Why Kubica probably wouldn’t have won (Australian Grand Prix analysis)

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Robert Kubica got his super soft stint out of the way early

After Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel’s controversial crash in the dying stages of the Australian Grand Prix, Mario Theissen claimed Robert Kubica would have won had he got past Vettel cleanly and been able to chase after leader Jenson Button.

But the lap times don’t seem to support what Mario Theissen says. Here’s a look at the data from the Australian Grand Prix.

Kubica and Vettel

Sebastian Vettel versus Robert Kubica, Australia 2009 (click to enlarge)

In the final phase of the race leaders Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel were nursing their cars home on the unfavourable super soft tyres. Meanwhile Robert Kubica, on medium compound tyres, was catching them.

But he was catching Vettel more quickly than he was catching Button. Vettel’s tyres seem to have past their best on lap 51, and three laps later his times suddenly got a lot worse, allowing Kubica to close to within 0.4s at the line. It was then that the BMW driver launched the attack that ended with both of them in the barriers.

Had the two not collided, and Kubica had got by cleanly, would he have been able to catch and pass Button before the end of the race?

We don’t know what would have happened to Button’s tyres, because the safety car came out after the crash. But he made his final pit stop three laps later than Vettel. So even if he was going to suffer the same sudden drop-off in performance Vettel did, it wouldn’t have been for a few more laps.

It isn’t necessarily the case that would have happened – as we saw all weekend long the Brawn was the most superior car out there. Plus, Button already had four seconds in hand over Kubica.

It might have been close, but it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Kubica had the race won.

Race and lap charts

2009 Australian Grand Prix race history chart (click to enlarge)

This chart shows each driver’s time difference to the leader during the Australian Grand Prix.

The first thing that jumps out is how Felipe Massa’s struggle with deteriorating super soft tyres bunched up the field earlier in the race – a Massa train!

The safety car eventually wiped out the huge advantage Button and Vettel had over the rest of the field, which is worth keeping in mind when looking back at the different decisions teams made about whether to use the super soft tyres first or last.

Some drivers have been quoted saying how difficult it was to pass KERS-equipped cars, as they could use thier power boosts defensively. The Ferraris ran with KERS but they discovered that using it too much caused tyre wear problems, no doubt making their predicament even worse.

But these new complexities certainly added up to give us an entertaining race.

2009 Australian Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

More F1 statistics

Author information

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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54 comments on “Why Kubica probably wouldn’t have won (Australian Grand Prix analysis)”

  1. Certainly the teams inexperience with the tyres and Kers will have now changed, I can see many more teams getting these tyres out of the way early doors, Kers will certainly be exploited by all teams, as the advantages are very strong, As for Kubica, I think Theissen was talking it up as he had nothing to lose, still feel the penalties for Vettel were one-sided, but hey that’s F1!!

  2. Yes, but Mario Theissen said so . . .

    1. and he is a doctor!

  3. keepF1technical
    31st March 2009, 8:09

    i would still rather see drivers pushing and trying to gain places, even the win wasnt possible. Its better than holding position for some safe points.

    Surely the teams will tell the drivers to cool it towards the end of the race for fear of retribution by the FIA affecting the next race.

    stupid decision by the FIA… and it flys in the face of the ‘spirit’ of the new rules wanting more action and overtaking.

    1. Indeed. Also, if only the FIA had gone with the FOTA points system, it would have been able to be applied for this season.

      It’s the stewards that make the decisions though, not strictly the FIA remember :)

    2. I’m just happy that they went for it, proper racing, all out. Many drivers would have settled for a podium in the season opener, but both the guys went for it, which is why I respect them.

      We all know Kubica is a no nonesense driver, and it showed..great stuff! I still see that crash as a racing incident, don’t know why Vettel was punished. If punishment was due, both should have been subject to it. I’m a Vettel fan and am ****** off at the fact that he’s been handed a 10 place drop!

  4. FIA’s decision over tyres will really spice up the races. They force Bridgestone to bring two sets of tyres, compounds of which shouldn’t be adjacent to each other. That is, among four types of Bridgestone tyres: Super Soft – Soft – Medium – Hard, we will have always two levels of compound differentiation. In Aussi, we had Super Soft and Medium. In Malaysia, we’ll have Soft and Hard. That’s really interesting for teams in terms of championship how to make the most out of option tyres during races. It will be as decisive as grip levels and downforce. It’s a good decision by FIA.

    1. I think the tyre difference is lame.

      Although I have to say that Hamilton and Kubica used the tyres to maximum effect and people like Rosberg and Vettel got it horribly wrong. I guess that adds an element of strategy, but it’s too much depending on luck for my taste.

      Overall it just adds an element of lottery to the race. I guess it brings overtaking and excitement, but I feel it’s cheap excitement.

    2. Once the teams get used to how there cars really handle the super softs, they’ll be able to adapt things accordingly and hence the luck element will be reduced.

    3. I’ve done it again. I need to go back to school… ‘their cars’ (sorry)

    4. I think that soft tyre wear will still be a problem is Sepang. If there is no rain, the heat on track will in the region of 40 to 50 degrees C. This will probably aid in getting the Hard tyres up to temperature.

      I still think that cars running KERS have a weight balance issues. None of the guys on KERS seemed to be totally happy with the way their cars were going. Yes, they managed to use it to their advantage on a number of occasions, Alonso defensively against Glock and Hamilton on a number of occasions at the start.

      The interesting this year, if Melbourne was anything to go by, filling up to the brim may not be the best strategy if you’re starting from the back. I think being fuelled light and on soft tyres can get you up the grid rather quickly, especially if you have KERS.

  5. Good article Keith. People should see the truth.

    Theissen actually claimed that Kubica was gaining 2 seconds a lap. Obviously, Kubica gained less than a second on the last finish as the biggest gain. In fact he gained about 2 seconds over the whole set of laps at the end.

    Kubica gained at best 2 tenths total on Button over 6 laps. So that’s nothing. Clearly Theissen was blatantly lying about Kubica’s pace.

    He might have anticipated Button’s tyres going off, but that’s highly unlikely to have helped matters that much and it still doesn’t make Kubica 2 seconds faster at that time. If the same drop off had happened for Button at best Kubica would have been 2 seconds closer to Button at the finish line.

    Kubica was behind Vettel for a while already so Kubica would have come out of that battle with a gap to Button much bigger then the 4 seconds it was on lap 55. Lets say it was 5 or 6 seconds at that point.

    So, taking everything into account. Kubica would still have been at least 3 to 4 seconds behind Button if he had survived that pass.

    Also, Button was clearly instructed to maintain a 4 to 5 second gap. He was cruising. I’m sure he could go faster if instructed to do so. Since he was not, his tyres would most likely have been much less worn than Vettels.

    After the start and after the first safety car, Button quickly pulled a 4 to 5 second gap and then kept that steady. Every time he demonstrated that he could easily go at least .4s per lap faster than the guy behind. (draw the lap chart comparing only Button and Vettel and you’ll see what I mean. If not already apparent from the full lap chart)

    I’d say this was Ross Brawns genius at work. He knew there was no point to risk breaking the (still largely untested) car. By the nature of the track, there would be safety car situations galore. They weren’t sure about reliability so they took it easy.

    1. Sorry, I meant compare the “race history” of Button and Vettel to see the constant 4 to 5 sec gap.

      Actually now that I think of it. Button was keeping the 4 second gap to Kubica in the last stint. Vettel was obviously no longer a threat and only Kubica could still gain some ground. Makes me even more sure that Button would have just kept the gap intact since he clearly was able to go much faster than he did.

    2. Totally agree. Thiessen was being hugely over-optimistic in the heat of the moment. Rather silly of him, really.

  6. Button had the race well under control. I doubt that Kubica would have made any ground after passing Vettel. Still…. Vettel was well beaten and should have yielded.

  7. Paul Sainsbury
    31st March 2009, 10:11

    Still seems to me that handing Vettel a penalty was totally wrong. Isn’t this supposed to be racing? Kubica could have given more room, and now drivers will probably be content to plod around for position rather than risk retribution fron the hysterical FIA.

    1. I agree the penalty’s too much – Vettel’s already thrown away at least 6 points and gone to apologise to two team bosses. That should be enough punishment, why should he suffer in the next race as well?

      This group of drivers seem to get on well and respect each other – as well as Vettel, look at Kubica turning up at the Brawn party to congratulate them – but they’ll be encouraged to blame the other driver every time there’s an incident – and driving standards could deteriorate.

  8. Bigbadderboom
    31st March 2009, 10:39

    Agreed, Mario’s prediction of what could have been fall outside of the evidence, the only thing that contary to that is the radio message jenson received which gave the opinion Brawn GP thought Kubica would be threat. However after all the ifs and buts are done if the safety car had not made a couple of appearances Jenson would have been long gone anyway! I had the impression during the closing periods of the race that the brawns had pace in hand, and i still think the same.

  9. i dont think that a penalty was the right thing to do i know if it was me i would not be out there just giving up positions

  10. i personally think that Kubica would have got around because he does not waste time in the back of other drivers

  11. I agree with the article that Kubica wouldn’t have won the Australian GP. I think if needed Button could have pushed more at the end of the race and even if Kubica had caught Button, he wouldn’t have just gone straight past him even taking into account the tyre situation.

    The punishment on Vettel was harsh as it was just a racing incident. The stewards seem to be penalising drivers for things which they would have got away with a few years ago, their thinking increasingly seems to be if there is a coming together someone must to blame. Yet the FIA say they want drivers to take risks and overtake, at least that was the main argument behind a medals system.

    The drivers who started on super softs gambled that a safety car would wipe out the time they lost at the start of the race, and judging from the history of the Melbourne GP you have to say it was a it wasn’t a massive bet. On other circuits I feel there will be greater uniformity in the team’s tyre strategies of having the worst tyre on the final stint when the race has settled down.

    I know we don’t go to Indy anymore but how would the new tyre rules work if the soft tyres couldn’t work there and Bridgestone had to take the hardest tyres they could?

  12. From what ive read Theissen said its Robert who was certain he would catch Jenson. And he said the collision with Sebastian Vettel cost Kubica “probably a victory”. So saying Theissen was lying or something (like someone said in comments) is wrong. Sure, maybe they were wrong, maybe there was no chance to win the race, but during the race there were reasons to think Kubica have a chance to win. Correct me if I am wrong but Rosberg was on softs at the end of the race and he was struggling much, he lost a lot of positions due to tires. When I was seeing this during the race for me it was a proof that Kubica can go past Vettel and Button. Maybe BMW team thought the same?
    I am not argue with your analysis Keith, just with some of the comments made here.

    1. Theissen said:

      “On prime tyres, Robert was two seconds quicker with Button struggling on his softs. We have lost, in all probability a victory.”

      Was Kubica gaining 2 seconds on Button? No. So is that a lie or what?

      Was Kubica likely to overtake Button? I estimate that (even if all had gone well on lap 56) Button would have gone into lap 56 with a 6 second lead over Kubica. Would Kubica have even a remote chance of making up 6 seconds in 2 laps? Of course not.

      So I call the statement that Kubica was robbed of “a victory in all probability” a lie. It’s incredibly unsportsmanshiplike to make claims like that. It’s like saying to BrawnGP “OK you won, but you were lucky because Vettel knocked us of. We were better than you.”

  13. I come from Poland and I’m a big fan of R.Kubica, but I agree whit whole article. Why? Just read what Patrickl wrote in comments, it’s 100% truth.

  14. I must say I din’t really expect such a detailed analysis of what might have happened if KUB/VET didn’t collide. Nice one Keith but although the comparison of raw times say clearly that there was no way the Pole could’ve cath up on BUT let’s not forget abut a possibility of an error from the latter. You can’t say there’s absolutely no chance of it, especially in a situation BUT would have found himself in, being chased by a faster car on the very last laps of the race. Still, I agree that Kubica’s statement that he was robbed of victory was a bit over the roof but agree with a penalty for VET. I guess we’ll never know what would happen.

  15. two things:
    a) immediately after the race in interview for polish tv Kubica aksed about chance to get button said “I think we would have fight for 1st”. getting close to button was one thing but taking 1st position is a different story and Robert was aware of this

    b) agree penalty for vettel is too much, the way I see it non of them make mistake and both of them could avoid crash (kubica going a bit wider, vettel not letting go break when he saw kubica). so it was just racing incident

    1. It was not just racing acident. Look at this movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvwBse4kzgg, 2:25 Vettel’s control lights over the steering-wheel was RED, so he was breaking, just a second after we see GREEN lights, so?

      1:47 to 1:50, look at Robert driving line.

    2. They went green because he went down a gear. It’s a rev meter, not a display of his controls.

    3. Also, as Vettels car was damaged at the apex of the turn, it doesn’t matter what line Kubica took after that.

    4. I’m pretty sure a driver doesn’t need a light to tell him that he has the foot on the brake pedal Hajnr.

  16. Button had more in his locker. at no point in the race was he on the edge. every time he needed to pull out a 4-5 second gap he did it with ease.

    a lot of people around F1 dont like to see English people doing well. maybe its because there are a lot of English teams or whatever but I felt there was a witch-hunt to ‘get’ Hamilton last season. Ironic that his replacement at the top is also an Englishman!

  17. I disagree that these data settle the matter. The drop off for the soft tires was on the order of several seconds a lap for the Ferraris and others. So Button’s 4-5 seconds was no real buffer in the circumstances. Also, I doubt that he had so much speed in reserve. Pegging the margin at 4.5 seconds with such supposed superiority would have been was foolish. And he almost lost the lead and maybe the race due to a few seconds of fumbling in the last pit stop. The fruits of real dominance, and a prudent lead, if we recall the bad old days of Schumacher, is 25-35 seconds, i.e., a pit stop for a flat.

  18. I know with the data its probable button would of fended of Kubica, i was worried though, when Kubica puts them laps him, he looks to be the fastest of anyone, we’ll never know i just had the feeling Kubica might catch Button. Boy got style!

  19. I was watching the f1.com timing screens and Kubica was only catching button at 0.2 secs per lap max. He was catching Vettel at 0.6/0.8 per lap at the end.

    It was NEVER 2 secs per lap – total BS by Thiessen.

  20. Hajnr how do you know which light means breaking and which one not-breaking? i doubt that there is any indication of breaking, what you talking about is I guess engine revs. indicator

  21. I have a question quite of the track here. Vettel was given a ten grid place penalty. So, will he be able to load the tanker after qualifying? If that is the case, he might be able to participate in Q3 with almost empty tanker? Could you please clarify on this?

    1. No, fuel rule in Q3 applies to him too, he will just start 10 places lower than he qualify.

  22. theRoswellite
    31st March 2009, 16:46

    As everyone seems to agree……not to agree..

    Seems impossible to tell what was going to happen, too many variables enter the equation; even Dr. Thiessen’s remarks aren’t perfectly clear. Is he paraphrasing RK? Is he just tossing out a possibility? Doesn’t seem from the data he has much of a case, but if we ask him about it now, he might claim it was a bit of the immediate post-race “red mist” speaking. Certainly no big deal either way.

    What is a big deal is racing “into the sunset”.

    Nico, as quoted today in Autosport:

    “I think twilight racing is not the way to go. In Melbourne it was obvious that it just increases the danger so much.

    “The visibility is so difficult, you can’t even see the edges of the track in some corners. I was driving into the sun and that’s not what racing is about. So I really hope they reconsider that.

    “Even moving it forward by one hour or something will help us massively. It was just the last part of the race that was the really problematic time.”

    If this policy is continued and someone is killed or seriously injured both BE and MM, our old Two-Headed-Monster, are going to come under some well deserved, and withering, criticism. I hope it doesn’t require a human sacrifice to see some democracy returned to the FIA, and equity finally instated in the commercial side of F1.

    Where is the GPDA on this matter?

  23. Yes but softs gets worst with every meter of ride
    Look at the Kubica, Massa and Rosberg stints on softs.
    First couple of laps- pretty normal, then blast- you have to pit or you gonna lose control over the car
    You don’t know how those tires would work on last 3 laps but hey, it is sure they gonna be slower-proportional to time of using!
    Plus the faster guy is coming closer- You got to push hard, what means even faster tires degradation, less grip and control.
    That’s how We got to look at this me think.

  24. I agree with dmw that in previous years dominant displays have a gap maintained at around 30secs. However it may be that Brawn did not wish to show their hand and their potential superiority too soon, especially before the Appeal hearing… if the diffuser is declared legal it will be interesting to see the Brawn performance post appeal.

    I doubt Kubica would have caught Button never mind passing him. A combination of Buttons smooth style and not stressing the tyres will have delayed the performance drop-off enough to finish 1st well ahead.

    1. It could be not wanting to show their hand. Also, as mentioned in the comments earlier, they might have wanted to save the car and run it as efficiently as possible. They should in qualy that they were massively quicker when they needed to be but the lack of testing puts a cloud over their reliability.

      It will be interesting to see how the tyres affect performance this weekend with them being soft/hard.

    2. 1) The BrawnGP wasn’t properly tested for endurance yet. Before the race they expressed worries about reliability
      2) Melbourne is a safety car prone track. It’s useless to pull out a big gap.

      Makes sense Ross Brawn told Button to take it safe and only keep a 4 to 5 second margin.

      Why else would the gap be 4 to 5 seconds for just about the whole race while button showed that he could easily go 10 rounds doing 4 tenths a lap faster?

  25. he will never ever get position 1 in any race

  26. Kubica can’t pass…all he can do is block.

    1. Yeah I was wondering about that too. Did Kubica ever make an impressive pass during a race? Without touching the other car.

  27. I read the release from BMW about Kubica and the end of the race…
    and thought perhaps Button was taking it a little easy in the last few laps.
    The engines are required to last longer this season, correct? Knowing how Brawn has all the angles covered, it would not suprise me if they were thinking ahead…

  28. Kubica can’t pass…all he can do is block.

    oh boyyy…
    Because some kid caused big bang and get punished?
    I realy would like to see slow of pace nick or hami smashed out by VET “thu shall not pass” next time

    I think he would have pass Buton with ease….

    1. But then he couldn’t properly pass Vettel even though he claimed to be 2 seconds a lap faster.

  29. There is a question what would have happend to Button tires if he had to drive agressive last 3 laps- softs tires gets worst with every meter of ride.

  30. The supersoft tyres are slow and dangerous. Ban them.

    Rubica should have known that and given Vettel a wider berth. The relegation of Vettel is unfortunate and ill considered.

    1. The super softs are actually the fastest they have. They should be swapped after 10 or 11 laps though. Vettel should have stopped 3 laps later to get these tyres.

  31. You are right Patrick, but then what’s the point of a set of tyres that lasts maybe 7 or 8 laps at reasonable performance levels. if you want to force drivers to stop , give them all rather a drive through penalty .

    The problem is when the supersofts come of in performance they become dangerous, they dont grip and affect braking etc…

    1. Indeed they don’t last as long as they probably should, but still. Usually the first stint is not that long. So it made sense to use these tyres in the first stint. Or put in a short last stint.

      It was only a problem when drivers timed their super soft stint wrong and tried to go too far on them (ie Kubica’s first stint or Vettel’s last stint). Or if they destroyed them by setting super fast laps (ie Rosberg who worn out his tyres in only 4 laps)

      BTW If you want to complain about dangerous, complain about not being allowed to use tyrewarmers. The cars coming out of the pit were going 5 to 7 seconds slower than the ones on warm tyres. That’s a lot worse than losing 1 to 2 seconds on worn super softs.

  32. Right I didnt realise that good point!

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