Vettel’s frustrating race and Barrichello’s gamble (Bahrain Grand Prix analysis)

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Strategy FAIL: Three-stopper blew Barrichello's podium hopes

Did Rubens Barrichello’s strategy switch cost him a top three finish? And would Sebastian Vettel have won if he’d got past Lewis Hamilton?

Here’s how the Bahrain Grand Prix unfolded.

Leaders’ lap times

Bahrain Grand Prix: Jenson Button vs Sebastian Vettel vs Jarno Trulli (click to enlarge)

This graph shows the lap times of Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Jarno Trulli. In the first stint Button chased after Trulli and, after the Toyota driver pitted, had enough fuel left for two more quick laps ensuring he emerged in the lead.

Vettel, meanwhile, was stuck behind Lewis Hamilton and lapping 0.5-1s per lap slower. Although he had enough fuel to stay out four laps longer than Button, and lapped up to 1.8s quicker than Trulli at this time, it wasn’t enough to get him out of the pits ahead of the Toyota.

Throughout the second stint Vettel was locked to Trulli’s pace and unable to pass. Once Trulli had pitted Vettel was able to lap 0.6s quicker, indicating that although overtaking might be easier this year, making up a place is still a challenge.

Is it still too difficult, or have they got the balance right? So far I’m leaning towards the latter…

Barrichello’s strategy

Bahrain Grand Prix: Rubens Barrichello's race (click to enlarge)

This chart shows Rubens Barrichello’s race – his position is indicated by the zero line, so on each lap you can see how far the cars ahead of him (above the line) were, and how far the others were behind him (below the line).

The decisive moment in Barrichello’s race came on lap 25, when he and Brawn gambled on a three-stop strategy to get past the three-car cluster of Trulli, Button and Hamilton.

The gamble failed. From laps 27 to 36 he gained only 2.3s on second placed Trulli. It’s easy to say this with hindsight, but given he had been catching the trio at over a second per lap prior to lap 25, perhaps it would have been more productive to leave him on the track and try to make a pass the old-fashioned way.

He might at least have got fourth place off Hamilton. Of course, this assumes he had any fuel left in the tank, but the haste with which Brawn brought him in suggests this was a classic strategy switch.

Full race charts

Bahrain Grand Prix race history chart (click to enlarge)

Here’s the full data from the race. The chart above shows how early leader Timo Glock’s race was compromised by his inability to build up enough of a gap in the early laps to come out ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg. He had 21.6s over Raikkonen when he came in on lap 11, when he needed more like 27.

Bahrain Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

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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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20 comments on “Vettel’s frustrating race and Barrichello’s gamble (Bahrain Grand Prix analysis)”

  1. Nice analysis of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

    I only miss one important analysis (if possible at all) regarding Toyota’s statement that they could have won the race if they hadn’t chosen the hard compound for their second stint.

  2. Keith these charts are incredible. i feel like I’m at a team debriefing or studying F1 Tactics 101… hell 212…

    great stuff, and your commitment to giving us first grade info and analysis is greatly appreciated…

    1. here here… Nice work Keith.

      I’m just wandering whether Rubens was switched to a 3-stop for this reason (to try and leapfrog Trulli) and because he was mincing his tyres more than Jenson.

    2. Totally agree. Keith your analysis is very intresting – I think that there is a factor here that might have caused Vettle some issues, and that’s tyre wear. On paper I agree it looks like he could have had Jenson, in reality I think he might have come unstuck trying to keep up & stay out longer. I’d be intrested if you have any thoughts on the matter

  3. What about BMW? Did they race?

    I heard they are going to forget about this season to focus on the 2015 car :D

    Seriously, they missed the opportunity to win a WDC with Kubica last year because they got too soon the target of winning a race, and maybe that oportunity is not goning to come back again.

  4. long live Ferrari
    28th April 2009, 12:57

    @keith, u give nice titles to the articles.

  5. although overtaking might be easier this year, making up a place is still a challenge.

    Is it still too difficult, or have they got the balance right?

    The opening laps showed that something has improved. They were probably the most edge of my seat race laps I’ve seen in F1 for ages. It was almost arcade racing.
    To claim this was because Webber started from the back is not just the case. Fisichella did some great passes to move up the field too.
    If it was due to drivers carrying different fuel, then we would lose some of this next year.

    Barrichello had to pass to make his 3 stop work. He did get by Piquet eventually, but he had to really commit a move (something that if it went wrong may have cost him a penalty). Piquet also had KERS and this made a visible difference in keeping Barrichello behind.
    I’d say the balance is just right at the moment after the last race.
    As long as the race stewards do not start penalising drivers for every pass gone wrong.

  6. I think overtaking has definitely been improved. It’s still a challenge, but this isn’t Nascar after all. Barrichello’s move on Piquet was one of the most committed I’ve seen in ages, along with his move on the first lap past Raikonnen… ballsey!

    What was also apparant from all the overtakes was the level of co-operation and awareness from the driver being taken… it allowed some passes to take place over a couple of corners, and places taken back if overshot (Hamilton/Trulli)… I hope Kubica was watching ;-)

    Buttons pass on Hamilton was gutsy as well, “go on, do your best, I’m coming past like it or not!” out on the dirty side… quality! …Vettel should have been past and I fear he didn’t more because he fears a penalty than because he couldn’t. More than half a second a lap difference in speed should give plenty opportunity to pass.

  7. It just goes to show with the various differing strategies, why refuelling should be in F1.

  8. nice analysis

    first lap was probably Button’s best chance to overtake Hamilton, because he spent all/most of his boost on start. Later it was easier to defend Vettel with KERS available to deploy on strategic places around the track

  9. Vettel was able to lap 0.6s quicker, indicating that although overtaking might be easier this year, making up a place is still a challenge.

    The goal of the OWG was to make overtaking possible when there is about 1 second advantage.

  10. I thought that Vettel kept getting out of shape in turn 12/13, before the final straight. This meant he couldn’t close enough in the final corners (14/15) to pick up the tow down the start/finish straight and try to out break the car infront. I think he alluded to this in the drivers interviews, saying his tyres were going off whilst in the McLaren’s & Toyota’s dirty air.

    1. What is this some kind of advert?

  11. Ross Brawn likes a punt doesn’t he the only problem is Rubens Barrichello isn’t Michael Schumacher. It looked so easy when Schumi did it but now we can see how hard it actually was, not that anyone will reassess their opinions of the greatest still….

  12. just goes to show how fast that redbull car with a renault engine is and no special diffuser.

    they have outsmarted the normal diffuser teams, and the super smart diffuser teams to be even smarter…

    then again, webber’s performance is on par with couthards, and they never did anything special with that car compared to how vettel is driving it.

    i think that car has always had some pace in it, it’s just poor drivers (i’m aussie and i really dont rate webber as an f1 driver at all).

    however, vettel is just unbelievably skillful IMO.

    he’s a championship contender for many years to come

    1. I disagree with your suggestion that Webbers performance is on par with Coulthard.

      I’m a Webber fan and have been watching his times compared with Vettel very closely. Sure, Vettel is indeed an exceptional talent and may well best Webber, but the difference between their laptimes is VERY small… Generally no more than .03 of a second. If Vettel is unbelievably skillful (and let’s face it, he is!) then Webber is certainly no slouch.

      Taking into account Helmut Marko’s comment in January that the car suits Vettel’s driving style and not Webber’s, this is all the more impressive. Then there’s the weight difference between the two to consider.

      We’re yet to see a clean duel between the two on-track (in dry conditions with full visibility for both). I don’t think there’ll be much between them at all.

      Well reasoned opinion, or blatant fanboyism? Maybe a bit of both ;) Guess we’ll wait and see.

  13. Well, all the overtaking during the first couple of laps was probably due to tyres still having the edge, and drivers making mistakes because the cars were running so closely.
    As soon as the field has spread out there’s not so many mistakes, and the special diffusers are making following the car in front of you very difficult again. Hence no overtaking. Work of the Overtaking Group wasted, really.

    And yes, the charts are really excellent. Thanks, Keith! Finally there’s a website for technically minded people!

  14. Looking at Button’s middle stint, he’s an amazingly consistent driver.

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