F1: James Allen Analyse – GP England 2012
The British Grand Prix was a tense strategic battle between Red Bull and Ferrari. They went different ways on race strategy and ultimately Red Bull prevailed, Webber passing Alonso five laps from the end. So could Alonso and Ferrari have held on for the win if they had played the strategy differently? That’s one of the questions we’ll be addressing in this UBS Race Strategy Report.
The challenge of McLaren was blunted again, Lewis Hamilton losing ground on his championship rivals while Lotus again scored strongly with both cars as Grosjean did a unique strategy on Sunday. Heavy rain during practice and qualifying days had left the teams with very little information about how the tyres would perform on race day. There was only the one hour practice on Saturday morning to go on and this showed that on a cold track surface the soft compound tyre was graining badly (the top surface of the rubber rolling up) so Ferrari in particular were wary about it on race day. The weather was very erratic all weekend and it stayed dry for the race, against expectations. Many teams including Mercedes and McLaren had planned for a wet race. Although the track temperature was shown as above 24 degrees, the ground was still too cold to get the soft tyre working well and the hard compound turned out to be the better race tyre. The key to doing well in the race, then, was to manage the soft tyre.
Could Alonso have won the race with different strategy?
Ferrari and Alonso were wise to start with the hard tyre, as it proved the best tyre to race on. They started out wanting to minimise the time spent on the soft tyre and as soon as the tyre covers came off on the grid it was clear what the pattern of the race would be. Alonso would run two stints on hard tyres and a short final stint on softs, Webber would do the opposite; an opening stint on soft and then two longer stints on hard.
Alonso’s race would be dictated by keeping the soft tyre stint to a minimum at the end, while Webber’s would be all about staying in touch with Alonso in the opening stint and then coming on strong at the end.
Ferrari had another weapon at their disposal; they sent Massa out on softs for the first stint, so they would have data on tyre performance. This turned out to be less helpful than imagined…
Massa’s first stint was 13 laps during which time the team came to believe that the soft tyres were not as bad as expected. This would prove crucial later in the race, as it meant that Alonso committed to a 15 lap final stint on softs. Had he pitted a couple of laps later on each of his first two stops, he probably would not have lost the lead at the end. Without that data they would have been more inclined to stay off the soft tyre and would have done a strategy, which might have brought Alonso the win.
Alonso built a lead of five seconds over Webber and when the Australian stopped on lap 14, Alonso went just one lap longer. His pace on the hard tyres was still good, he set a couple of quick laps before his stop on lap 15, certainly comparable with Webber’s first two or three laps on new hard tyres in the second stint. So there was margin there to play with.
The gap between them was maintained at five seconds throughout the middle stint. Webber pitted again on lap 33, which left him with 19 laps to go to the finish on another set of hard tyres.
Alonso stayed out four more laps, pitting on lap 37 with a lead of four seconds to protect in the final stint. Although Webber had a couple of faster laps than Alonso before the Ferrari stop, Alonso again was able to find speed from the used hard tyres prior to his stop and another lap would have been possible. With two or three more laps in the opening stint and another lap in the second, this would have put him back out on track after a stop on lap 41 with a small margin over Webber, but just 10 or 11 laps to do on soft tyres to the finish. On this basis he would probably have been able to hold onto the lead to the end. Alternatively, he could have done what Hamilton did and run a short middle stint on softs of no more than 10 laps, reacted to Webber’s stop on lap 33 and finished on the same hard tyres as the Red Bull driver.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially the day after the Grand Prix when one can look at all the what-ifs. Ferrari and Alonso have done brilliantly to lead the championship at this stage. They have made strategic mistakes this season which have cost Alonso points, but there’s no getting away from the fact that, although their hunch at the start was correct that the hard was the better race tyre, there was definitely a win to be had on Sunday with a slightly more cautious approach to the soft tyre in race strategy.
Doing things differently: Hamilton and Grosjean
There were two other interesting strategies on Sunday from McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Lotus F1’s Romain Grosjean, which also shed light on what might have been for Alonso.
Both teams decided early on, like Ferrari that the hard tyre would be the faster race tyre. Hamilton, like Alonso, started on it, while Grosjean was involved in a first lap incident with Vettel and had to pit on lap two. He went to the hard tyre and then did the whole race on it, with only one further stop, So essentially he did a one stop strategy. He did a 24 lap stint and a 26 lap stint on it and was competitive. He was 22nd and last on lap 3, but came through to finish 6th behind his team mate Raikkonen, who had raced with Vettel and Massa. On lap 50, his tyres 24 laps old, he set the second fastest lap of the race.
It was another stunning performance by Grosjean and an illustration of the pace and durability of the hard Pirelli tyre, as well as the Lotus’ ability to find great race pace. With better qualifying performance, they would have a car capable of winning races.
Hamilton went for a hard/soft/hard strategy and did a long first stint, which appeared to have got him into a position to race Grosjean for sixth. He got the soft tyre out of the way with a short middle stint, but he didn’t have the pace in the final stint and faded. McLaren have problems balancing front and rear tyre temperatures and it’s costing them badly.
SILVERSTONE TYRE CHOICES
Webber: SN, HN(14) HN(33)
Alonso : HN, HN(15), SN(37)
Vettel: SN, HN(10), HN(37)
Massa: SN, HN (13), HN (35)
Raikkonen: SU, HN(13), HN (34)
Grosjean: SN, HN(2), HN(26)
Schumacher: SN, HN(12), HN (34)
Hamilton HN, SN (21), HN (28)
Senna: SN, HN (14) HN (30)
Button: HN, SN (16), HN (31)
Kobayashi: HN, HN(16) SN(37)
Hulkenberg HN, HN (16), SN(35)
Ricciardo: HN, SN(16), HN (29)
Vergne: SN, HN (14), HN (32)
Rosberg: HN, HN (15), SN (37)
Maldonado: SN, HN (11), HN (12)
Kovalainen: SN, HN(12), HN(29)
Glock HN, HN(18), SN(38)
Pic: SN, HN (13), HN (32)
De la Rosa: SN, SN(27)
Kartikeyan HN, HN(16), SN(35)
Perez: SN, HN (11) – Retired
Di Resta: SN, HN(1) – Retired
Petrov: Did Not Start
S= Soft; H=Hard; N=New; U= Used;