James,

You have produced another excellent analysis.

I hope that we will have another dry race in Malaysia. I don’t like the lottery that rain brings.

Eric Boullier wished for very hot conditions in Malaysia. Do you think that Lotus’s dominance in tyre degradation would be automatic if the weather gets hotter? Is it possible that everyone would be forced to change tyres so often that Lotus’s advantage would become marginal?

7

if tyre wear / performance is the most critical issue in f1 in 2013 then that’s where teams need to spend their budgets. maybe that last percentage of aero just isn’t worth all the expense. that seems to be the intention of the fia. every time someone comes up with a trick aero tweak it gets banned.

race pace is what matters.

8

You know that, I know that, probably everyone else knows that too, but if the teams think that they can get even a 0.01 second advantage for even one race and they have the budget for it, then they’ll go for it every time.

You’re absolutely on the money with the last line: Race pace *is* what matters 🙂

9

There was a threat of rain as well as historical occurrence of safety cars. That would have benefitted Force India and Merc? Thanks.

10

“… got the new season off to a great start, with seven different leaders – a modern day record”

Very close to one … there were 7 different leaders in the 2008 Canadian GP – HAM, HEI, BAR, COU, TRU, GLO, KUB.

But yeah, one off the all-time record, and one of only five races to have 7 or more race leaders:

ITA 1971 – 8

CAN 1973 – 7

BRI 1975 – 7

CAN 2008 – 7

AUS 2013 – 7

11

Hi James,

The McLaren ECU issue that affected the Red Bull Racing RB9 of Mark Webber on the weekend raises an interesting question, what oversight is there on McLaren by the FIA to help stop any question of conflict of interest?

12

The ECU should really be open source software, with any changes having to be agreed by all teams.

13

If it were open source then any team could make the changes they wanted and not tell anybody. They could have traction control, and ABS and many other driver aids. Thats the reason why they went to a “spec” ECU, so noone could cheat.

There was a rumor in the 90s that MSC’s Benetton had a secret menu only accesible by pressing a sequence of buttons and that it accesed TC, ABS and launch control.

14

Hero, I didnt know all the facts and I didnt want to open that can of worms lol

Quade, really? They have software engineers, they’d figure out a way to get in. Example, Im a machinist, I use a piece of software to program my cnc machines that is worth $25,000 fully optioned, but theres a crack for it.

15

That explains a lot – no wonder he liked to have so many buttons on his wheel 😉

16

It wasn’t a rumour, it was fact.

The FIA checked the software of Benetton, Mckaren and Ferrari at the San Marino GP in 1994.

They had to get passwords for all the systems. Ferrari was open to the inspectors, Mclaren initially resisted but Max Mosley told them that the software specialists worked on top secret military contracts for governments and F1 was a little to up its own …. To use that excuse.

These specialists when searching the Benetton system found secret paths to different menus which were accessed via specific button presses from the steering wheel.

They claimed that to remove this software would have caused fundamental problems to the system, so “hid” them. The FIA couldn’t prove they’d been used so couldn’t punish the team.

17

The FIA would be in charge and be the only party to be able to effect changes after all teams are agreed.

18

I agree with you in theory, but in practice the teams would never agree – they’d all push for changes to themselves an advantage and protest any changes that didn’t for fear of giving another team an advantage.

Best to have a (semi) benign dictatorship 🙂

19

Good question, but I don’t think it was a conflict of interest – they just messed up.

In all honesty, if they were going to rig the system it to stop a driver getting off the line, Vettel & Alonso would be a better bet 🙂

20

Can anyone comment on what I noticed throughout the race that Raikonen’s car was bottoming out quite a lot. Sparks flying from the skid pan. No other car did that. Does that mean he has a lower ride height (advantage with setup).

21

Yes, more sparks than any car in recent years. As the modern tendency is to run the rear of the car high, it’s curious.

22

I was wondering the same when I saw Raikkonen’s car in the last few laps and I was thinking hopefully his car will not breakdown. But as others said, may be it was with other cars too and the cameras did not catch that.

23

I hope McLaren can soften their springs and lower the car too, then it would go faster. Just like the first day at Jerez.

24

If the solution were that simple, they would have done that long time ago.

25

Martin Whitmarsh claims that McLaren was super quick at Jerez (day one) after fitting a part the wrong way, cos it lowered the car.

Even though the story sounds quite dodgy (to cover for setup issues), it would seem that all the McLaren wants is a lower ride height. Lewis said that the 2013 car he worked on was fantastic.

In the right hands, I’m sure the 2013 McLaren will blow the field away, its not normal to have had the fastest car last season and have a cow this season.

26

Could be also lower tyre pressure or softer suspension or a combination

27

Standing trackside at turn 12, Raikkonen’s car wasn’t the only one producing sparks. The TV coverage doesn’t get everything though, and this race in particularly I felt it seemed to centre a lot on just a few drivers.

28

I was wondering about that too, anyone have insight into it?

29

Yes i thought that too. it was especially doing that towards the end of the race when the ride height should not have been effected by fuel load. that said Melbourne is a bumpy street circuit.

30

I expected to see both Ferraris on the podium..(a prediction I made to friends before quali)

Massa never held up Alonso, FA couldn’t catch him.

I had a WTF moment when Ferrari pitted Alonso to undercut Massa and Vettel. They shot themselves in the foot.

Of course I understand Alonso is their priority, but it’s too early in the season to sacrifice the faster driver of the day…and I’m sure Felipe’s confidence could do without it.

As you say James, 3pts to Vettel may come back to bite them.

Slightly off topic… Webbers starts.

James, A few years ago I asked you if Webbers starts were down to him or his car?

Your answer was “a bit of both”

His starts have now become a thing of legend, to the point where we hardly notice the good ones (yes it occasionally happens).

{Alan Jones put it about as succinctly as you can at the F1 breakfast on Saturday.(a fantastic event btw)}.

Now we read Horner blames McLaren ECU and McLaren puts the blame back on Red Bull.

Do you have any insights as to what happened and who is to blame?

31

@ racyboy

which race you watched ?

Only until lap 10 for the first stint massa and alonso had identical lap times. Once Alonso did the undercut. He lap times were quicker and consistent. Massa’s second and third stint were too poor.

Massa held and blocked alonso all the way from start until the stop when ferrari cleared him out of the way

FA couldn’t catch him – Complete Joke

Alonso was closer to massa all the time in race 0.7 tenths to 1.5 secs

Ferrari sacrificed nothing.

Massa faster driver of the day for Ferrari – Another joke

Confidence, preferances, priority stories are complete Nonsesne

32

p.s.

From memory, Webbers starts were fine until he joined Red Bull….just remembered Sepang 10yrs ago when he put the Jag on the front row next to Shuey, one of the most painful starts I’ve ever seen.

33

Hi James, Thanks for the excellent reports. I also enjoyed your interviews in MLB at the Breakfast show.

Can you explain how Lotus have managed a car that is so kind to its tyres? This kind of advantage is substantial especially in the hands of a quick driver like KR. One wonders if in fact it will give Lotus the kind of advantage that Brawn had in 09 until the opposition manage to overcome it.

Second – the Ferraris make consistently good starts. Is it the drivers or clever electronics?

Look forward to any insight you may have.

Thank you

34

I will explain shortly have a nice tech insight from Mark Gillan

35

I am hardly waiting!

The fact that Pirelli test their tires on Lotus (ex-Renault) car probably helps.

And yes, I’m also interested in Ferrari perfect starts.

36

That man seem to be earning his biscuits 🙂

37

Great report James, thanks.

Just one point of view from this race in Melbourne, which i would like to listen your opinion and it is the way the drivers start the stints and the cause it makes in there durability.

From what i saw the in the GP, both RedBull and Ferrari start all stints on full attack mode, beginning of the race, and after all pit stops, every time those teams came out of boxes, they put their fastest laps and the tyres dont last long. In contraste, Mercedes tried the two stops, and they start the GP easy on tyres,and could do 13 laps on Super Soft (SS), once they could do so many laps on SS they tought it would be easy deal make the Mediums last 22 laps and Hamilton stars pushing after the first pit, result, the tyres only last 17 laps, only 5 more then SS and lighter on fuel.

Kimi startes the race on attack in the need to overtake Hamilton and then triyng to catch the front, result, pit in the same laps as Alonso, but he was faster by that time. Meanwhile, after the stops he was very easy on tyres, never putting personnal best and was controling the gap to the front, standing at 2 seconds from alonso, result, he could psh at the end of stint and could make those tyres lasts, and it was the same in the final stint, and after Alonso burn the new rubber it was easy for him to control the race.

It´s the beginning of the stint one possibility to preserve those tyres?

38

…But the lotus is soooooo UGLY!

I don’t know if thats a tactic to frighten 7 devils out of the opposition. 🙂

39

I reckon its won of the best looking cars.

40

lol..one..that wasnt a play on words

41

LOL! Looks like they’ll be keeping the stepped nose.

42

I thought the general consensus is that a track gets faster towards the end of the race. But lap times in this chart seem to go up instead of down. Any idea why? Backmarkers maybe?

43

Now that Lotus has managed to produce a car that can win on using a tire strategy (apart from speed and having a cool and blindingly-fast driver) the top teams will start a chorus of blame on Pirelli for robbing the fans of adventure!! Looks like Niki Lauda has already started it (Planet F1). Then, like last year, Pirelli will bring more durable rubber and really rob the fans of a classic season!

44

Lauda’s comments are actually quite insulting. t

To assume that fans are confused if there’re more than 2 pit stops underestimates the average F1 fan’s intelligence.

45

And I guess Lauda should ask more intelligent questions from his engineers, like how does Lotus run one stop lesser and still put in a fast lap on its 23rd lap on the tire?

46
Eduardo Gutierrez

I agree, if the teams do a good job with the tires, will be quick to two or three stops, if they do not succeed then complain.

47

I heard from people who were at the race that Raikkonen was very gentle and smooth on the throttle the whole race.

48

But, Pirelli executed tyre tests only with Lotus!

49

yes, but apparently Lotus was the only team willing to give their car for Pirellli’s tyre testing, as the other teams did’nt want to disclose “car secrets”? Good move on Lotus’s part.

50

Very,very good point.

51

JohnBt, it is true that they’re basically using a Lotus as the test car, as they did for the 2012 season. From memory it’s the 2010 Renault R30, so it’s not like Lotus are going to get some kind of unfair advantage over the other teams from it. The cars have all changed a lot since then, the tyres have changed a lot.

52

How is this possible?

53

Good point James, but doesn’t it happen with the agreement of all the teams? And isn’t there a proper governance structure to ensure that the data (if shared) is shared with all teams?

54

I sure hope it’s not true!

55

To those who have gotten used to it, and missed the Race History Graph and James’ comments on it, here’s one for the Top 6 teams. http://postimage.org/image/m9uvmaf2p/

56

This is simply the best F1 website that has ever existed! Well done James and team!!! Thanks Mark Gillan, what an excellent and telling graph. This really gives us plebs an insight into the minds of true F1 insiders.

Is it just me or did Massa have the fastest pace of all for a brief stint around lap 10?

57

Hi James! Another great piece. Any chance of posting Webber’s data? It appeared to me that he was better on his tyres and faster during the last few stints than Seb?

58

Very strange that the focus was on Perez and not Button? He thinks he’s the team leader doesn’t he?….

59

Excellent stuff, James, as usual.

Only one question: “Fuel corrected lap times” mean that the times included in the table have been corrected taking off the effect of the fuel carried by the cars at each lap (that .34 secs per lap that here cost every 10 kilos of fuel carried)?

Thanks in advance.

60

Yes

61

I agree with chromatic 100% , having Kimi only makes f1 only the more exciting and it would not quite be the same without him , I stopped watching for the two years he was away , maybe you can say that i loved what he brings to F1.Saying that i also appreciate class and skill of alonso,vettel and hamilton.

62

Question? This appreciation of class and skill of the three you mention, did you miss that when you weren’t watching because Kimi was away?

Just curious, because they were competing in 2010 and 2011

63

I was under the assumption red bull lacked race pace not only due to thermal tyre management but because they were running more wing, would not this explain better why they were so fast in quali trim?

64

It is a very bad situation for McLaren fans, they must have known they had a slow car in testing and did not so much about it it seems. They simply relied on the weather being hotter and that didn’t work so i think they will be stuffed for the first half of the season.

65

“…Also note his (Alonso’s) final stint, to the right, where he pushes very hard in the early laps and damages the tyres, with the result that his pace drops off.”

Now that we have a range of competitive cars at the front, what can’t we go back to the tyre formula of 2008/9? We were robbed of seeing Alonso & Raikonnen (and Vettel to be fair) going at it hammer & tongs in the final quarter of the race. It’s hardly as if it was exciting with the current tyres anyway?

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