Korean GP: Behind the scenes on how the teams coped with the challenges in the race
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  08 Oct 2013   |  6:30 pm GMT  |  163 comments

The Korean Grand Prix was a slow-burner, which came alive in the final part of the race. Once again Sebastian Vettel controlled the race, but he did not dominate it as he had in Singapore.

Meanwhile race strategy again played a huge part in the outcome, with Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen again using strategy to make his way from 9th on the grid to 2nd at the flag while teams had to deal with two safety cars.

The race also saw some highly unusual happenings: a fire truck on circuit, without the knowledge of Race Control and a front nose failure on Nico Rosberg’s car.

There was a lot therefore for strategists to deal with. Here is our analysis of why the race worked out the way it did.

Pre race expectations

Before the race, based on the data the teams had gathered from practice, it appeared that two stops would be around eight seconds faster than three stops. The new supersoft tyre had shown itself to be 0.7s a lap faster than the new medium. The pit lane window would open around lap 11 for the cars, which had started on the supersofts used in qualifying.

In fact the level of tyre degradation was higher than expected. Most people planned a two-stop race, but it was marginal for many and the two safety cars really helped them. We saw a tyre failure for Sergio Perez after he flat spotted a tyre that was near the end of its life.

Vettel controls but doesn’t dominate

After his performance in Singapore two weeks ago, which aroused suspicions and rumours about his car, Sebastian Vettel was noticeably more subdued in the Korean race.

Starting from pole, he built an early cushion over his rivals and then managed the race with a gap of four to five seconds. He had no need at any stage to run at full pace, so he managed his pace throughout. In Singapore, there was a moment after the safety car where he needed to build an advantage of almost 30 seconds to avoid losing position at his pit stop and here we saw the true absolute pace of the Red Bull.

The reason why he kept the gap at around five seconds in Korea is that this provides protection from the car behind undercutting him in a pit stop. That’s too much time to make up by making a pit stop a lap earlier and taking fresh tyres. With a five second gap Vettel can react and cover the car behind.

The only time it looked like it might be close in Korea was the final stint. Both Vettel and Grosjean pitted on lap 31 during the first safety car. The tyres that came off his car had done over 20 laps (they were used when he started with them) and he was told that they were finished. So with 24 laps to the finish on a new set of mediums, it could be marginal for him in the closing laps. However he was fortunate in that a second safety car was then deployed, which meant it was easy to reach the finish on the tyres. Meanwhile, Grosjean made a mistake and this allowed Raikkonen through into second place. Raikkonen’s pace was slower than Grosjean’s in the final stint and the team didn’t allow Grosjean a team order to repass his team-mate. They knew he wouldn’t be able to challenge Vettel anyway by then.

Raikkonen does it again – P9 to P2

Kimi Raikkonen has made a speciality of coming through from lowly grid positions to podium finishes, using clever race strategy and varying his pace as required. He was at his best in Korea, but he did also get a large helping of luck from the safety car.

Raikkonen made a poor start, but recovered and with the mix up on the opening lap giving some slower cars an opportunity to get into the top ten, Raikkonen had little problem passing them to get to 7th place on lap four. He wasn’t happy with the tyres and at this stage Lotus’ plan was to stop three times.

The key to his race lay in his undercut on lap 26, where he took a new set of medium tyres. This allowed him to undercut Hulkenberg, Alonso, Hamilton and Rosberg and with Webber’s puncture he also stayed ahead of him. In one strategy move he had gone from 8th to 3rd.

Hulkenberg reacted and tried in vain to cover him, but Mercedes left Rosberg out for three laps and Hamilton out for four laps, losing time, because lap 26 was too early for them to bring him in and make the finish on a set of tyres on a two stop plan. They should have switched to a three stop plan when they saw Raikkonen’s move, but they stayed out and lost time.

This is a pattern we have seen a few times this season, where Lotus has been able to be aggressive and make stops on the front foot, forcing rivals to lose places either by staying out or by covering the stop and condemning themselves to tyre worries later in the race. It’s a Catch 22 when they do it to you. Pitting Raikkonen on lap 26, which was at the time part of a three stop plan, put rivals into no-man’s land. Alonso pitted on lap 28 which is neither a two or three stop window, it sits in between and he duly lost track position to Raikkonen.

Although he has made life difficult for himself by qualifying poorly – and lately he has been some way off the pace of Grosjean who has mastered qualifying now – Raikkonen has the perfect qualities for this era of Pirelli tyre degradation racing. He knows how to push the tyres up to the limit but not over them, so he never burns them out and loses the performance as a result. His feel for the limit of the tyres, like Vettel’s is impressive.

Mercedes hit problems

With hindsight, Mercedes should have used a three stop strategy because Hamilton lost too much time staying out after Raikkonen had undercut him on lap 26.

Hamilton had tried to undercut Grosjean at the first stop, pitting on lap 9, which Lotus covered a lap later and retained the position. Hamilton therefore did a 20 lap middle stint and lost position to Raikkonen, as outlined above. But he lost a lot of time at the end of the second stint, over two seconds a lap at times.

To compound matters, Rosberg suffered a highly unusual front nose fixing failure, just as he passed Hamilton. So Hamilton lost four seconds in the process as he was compromised by the problem on Rosberg’s car.

The timing wasn’t great from there onwards – he pitted just before the safety car, so wasn’t able to take the benefit of a free pit stop at just the right moment.

Maldonado unable to capitalise on strong start

Williams is badly in need of some points and Pastor Maldonado looked like he was shaping up to get some after a fantastic start which took him from 18th to ninth on the first lap. Williams tried to do a two stop race from this point, but because Maldonado was running with quick cars at the front, his tyre degradation was quite severe and he ended up cutting his second stint short. This extended his final stint to 22 laps and meant that in the final stint his tyres were far worse than those on Gutierrez who had lucked in to being able to pit under the safety car on lap 31, as well as Perez. A ninth place had been there for the taking, but it shows how easily it can be taken away and how much a safety car at the wrong moment can turn a race on its head.

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

Vettel: SSU MU (11) MN (31) 2 stops
Räikkönen: SSU MN (11) MN (25) 2
Grosjean: SSU MN (10) MN (31)2
Hülkenberg: SSU MN (10) MN (26) 2
Hamilton: SSU MN (9) MN (29) 2
Alonso: SSU MN (9) MU (28) 2
Rosberg: SSU MN (10) MN (28) 2
Button: SSN MN (4) MN (22) 2

Massa:SSU MU (6) MN (29) 2
Perez: SSN MN (10) MN (31) 2
Gutierrez: SSU MN (7) MN (31) 2
Bottas: SSN MN (8) MN (28)2
Maldonado: SSN MN (7) MN (23) 2
Pic: SSN MN (9) MN (30) 2
Van Der Garde: SSN DT (10) MN (11) MN (30) 3
Bianchi: SSN MN (10) MN (30) 2
Chilton: SSN MN (12) MN (30) 2
Vergne:SSN MN (12) MN (24) MU (38) 3
Ricciardo: MN MN (18) SSN (31) 2
Sutil: SSU MN (3) MN (28) SSN (38) SSU (41) 4

Webber: SSU MU (12) MU (30) SSU (31) 3 NC
Di Resta: SSN MN (7) MN (23) 2 NC

SS = Supersoft compound
M = Medium compound
N = New compound
U = Used compound
NC = Not classified
DT = Drive Through

Kindly provided by Williams F1 Team

Note the controlled pace of Vettel, relative to the Lotus and Mercedes cars. Note also the undercut by Raikkonen on the cars in front of him by pitting on lap 26. This is a text book undercut, but even he was surprised by how many places it netted him!

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Thanks Kenneth


Thank you. I’m sure it does.


@ stefan, hope you don’t mind james….F1fanatic has posted the transcripts. they do it a few days after every GP.

makes for very interesting reading, sometimes.


have just finished reading the transcripts of pit to car to pit during the korean GP. very interesting to note that approx 90% of all communications related to tyres.

absolutely wrong, IMO, that these tyres are the single most dominating factor in the entire race.


Kenneth, where did you find these transcripts of pit to car to pit communication? I’d love to read it. Thanks.


Something I’ve noticed. When Grosjean up there after a good Saturday Up there in the top rows, he has fairly good starts and is great dicing with the big boys.

Busapest, Alonso tried his party move on turn 2 around the outside he fairly closed the door on him. And he owned Hamilton at the start here 😛


Here’s a tech question for James. We saw both Force Indias’s involved in very similar crashes where the back end suddenly came around and the car spun.Some have said the new tyres are the cause but it’s not obvious to me how that could be. Any insights on that?


How can Vettel be 2 seconds a lap faster than the next car within one lap after the safety car and 4 seconds a lap faster on the second lap after the safety car when he’s not 2 seconds a lap faster than any car in qualifying. Then is constantly told to look after his tyres as he continually does fastest laps! Apart from the winner an entertaining race!


Some drivers work hard while others hang their private parts in the pool!


I think you meant “designers”.


because he is driving a different car. different to webbers car as well. that much is blatantly obvious.

sauber have also learnt new tricks.


All this BS about tyres is just an indication of how short sighted, narrow minded, and forgetful EVERYONE involved in F1 are…. teams, drivers, FIA, fans and the media….

We all remember 10 years ago, when there were fears and complaints throughout the grid, in teams, in FOM and complaints from the fans that races were boring, with no overtaking and little “show”

Now, having been mandated to provide a variable that spices up the races, and with new technology to aid overtaking and complicate strategy, fans and media are again whinging, only this time its gone the other way, and teams are doing what the teams do best, looking after their own self interest, and individually lobbying for their own benefits, rather than the collective.

Petty, petulant, and tiresome (pun intentional 😉 on all parts


i don’t know how many times i have had to point out that most of those ‘processional’ races were not down to tyres preventing passing but ‘aero’ problems.

if you have been following F1 you would remember the ‘adjustable flap/front wings’ and the supposed but never introduced new rear wings for variable ‘aero downwash’. these were all designed to overcome the aero problems that hindered passing. why do you think KERS and DRS systems were introduced? aero aero aero. nothing to do with the tyres as a solo issue.


James why did Vettel change to a used set of mediums at his first stop , I thought he had two sets of new ones available after only using one set during qualifying?


Not trying to be picky, I just find it amusing when we talk about “front nose”, I mean where else would the nose be…?


Hi James,

at the beginning of the season all the talk was about FRIC and DDRS, but recently we have heard nothing about those. What is the latest news? Do all the big teams have some form of FRIC working now? And have teams abandoned DDRS for now?

What is your view regarding these two gadgets for 2014? They should become relatively more important than exhaust blown diffusers, which appear yet again to be the must have innovation of the moment.


Good point. I’ll check


Here is Kimi’s reaction when Romain was explaining to Vettel being overtaken and then “stuck” behind Kimi.






Next time I must shorten the link…



Kimi laughing behind his towel!

Too happy to have tricked Romain fair and square!

that’s the difference between someone having 1 CDM and 190 GPs under his cap and a fellow with only 40 GPs to show.

This is called experience isn’t?


@ deancassady, your exhortation for those who simply don’t share your opinion, ‘to get over it’ and disagree on a sound and logical basis is uncalled for.

in this specific case my opinion is as valid as is yours, despite my thinking that you are totally misguided. i try to keep an open mind but at the same time allow for other opinions. you might try and do the same.


You know James, Vettel tires were marginal as Horner said but he set the fastest lap on lap 53….I’m just suspicious he’s been holding his pace to just a mere 4.2 secs from Kimi so as not to create another uproar for more questioning like in Singapore.

The only thrill left for me this season is Alonso trying to stop him from wrapping up his WDC in Japan and hopefully a few more races later. Then try to get excited from Alonso and the rest fighting for 2nd, 3rd and so forth. Better than nothing.

Let’s just enjoy what’s left for us poor fans as Hamilton remarked.

F1 is like an addiction even as we moan about the runaway Vettel. And as for me I’ll still watch all the races despite the RB domination.


As far as Kimi’s qualifying is concerned I think he’s having trouble with the switch to the Kevlar belts. If you look at the quali stats, he was 7-0 on steel belts vs. 2-5 on the kevlar. He has throughout his career regularly had trouble getting his tyres to optimal temperature for qualifying. I believe I first remember hearing him mention this during his first year at Ferrari. He had trouble getting the Bridgestones up to temp and actually never seemed to get on top of it. Maybe that’s why he put in so many fast laps in 07/08 but was out qualified by Massa on the whole. It would make sense that his smoother than normal style takes longer to get the tyres in the perfect operating range.

Any word on if Pirelli is planning the switch back to steel belts? Especially considering they weren’t the determining factor in the failures.


IIRC 2007, Kimi often did a lap after his out lap to warm the tyres before another fast lap to set the time. Tyres were different in those days. Massa did not do likewise.


Whatever happens at Suzuka this weekend nothing can top this



Good one, thank you


Thanks James. After three seasons with Pirelli, what is your assessment on what they have brought to F1? Has Pirelli and the aggressive tyre options (at Bernie’s bidding) improved the spectacle or not? Has it improved the “actual” racing between the cars or has it just mixed “things” up enough to hold the spectators’ interest? Tyres have brought much anguish to F1 this year and does this suggest a different direction needs serious consideration?


The real issue here is – is F1 sports or entertainment?

In case it’s sports, then these tyres are just ridiculous.

In case it’s entertainment, they are +/- Ok. But then of course one must be prepared that this is just the first gimmick to “spice up the show”. Medals, short races, reversed grids, and whatnot may come next.

So, I say this is a very dangerous road F1 is taking now. Bending over to please the channel jumpers it may turn into a silly WWF type “lowest common denominator” show and loose the hard core fans. Channel jumpers though are such a finicky lot, they can be lost in an eyeblink. And then what?

I believe Jean Todt understands this well enough, but with the famous Mosley-Ecclestone deal his hands are tied.


There have been plenty of exciting races, the strategy side has been pretty interesting, which I enjoy. On the whole it’s mixed things up a bit (not lately!)

Obvious negatives are drivers not being able to push and the failures, which are scary in the case of Alonso almost being hit by bits of steel belt in Silverstone and Webber in the debris of Perez in Korea


just a small point james, but have you read the transcript of the pit to car to pit messages?

if not then i would suggest that you do so as it puts these trash tyres into greater perspective, especially from the drivers viewpoint. almost total domination as a subject matter and, IMO, totally detracting from the racing element.


Interesting, KImi from ninth to the best of the competition.

Vettel-Red Bull is really not in the competition, but as comprehensively ahead of it the slower Marussia is behind it.

I write again, the only package really, even close to, challenging the V-RB is Grosjean-Lotus; he drove a good race, only one mistake, but when the mistake is to your team mate, the best and most aggressive driver in the competition, that is enough to lose the spot.

Bringing it back to strategic analysis:

FINALLY, Lotus is driving their race to their strengths; at least where there is a safety car, this has resulted in the most points that can be scored by them.

Though easy in hindsight to identify the short-comings in the Mercedes strategy, even at the time, I was wondering, why?

I got the feeling that the Grosjean snatch of second off the start psychologically finished Hamilton, but the poor strategy didn’t help it.

One could also notice the trend of Kimi never really getting comfortable with the revised edition Pirelli tires; they just won’t bite properly, do they, for that style.

But they suit Grosjean, who seems to drive a bit more like Vettel, touching the throttle and turning early, kicking the back end out a bit, to get around the corner. It must wear the rears a bit more, but it’s working for Grosjean, so far.

About the continued whining and complaining (though starkly moderated after the fact) directed at the Pirelli: it is not at all old, nor worn, Hembrey’s assertion that Pirelli delivered what they were asked for, in the first place.

The mid-season change was wrong, but that is the way it goes in this sport; there is a very clear trend.

So we have now, what we have, regardless of the validity of the reason for the mid-season change to the specification.

Now that the drivers and team strategists have the trends in tire degradation characteristics, get on with it!

It is, what it is.

Get over it!

Speaking of strategy, I wonder what good old, extremely strategically clever Ross Braun is up to? He could go just about anywhere he wants, I wonder where that will be?

Good report; I am telling…



Grosjean 40 GP – Raikkonen 190 GP

…”but when the mistake is to your team mate, the best and most aggressive driver in the competition, that is enough to lose the spot.”…

I’m convinced that Grosjean will remember the trick for a long time 😛


Hmmm mistyping on these smartphones seems rather easy lol but anyway shame Rosberg’s wing failed he had a good run up til then.


Trust me, mistyping on a proper keyboard is just as easy lol 🙂


Slight correction James, Perez didn’t luck into pitting behind the safety car on lap 31, he caused it with his giant lock up and subsequent blow out.


Why is Vettel and Alonso using used mediums? Where did they use the set that others are having as new? Or are they just called used if they have been broken in or used while driving to starting grid.

what is the rule when driving from the pits to the starting grid? Are you able to use any tyre or must it be the qualifying tyre?


Just look at that graph from Vettek, thats almost machine lije consistency whilst driving an excellent car, I suppose 2 geniuses in 1 average team can create this sort of poetry emotion on a graph, Vettel and Newey combined are like something supernatural, only a bery poor Renault engine can stop these 2 in the next few years.


There’s a great article on Sky Sports by Mark Hughes covering the tyre issue. The link is too long to post here but it’s well worth a read.

Basically, Pirelli wanted to bring harder compounds to Korea but gave in to pressure from several teams (especially Ferrari) to go with softer compounds in an effort to slow down RB.

“Ferrari had been part of a group of teams pushing to have the softest tyre here – and although Pirelli has no way of knowing for certain what their motivation was in this, it can be safely assumed it was to reduce the advantage of Red Bull.”


“he then asked the Ferrari driver if he knew who had asked that Pirelli bring the super-soft as the option tyre rather than the soft. Fernando did not. “Your boss,” Hembery was able to inform him.”


Life is funnier than a Hollywood script.


Thanks for that. I have posted the correct link here: http://bit.ly/1hyBThV


Two thumbs up for Ferrari, that was a master stroke 🙂

What next? Insisting to the FIA that Vettel be given a more powerful engine in the hopes that it will blow up?


Is it confirmed somewhere that Lotus was really planning 3rd stop for Kimi before SC? I have been thinking earlier that Lotus strategists are using just pure luck.. If that planned 3rd stop is true, Im convicted about it.. They have no idea what they are doing 😀


Kimi said after the race that they were planning to try to go to the end of the race after the second pit stop, but wasn’t sure if that had been possible. According to him, his tires were more or less done after the race, so without the SC, he most likely would have been forced to come to pits for the third time.


That sounds reasonable. Tyre strategy was on the edge but I cant see reason why they wouldnt have tried it. I think pace car made tyre situation more difficult because Kimi was trying to hold Grosjean´s fresh tyres. Without pace car, he would have been far away behind Grosjean and he could have saved more when racing against struggling Mercs for 3th intead of Grosjean.


Wasn’t Kimi asked over the radio about what he thinks of the tyres will they last? To which he replied, not sure lets see how many laps we’ll do behind the safety car. I think I can make it without a stop. This was at the first SC period. Where they were letting the back markers unlap. (Well atleast that is what Ted Reported on Sky)


Korea and Singapore are pretty good bets for safety cars, aren’t they?

If that’s is your best bet, and the likelihood is statistically high, what would you do?



If you wear a tyre down to nothing then lock the brake until it wears right through it goes bang!

I can verify that this will happen on road tyres too.

Once you reach the second canvas you are on borrowed time. Maybe you are not old enough to remember crossply tyres with canvas reinforcement. I used to buy second hand tyres and sometimes put a tube in them, days of zero grip in the wet but they worked like slicks in the dry (which indeed they were) until they wore through.

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