What strategy can Raikkonen, Hamilton and Kubica use to get to the front?

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Felipe Massa leads the championship contenders at Monza - but is he on a different setup?
Felipe Massa leads the championship contenders at Monza - but is he on a different setup?

Championship contenders Robert Kubica, Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton have qualified well below their typical starting places for the Italian Grand Prix. Kubica starts 11th, Raikkonen 14th and Hamilton 15th. Before this race their average starting positions respectively were 4.62, 4.23 and 3.62.

So what strategy should they follow to increase their chances of moving up the field? Here’s my analysis of the situation, share your thoughts below.

Conventional wisdom

Last year at Monza most drivers used one-stop strategies. The long straights of Monza means carrying more fuel has less of a lap time penalty, and the high average speed makes pitting for fuel more time consuming.

Only five drivers who qualified in the top ten used two-stop strategies, in order to be able to run with lighter fuel loads during qualifying. They were both the McLarens, both the BMWs, and Heikki Kovalainen’s Renault. Raikkonen pitted only once, on lap 25.

Having qualified outside the top ten allows Raikkonen, Hamilton and Kubica to put any amount of fuel in they choose. So should they go with the crowd and brim their tanks with fuel, or run lighter in an attempt to make up places on the track?

Costs/benefits of going lighter – Should make overtaking easier, may be in a position to capitalise on an early safety car deployment. But gaining places quickly enough to justify making the extra stop will be difficult.

Costs/benefits of going heavier – One fewer pit stop to make but heavier car makes overtaking tougher.

As Robert Kubica is only behind the drivers who made it into Q3 he can look at the number of laps those drivers in did Q3. All did at least six (although this was in heavy wet conditions and so not using as much fuel as in dry running) so he knows if he starts on a full fuel load he has a good chance of passing many of them.

For Raikkonen and Hamilton the decision is tougher as they start that bit further back. It would probably make sense for them to imitate Raikkonen’s strategy from last year: make one stop, but do it early. That would give them a lighter fuel tank making it easier to pass drivers in the early stages, yet not have to waste time with a second stop for fuel.

What if it rains?

This all assumes the race will be dry. If it rains – which the trio will certainly be hoping for – they have more options. As the drivers outside the top ten can set their fuel load up until the final moments before the start of the race they can take advantage of late developments in the forecast when picking their fuel load.

All the drivers are locked into the setups they started with during qualifying yesterday. Inevitably, some will have leaned more towards a wet than a dry setup. Before the start of the race the teams are essentially only able to change tyres and adjust the front wing (but not add any parts). There is provision in the rules for the FIA technical delegate to announce that the change in weather since yesterday is enough to allow all the teams to make adjustments to their brake and radiator cooling.

In the event of heavy wet weather, most drivers will probably go for a heavier fuel load. It safeguards against safety car interruptions and the laptime penalty is even less than it would be usually.

Massa on a wet weather setup?

A look at the speed trap times from qualifying shows Massa was over 7kph slower than any other driver, and 22kph slower than Raikkonen. Has he run a higher-downforce rear wing in anticipation of wet conditions? (Thanks to Salty for pointing that out in the GP2 sprint race live blog).

If so, the current weather conditions may give Massa cause for concern. The track dried during the GP2 sprint race this morning and the kind of heavy rain we have seen so far this weekend does not look likely to return today.

See the weather watch thread on the forum for the latest on the Italian Grand Prix weather conditions

The championship context

The trio are all under extra pressure because of the championship. They will have to take risks in moving up through the field, but know that failing to sore could seriously damage their points tallies.

In some respects the pressures are particularly severe for Raikkonen, who has not scored in the last two races. But, just as last year, he knows the increasing remoteness of his championship chances means he can take more risks than Hamilton.

Not that Hamilton’s stopped taking risks – in fact that’s what got him in this position in the first place, with a needless gamble on wet (instead of extreme wet) tyres during qualifying. Last time he started anywhere near as low on the grid as this he ruined his race within half a lap. He can’t afford a repeat of that today.

Up front, Massa has it much easier. He can take care heading into the chicanes on the opening laps, not over-stress his engine, take the conservative strategy options, and stand an excellent chance of being the world championship leader in a few hours’ time. All thanks to that frankly excellent lap in Q2 yesterday.

What strategy do you think Raikkonen, Hamilton and Kubica should use?

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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15 comments on “What strategy can Raikkonen, Hamilton and Kubica use to get to the front?”

  1. I think we already know Hamilton is playing the percentage game & will just go for as many points as possible.

    Raikkonen will go for broke as that is pretty much all he can do in his bid for a second WDC with his points deficit.

    Kubica? I probably just collect a few points, he does have as much chance as Raikkonen at this stage of the season. It is just whether he has the car for the job.

    Massa will want to win obviously but I suspect that eagerness will shine through and he’ll have a torrid race, maybe even crash out.

    Kovalainen for the win –fingers crossed, for McLaren’s WCC.

    Hopefully this GP should be fantastic given the mixed-up grid.

  2. If it’s raining it’s simple. Full fuel load, overtake at least one car per lap in the four excellent overtaking point on the track, and the pace cars will que up the cars 2-3 times. In this way, they can score points by a one stop strategy – and not risk being taken out in the first chicane chaos.

  3. Agree Kimi, Lewis and Bob need to go 1 stop shortish first stint. Guessing they will start on inters as track isn’t completely dry (wasn’t quite this morning). Will probably move to dry at first and only stop.

    Massa is stuffed. He’s gambled on a completely wet race. That was a tough call. Everyone will be able to drive round him on the main straight. Still think Vettel will have a good chance of the win, but guess that Kovi is favourite.

  4. I’ve heard that Massa has just used his free engine change which may explain his lack of speed down the speed trap in qualifying because of a lack of power. (I know what I said ;)) Wet set-up? Maybe.

  5. Expect to see Hammi and Kimi fit blades to the axles like a Scythed Chariot to cut through the field

  6. James – Yes, Massa has changed his engine: more here

  7. Really hard to make any prediction for the race. So many variables, including light rain forecast for today.

    So, cars setted up for wet, with drys on a not too much wet track, interesting start…

    In any case is going to be quite interesting to follow not only the head of the race but from the 3th line to the very last ones!

    FOM should pay the rain big money, is the only actor bringing some excitement to F1!

  8. The track for the GP2 sprint race was interesting. With low ambient temps, and low track temps, it stayed wet for 90% of the race even with all the cars staying on similar lines, and no rain coming down.

    However, as soon as a dry line started to emerge in places, the wet tyres lost grip very quickly and all the drivers were trying to find damp areas to cool them down.

    A two-stop would give you more options to be on the right tyre at the right time if the conditions are still changeable.

  9. I’m watching the Porsche Super Cup race at Monza now. Wet track and it has started to rain again.

    More cars are cutting the chicanes then staying on the track. Looks stupid sometimes when 4-5 cars in a row just going straight over without any reason other that trying to gain some time.

  10. Does anybody know the latest wether prediction???????

  11. @Eddie http://uk.weather.com/weather/today-Monza-ITXX0049 Light rain pretty much all afternoon. God knows what the stewards are going to do, in GP2 and Porsche race today the chicanes were being cut by every third car. Going to be more drive throughs than racing laps if stewards stick to the letter of the law.

  12. A different theory on Massa’s straight line speed: if the speed trap line was close to the braking zone for a corner his speed may have been slower because of how early he was braking for the corner. That seems to be supported by the top speeds he recorded at the three timing lines were – though not the fastest – nothing like as far off the best speeds as at the speed trap.

  13. Well, McLaren’s strategy would have worked out today if they had given Hamilton inters on his first stop rather than full wets.

  14. @Paige: or if it rains … but weather is weather :)
    great race, nice overtaking

  15. Finally BMW had good strategy.
    Thanks for Robert Koo-bit-sa!

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