Balancing risk and reward: The big decisions behind the Belgian Grand Prix
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Aug 2013   |  10:11 pm GMT  |  130 comments

The Belgian Grand Prix was not one of the most exciting races of the 2013 season but the weekend featured some fascinating strategic decision making, which had a significant bearing on the outcome of the race.

In a slight departure from the normal scope of this report, in addition to looking at the race strategies, we will also look at the strategic decisions taken at the end of qualifying on Saturday, which affected both qualifying and the race.

Decisive moments in Qualifying

In many ways the qualifying session in Spa was more entertaining than the race and it certainly featured some significant moments of decision-making. The Q1 session was wet to start with and drying at the end and the smaller Caterham and Marussia teams, with nothing to lose, successfully gambled on switching to dry tyres before the end, which led to three of the four backmarkers making it through to Q2, at the expense of both Williams and Toro Rosso drivers. However from 19th place on the grid Daniel Ricciardo was able to come through in the race, using strategy, to gain a point for 10th place.

But the really significant strategy decision faced the leading teams when rain began to fall during the final Q3 session. Those who had gone out on dry tyres were forced to pit for intermediates. Force India however gambled from the start with Paul di Resta, delaying their departure from the pits at the start of the session, to confirm their belief that rain would fall.

So he was on track on the right tyres as the others returned to the pits and he set a competitive lap time, which looked for a while like it could be pole position as the rain fell more heavily. It was a bold call by Force India, but the right one for the conditions. It was beyond their control that the rain eased off in the final few minutes of qualifying, which allowed four cars, now on intermediate tyres, to beat his time. Di Resta was fuelled for more laps, but his tyres didn’t have another good lap left in them, so he was sitting in the pits when the pole lap was set.

In wet conditions the time penalty for carrying a few laps of extra fuel is minimal compared to dry conditions and the big gains come from being out on the track so you can adapt to the changing weather conditions and profit from any improvement in them, which is what Mercedes and Red Bull did.

This required the team fuelling the cars, when they pitted for intermediates, for enough laps to remain out on track at the end. Not everyone got this bit right; Hamilton, Vettel and Webber were fuelled for three laps, Rosberg, Alonso, Button and the Lotus pair for two. Rosberg did a superb job to take 4th, but wasn’t on track when the track was at its best. Alonso was but he had spun, losing the initiative, while the Lotus cars were not as competitive in the wet as they had been in the dry Q2 session.

Ferrari had short-fuelled Massa for one quick lap, so he would get out ahead of the rest and this gave him optimum track conditions for that moment. But it also meant that he wasn’t on track at the end when the faster times were set.

This is strange because although there is a clear upside in running on a clear track, there was also a lot of risk in this strategy; there was plenty of evidence from the changeover from Q1 to Q2, that the track dried very quickly. So any slight easing in the rain would leave Massa exposed, as it subsequently proved. He ended up 10th.

The key ingredient then was timing and Red Bull and Mercedes got this right with Hamilton and Vettel in particular. Hamilton crossed the line with two seconds to spare to start his final qualifying lap, Vettel was just ahead of him. So the teams gave both drivers the best chance of getting the desired result. Hamilton duly took pole ahead of Vettel.

The point here is that, although on the face of it rain makes it a “lottery” and there was some luck involved in the rain easing off at the end, by giving the drivers enough fuel to be out on circuit to the very end, they gave them a chance to master the situation, whatever may arise. As JA on F1 technical adviser and former Williams strategy chief Mark Gillan observed, “Luck? Possibly, but in my experience the better people tend to be in a position to capitalise. The timing here was exquisite.”

Q3 is only 10 minutes long and a lap of Spa in those conditions was around two minutes, so there isn’t much time and wrong calls can have a profound impact.

Pre-race expectations and strategies of note

The pre-race predictions showed that the difference between one stop and two stops was only around a second, with the wear rate and degradation on the medium and hard tyres not showing significant differences. But there was a pace difference, with the medium around 0.8secs per lap faster than the hard.

With a dry race following a wet qualifying session the choice of starting tyre was open and most people opted for the softer tyre, the medium. One notable exception was Daniel Ricciardo who started on the hard tyre and did a long first stint. When he stopped on lap 16 he had risen to 13th place and he resumed in 17th. He then ran the rest of the race on the faster medium tyre and this brought him up to 11th at his second stop and he was able to come through Vergne and Perez, both on the hard tyre, in the final stint to finish 10th.

Jenson Button tried to do a one-stop strategy, the same as he had won the race with 12 months earlier. McLaren appeared confident before the race that their car had low enough degradation on the tyres to achieve this, but as it turned out Button was forced to make a second stop on lap 34, ten laps from the finish, when he was running third.

At the time there was a possible threat of rain and had that happened and had Button been able to drive to the moment when everyone needed to pit for wet tyres, he would have been on the podium. But with Grosjean, also on a one-stop strategy and catching him at almost a second a lap, Button had time to pit and rejoin ahead, which he did. So he finished where he started in sixth. Normally being forced to switch strategies like that carries a heavy penalty, but Button was helped by Massa, against whom he was racing, not having much pace in his Ferrari and not posing any threat to him.

In contrast the other Ferrari of Fernando Alonso managed to go from 9th on the grid to 2nd at the finish, thanks to a superb start, which gained him four places and he then passed Button and Rosberg. He was second when he pitted on lap 13. By staying out two laps longer than Hamilton, he was right behind the Mercedes when it came out of the pits and was able to pass him for second place. This gave him the result he would have had if he had qualified where he might have done with a perfect execution.

The other interesting decision was Webber and Red Bull opting for the hard tyre at the first stop, very much against the tide. Webber had another poor start due to a clutch problem and dropped from third to sixth on the opening lap. He stopped a lap before Vettel, who went for the medium, but ran a similar length stint of 16 laps, so wasn’t able to take the advantage of running a longer middle stint, to set him up for a quick blast on new medium tyres at the end. His lap times in the second stint, behind Nico Rosberg were almost a second slower than Vettel’s and so he wasn’t able to take the upside gain of a longer middle stint.

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


Vettel:MU MN (14) HN (30)
Alonso: MN MU (13) HN (28)
Hamilton: MN MU (11) HN (26)

Rosberg: MU MN (12) HN (25)
Webber: MU HN (13) MN (29)
Button: MU HN (17) HN (34)
Massa: MN MU (9) HN (26)
Grosjean: MU HN (22)
Sutil: MN HN (11) HN (26)
Ricciardo: HN MN (16) MN (33)

Perez: MN DT (13) HN (18)
Vergne: MN MN (10) HN (24)
Hülkenberg: MN HN (9) HN (24)
Gutierrez: HN MN (19) MN (28) DT (41)
Bottas: MN HN (14) HN (28)
Van Der Garde: MN HN (15) HN (29)
Maldonado: MN HN (11) HN (27) SG (38)
Bianchi: HN MN (14) HN (28)
Chilton: HN MN (15) HN (29) DT (32)
Di Resta: MN HN (10) HN (25)
Räikkönen: MU MU (14)
Pic: MN

M = Medium compound
H = Hard compound
N = New compound
U = Used compound
NC = Not classified
DT = Drive Through Penalty
SG = Stop/Go Penalty (10 seconds)

Courtesy Williams F1 Team

The zero line is simply the race winner’s average lap time (total race time divided by the number of race laps). This is why his curve can go above the line if he’s lapping faster than his average, and below the line if he’s slower than his average or doing a pitstop.

The vertical axis is the gap behind the leader, the horizontal axis is the number of laps.

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Lewis gets all the luck in qualifying but little in the actual race.

Others get it visa versa.

No-one needs to complain.


I think webber is the most unluckiest driver. All problems always happen to him like KERS or a in this case a clutch problem. It would have been good to see where he would have finished had he not had a problem. Also, I think there definitely is something going on at Red Bull as Vettel never has a technical problem.


The person who really had bad luck was Kimi. Peel off visor blocking brake cooling? How unlucky was that?


absolutely no luck involved in Hamilton's race. He wasnt quick enough and no bad or good luck influenced his race.

Likewise, to be fair his qualifying pace is exceptional. Over one lap that Merc is incredible.


The reason why there tends to be a biase against Vettel is that for the last four years he has had an exceptional car. Yes there have been fluctuations, but by and large the best car. The thing about the Red Bull car is that it is so agile with supreme aero efficiency, and downforce and that's a big plus where it counts. That said there's absolutely no doubt that Vettel knows how to drive it and is supremely consistent and it is consistency that wins championships. Doesn't mean you have to like him as he needs to take lessons in sportsmanship from his countryman Rosberg, and perhaps leave that finger unfurled.

Tornillo Amarillo

If VETTEL, ALONSO and HAMILTON had the same, same, same car, the 2013 Vettel's Red Bull, so...


RACE: I guess HAMILTON as well.

Tornillo Amarillo

I did not put KIMI at the same level of HAMILTON - VETTEL - ALONSO because several times he has GROSJEAN ahead... I don't like that.


Mostly agree with @Paige comments. Enjoyed reading such balanced and reasonable arguments until it came to putting KR in an unequivocal number one position for the race pace, race craft title. I totally agree that Kimi is a match for SV, LH, and FA on Sundays but am of the opinion that there really is no definitive answer to this endless, 'who is the best driver' question. Kimi no doubt thrives in this era of no refuelling and tyre saving but that doesn't necessarily mean he is the best driver on the grid each Sunday. On their given day, each of LH, SV, FA, and KR can be unbeatable but, this being F1 we are discussing here, there are simply too many variables at play for any one of those drivers to be labelled 'the best'.

As far as one lap, low fuel pace is concerned, I have LH just edging SV on most, but definitely not all, occasions and at the same time I wouldn't so readily discount the capabilities of FA or KR if they were piloting the current Red Bull or Mercedes in qualy trim.

All told, I just think us F1 fans are very fortunate to have a grid so replete with outstanding talent. Long may it continue. (I also prefer the oft mentioned top 4 of KR, LH, FA, and SV each driving different cars for different teams as it gives rise to some great, measured discussion alongside some hilariously biased arguments made by the OTT, die hard fans who just know for sure that their pilot is the Top Gun of all Top Guns who have ever raced in F1. It's all good, IMO).

We do need the front running teams to mount a viable challenge to the Red Bull hegemony from 2014 on. Then the debate will really ignite.


Paige is my new besty here, as she calls it spot on. !


I wouldn't go this far. I think Hamilton and Vettel are very comparable on one-lap pace, for starters. I'd call this a tossup between the two of them. Alonso is definitely a step behind them in this regard, and he would admit this. (And has.)

In the race, this is an interesting question. A lot of it is about whether or not you can get the car set up to your comfort level to be able to set a nice rhythm of quick laps over a race distance. Alonso has always been very good at this on a consistent basis, as is Vettel. Hamilton has a tendency to struggle with this at times, and even admits it. In terms of race craft, Hamilton and Alonso are both masters at this, whereas Vettel still has some rough edges- such as in Hungary this year, when he arguably didn't have the straight-line speed to get by Jenson quickly and ended up getting impatient and damaging his front wing when he got into him. In terms of managing tires, I think this is basically a wash. Drivers of their quality know how to drive quickly while keeping the tires under them. Hamilton used to struggle with it, but he's fixed this problem.

I think if you want to see what would happen if you put two of them in the same car, then you have all of the evidence in the world for this from the 2007 season- Hamilton outqualified Alonso, but they ended the year even on wins and points. Hamilton has ironed out his tendency to make stupid mistakes that he had when he was a rookie and has gotten better at setting up the car, and Alonso has probably lost a tenth or two in one-lap pace since those days, but I still think Alonso would optimize the setup more consistently and would come out even or close to even with Hamilton on points for the year. Vettel would also outqualify Alonso, and I think the two of them would probably get their cars set up right with similar consistency. But Alonso's race craft is a cut above Vettel's, and this would bring him close to or even on points with Vettel in the end.

These three are quite even, with Hamilton and Vettel a slight cut above Alonso IMO.

But there is one absolutely glaring omission that you made from this discussion, at that is one Kimi Raikkonen. He EASILY belongs in this category, and in fact is the guy that you maybe should take ahead of these three. IMO, he's got the best race craft of anyone in F1 right now- better than these three. He is also horrendously underrated in terms of his technical capability. Read his radio transcripts during formulations laps before the race. He is very, very specific in his feedback on the area of the car that needs to be changed to make it go quicker and to the degree it needs to be changed. McLaren engineers who worked with him said they were amazed at his capability in this regard: nearly every time he would tell the engineers to fix something, he would go out on the track afterward and go faster. And in an era with Pirelli's that degrade quickly, Kimi is the guy you want to have in the car, as his driving style is perfect for this. He's probably lost a couple of tenths of his one lap pace from the McLaren days, but I think he would still be close enough to Hamilton and Vettel, and his driving style of shortening the corner and making linear applications is perfect for quick race pace, as it minimizes the effect of car deficiencies and the amount of sliding/wheelspin/etc..James Allison said that Kimi broke traction just twice in Australia this year.

If I was going to call it, I would say:

Qualifying: Lewis or Seb

Race: Kimi


Only if you are a Hamilton supporter


Agreed, niether ALO, VET or HAM had any luck in the race either good or bad. Instead they each performed to the best possible level that their car was able to drliver.


Merc had edged towards a wet setup for the race so perhaps a bit of bad luck that it was totally dry. Do not know if it would have changed the result had it rained, the red Bull looked seriously quick.


That was it really. Merc misread the weather.


Over 1 lap Hamilton is, without doubt the fastest current F1 driver a fact (I believe)the other F1 drivers acknowledge.


Why can't we just say that both Hamilton and Vettel are exceptionally talented drivers and clearly the fastest two on the grid at the moment? Because they are on both counts. Both of these guys have had quick teammates and beaten them regularly in qualifying. Hamilton as a rookie was topping Alonso when he was at the prime of his one-lap pace in 2007, and he's topping Rosberg- an exceptionally quick driver- this year. And in case you guys didn't realize it, Webber is also an exceptionally quick driver over one lap (this was a guy who was getting on the front row sometimes in Jaguars back in the day), and Vettel has him covered in qualifying. Granted, Webber is older than his prime pace days, but he has still managed to win poles over the last few years, and you need to be very quick in F1 to win poles no matter what the quality of your car is.

Sure, they have both had very quick cars in which they have won all of the poles that they have. But you still need a driver out there in the car who will get the most out of it. Lewis and Seb have proven that they are the guys you need to have in the car to do this. They are by far the two quickest guys on the grid right now. Who is quicker? We'll never know unless they are ever paired together. (Which is actually a real possibility. You can't tell me Merc isn't giving serious thought to signing Seb for 2016 and putting him with Lewis. It just makes so much sense for them.)

Lewis and Seb are often accused of making mistakes in qualifying and getting poles with quick cars. What do you mean by mistakes? You mean that they don't hit every apex, or something like this? Hitting every apex isn't necessarily what makes for the fastest lap time. There isn't a driver coach in the world who will tell you that hitting every apex is necessary to do a fast lap given the car. If you are incredibly quick on corner entry, miss the apex, but able to get the nose set and get back in the gas quickly and wrestle the car into form on exit, then most likely you will do a faster time, as you are in the apex for a relatively short time in a lap. Compare this to someone like Jenson, who is known for hitting apexes, but doesn't have the most renowned record when it comes to outqualifying teammates (unless his teammate is a past it Villeneuve or Takuna Sato).

And even if you completely screw up a corner, it's possible to make the time up elsewhere. And in fact, making a mistake and having the composure to focus and nail the rest of the lap is a skill in and of itself.

There is more than one way to skin a cat.


I think all the other drivers and myself agree that over 1 lap the merc is without doubt the fastest current F1 car with whatever driver is driving it.


The Mercedes is exceptional in qualifying, easily the fastest car over a lap.

Just look at all the poles Hamilton got this season, filled with mistakes (more than the 2nd guy) and still gets pole.


A good measure of raw speed is qualifying performance. Some stats: Poles Vettel 39 Hamilton 31 Alonso 22 Raikkonen 16


Yes ... if it is Hamilton, then it is the driver. If it is Vettel, then it is the car.


Hamilton is fast over one lap, and he can be fast in the race providing he has the car to do it. I still don't think the Merc allows him to be as fast as he could be because of brake feel, but I'm sure they will get there at some point. Vettel and Rosberg are also very fast drivers, Rosberg in particular being very much underrated largely because of the cars he was in. This time Mercedes compromised set up with too much drag so they need to work on that


James, I would have though much of the strategy was actually played out on Saturday with the way the cars were set up in terms of gearing and wing settings. Some expected or hoped for a dry race (Red Bull) others (Mercedes) went for a wet setting with more wing and lower gearing. Ferrari seemed to be somewhere between these two extremes. How about the rest?

Also, no mention made of the Monza style "mini" rear wing on the RedBull which contributed significantly to how easily SV overtook LH barely a mile into the race..


If the race had been partially wet then it may have been a different story, but not to be.


Vettel was able to pass Hamilton so easily by using pretty much all of his KERS energy on the run up to Les Combes, rather than because of the wing.


Vettel said himself that he didn't use all his KERS for the pass, and neither did Hamilton use all his to try to defend. Both said that in the post-race press conference.


No, he took Lewis so easily because he came out of Eau Rouge at a ridiculous pace compared to Hamilton. Possibly because the Mercedes was just rubbish on full fuel or just slow in general, possibly coz Vettel managed a smoother line through it, possibly coz he got a good tow through Eau Rouge, or a mix of some or all of the above. Some KERS certainly helps, but KERS won't just rocket a car straight past in that kind of manner.

The wing could very well have helped too. We've seen plenty of occasions with their higher downforce setups where the RB is obviously faster through the twistier bits where overtaking is unlikely/impossible, but then when it gets on to the straights it just doesn't have the straight line speed to get past. We saw it in Hungary. Vettel was clearly quicker than Button but got stuck behind him for much of the race. From memory he ended up having to take him into turn 4, which isn't ideal. And then he got stuck behind Raikkonen, who he was again clearly quicker than. Of course Hungary's a bit like that anyway.

Also, Hamilton did mention the RB and Ferrari killed him in a straight line, and Alonso added that Rosberg was similarly slow down the straights too.


The Red Bull very low downforce "mini" wing was only used during practice on Friday. A more medium downforce wing was used Saturday and Sunday. The RB9 produces more downforce through the floor and the exhaust feed to the diffuser. And Seb is a better all-around pilot than Lewis. Sorry.


Do you somehow forget that in 2012 Lewis lost two races due to mechanical failures in the lead ( Singapore and Abu Dhabi) . Do you forget the fuelling errors Mclaren made in Spain, and 4 major pit stop blunders that cost him leading positions in races..if you take only some of these he would be challenging for the title last year.

Drivers and cars speed are not only what wins championships- teams, strategy and reliability also.

Sebastian has had the fastest car for the most part of 4 years ok at some times it a been equalled by Mclaren/ Ferrari - BUT always it has been at the very front in speed and consistency !---that's a FACT!


Vettel has had more car problems over the last four years than either Hamilton or Alonso. Far more than Alonso (who has had the most reliable car in F1) and somewhat more than Hamilton.


Also does this mean that RedBull can now be fast in both the high down force parts of the tracks and also the high speed parts at the same time with the same set up. Incredible if they can, just incredible.


I was thinking along the same lines. Does this mean that RedBull has such superior downforce in other parts of the car that they can run this minimal rear wing or less rear wing in future.

If Vettel can drive this fast with such a small rear wing/less drag it will be craze dominance from RedBull.


I think id like to see them in the same car first but i doubt there would be alot in it.


Seb is a better driver than Lewis and anyone else, only when driving a much, much better car. But I really struggle to recall ANY situation when he done something noteworthy when his setup had some issues. I'll go one step further and say if FA or KR had his car in 2010 and 2012 than back there wouldn't be any other competitor for WDC and for sure no other driver would bring the fight to the last race.

And I'm not LH fan. Sorry.


Not the best car in 2010 or 2012?!?!!

*shakes head, weeps for the world*


Seb did win in a Toro Rosso. He deserves credit for that. Clearly, he is an awesomely talented driver- I'd put he and Lewis on the same level as the quickest two.

But that weekend was a very special weekend. It has been documented that the Toro Rosso was generating high braking heat that weekend, which allowed it to warm the tires and get good grip in the wet. Bourdais was also quick in qualifying that weekend. And as I recall, McLaren made a cockup on Hamilton's qualifying strategy that saw him exit in Q1 when he showed the best pace that weekend, and they also made another cockup in tire strategy for the race after Hamilton had driven all the way up to 2nd and was looking like he would at least challenge Vettel for the win.

This is not to take anything at all away from the quality that Vettel showed that weekend. When you show that kind of pace in that kind of car in the wet, you are of an absolutely elite class. But in F1, you don't win with 5th or 6th row cars on a weekend. You just don't. You need at least something with the car to be working very well that weekend. Even Senna's brilliant performance at Monaco in 84 with the Toleman came with a unique circumstance with the car that gave him something of an advantage, as the Hart engine was less abrupt on initial power delivery, causing it to spin tires less. No one ever talks about Fisichella's pole and 2nd place in Spa in 2009 as establishing him as one of the greatest talents in F1 history. It is always talked about as a unique circumstance that strongly suited the characteristics of the car and allowed him to get up there and fight for it.


SV won in a torro rosso!!!!!


Maybe Vettel actually irons out setup issues in practice like you're supposed to do?

FA needed the misfiortunes of Vettel and Hamilton to take those two titles to the final round in 2010 and 2012- if those had affected him in the RBR, and Vettel was in the Ferrari, we'd have had the same result.


but we'll never know.


Continue to tell yourself that, as you think its just the car what people forget is when looking at Alonso he hadly has reliability issues also the only driver in a top 4 car that has not been on the front row it speaks more about his own ability I personally believe Vettel in that Ferrari would be doing a better job!


I said all-around pilot, not driver. The RBR wasn't the best car in either 2010 or 2012.

And you weren't the commenter I was responding to.


Spot on. As I conmmented earlier on another post, there has to be an element of set up involved in explaining how Mercedes were overtaken by Ferarri, but more importantly Red Bull(!!), as if Merc were standing still on the track. Red Bull have never before been that supremem in straight line speeds against the Merc. The only overtakes they've pulled over Merc on track have been a result of either:

1. Merc on must more used/degraded tyres; or

2. Driving mistake/poor corner exit, etc.

Yet they breezed past in Spa.


Yeah, the speed difference was pronounced. But it was the same in Bahrain, when Vettel's RB9 looked like a modern-day MiG behind Alonso's Lancaster bomber F138.

I have to think it has to have something to do with significantly different fuel weights at the start of the race, b/c of the Renault's better fuel efficiency.

Maybe all that complaining from Horner in 2009 turned a frozen-in disadvantage during refueling days, into a frozen-in advantage since 2010 in the no refueling era.


Interesting point ! Renault need less fuel because their engine is 'more fuel efficent' but it's also 20hp or so down. Quite simply, to create extra power you need a bigger bang, which means more fuel in.

I actually think the reason Seb made such a visibly quick pass on Lewis was that LH smacked the kerb on the exit of Eau Rouge, Vettel didn't and had strategically used his KERS & the slipstream. Add that all together and the result was there for all to see.


Great points, especially the mini wing, which I failed to notice and may possibly?!? help explain the apparent jump in straight line speed achieved by the Red Bull-Vettel package.

I would very much enjoy reading comments about the mini wing and its contribution to the Red Bull straight line speed.


That was RBRs mid wing, they've a really low downforce one as well, which is what Vettel tried in P1 & P2 but didn't race with it. Expect to see it at Monza.

There is no doubt that RBR went for pace in S1 & S3 this year at Spa rather than trying to get pace in sector 2.

Basically the Red Bull drivers both massively excelled in qualifying, they had nothing like the downforce levels of the Mercs. Ferrari took the low downforce route too, and look what happened to Alonso in Q3.

It's interesting how people can appreciate that Vettel was able to pass Hamilton because his car had more straight line speed this weekend, yet at Hungary that concept was lost on fan boys who thought Vettel couldn't overtake, even though his car was 19th in the speed traps. Shame F1 has 'fans' like that.

Spa was a really suprising result, it's normally Merc powered territory, as is Monza. If that was Merc's low downforce wing then I think they're going to be be in big trouble at Monza, as Ferrari clearly had the legs on them as well.


"Also, shouldn’t lights to flag mean that the lead was never relinquished? Vettel led every lap in Belgium; Lewis led 48 of 70 laps in Hungary."

Only relinquishing the lead in the pitstops, then?


Paul, Rosberg started 4th on the grid in Hungary.

The passes by Lewis in Hungary were not givens. Button had good top speed in Hungary, it was an outbraking pass instead of gliding by on the straight.

And there was nothing "given" about Lewis' pass on Webber around the outside of turn 2.

Here's a good question to ask: when Bottas' car rolled off on the straight, and the possibility of a Safety Car was high, did you think "oh, no big deal for Lewis if it closes up the gap"? I certainly didn't ... a SC then might've cost him the victory, seeing how the Red Bull in clear air was faster than the Merc.

But after Di Resta's crash in Belgium, and the possibility of a Safety Car, would anyone have thought it could cost Vettel the victory? I doubt it. He had buckets of pace to spare. It would've been but a minor annoyance for him, having to build up the gap again.

Also, shouldn't lights to flag mean that the lead was never relinquished? Vettel led every lap in Belgium; Lewis led 48 of 70 laps in Hungary.


With the greatest of respect Richard, Lewis's win in Hungary was lights to flag. The passes he made were down to newer tyres and the fact that on new rubber the Merc (as proven in qually all season long) has more immediate grip than any other car on the grid.

No one was catching Lewis and the Mercedes in Hungary, even without traffic. I dare say Rosberg might have got a podium too if the team had sent him out in Q2 as well.


The thing about Spa verses Hungary was that Hamilton had to work for his win, yet at Spa Vettel simply took the lead and stayed there in a vastly faster car in the race. Yes one can argue that Mercedes got it right at Hungary and Red Bull got it right at Spa but there is absolutely no doubt that the margins were far greater at Spa. The thing red Bull are so good at is aero efficency so for a given downforce level they would have less drag and that is all down to Adrian Newey's no compromise approach to aerodynamics and that coupled with Vettels consistency has maybe won four championships as it is unlikely that anyone will catch them now.


Paul, you're spot on about how the different downforce levels affected the Red Bull in Hungary and Belgium.

So yeah, to be consistent, one would have to say either:

A) Vettel was hindered by the RB9's top speed deficit in Hungary, and aided by its top speed advantage in Belgium. Hence his inability to pass in Hungary was a given, as was his ability to pass in Belgium.

B) Vettel couldn't get past Button in Hungary, his fault. But his pass in Belgium was amazing, all down to him.

Taking the first part of one paragraph, and the second of the other, or vice versa, is inconsistent and just highlights bias for or against Vettel as a driver.


Well, I think the drag issue is actually a bigger issue in Sector One in Spa than it would be on the straights of Monza. Remember, most of the flat-out portion in Monza actually uphill. This is not just Eau Rouge with the shot up into the sky, but also the Kemmel Straight is very, very much uphill as well. In this respect, you have gravity weighing down the effect of acceleration up the hill, which neutralizes a power advantage that Mercedes could have (and probably does). Add to this the lower drag that Red Bull and Ferrari apparently had, and you've got a situation in which Mercedes really suffered in Sector One given their setup choice.

Low drag is even more important to have in Sector One in Spa than it is to have for the whole circuit in Monza. Look at Force India in 2009. They pulled the low drag special that shocked the world with a pole for Fisi and scored 2nd in the race (with a Ferrari engine at the time that was down on power compared to the Mercedes), but they weren't as quick in Monza in terms of relative pace as McLaren and Brawn were with Mercedes power. I think Monza will be a different animal, and I think there you will see Mercedes more competitive than they were in Spa. They will suffer less if their low downforce setting is more draggy than it should be, and the even elevation of the circuit will allow their power advantage to come into play. Plus, as Ross said, they had good grip in the high-speed corners, and this covers basically every corner at Monza aside from the first two chicanes.


James, unfortunately the race was a bore, and strange that RBR was so fast in a straight line, due to gearing I guess or that litle wing?

Once again a clutch problem for Mark. One can not but suspect that every ounce of development and attention is now on Sebs side of the pit. Mark is as quick in Quali, but always seems to be the one with a problem come the race.

is this because he is leaving the team, and everything is focussed on Seb ?

Seb is definitely in the Schumi zone and good luck to him, but sorry I may be switching off early if this keeps up.


Hey Leo, Seb is beating Mark 11-0, therefore to say that Mark is as quick as Seb in Quali seems a bit silly. Enjoy the Nascar!!!


Do not watch Nascar round and round !!


And mostly just left turns (only on a couple of road circuits do they turn right ever). Very Zoolanderish.


I know but if you give up on F1 where are you going to get you racing fix??


Yeah pretty boring for Spa I guess, but then again it was more exciting than Hungary which is always incredibly dull !


'The Belgian Grand Prix was not one of the most exciting races of the 2013 season'


'In many ways the qualifying session in Spa was more entertaining than the race'

Again agreed.

Here's a nutty idea: How about we have an F1 Qualifying Championship? No politics, no dodgy tyres and overtakes, just some drivers fanging it around a track as fast as they can for an hour without worrying about the tyres and the fastest overall wins.

Nice 🙂


There should definitely be a single point availabe for pole position. It's a no brainer for me, no down side - no idea why this has never been implemented.


Championships are about consistency, not quickness. The reward for pole is getting to start at the front of the field. That's enough of a reward.

Points for pole is just a gimmick. It's not like drivers and teams don't currently try hard for pole.


Completely agree the amount of effort that goes into a set of qualifying laps is a mini race in itself and should be rewarded. Come on f1 make it happen, as to winning a championship on a Saturday well you have the race on Sunday and all it's permentations to negate that.


It has been talked about and I'm pretty sure it used to happen.

Not sure why they dropped it - that's assuming I'm right in the first place 😉 - but I think it is a good idea.


I don't think a point has ever been awarded for pole in F1. They used to award a point for pole in Indy cars (probably still do, but I don't watch anymore):-)


Because it creates the possibility of the world championship being decided on a Saturday. Imagine Driver A needs 1 point to secure the title & he puts his car on pole. Game over.


Also, we already have a few races at the end of some seasons that are redundant because the WDC and WCC have been sewn up - what you are suggesting would be no different.


That's an important issue but can be overlooked on the grounds of probability I reckon.

The fact is that the Qualy session is nearly as long as some races (Monza will be a case in point) and teams spend so much time and effort ensuring that they have a good qualy car that this should be recognised. It would probably help sell tickets for the Saterday which would give some classic and brilliant circuits extra funds to keep the races rather than loose them all to government backed, deserted dust bowls in Asia.


I hear ya, but maybe in that case the chasing team would get their 2nd driver to run a quali-specific set-up, so as to deny the leader pole.

I also think that maybe each team should earn a point for each car that makes it over 90% distance. That'd be a way to force some separation amongst the lower teams.


It was as dull a Belgian GP as I can remember. It was crying out for rain. At the front, Vettel passed Hamilton on lap 1, Alonso gained via the pit-stops and then passed Hamilton easily enough and Webber for a while looked like he might pass Rosberg. That was about it. Zzzzzz!

Other than that there was the F.I/Maldonado squabble which ended in the seemingly inevitable coming together. Anything else?? Not that I can remember! Very disappointing for Spa.


Agreed buddy, DRS made "most" overtakes cheap, why two zones at Spa? DRS is helpful at some circuits but others like Spa simply don't need it IMO.


+1 - the most boring I've ever seen.


Yeah, was thinking that with dry races in Belgium the last 3 years, there hasn't been much excitement in any of them. In 2011 it was the blistering fronts on the Red Bulls (nothing happened), Button's cruise last year after the first corner melee, and then Vettel's cruise this year after the first lap pass.

Spa is an amazing track, but the best races there have had rain.


lottsa great and awesome post-analysis here as always!!!

while we all know what sells tickets and leads to higher TV ratings, I am in the minority when it comes to rating an individual race excitement level. I feel this was a pretty great race. not because Seb & RBR won or Lewis lost on 2 occassions, or that Fred was his PitBull self, Riciardo fought hard, or that Guido did himself proud! it was all the above and SO much more!!!

my racing experience was limited to a a whole slew of vehicles from 1972 to 1989 in hillclimbs, autocrosses, Solo II, time trials, dirt and paved stock car ovals, a few drags, and a few SCCA and other club races at Cloverleaf, Barberton and Sharon Speedways in NE Ohio, Nelson Ledges, Mid-Ohio, the Glen, Mosport, and Mont Tremblant. also did a bunch of timing and scoring & corner marshall work and also competitor team work when I was not racing.

I was a pretty decent driver, but my best successes were with my '69 Titan Mk V FF which I modified greatly into a Formula Atlantic class car.

see where I am coming from? I totally appreciate the engineering brilliance, organizational and strategic superiority, as well as the DOTD status.

their is SOOO much to enjoy with every race...

just my humble opinion!


The Mercedes looks sluggish at the start of races but handles like a dragonfly in qualifying. I'm suspecting the Merc *is* very thirsty for petrol and in the drag after Eau Rouge that's got to hurt performance.


Yes it is known that the Renault engine is more fuel efficient, and that would certainly help, but Mercedes also ran a compromise set up and boy did it compromise their race.


That graph shows the RB dominant position, it seems like they did their assignment during the holidays, congrats to all the people at RB, hard work is the clue.


Well that's certainly true, but good fortune was another element with the weather remaining dry.


"but good fortune was another element"

Just like in qualifying...


Hi, there is something I don't get here...

Alonso was fuelled for 2 laps you write, so no matter if he spun or not (yes he lost 7s that were missing in order from him to get another lap as he passed the line 6s after the light went red) because he wasn't fuelled for a 3rd fast lasp... but you wrote " Alonso was" but he wasn't (on track when the track was at its best)...

I mean even withour spinning so he could have passed the line before the light went red, he was not fuelled to do a fast one and the "home" lap.

Did I miss something here ?


I want to clarify something:

According to James Allen, Alonso had fuel for two laps. He spun in his first timed lap, but he had fuel for another lap. In that last lap, he already had gained three seconds by the time he arrived at the turn where he had spun the lap before (his own words). Hence his error did not have an effect in his final result. Actually because the error, his last lap was completed later so the track was drier than if he had not spun. So actually he benefited from the error.

It could be that James is wrong and he had fuel for three laps as Hamilton, Vettel and Webber. However, Hamilton crossed the finish line with two seconds left, and Alonso was behind him. So he would not have been able to do the third lap even without the spun.

Conclusion: Alonso did a small mistake, but it did not have any negative impact in his final result. Ferrari strategists, on the other hand, did get the fuel/timing wrong.


I also agree that Ferrari got the fueling of the cars wrong in Q3 which resulted in the poor grid spots. However who could think that the track would start drying out so quickly especially when the rain fell so hard to start with.

Definately there is no blame on Fernando. His second timed lap was quicker that the corresponding laps from VET and HAM...



Right, the second timed lap was not so bad 2:03 however in the "next" lap WEB VET HAM gained each 3-4s I have no reason to suspect Fernando wouldn't have had the same sort of gain.

So Fernando was on the wrong strategy... and the spin didn' affect much the result, but the low fueling did !

PS: I have carefully ciewed the LT and without le spun I believe he would have been able to do that lap.


If i'm reading this graph right, it seems Ricciardo could have been battling Grosjean and Massa at the end if he were not held up by Maldonado so much in the middle of the race. Fascinating.


Good pick up, it certainly looks that way. At least Maldonado didn't hit him!


For sure the qualifying strategy battle showed who's who in the grey cell department for getting it just right was extremely crucial.

Seeing as Red Bull got it right for both their cars, I would say Christian Horner is currently the best strategist in the paddock and deserves more credit for his work because it's not all Newey.

Force India had almost got it right but unfortunately they forgot to disengage from their previous mentality of setting one lap in Q3 and so didn't put in enough full.

Regards the race, it's really frightening for not only was Vettel so much faster but the Red Bull really enjoys the new tyres as Vettel was always the last of the top runners to pit and did so many laps after the opposition.

Ferrari's strategy was made all that much easier thanks to Alonso as he did most of the hard work on track and so after his first stop, all he had to take care of was Lewis.

Mercedes had a pretty straight forward strategy and best of all Lewis had Nico as a rear gunner so there wasn't too much danger from behind with the exception of Alonso.

The one stoppers' race like Jenson didn't quite work out because they was no safety car. Last year, Jenson was able to make it work because a number of laps got erased under the safety car.

Seeing as Ricciardo made his strategy work, I guess more guys at the back should have taken a gamble with the hard tyre.


'Seeing as Red Bull got it right for both their cars'

Au contraire, they didn't get the clutch right for Webber...again...

And then the best part was when they sent the guy responsible for the race starts up to the podium to collect the constructors trophy: Fail.


MW has had problems with the start for years now, maybe he needs to start taking responsibility and stop blaming the team. You never see SV having crap starts and blaming his team.


Then later on he "dose something" and hes the bad guy


No denying Mark's starts are his Achilles heel, but it's not all down to him.

He's made some great starts at times, and it has been confirmed that there has been issues with his car, but unfortunately the trouble seems to be that it's not often that both Mark and the car are doing it right at the same time.


No, he just squeals at the pitwall to "do something!" when he can't overtake.

Mark's poor starts are certainly baffling though.

Flying Scotsman

I felt this was done to rub Marks nose in it after his shock announcement on the identity of the new RB driver.


With the number of poor starts Webber has had there is no way the problem is only with the clutching system. They could have tried a dozen settings by now and he still can't get off the line; some of it has to be Webbers fault.


This is what I think also. I think RedBull are just being nice to Mark Webber and are allowing him to save some face.


I'm loving that race history chart except:

1. You can't expand it to see what went on in the mid-field battles where most of the cut and thrust happens. Can you attach a link to an bigger PDF or something?

2. I'm somewhat colour blind, so some of the colours chosen for different teams look the same to me. Sadly that means the mid-field spaghetti is doubly indecipherable for me.

Thanks for the more involved strategy discussion this time around - tying the info from the tyre strategies to the race history chart to tell the story of the race.


I agree than an expandable or downloadable high quality version of these charts would be nice.

Another nice thing would be an interactive chart where you can enable/disable whatever drivers you want to look at. But maybe that's not an easy thing to jig up, I dunno.


Thought about this some more after I posted.

Instead of a link to a larger PDF, how about link to a chart subpage with some Java tricks to make the chart kind of interactive. I'm thinking of a tick box for each driver so you can pick and choose whose traces you get to see.



James u are correct in saying that webber had a bad start but failed to point out that it was a clutch issue again , you also said that webber was a second a lap slower in the second stint which is true, but going off your chart he was actually stuck behind Rosberg for most of that stint


Unless JA's gone back for a sneaky edit to add these bits in...

"Webber had another poor start due to a clutch problem..."

"His lap times in the second stint, behind Nico Rosberg were almost a second slower than Vettel’s and so he wasn’t able to take the upside gain of a longer middle stint."


Yes, that's correct.


+ Webbers second stint was on the hard tires, so it might be expected he would be that amount slower and have difficultly passing Rosberg. Who made that tire choice?


Decisive moments in Q3 was when ALO lost 10 secs in the penultimate lap (he was before RAI, but then after him) due to off-track. If he would have been before RAI, he could have done a last lap, and ended up in quali similar to VET and WEB. But htat's a different story.


It may not have been the most exciting race but I was bored to death for one whole month listening to pundits and the great British media predicting how Hamilton is going to win the 2013 championship after his great win at Budapest. So I am very pleased how the Belgium GP panned out.

Very few people realised how and why Hamilton won at Hungary. He had track position, great straight line speed and it is next to impossible to overtake there unless you have straight line speed.

Similar story at Spa. Vettel had straight line speed than the others. What I can't understand is, Webber too would have had a similar setup but he struggled to overtake. Webber was fantastic last year but we didn't see that magic this time. May be at the start he was thinking how he will overtake Vettel from the clean side and win the race and avoid the group photo at the end.

Monza may have a different story where Ferrari and Mercedes are going to be stronger. Some drivers have told this week that they can beat Vettel to the Championship. They have been saying the same thing for the past few years. Let's see how they perform on the track.


Very few people realised how and why Hamilton won at Hungary. He had track position, great straight line speed and it is next to impossible to overtake there unless you have straight line speed...

That statement sounds a bit one eyed to me. Didn't LH overtake MW (twice) on the exit from a corner? I don't see how straight line speed enabled those particular overtakes. Are you an SV fan perchance ? Just a stab in the dark 😉


Boring races at Spa? Red bulls faster in a straight line? Cats and dogs living together...

This is surely the end of days?


A Big +1


Vettel passed Hamilton because Hamilton made a mistake at Eau Rouge. Ham understeers through the right hand curve of Eau Rouge (too much speed?) - missing the apex by a few feet - this throws him off-line up over the top of the hill...



Love your veiled hint that Mark Webber should sue Red Bull for the many problems that he keeps on having with his starts. I really hope that he wins big time with the case.

"Webber had another poor start sue to a clutch problem"


Hey James, do you think RBR are deliberately sabotaging MWs car? If your going to imply it you should come out and say it. An Honest answer would be great


Of course not! The constructors championship is where the money is and they need every point Webber scores

Just because there has been the odd moment where they favoured Vettel it's fanciful to think they sabotage Mark. He would have quit long ago if he thought that...


You are not hinting they're doing that deliberately, aren't you ? Please answer honestly. Thank you.


I wouldn't think so.

Ferrari can say "we have qualifying problems" because both of their cars underperform compared to others. Red Bull doesn't have a start problem, Mark Webber does. I read somewhere about Rubens Barrichello and his poor starts and it reminded me of 2009 when he was racing Jenson equally in a good car, and yet we could almost count on him to start poorly.


Can't believe Grosjean and the Lotus strategists thought a one stop was best . James surely a two stop would have gained him 1 or 2 places?


With Spa 2013 being so boring I wonder how the race would have faired if there was no 'DRS' and leader had to pass back markers as they did in Senna's day.

In my view no driver should move aside for another and 'DRS' is turning F1 into something else and not the pinnacle of motor sport it's always been - tracks like Spa most certainly do not need artificial overtaking aids!


"However, the mistake, if there was one, was in not fuelling Di Resta for more laps; he was sitting in the pits when the pole lap was set."

You're suggesting that his intermediate tires would've lasted more laps in such conditions? I thought intermediates give you 2 to 3 qualifying laps max. in such dry/wet conditions.


That paragraph isn't there any more. It's been updated

prasanna madhavan


Off topic, i watch gp2 races. they use the same pit lane. how do they manage it?


Hi James.

Why did McLaren used hard tyres on Jenson's last stint?

It was a short one and the medium was suposedly faster. Didn't they have any left?


McLaren asked Jenson twice during the race which tyres he preferred, and both times said the harder tyres.



I wonder how different it would have been if Rosberg had qualified 2nd and therefore Vettel ha d not been able to take the lead so quickly - different result maybe?


Surely the main strategy issue,not mentioned here, was the one Ross Brawn talked about - how much downforce to run and how much to bias the settings to cover the possibility of a wet race.

Red Bull's pace in the speed traps suggests they unusually opted for less downforce than others, while Hamilton's unexpected surge to pole may suggest his car was set up more towards a wet race. Alonso's slow pace in qualifying, but fast in the race suggests his set up bias was towards a dry race.

This is supported by the fact that Vettel passed Hamilton very easily, even without DRS, and then later Hamilton couldn't pass Alonso on the straight, even with DRS.

With the race turning out to be dry, Vettel had a huge advantage and it looked as though he could have won by a much bigger margin if he had been allowed to by his pit crew. We may see at Monza whether this is a new normal or whether it was exaggerated by the wet/dry bias that each team opted for at Spa.


Hi James,

Had a question. Did Mercedes opt for a wet weather set-up for Spa and hence were slow in race pace in dry or was their low downforce package not good as Ferrari and RedBull. Lewis said that he was expecting them to also struggle at Monza and then back to competitiveness at high downforce circuits like Singapore.


Gile on sky now James all grabbing at straw with if and buts on how Button couda,mighta have gotten a podium.The fact is he was lucky to even get 6th place with Kimi brake issue and both Massa and Grojean having bad races.Mclaren tried a hail marry not on rain but on a safety car which would have allowed them to pit with the leaders and maintain position.Also there was never any real treat of rain,and if it did the Mercs on wet setup would have certainly breeze pass webber too.we can play this if and but game on quit a few drivers for wins or better position.lets keep it real James we know Button is campaigning for his contract in the media,but that was a stretch to far for your site


Hindsight's a wonderful thing. It looks like McLaren may be better than it appears.

If Jenson had gone for a two stop MU, MN, HN strategy, and come in earlier for his first and second stops, he could have been much closer to Mercedes - or possibly even ahead. Both Mercedes had to come in very early for their second stops - and could have been vulnerable at the end.


Red Bull running two different rear wings at Spa on Friday. A super low drag wing, and the wing they eventually used for both cars on Sat and Sun.

Were RB doing on-track testing of the super low drag wing for Monza already?

If so - wow - talk about being organized and thinking ahead! I think RB are going to be strong at Monza.

Question is - how strong will Ferrari's low down force package be?


"So any slight easing in the rain would leave Massa exposed, as it subsequently proved. He ended up 10th." - That's Ferrari screwing the #2 driver's race once again ...


Slightly off topic here, but have just read that Ferrari are keen to retain Massa for next year as long as he improves...

Does Massa have some sort of hold over Ferrari? He has been average to bad over the last 2/3 years... He's lost Ferrari MANY championship points... (I understand these aren't so important to Ferrari - they have their bonus $50 million payment from Bernie every year regardless).

Surely Alonso's not so delicate that he can't put up with a slightly more competitive team mate?

I find the situation frustrating since there are many young drivers out there who deserve a chance in a top team... to be honest WE deserve to seem them in a top car - its always more fun when you have an inexperienced but fast youngster in a top car... keeps the old-timers on their toes...

I hear Lauda claim Hulkenberg needs another years experience?! How much experience does a driver need? - he's been around for 3 years now...?!

Didn't seem to be a problem when Hamilton join McLaren as a rookie... Raikkonen only spent a year at Sauber before joining McLaren..

Yes Massa was good pre Alonso and his crash, but he's really not up to it now...

It would be great if F1 followed the MotoGP template and threw rookies into top rides... look at Marquez - amazing...


I said that in Sunday's Ricciardo piece


James, something doesn't add up in your and Raikkonen's statement. He said that he was about 5 seconds late to cross the line again otherwise he would have done another lap. According to you, he would have not had enough fuel. Are you 100% sure about that?


James, If I remember well, Mcalren had complained in the past that the RBR cars can illigaly change the set up front wet to dry in the pits....

So, even if Vettel picked wet set up alone with Hamilton, come race time, the RBR had an advantage because could change it to dry set up, and Hamilton could not...

I believe this could explained Vettels massive advantage during the race... can please James ilustrate us?, Thanks.

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