Analysis: Did Red Bull favour Vettel over Webber in Japanese GP strategy calls?
Insight
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Oct 2013   |  5:07 pm GMT  |  549 comments

The Japanese Grand Prix was different from recent races in so far as Sebastian Vettel did not drive away from pole position and control the race. He had to come through from third in the opening stint and needed race strategy to take the victory, in the face of a particularly strong performance by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean.

Red Bull split the strategies, putting Mark Webber on three stops and leaving Sebastian Vettel on two. Here’s our in depth analysis of why they did that and whether Webber or Grosjean could have won, looking at several defining moments in the race.


The start goes wrong for Red Bull

The start of the race was important for defining what kind of race it would be; both pole sitter Webber and front row starter Vettel got away badly, allowing Grosjean to nip through and take the lead, with Webber second and Vettel third.

Lewis Hamilton’s rear tyre touched Vettel’s front wing, which gave Hamilton a puncture and also took a little performance away from Vettel’s car, but not a significant amount.

During the first stint, Vettel sat back around two seconds behind Webber from very early on, to protect the tyres. Webber, in contrast, pushed Grosjean for the first six laps, then dropped back a little. But his tyres were losing performance when he pitted on lap 11. The Lotus had been quick on the medium tyres in the first stint and at this point Lotus was still in with a chance of winning.

Grosjean pitted on lap 12 to cover Webber, who was now on a virtually new set of hard tyres. Lotus had the luxury of seeing what tyres Webber chose and went for the same choice. Arguably, as the race played out, it would have been better with hindsight to choose another set of mediums at this point and this might have given them enough pace to get second place. Because Grosjean’s pace on hards wasn’t as good as expected and this is what Red Bull spotted early in the second stint and it decided their strategy from here.

Vettel stayed out until lap 14 and then pitted for new hard tyres. The top three were in the same order as the second stint began.


The second stint – the decision is made

Once Red Bull’s strategists saw that Grosjean’s pace was not so hot on hard tyres, they decided that they would be able to win the race with Vettel on a two-stop strategy. But based on Webber’s first stint and his track record on the Pirelli tyres, it was unlikely that he would be able to beat Grosjean by staying on the same two stop strategy. This is the key to what happened next.

The only possibility for Webber to win would be to try to run close to the limit of the tyres in the second stint and then try to undercut the Lotus around lap 28/29, which would leave 25/24 laps to the finish. But the victory would hang on being able to pull off the undercut. If Lotus reacted and pitted Grosjean at the same time, Webber would have had to pass Grosjean on track wit tyres of the same age. Had they been thinking solely of what was the best way to get Webber to win the race, that’s what Red Bull would have done.

End of first stint Webber (purple dotted line) suffers clear degradation, compared to Vettel (solid purple line)

Rather than that, the team looked at it from a team point of view. The race was winnable, Webber would not be able to get the tyres to last as well as Vettel to pull off a winning two stop strategy and the German is faster.

The key to it was to pull Lotus in two different directions and play to the strengths of their drivers; give Vettel the best two stop possibility and try to use a three stop plan for Webber, which meant he could push the whole way and not worry about the tyres and make bold passes in the closing stages, which he has done many times in the past.

There is no doubt that this strategy disadvantaged Webber at the outset, because it meant that he would be behind his team mate in the final stint. That was a given.

The risk for Red Bull, given the history between the two drivers, was that Webber would come steaming up to Vettel in the closing laps and there would be a clash as he tried to pass him.

But they were prepared to take that risk – or believed they could control if it happened – because they knew from Grosjean’s pace on hards that Vettel would beat him if he ran his fastest two-stop plan. And that’s exactly how it worked out.

Moving Webber out of the way, by pitting him on lap 25, allowed Vettel to close up on the back of Grosjean. The speed with which he did this – the gap went from 3.4 seconds to 1.3 in two laps – showed Lotus that they weren’t going to be able to beat Vettel, who had too much pace.

From lap 28 onwards it is possible to get to the end of the race on a set of hard tyres, so this was the trigger point for Lotus to bring Grosjean in, to prevent Vettel undercutting him.

Once Webber is out of the way, Vettel hauls in Grosjean quickly and maintains strong pace to his second stop

This was a difficult decision for Lotus, because if they had stayed out, they would have had more chance to fight Webber for second place at the end on fresher tyres, but the win would definitely have been lost.

In that scenario, Vettel would definitely have beaten them by undercutting.

However if they pitted and cut that route off, Lotus gambled that they might be able to hold him behind them to the finish, as they almost did with Webber. In other words, they gambled for a long shot at the win, rather than to protect second place; for 10 possible extra points, rather than three points lost.

However Vettel was too strong; he was managing the tyres well and was able to run another eight quick laps after Grosjean’s stop. The undercut had been covered off, so now the route for Vettel to win was to stay out longer and then attack the Frenchman in the closing stages on much fresher tyres, which is exactly what he did.

After his stop he cut Grosjean’s three second lead to nothing in two laps and then passed him decisively. Job done.


Webber loses the win but takes second place

Most strategists in the F1 pit lane agree that Red Bull did exactly the right things strategically in Suzuka and all would have done the same thing in their shoes.

They gave their fastest driver the best chance to win the race and got their other driver into second place. As a team, you cannot do better than that.

What did not happen was Webber did not challenge Vettel in the final laps, because it took him too long after his third and final stop, to pass Grosjean. Webber not only had fresher, softer tyres than Grosjean, he also had a straight line speed advantage from running slightly less rear downforce. He should have been able to go through Grosjean in a lap or two, as Vettel did. But he couldn’t make the pass until late in the day.


Conclusions

The reality of the situation is that, apart from the delay in Webber passing Grosjean, this race turned out exactly as Red Bull expected it to from the moment they took a team decision around lap 20-25 to split the strategies.

Yes it is tough on Webber, who had been ahead of Vettel in qualifying and on the road in the first stint and yes, it does undermine the team agreement that the lead driver on the road gets first call on strategy. They overruled that protocol because as a team they saw the best way to get the team victory.

This is the hard reality of F1, which is sometimes hard to take for fans of particular drivers. They race for a team and their contract terms oblige them to accept that the team will make decisions in the interests of the team.

To split the strategies any other way on Sunday would not have brought the team victory with certainty.

The way they did it had the best chance of success and duly achieved the best result for the team.

And at the end of the day Formula 1 is about doing the best job as a team, rather than taking chances in order to favour one of your drivers, even if observers on the outside read it that you have favoured your lead driver, who was behind on the road.

That is the pragmatism of Formula 1.


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

RACE HISTORY GRAPH
Kindly supplied by Williams F1 Team

Horizontal axis: Number of race laps
Vertical axis: Lap time (in seconds)

Note the drop off in performance of Webber’s tyres around laps 9-10, compared with Vettel’s. Note also the pace differential between Vettel and Grosjean in the second stint, when it became clear that the Lotus wasn’t as fast relative to the Red Bull on hard tyres as it had been on mediums.

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1

Hi James you say ” Most strategists in the F1 pit lane agree that Red Bull did exactly the right things strategically in Suzuka and all would have done the same thing in their shoes “.

However Gary Anderson says “

Vettel won after Red Bull switched his team-mate Mark Webber, who was ahead of him for the first half of the race, to do an extra stop. And you have to question why they did that

The team said they were forced to put Webber on a three-stop because he made a relatively early first pit stop to change tyres on lap 11. The early stop, they said, was because he had “run out of tyres”, as Red Bull team principal Christian Horner put it.

But in my view Webber was not really struggling performance-wise at that point.

OK, he had lost 0.4 seconds to leader Romain Grosjean’s Lotus on lap 10, but his lap time was basically the same as he had done on lap eight, which does not suggest his tyres had gone.

What do you make of these two divergent views ?

2

I want to add that the top speed would perhaps not be the good thing to have, because of the limitor…

3

Guys,

(Sorry for my english.)

I have a theory about Vettel’s overtaking on Grojean. On this track it was hard to overtake so it’s naturel Webber getting stuck behind. Look around the others guys also have difficulties as for example with Ricciardo in the beginning. What is unnatural is Vettel’s passing.

Well here is my contention (with figures to back it up):

Every Vettels fans said he prepared his move long before etc, and his passage in the chicane was masterly and Webber’s were ridiculous.

Now here is the gap between SV and RG on the cross line just before the overtaking : 0.756 s.

Now the gap between MW and RG in the lap of his overtaking and five laps before :

0.751

0.798

0.766

0.766

0.747

0.774

0.529 (overtaking)

So the gaps were the same ! Add Webber, with fresher tyres and peharps greater top speed could not be close enough to achieve his move ! To achieve it he needs to be closer than that, that is to say : O,5 sec.

So my contention is that RG left SV passed him because his target was Webber, and he don’t want to be delayed by SV thinking that he could’nt remained ahead of him till the end of the race.

Here are RG lap times :

38-1:36.897

39-1:36.626

40-1:36.626

41-1:37.745

42-1:36.300

43-1:36.135

44-1:36.102

Here are SV’s :

39-1:35.317

40-1:36.238

41-1:35.725

42-1:35.336

43-1:35.334

44-1:35.607

What is obvious is that RG began to push very hard after Vettel overtaked him. His pace was tremendous if you think it changed from 1’37.0 to 1’36.0 although with worn tyres. So he was faster when Webber caught him than when Vettel caught him by almost 1 sec ! With worn tyres. In fact Grosjean was faster now than at the beginning of his stint, and he was as fast as Webber was in his previous stint before his last stop at lap 42. That it’s to say that he was surely nursing his tires from lap 30 to make certain he could finished the race. He pushed hard at the end to challenge Webber, and Webber only.

Now the POINT : at lap 41 SV overtake RG who make a very bad lap time. 1’37.7 when Vettel is in 1’35.7. Why such a bad time ? (his following lap shall be 1’36.3.) Because he slowed down in the beginning of the straight to make sure SV will overtake him, that’s my argument. He make no attempt to resist to Vettel, you can see that the gap between himself and SV was the same that the one between himself and MW on the finish line. He should not have lost much time in this lap since he had nothing to do at all. How could SV gained 1 sec upon him along this straight ? SV was 0.75 behind him at the beginning of the straight and something like 0.2 or 0.3 ahead of him at the end of the straight? Why ? Why RG began to be faster just after this overtaking ? So much faster than the difference of pace between the two was reduced to 0.7 sec, that is to say half what it was just before. Simple : because Vettel was not a target for RG. He was simply fighting against Webber. That’s why he was so disappointed at the end of the race because Webber had passed him.

So Vettel’s overtaking has nothing special in it. It was not even an overtaking. And much important than all : it would prove that Vettels fans are only goose telling nonsense when they explain to us that Vettel had prepared his overtaking and that Webber had blundered his one etc. Already we KNOW that he wasn’t closer than Mark on the finish line, and it’s not a small matter to know this.

What do you think of this ?

I should like to know RG and SV top speeds in the straight in lap 41 and some laps before and after. That would be decisive I think. Can somebody get this information ?

4

Sorry missed a point, just got in from pub, yes they fought but the fact is they should not, webber had done the job, team orders were telling vettel to stay put, if you think any different you really need to start watching the race.

5

OK you just carry on living in your vettel world. Lets see what happens with the engine change next year eh

6

Any driver who has his team conspiring against him will never win.

Vettel lost all respect as a driver from me after the Malaysian Grand Prix.

I strongly thing this is also the reason for the boo’s and not the fact that he keeps winning.

7

The driver who had his team conspiring against him in Malaysia was Vettel, not Webber. The driver you should be booing is Webber, not Vettel.

8

I don’t boo any one.

Webber backed off in Malaysia as per team orders, Vettel ignored team orders, the saying should be there’s no team in Vettel instead of no “I”

9

Webber backed off in Malaysia?

LOL

Did you see how hard they fought?

MSC got a grid penalty for that, because

he forced Barichello towards the wall in Budapest.

Canada 2010 Webber was told not to attack Vettel, coz he had gear box issues. Webber disobeyed team orders.

Webber was favoured in Silverstone 2011. He was behind Vettel and got the first pit stop. He disobeyed team orders in the end.

In Sao Paolo 2012 even Newey didn’t like Webber’s behavior.

Webber had his chances in the Korean GP 2010 and in Abu Dhabi Q3. He malfunctioned.

That’s it.

10

you are right james. despite the fact that feelings/passions run deep it is, afterall, only a motor racing event. that said, i do see the erosion of the term ‘racing’from what it used to mean.

what i would like to see is a tyre that is able to last for marginally more than half race distance with a compound between med and hard. a tyre that could be pushed really hard for at least 90% of the stint[half race distance] so that we see drivers really being able to showcase their exceptional talents.

will it happen? i very much doubt it.

11

Dear James;

I have been reading your website since so many years ago.

In 2010, I had the chance to meet you at paddock of Spa-Francorchamps where I thanked your work in journalism.

I have never written any comments in this blog, but since this unprecedented attack to you impartiality and professionalism, I could not help sending a hugh and warm hug to highlight what I said at that time.

 

It´s an excellent post, as usual!

 

From Argentina,

C. Delfino

12

Thanks for that

It’s not that serious!

It’s good that people are passionate about the sport, even if that does make things a little weird sometimes!

13

I’ve grown tired of that this is even a debate. I think James covered it well. This shouldn’t even be an issue. Being a Webber fan doesn’t give license to ignore reality, such as Vettel is the championship leader, and Webber is in retirement honorary driver mode. That’s even looking past the fact that Vettel is plainly a more consistent, better driver than Webber is. They have the same car during qualifying. Vettel out-qualifies Webber almost every time. Let it go already. It got so bad that even after Vettel ignored team orders and overtook Webber, Webber’s father had a Daddy moment and publicly commented against Vettel. It’s getting embarrassing. He should just enjoy his last races, as James said he is doing.

14

Mr. Allen: I still believe that 3 stop strategy was better than 2 stop strategy because puts the driver in the last stint with a 1 sec faster car and 6 sec behind de leader, with almost 11 laps to go.

I believe too that, looking at the times per laps, if Vettel had not to take care about his tires as he was ordered to do, he would overtake both Webber and Grosjean in track, and it would be another facts, indeed.

However, assuming Vettel were in the last stint in the same conditions Webber was, in the same situation: do you think Vettel would have won the race?

In my opinion, I think Yes, and probably now we would be talking about that RBR’s better strategy was for Vettel, exactly like we are now.

In my opinion, the only reason why Webber wasn´t won the race was his inability to overtake Grosjeasn in the erlier laps after he leave the pits in the last stint having a 1 sec faster car, and even almost 1 sec faster than Vettel’s car.

I’ll apreciate your opinion. Thanks.

15

I asked the same question and it’s very hard to say without working through the maths and the lap times etc.

16

How come I’m the only one that noticed Vettel saying on the radio..”Keep him away from me, even if he is on fresher tires”…

Thats b.t.w. why people don’t like Vettle. Really don’t get that journoos and the paddock can’t comprihend that racing morals are not the same as human social morals.

17

Maybe Seb is arrogant from time to time but ain’t stupid. And do not forget doctor factor, ever.

18

> How come I’m the only one that noticed Vettel saying on the radio..”Keep him away from me, even if he is on fresher tires”…

Perhaps you didn’t notice that that was about Perez, not Webber.

19

At some point the Webber fans and Vettel haters are going to have to realise that if as a team you have one driver who can look after his tyres while lapping faster than the other driver, it is going to be very difficult to keep him from winning. I’m no Vettel fan, and I have a lot of respect for Mark, but speed will out, and Seb is quicker.

20

well if that is the case why not let them race, free of all constraints. this strategy confection is/was designed to favour one driver and that was not mark webber. most people would take the variables into account if horner et al were being straight with them. the fact is that this strategy blew up in their face but so long as vettel gets his win they couldn’t give a rats ass really.

21

The radio transcripts are available here, and they simply do not support Webbers version of events.

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2013/10/17/2013-japanese-grand-prix-team-radio-transcript-2/

Webber being assured he was on a two stop strategy after his first stop? Did not happen. Webber questioning his team about the three stop strategy? Did not happen. Vettel saying “Keep him away from me” about either Webber or Perez? Did not happen.

It’s too bad that a lie can get half way around the world while the truth is till getting out of bed.

22

That transcript means nothing (in any direction) as it is just an extract. The proof is that there’s nothing about FA. We all know that he’s so aloof but, that much? not a Word to his team in the whole race?

I’m an FA fan (but also rate SV very high), don’t buy conspiracy theory’s but think that, as the race evolved, RBR played the best card they had: for a SV win, which went against MW chances (less chances to win than SV). Its the most sensible thing to do by RBR and MW had no choice but to asume it (as much as I would prefer him to win).

23

In total fairness, not all messages are broadcasted.

24

Only a tiny % are broadcast

25

@ oletros, you are just plain wrong here. vettel made the comments that were attributed to him. the ‘construction’ that they were directed at webber was something concocted by the media. in fact, if you check the comments coming from brundle/croft you may see what i am talking about.

that being the case then steveS is in error but i haven’t seen him retract his ‘all lies’ comment. not that it matters really as the case has been made and prosecuted.

26

> kenneth chapman

steveS is correct in saying that there was no message from Vettel about Webber

27

steveS seems to think that the comments made were all lies? pity that.

28

Thanks for this!

29

in football, when the manager knows that a player is leaving to at the end of the season, he parks the player on the bench just like webber was parked on the bench in japan. webber winning is of no significance to the team but vettel has the chance of breaking recordas for the team. the only motive for them to park webber.

we all saw how much faster the redbull was than the lotus throughout the race, apart from at the start.

30

James, you describe what happened with great clarity but not necessarily fully why. Webber, when it matters, has shown himself quite capable of overtaking in the past unless compromised in some way. So why was he so slow to do it in the last stint, especially if, supposedly, he had a speed advantage. There has to have been something else in this equation.

31

Hi James. Were my eyes deceiving me at the end of the race? I thought Button passed Massa after the finish line but, even if not, the official times between the two show a gap of almost 9 seconds?!?! I hadn’t raised it until now as I was sure something would come of it. I’d be really grateful if you (or someone else) would please put me out of my confused mysery ((if I’m wrong) or provide an explanation…9 seconds is clearly not right is it?

32

+1

I thought I was seeing things – glad I wasn’t the only one

33

James,

what do you think is the key opportunity MW didn’t (couldn’t) use to win the race, where he did lost the ground, 1) overtaking RG at 1st stint? crucial tire management (1st stint)?

Ironically, if not the factor of RG had MW had more chance to win the race?

34

Webber got pole, but said in the press conference etc that it was a bit of a hollow pole. This is because he is a solid guy who like a fair fight. That is why I like him. Seb is happy to use team orders to favour his needs at the expense of his teammate, and polish his ego. He is a great driver, but unfortunately he has no honour, as he showed earlier this year. That is why NOBODY likes him.

So, to those that have defended Vettel’s behaviour this year, don’t understand you! Would love to see what would happen if Webber was on a different / comparable team as number one driver. I imagine all you Vettel fans wouldn’t much care for that scenario, as like your idol, you prefer a fight where the opposition is tied up.

Lastly, as for those of you who keep piping on about the good of the team… You don’t award the driver’s championship to a team. It goes to a driver. One driver. The needs of the team are represented by the constructors, which Red Bull have already won. Use your brain. It’s actually great fun.

35

You’ve written a giant post attempting to have a go at Vettel and his fans for some reason, but it was Vettel actually being tied up in Malaysia, being forced to give up a win as early as the second round of the year. Yet RBR get little stick for using team orders in comparison to say, the British GP 2011, where team orders were still the worst thing imaginable (probably because they favoured SV on that occasion?). I fail to see how if Webber had won in Sepang by team orders, how that would have been such a great or “honourable” victory.

The team want the best possible result, and as the analysis shows, without splitting the strategies, RBR may not have had a 1-2, as MW, despite being ahead on the road, wasn’t likely to have used his Pirellis well enough to pass Grosjean.

36

your arguments don’t really hold… either SV is faster than its team mates, which seems to be demonstrated by results, or he is not – in that case, the superior results can only come from the team giving him a faster car. But why would a team give a faster car to the slower driver? do you think they are so dumb?

37

I’ve noticed that for people like you, a “fair fight” is always by definition one which Vettel loses. If he wins … then it wasn’t a fair fight! Malaysia was a fair fight, and Webber lost. So he whined to his buddies in the press, who whined to the fans, and the rest is history.

38

Does it even matter any more?

39

Some people could think about this: if you had a real possibility to earn 1 milion £ today or maybe in a week, would go for it now or “maybe” next week?

40

Thanks JA for this great inside. That’s the first time (IMO) it’s not straight but multianalysis and gives clear answer to some questions.

41

James,

Why ask a rhetorical question?

They always favour Vettel ie stripping Webber’s car when necessary.

Why should they behave differently now?

Of course they did.

Anyway thanks for such a fabulous web site.

Jo Lgas.

42

Shouldn’t you at least read an article before commenting, bringing up points that are unrelated to the current topic?

43

James, I would like to think that there remains a sporting element to F1. It can’t be all hard-nosed business, can it?

What’s wrong with having a favourite driver? I admit, my favourite driver is Mark Webber, for the sole reason that I am Australian. I shouldn’t have to apologise for that.

Every fan gets excited to see their compatriot racing to win. Nobody cares that he’s driving a car painted to look like a packet of cigarettes, or a can of fizzy drink.

There has always been a strong nationalistic aspect to Grand Prix racing. In the days of Nuvolari vs Carracciola or Fangio vs Ascari, national-pride played a huge part in the early success of the sport.

Formula 1 must retain a sporting aspect. It needs a sporting aspect. For without its fan-base, F1 is nothing.

44

There is nothing wrong with having a favourite driver that passion is what makes it special

My point is that sometimes this conflicts with the pragmatism of the team game and this was one if those times

45

Then BRB must stop pretending they are equal drivers. What is left for Ricardo ? Shame

46

you see james, it is your last sentence that i have a problem with. what you call ‘pragmatism’ i see as ‘being disingenous’.

the team will use whatever tools they need to keep webber and vettel separated. they know that there is payback due to what they condoned in sepang.

i think that webber made it quite clear, post quali, that he was going to race for the win as he did in brazil. he is quite honest and up front. horner et al are not. they created a scenario whereby webber was neutered and they could concoct a story to hide this fact. i think webber actually said something along the lines when questioned as to how he felt being switched to three stopper, that ‘it wasn’t quite ridiculous’, leaving the question open to interpretation.

i think i have said more than enough on this subject so it is time to move on. looking forward to seeing how they treat webber in india, maybe a ‘doctored’ curry!

47

did you read the article? saying that either way MW would have lost out given how he was killing his tyres by driving too closely. SV is much smarter racing driver… given what MW did in Brazil, he can be happy still to be driving for the team, so if they move him out of the way of the faster driver to avoid any unpredictable accident/behaviour, is the issue with the team or with MW?

48

Webber and Vettel were not separated by Red Bull, but by Webbers poor driving. If he had managed to get past Grosjean quickly, as Vettel did, we could have seen the two fight for the win.

“i think that webber made it quite clear, post quali, that he was going to race for the win as he did in brazil”

In other words, not very well.

49

Vettel and Horner always claim they don’t know how many points they have…..unbelievable. Simply because Vettel is aiming to break as much records as possible, if only they admit their targets Vettel will get more respect which I’m afraid it’s not case.

Webber can forget any win before he departs F1 as Marko will make sure he dosen’t achieve it. I can’t imagine what will happen Ricciardo next year.

But I did enjoy the race though.

50

given that SV almost lost the title in Brazil because of his reckless driving, he can be happy to still be driving that car in my opinion.

51

If only we could get transcripts of the RBR team radio communications to both drivers!

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