Alonso versus Hulkenberg and other tales from Malaysian GP
Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  01 Apr 2014   |  1:21 pm GMT  |  177 comments

Only two races into the new hybrid turbo formula, the intense heat of Malaysia was always going to be a stiff challenge for the teams, but once again an impressive 15 cars from the 22 starters made it to the end.

Pace was the ultimate decider of this race, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton simply too fast for the rest, leading home a Mercedes 1-2, but behind him there were some good battles in which strategy played a key part in the outcome.

Alonso vs Hulkenberg: Different strategies at play
Before the race one of the key decisions was whether to go for two or three stops. In the end only Hulkenberg, starting seventh and Kobayashi, starting 20th went for it.

It was much hotter on race day than it had been in practice, despite the fact that the race started at 16-00hrs local time on Sunday while practice had been held at 14-00hrs on Friday. On top of that heavy rain on Saturday night had washed the rubber away and the track was very dirty on race day, which meant that the cars were sliding around more and overheating the tyres.

The pace of the race was therefore lower than expected – a second a lap slower than Friday practice in fact.

Most teams went for a three stop plan, Magnussen was forced into an early stop on lap 9 with a damaged front wing from the collision with Raikkonen, while Alonso was being very aggressive by taking his first stop on lap 11, a lap or two earlier than the optimum. He was locked once again into a fascinating battle with Hulkenberg’s Force India.

Ferrari went for the aggressive route to let Alonso really attack the German, while Force India decided to try something different; they went for a two stopper. There were several reasons for this; although their pace was similar, as Melbourne had showed, they didn’t believe that they could overtake Alonso on the same strategy.

Also there was a threat of rain and having a more flexible strategy meant that they could potentially luck into a stop as the rain arrived and catch out Ferrari who would be multi stopping and might have just been in when the rain came.

Ferrari was also mindful of tyre degradation. In Friday practice Alonso’s car did a long run on hard tyres, which didn’t look great from the tyre degradation perspective. In the race his degradation was as high as anyone’s, this will be a concern to Ferrari moving forward and must be addressed if they are to be competitive.

A two stopper puts you ahead of the three stopper you are racing against after his final stop. So Hulkenberg found himself 14 seconds ahead after Alonso’s last stop, with 13 laps to go. Anything could happen. Force India had lost nothing and it was well worth a go. In the end it did not work out, Alonso made the most of his aggressive plan and used the new medium tyres in the final stint to catch and pass the German for fourth place.

Alonso had taken the hard tyre in his third stint, rather than at the end because he knew he would need the extra performance to pass Hulkenberg.

The Alonso Hulkenberg battle gave the race an interesting strategic case study and was another heroic performance from Hulkenberg and Force India.

Keeping cool on track.. and on the pit wall

Cooling strategies were also a significant player in the outcome in Malaysia. All teams knew that they would have to compensate for the high temperatures by opening up the bodywork for cooling in some way and that this would cost them aerodynamic performance.
This was a factor in Ferrari having stronger performance in Malaysia than McLaren, despite McLaren’s upgrade package with a new front wing. It had been the other way around in Australia.

It also played a role in the “team orders” controversy at Williams, as Massa’s car was running hotter than Bottas’, according to Williams’ senior engineer Rod Nelson. Bottas had been instructed to stay behind Massa early in the race, despite believing he was faster. The pair was behind Button – Bottas felt he had the pace to pass the McLaren.

Bottas’ strategy involved him pitting two laps later each time than Massa and four laps later than Button at the final stop. So he had a car with no cooling issue and much fresher tyres for an attack on Button in the final stint.

Williams say that the plan was for Massa to let Bottas have three or four laps to attack Button and then if he were unsuccessful, Bottas would drop back behind Massa again for the finish. Massa refused to co-operate and they finished in that order.

There is a fine line between team orders and strategic plays and this was a strategic play by Williams; the trouble is Massa has been on the wrong end of team orders many times in his career and it definitely affected his self-esteem and his trust in the team.

It was extremely unfortunate that Williams chose similar wording here to the infamous “Fernando is faster than you” coded message from Ferrari in Germany 2010 to let Alonso through to win the race. And psychologically this may well have contributed to Massa refusing to collaborate, making it look more like a team orders situation than a strategic play.

Would Bottas have passed Button for sixth place if allowed to try? Well in Australia he was the driver who made the most significant overtakes and in Malaysia he had made up six places on the opening lap after being hit with a grid penalty. So he certainly looked racy. Pace wise it would have been difficult, but his fresher tyres would have given him a chance, perhaps. Williams are mindful that although they have 20 points on the board and lie fourth in the constructors’ table, they need to maximise their results in these early races with a very quick car. They probably feel that they haven’t really been able to do that.

In terms of strategy the question here is, was it worth the risk of damaging Massa psychologically and potentially undermining his trust in the team at this early stage for the sake of an extra two points?

The team clearly felt he would understand the strategic side of their intentions and they will be working with him now to understand. It is important for fans also to understand the difference between a team order and a strategic play.

Reliable pit stops count for more
It is noticeable this season that many teams are not chasing the ultimate speed in pit stops, preferring to be consistent and eliminate the risk of something going wrong.

Rather than go for the sub 2 seconds stops we saw last season, many teams prefer now to take half a second longer and avoid foul-ups. It is noticeable, for example, how Mercedes has slipped down the table of fastest stops, but its stops are consistent. Red Bull showed in Malaysia how time lost in a botched stop can ruin a driver’s race and take away all chance of points.

Daniel Ricciardo’s front left wheel was not properly fixed on after his third stop and it cost him fourth place. Ferrari remains the benchmark team for pit stops this season.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams, from Pirelli and from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gilla

Race History Graph, Courtesy of Williams Martini Racing

[Click on graph to enlarge] The zero line is an imaginary car setting the winner’s average lap speed every lap.
Note the Button, Massa, Bottas battle and the way Bottas had set himself up for an attack in the final stint by staggering his stops so his tyres would be fresher for the final stint. Note also the pace of Hamilton in the opening stint and the way he eases off to control the race after that. It is very reminiscent of a trace from Vettel in the second half of last year.

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Sorry that something went wrong, repeat again!

Boring race, slept through most of it. And sadly although they are technologically sophisticated…boring cars to match.


Hi James,

Any thoughts on the Ricciardo V Vettel battle so far? Seems to be heating up also i think!!! But I think we still need a few races to still to see..


Early days yet. RIC had a good run in Australia, needs some points on the board this weekend to steady the ship

Will be harder with a 10 place grid drop, however


With the Williams scenario we have to ask ourselves one question, if Massa let Bottas past , how keen would Bottas be to let Massa back past if he didnt get past Button, it would make Bottas look very silly indeed, I personally feel that once Bottas was in front of Massa he wouldnt of given the place back as position rules and his inability to pass Button wouldnt look as bad if he finished behind him rather than behind Massa after a botched attempt.


James, please would you consider adding a little more information?

What happened to the ease of overtaking here? Does the Ferrari have a large top speed deficit?

After the lap one puncture the second Ferrari ran the same strategy as Hulkenberg (not sure about which tyres in each stint though), but lost over 25 seconds apparently stuck behind a Caterham and a Lotus for about ten laps each.


“It is important for fans also to understand the difference between a team order and a strategic play.” Yes, if is Alonso envolved we talk about Team orders, if is Williams at 2nd race of the season: strategic play. O please, in both cases we are talking about one driver faster than the other but Alonso’s – Massa situation is by far (strategically speaking) more justifiable than this one. The difference of score between two mates, in the midlle of the season, and the chances for fight for the WDC are heavy resons to “play strategically”. So then…. What’s the real reason to justify one and generate so noise and Media headlines in the other? Thanks James, we know now: “strategic play & team orders”.


Hi James,

What is the reasoning behind penalising Ricciardo twice for the bad pitstop? It seems a bit unfair for him to be assigned a penalty during the race and then another one after the race and affecting next week’s race.


The FIA clearly favors Vettel over Ricciardo..



It is the new regulation, one goes with the penalty


If Botta was 100% sure of passing Button, then just pass Massa on your own first!

I believe Massa would not have made an extremely defensive move to prevent Botta to pass if he attempted to pass.

It seems more likely that Botta could have passed Massa only if Massa slowed down and let him through. That is not fast enough my dear.


Hello James, off topic.

Is there any truth to the story on the websit,

Thay claim Redbull are devaloping it’s own engine

and planing to start using it from Austria on.


I don’t think so. We’d have known about that, if it was happening!


“Williams are mindful that although they have 20 pouts on the board…”

No doubt the pouts are evenly split between Massa and Bottas with 10 pouts each.

5 pouts from Massa for being taken out in Melbourne and 5 pouts from team orders.

5 pouts from Bottas for hitting the wall in Melbourne and 5 pouts because Massa did not move over.


What’s going on with McLaren? With around 80HP more than Red Bull and Ferrari they really ought to finishing behind Mercedes at worst. They’re a big team with a lot of resources and money. Yet Eric Boullier has said he expects about the same results in Bahrain as they managed in Malaysia.


Re merc pit stop slowing, would comment that merc car being a league of there own will most certainly slow pit stops down whilst there is no competition to de-risk, can guarantee as soon as the bulls pick up pace so too will the pit stops


Hey James Allen,

Why not do an April fool’s joke article?

Make it really outrageous but with enough circumstantial bits to make it believable.


LOL! how could you ask James to do that, he’s a very busy man.


I have better things to do with my time


This made me laugh anyway. Mission accomplished.

James not Allen

Hopefully just a quick question.

Could we get some clarification on what the ‘zero’ line represents? Call me a pedant, but if it is the average line, shouldn’t the lead driver spend as much time above the line as under it? If the +’s and -‘s don’t all sum to zero then how can it be the average? Is there a treatment being used to deal with the slower pit stop laps, and if so, what is it please?

And yes, OCD could well be at play here…


Let T = total time required for the winner to travel the entire race distance. Let N = total number of laps.

Then the average lap time, t_avg = T/N.

Imagine a ball which rolls around the track during the race, and it takes the ball a time of t_avg to complete each and every lap.

The vertical axis on the graph is the amount of time by which a particular driver is ahead of the ball (a negative value means that the driver is behind the ball).

Therefore, by definition, the winner of the race MUST have a value of zero after the final lap, and every other driver MUST have a negative value after the final lap.

James not Allen

Thanks Cincy, A lot of confusion could be avoided if the term ‘average’ was applied correctly. The graph is far more of a cumulative exercise. It would also help if the axis were labelled.

The graph tells you very little about actual lap times, rather the position of the drivers relative to an ‘artificial’ leader and whether they are gaining or falling back. Useful, interesting once you get it, but not intuitive.


It’s common parlance in English to use the simple term “average” when referring to the arithmetic mean, you should feel free to intuit that much! (unless and until you find it doesn’t fit)

And the description of the zero line is very good in that it’s concise, precise, and accurate (though I cannot comment on how intuitive it might be to individuals).

If you had any confusion (and your final paragraph suggests you have it clear now), surely it was from the lack of a description of the driver’s respective lines and the unlabelled axes?


Agreed. I remember a while back when an entire post was devoted to explaining this graph, and it was incorrect even then. On this particular graph, the zero point (on the vertical axis) is very clearly not the winner’s average lap time (i.e. total race time / number of laps). The area above and below the curve would have to be the same, and it’s clearly not. Also, given the start is from a standstill, one would expect the first lap to much slower than any other lap of the race, excluding laps on which pit stops occurred.


> On this particular graph, the zero point

> (on the vertical axis) is very clearly not

> the winner’s average lap time (i.e. total

> race time / number of laps). The area above

> and below the curve would have to be the

> same, and it’s clearly not.

Odd, given that your explanation in your reply of 11:27pm just below is correct, that you have this detail wrong.

If the drivers’ respective lines showed their individual lap times in sequence, *then* the zero line would be the average and give you the equal area above and below the zero line you refer to.

But you know they’re not, they’re showing what you yourself describe below, and hence areas above and below the zero line are not relevant.


So why is Hulkenberg not in a Ferrari or RBR seat this season? He proved the end of last season and is proving again this season he is one helluva driver. I know why RBR chose Ricciardo(promote drivers from within) but they should’ve at least given Nico the chance at the spot. And Ferrari could’ve avoided so much ego on 1 team by opting to sign Nico instead of Kimi. He’s obviously shown he is far superior driver than Perez and hopefully he can continue to string solid finishes this year, which will be remarkable for a mid-pack team.


I have a feeling he will be at MacLaren next year replacing JB specially if JB is beaten by Magnesium.

I am just guessing/wishing.

Torchwood Five

Not Ferarri’s policy.

Ferarri’s policy is to “Have a Champion in the car.”

They took Alonso’s (two time world champion) comments last year as a sign that he might leave them, so re-hired Raikonnen (World Champion) as backup if Fernando abandoned them.

Also, Fernando criticized the car. Historically a severe no-no, so just as likely that (at the time in 2013 with those strained press conferences) Luca De Montezemolo could fire his ****.


can someone explain the graphs 0 line? if its average lap time of hamilton, how come hamilton is below it for most of the race?


It is an accumulative average.

Let’s say the winners average is 100 seconds.

A driver does Lap 1 in 120 seconds, lap 2 takes 115 seconds, and lap 3 takes 110 seconds. The graph after lap 3 would show 45 seconds (20 + 15 + 10).

I have to confess that it is the first time I’ve seen this graph where the winner has actual gone ABOVE the 0 line, during the race.


It happens quite often where there is a wet race or a safety car, but yes I don’t remember ever seeing that in a totally dry non-SC race before.


Agree, you have to start from last lap. The first are much slower


I am so, so, so addicted to the UBS post race report from James. Race weekend is not over for me until this comes out. Thanks again James. Waiting for the podcast now. Dang!


Did I miss the lengthy, techno/political arguments about fuel flow this race?

Haven’t read one word about it.



Good point – makes you think.


Gonna need some new colors. The oranges of Hulk and Alonso were confusing and the blacks of Button, Massa and Bottas, the same.


…….concern to Ferrari moving forward……

You mean ‘In the future’


“…was it worth the risk of damaging Massa psychologically and potentially undermining his trust in the team..” And the converse too, was it worth the risk to Massa of damaging the team’s trust in Massa. I like FM, wished he’d refused the Ferrari order, that would’ve shown far more courage than now with a lesser team.

And I agree about whoever gave him the message, using the same words, beyond stupid and insensitive…

Torchwood Five

“Beyond stupid and insensitive”?

What would you be saying if they told him “to get the **** out of the way!”


I expect his Ferrari contract contained a clause resulting in employment termination if he didn’t follow coded orders (other 2nd drivers have mentioned this is common at Ferrari) I expect he didn’t sign a similar clause at Williams so he’s not risking defaulting on conditions.


This is one driver’s battle that would be fantastic to see settled out on track. Until the two demonstrate that they can’t race each other hard but fair, Williams would do well to just sit back, watch what happens and enjoy the show. The retro drinks livery deserves that sort of show.


Notice. No talk about actual racing. No thrill. Just who said what, how many stops who did, what happened to who, how brilliantly Hamilton did in this head above car, what percentage of fuel somebody abused (ps. choice of words intentional).

I bet it seems interesting for a person inside. But outsiders it is starting to annoy a little bit too much.

To my grandmother knitting process is interesting. I love her but this is very boring to me. F1 is starting to be like that too.


Hi James,

I feel this season constructor champion is Mercedes to lost! Can’t recall we have seen such dominant season after Ferrari+MS era! Do you really believe other will be able to challenge them, even RBR?


We’ve only had two races! If it keeps up like this, then yeah, it’s theirs to lose. But things can change rapidly in F1.


I still think (read hope) RBR and Ferrari have something to say in this championship. To me it looks like Mercedes has their PU already running 100%, while Renault and Ferrari ones are still beeing calibrated. Solving this problems could let them make bigger performance steps than Mercedes can do by “only” bringing updates. Red Bull is bringing a full new B-spec update for their car in Spain, and Ferrari’s plans are to have a major aero update for the same race and also their final step on their PU matter. Until Barcelona, I say wait and see.


Choice of words were very bad from Williams. Hard to imagine that they used exactly same line as Ferrari did.

Corporate obligations in such an insulting manner are disgusting, Rosberg style.

This weekend it seemed like Rosberg was there just to say that line. Money earned. Back to home. Never a true racer. He will get stuck to this mentality.

Probably just imagine this but Red Bull and FIA are at war and if one side will step over gentleman agreements it will be flood.

Maldonado is in very dark place indeed. Almost sorry but nooooot.

Fernando is a time traveler. Same talk different year. It`s not even a serious anymore. You are where you are. Why to say it every now and then. Freaky.

Example: Fernando finished 4th. He said we took maximum. Traction bad. He said we are behind RB. Ahead of Raikkonen. He said i`m ahead of Raikkonen. Like an eskimo.

Very bad publicity towards Renault from Red Bull. Renault must feel very angry and humiliated.


So what we learnt from Malaysia is that the new tyres don’t really give anybody an advantage when it comes to the heat as we saw last season. For now if it’s hot, everybody has to go for the 3 stops.

Fair play to Force India and Caterham’s Kobayashi for trying something different for as always you never know what gifts can presented with a conservative tyre strategy.

As for Mercedes, am still surprised that without Brawn, they haven’t put a foot wrong strategy wise unlike Monaco 2013 when the team should have won it’s first 1-2.

The Williams drama reminded me what a cool head Jenson is for when it comes to defending, Jenson is up there with the best of them.

Regards the pitstops, it sure makes sense to have slower pitstops after the new penalties came into force but unlike Mercedes who had no threat, Riccardo was racing Alonso and so risks had to be taken.


“As for Mercedes, am still surprised that without Brawn, they haven’t put a foot wrong strategy wise unlike Monaco 2013 when the team should have won it’s first 1-2.”

That didn’t lose that 1-2 due to “strategy”, they lost it because Lewis made a mistake and left too big a gap, as he admitted himself afterwards.


Lewis admitted to a mistake, but there was no way he would’ve emerged 2nd even if he didn’t trail 3 seconds behind where he should’ve been. I watched the video of that at least 30x. Even Rosberg JUST got out ahead of Vettel, and Webber was close behind. Hamilton wasn’t even close to exiting pit lane when Webber had gone past. And that is with Vettel and Webber having been held up temporarily by the SC, before they were waved past. Without that it would’ve been an RBR 1-2.

Mercedes made a mistake in not pitting at least one of their cars after seeing Massa’s accident, which it was clear would produce a SC. RBR called Vettel in (Webber had already pitted before), and the SC was deployed as he was coming into his pit box.

That should’ve been an easy call for Mercedes to make.


Lewis is part of the team…


@ SteveS

Aah yes, I remember now. Thanks.

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