Why Hamilton could pass in Hungary and Vettel couldn’t – and other stories
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  30 Jul 2013   |  6:31 pm GMT  |  195 comments

The Hungarian Grand Prix was one of the best races of the season so far and once again race strategy was the key to the outcome. The timing of the pitstops and an ability to cut through traffic were the decisive factors in the outcome with Mercedes’ straightline speed advantage a key factor.

Since Monaco Mercedes has raised its game in managing the thermal degradation of the tyres in the race – with the exception of Germany on those one-off Pirelli tyres – and is now in line with the field average for degradation. Hamilton set his fastest lap of the race on the penultimate lap, showing that there was still plenty of performance in the tyres despite track temperatures of 50 degrees. Mercedes would never have managed that a year ago!

For the second year in a row in Hungary, Lotus managed to beat Red Bull by using one less stop in its race strategy. As last year Raikkonen qualified behind but finished ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Pre-race expectations

Pirelli brought the new specification soft and medium tyres to Hungary and before the race the expectations were that most runners would do three stops with some likely to try two, particularly Lotus and McLaren.

Both McLaren drivers had the option to start on medium tyres, as did Mark Webber who set no time in Qualifying 3 and was 10th on the grid. All three took that option and it worked for Button and Webber. Perez lost time behind Hulkenberg in the middle stint and Maldonado in the third.

No-one was sure what effect the very high track temperatures of 50 degrees plus would have on the racing. In fact they seemed to help everyone rather than hinder them. The medium tyre, which will be used at many of the remaining races of the season, showed itself to be very durable.

Friday practice had appeared to show that Mercedes were not particularly fast on long runs, but close observation revealed they had been doing work on lifting and coasting into corners to cool the engine, which masked their true pace.

Red Bull had apparently dominant race pace and Sebastian Vettel, starting second on the grid behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, was expected to win.

But that is not how it turned out and here we will explain why.

Hamilton plays to Mercedes’ strengths

Lewis Hamilton was surprised when he took pole position, but nothing like as surprised as Vettel and Red Bull. Their strategy, as always, was based on qualifying in pole position and then building a gap at the start to manage the race. Starting behind Hamilton complicated this. Vettel started well enough from the dirty side of the track to run second in the opening stint and from there Red Bull’s strategy was to run longer first and second stints than Hamilton and then attack him at the end on fresher tyres. To set this up, Vettel stopped two laps later first time and three laps later second time.

But what ruined his strategy was that he came out of the pits behind Jenson Button, not once but twice. So he wasn’t able to use the performance of the new tyres as he was held up. He had tried to stay out as long as he could in the opening stint to build a gap to clear Button, who was on medium tyres and set to run a long first stint. But he lost time on the way into the pits. The gap was marginal to Button on lap 11 at 19 seconds, but Vettel felt the tyre performance going away rapidly and pitted. His in-lap was one second slower than Hamilton’s and he came out behind Button.

This cost him a shot at victory as he could not pass Hamilton’s former team mate for the 13 laps until Button stopped. During that time Hamilton was a second per lap faster than the Red Bull driver and the winning margin was established.

The key to Hamilton’s win was that he spent as much time as possible in free air, maximizing the potential of the tyres – something Red Bull and Vettel normally manage to do – while for once Vettel was on the back foot and couldn’t do it.

Part of the reason for this is that his car continues to be set up with a deficit on straight line speed. This is not normally a problem as he uses the better performance of the Red Bull in the corners to clear the DRS detection zone of one second in the opening laps.

However in Budapest, in the opening laps before DRS was enabled, the Mercedes was 5-7km faster on the straight than the Red Bull and that delta carried through to when the DRS was enabled. Vettel also had to sit a reasonable distance behind the cars in front so as not to overheat his engine and tyres; this did not help when trying to pass.

When passing the Mercedes-engined McLaren of Button, Hamilton had enough to get the move started, whereas Vettel simply did not. Hamilton was able to play to the strengths of the Mercedes, in other words. Everything came together on the day.

It is also worth noting that the leading cars had a more significant pace advantage than we have seen at some races this year. This meant that even with a short first stint on soft tyres, they were able to clear most of the midfield cars when they came out of the pits from their first stops. Hamilton rejoined 8th on lap 9 and was 4th by lap 13. The field spread was significant, creating gaps for the leader to exploit.

This is a pattern we are likely to see for the rest of the season, now It is clear how the new specification Pirellis work.

Alternative strategies bear fruit

It was a day when there were quite a variety of strategies in play, contributing to the diversity of the racing. Last year Lotus beat Red Bull in Hungary by using two stops to Red Bull’s three and they did it again this year, playing to Lotus’ strengths as a gentle car on its tyres.

Raikkonen’s plan was simple enough- to put him ahead of Vettel when the German made his third stop – but it required him to do a long final stint on medium tyres and hope that he had gained enough ground on Vettel to manage to stay ahead. It was touch and go and the Red Bull was much faster at the end, but Raikkonen defended brilliantly.

However the Lotus is capable of winning races, if one driver puts it all together. Grosjean qualified third, Raikkonen sixth. If Raikkonen had started third and run there in the opening stint he might have challenged Hamilton for the win. Instead he was forced to lose time after his stop as he dropped to 10th place behind Massa and Sutil in the middle stint.

Jenson Button was happy with seventh after a poor qualifying session put him 13th. His two stop race featured the longest stint on medium tyres of anyone at 33 laps and McLaren got the soft tyre out of the way in the middle stint, which was interesting, rather than the end, as Webber did it. Unusually McLaren did it with both cars, rather than split the strategies. This is not the fastest way to do the race, according to simulations, but they lucked out with Button to a certain extent due to the gap in performance to the midfield runners and some mishaps for others, like both Force Indias struggling and Massa damaging his wing. If they had been in a closer fight they might well have split the strategies.

Williams makes its point

The Williams team has been struggling for form this season and was without a point from the first nine races of the season. But Pastor Maldonado gave the team some breathing space from the Marussia and Caterham teams by finishing tenth. They were helped by both Force Indias and Nico Rosberg dropping out, but they beat the Toro Rosso of Daniel Ricciardo which had qualified 8th. In the race the Williams strategy team got it right to beat them and the Sauber of Nico Hulkenberg with three stints on medium tyres, after an initial burst on softs, the middle stint being the longer one. The Williams had better pace than the Sauber in the final stint, as the table below shows.

Tyre Strategies

Hamilton:SU MN (9) MN (31) MN (50) 3
Räikkönen:SU MN (13) MN (42) 2
Vettel: SU MN (11) MN (34) MN (55) 3

Webber: MN MN (23) MU (43) SN (59) 3
Alonso: SU MN (12) MU (34) MN (48) 3
Grosjean: SU MN (13) MN (25) DT (37) MN (47) 4
Button: MN SN (24) MN (37) 2
Massa: SU MN (11) MN (31) MN (48) 3
Perez: MU SN (23) MN (38) 2
Maldonado: SN MN (9) MN (28) MU (51) 3

Hülkenberg: SN MN (11) MN (35) DT (40) 3
Vergne: SU MN (8) MN (30) MN (50) 3
Ricciardo: SU MN (10) MN (38) 2
Van Der Garde: SN MN (8) MN (27) MN (44) 3
Pic: SN MN (13) MN (38) 2
Bianchi: MN SN (20) MN (33) MU (46) 3
Chilton: MN SN (21) MN (34) MU (50) 3

Di Resta: SN MN (9) MN (26) MU (48) 3
Rosberg: SU MN (10) MN (29) MN (48) 3
Bottas: SU MN (10) MN (33) 2 NC
Gutierrez: MN MN (23) 1 NC
Sutil: MN 1 NC

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

Courtesy of Williams F1 team

Note Raikkonen’s final stint; it’s long but the tyre degradation is minimal. Note also the comparison with Hamilton’s final stint, with much newer tyres, illustrating that the Mercedes driver was not having to push in final stint.

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What a load of twaddle I’ve waddled through in the last 190 posts.

People talk about straight line speed as if it was an inherent advantage for Mercedes, without realising that by making this choice they are making other key compromises, namely downforce and the ability to hold greater cornering speed.

Vettel and RBR have generally won over the last several years because the understood that a higher downforce setup would a) maximize their overall package, and b) give them greater cornering speed. The ability to follow closely through the last corner onto the main straight is the advantage you have with a higher downforce setup when the requirement is to overtake, and is a direct tradeoff vs straight-line drag.

On is occasion it is clear that Vettel couldn’t use that setup as well as he normally does…. But then that should be no surprise at all to anyone – It’s HUNGARY for gawd sake. Eddie Irvine once commented about Mansell’s win in 1989 that “Mansell was Mansell”, so is it with Lewis Hamilton. He can do things that no one else can.


James, I think that is not simple like that.

Just a matter of straight line speed..

Hamilton passe Webber (twice) and was not on the straight, but actually in the one of the more challenge f1 turn. And wait, it was a RedBull. It was like his classic move on the outside of Alonso at the Germany GP (2011).

We have other examples of overtakes at the Hungaroring GP this year that was not on the straights too.

Vettel was with fresh tyres and a lot faster than Button (well, even force India is faster than McLaren this year, and do not need to wait the tyres go away ;-).

So, I think was a lack of overtake skills and attitude.

Hungary is a highly technical circuit, Vettel just know how to start at front or overtake backmarkers.


a man called gary anderson criticised hamilton each time he pitted and said it was the wrong time and that hamilton should have stayed out a few laps longer. i didn’t understand why he thought the information he gathered from watching the screen was enough for him to suggest a better decision than the army of mercedes engineers and hamilton with the hughe information gathered between them.


Thank you James for the insight. It makes me feel better knowing that the characteristics of the cars contributed to the difference in passing Button as indicated in the title. Still, I wonder if Sena could have made the difference much smaller in Vettel’s seat. On the flip side, it’s good to have room for improvement.


I have been reading this blog for some time and feel compelled to complement the author – James, it is a delight to read such insightful, knowledgeable, unbiased and informative writing – unsurpassed anywhere on the web. Hats off!


Thanks! Tell your friends


hello james, i have noticed that most of my posts have been removed. did they break any of the house rules or is it because they oppose your opinion?


Just a bit slow moderating today


ok thanks i thought i was affensive.:-)


So based on this can we hope the season isn’t over and this wasn’t a case of too little too late? The next two races are what Ross Brawn described as “power tracks” which suit the Merc a little more plus he mentioned some “good upgrades” So strong results favouring LH with NR also taking points off the main competitors would breath some life the competition again. RB stated that they would make a decision on further developments after Monza. My gut feeling is that it might be a little too much to ask and that had LH not had the DNF at Silverstone then we’d see a good title charge.


SV had a DNF at Silverstone, LH finished fourth.


Pretty sure Lewis hasn’t had a DNF this year so far – he actually came 4th in Silverstone even though he was on the way to getting a 1st.

Still a lot of races to come and I’m still waiting for some last final fireworks between Webber and Vettel that might result in some more closing up the championship.


I firmly believe that Hamilton is better at overtaking than Vettel. Put him in a Red Bull and he would also have breezed past Button. Vettel is best when there us clear air ahead of him.


In a way, Merc’ pole on Sat., bold win on Sun. was the result of the great tactics and mind games. For the whole weekend, they played underdogs. All around the paddock (including me so far from it) expected the heat will compromise their race pace.

Even after Lewis getting the pole, he told everybody that miracle is required to win the race. I guess everybody agreed with him. Until the light was off, the race started. Instead of slowing down, he pulled away step by step.

I think Seb. must feel regret at the moment that he should have pushed a little bit more on the 2nd sector of his last quali lap. He really had the chance for pole this week.

At the end of the day, Ross and Lewis always knew they have a chance for the pole and have a chance for the win. And they did it.

This is old Ross’ tactics as the old days.

Ya, this is my imagination and I really hope it is true.

With this trend, they could fight the RBR for the 2013 WDC/WCC.

Go Ross, Go Lewis, Go Nico, Go Silver Arrows~~~


I think that this race proves that Hamilton is quite a cut above Vettel, in that he managed to make the passes when required & Vettel didn’t. There has been so much talk from the Vettel fans about how good he is, but from where I am sitting it is quite simple; put them both in a competitive car and Hamilton makes Vettel look mediocre.


Not mentioning Ferrari’s lack of pace with a single word might looks like you don’t want to anger LdM. James, a journalist of your caliber.. ? 🙁


Not a regular reader, clearly..


Wrong – a regular reader and your book buyer.


Well you should know then that we have written many stories about Ferrari’s lack of pace!

And analysed it in the strategy reports.


Hamilton generally is very good and aggressive in his overtakes as compared to Vettel.

If Merc does well and win at Spa, part two of the season will be fantastic to watch contenders close up the points gap.

This year feels more like T1 than F1.


He’s aggressive all right! If he keeps driving like he did in Hungary he’s going to crash out of a few races before the year is out.

Of course it’s easier to be aggressive when you’re well behind and have nothing to lose. If Hamilton had a 35 point lead in the standings he’d drive a good deal more cautiously.

nicolas nogaret

hamilton called for new tyres on lap 9 which , judging by his lap times was spot on

vettel went another 2 laps [ his call , or the team’s ? ] which looks to have been a lap too far for the tyres judging by his in-lap time ; no doubt to try and clear button but , as seen , he was too slow and didn’t make it


Simply that Hamilton is the better driver! Sure Vettel is fast and very disciplined, but when the Hamilton magic switches on I doubt many could live with him. Frankly the Red Bull car should have been faster around that circuit, but on that occasion it was probably about the same in overall terms as the Mercedes. It was Hamilton’s ability to overtake in unauthodox places that helped win that race. so it begs the question what switches Hamilton on?! – Simply a bloody fast car, and it’s beginning to look as though Mercedes are finally coming up with the goods. – I hope so because that will mean an almighty battle for this championship.


James, I believe Lewis would have won this race regardless as to whether Vettel had passed Button earlier as he was not driving for the last many laps (and more) as fast as he and the car was capable of going – his fastest lap just before the end shows this.

In my view, of all the current F1 drivers it’s Lewis Hamilton who is the best overtaker when in a car capable of overtaking, it’s a pity that he wasted too many years at McLaren and this from a dedicated McLaren fan (fingers crossed they can get it back when they team up with Honda though they’ll need a star driver as their current pairing isn’t that)!

I hope McLaren don’t go the way of Williams.


It’s a little misleading James, about Maldonado’s pace compared to Hulkenberg in the final stint considering the Williams tyres were 16 laps younger.

Up until before Nico’s drive thru there was little to seperate them. But I’m guessing after the penalty, Sauber probably decided to revert doing no more stops in a bid to gain back loss time. By the end of the race, it’s clear he’d reached ‘the cliff’ on the tyres and only just stayed ahead of the Toro Rossos.

Nonetheless, a well deserved point for Williams


hi james, were you serious when you wrote “This is a pattern we are likely to see for the rest of the season, now It is clear how the new specification Pirellis work.”?

i think there are many variables which affect the pattern and the tyres are just one of they many and it’s not clear to any of the teams how the tyres work. they are all trying hard to guess how they work by collecting as much data on them as they can at every test and free practice sessions in order to make as good a guess as they can.

we will see they patterns when the occur. until then……..



Do you think Mark may have won, by stopping on lap 27 and doing a two stopper?


“there was still plenty of performance in the tyres despite track temperatures of 50 degrees. Mercedes would never have managed that a year ago!”

or even three months ago! That would be shortly after Barcelona…

Hamilton’s own top performance aside, surely that 3 day Pirelli test has been bearing fruit for merc ? I’m sure they have also progressed otherwise with their dev work. But it was a help?


Why did McLaren take the soft tyres in the second stint? That’s pretty unusual. What was the benefit for them?


Off topic, but is this true? Ferrari offering Raikkonen seat for 2014?

It’s getting more and more interesting…



Its a drivers circuit and Vettel has not won that one.

Vettel would have a lot more fans if he lost his unsportmanly arrogance. Vettel was really out of line when he said that the Hungaroring is not a great track. The organisers go to lengths to put a great circuit like the garoring on the calendar (not to mention the bonus it is for the economy)and no driver should bad mouth that. I think he should get a slap on the wrist for that. Every driver has his good and bad circuits, and Seb please learn to grow up and take the good and the bad with some dignity. If you get a podium your face shouldnt look like a wet monday morning.


Suzuka is the drivers circuit not Hungary mate!

Also the hungaroring is not a great race track as you cant pass on it.


There are few circuits which are less “drivers circuits” than the Hungaroring. It’s one of the worst tracks of the year, along with Monaco.


“Since Monaco Mercedes has raised its game in managing the thermal degradation of the tyres in the race”

You mean since Mercedes did the Pirelli test in Barcelona.

Amazingly coincidental for a team that claimed to have “learned nothing” from said test.



Are RB now going to be forced on the defensive and go for a less radical setup? In Hungary they were pretty much the slowest 2 cars down the straight and they paid for it.

Vettel can’t afford to lose 10 points to Hamilton every other weekend and they have to be thinking that he’s the real challenge now if they believe that Merc have sorted their issues once and for all and Ferrari are barely keeping up and Lotus just snapping around their heels most of the time.

With the apparent ascendancy of the silver cars, Vettel could now have 7 other cars with the capability of taking points off him, with 3 of them capable of taking the [almost expected] pole off him.


James, have you heard of anything about Ferrari offering a seat to Kimi in 2014?

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