Super-soft tyres key to Button’s win and Vettel’s disaster (Monaco GP analysis)

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Sebastian Vettel's race went to pieces along with his tyres

The Monaco Grand Prix was all about tyres: super-soft tyres, to be exact.

Button mastered them, Vettel went to pieces on them, and Williams screwed up their strategy because they were spooked by them. Here’s how the Monaco Grand Prix unfolded.

The start

Monaco Grand Prix - Position change at the start (click to enlarge)

The lack of room for overtaking at Monaco meant the start was very orderly.

The big move at the front was Rubens Barrichello taking Kimi Raikkonen for second. Further back, a poor start for Giancarlo Fisichella potentially cost him a points finish.

Button masters the super softs

Monaco Grand Prix - Button vs Barrichello (click to enlarge)

The battle for the lead between the two Brawn drivers turned on how they managed the super-soft tyres in the opening stint.

Here Button excelled. Yes, his car was half a kilo lighter than Barrichello’s – not enough for Barrichello to stop a lap later. But he still managed to lap up to 1.7s faster, pulling out a lead of 12.59s before Barrichello pitted.

Vettel’s bad first stint

Monaco Grand Prix - Rosberg vs Massa vs Vettel (click to enlarge)

Barrichello’s difficulties on the super-soft tyres were nothing compared to Sebastian Vettel’s. This gap shows his time deficit to leader Button, along with Felipe Massa’s and Nico Rosberg’s.

Vettel held up Massa so badly it gave Rosberg a shot at passing the Ferrari. At one stage he lost 4.5s in a single lap.

Remarkably by the end of the race the increased build-up of rubber on the surface meant even Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber was able to complete a 22-lap stint on the super-soft tyres with nothing like as serious a loss of time.

Williams’ strategy blunder

Monaco Grand Prix - Rosberg vs Massa (click to enlarge)

Fear of spending a long final stint on the super-soft tyres pushed Williams into a strategy decision that cost Nico Rosberg a potential fourth place. The graph above shows his and Massa’s time deficit to the leader from lap 19, as Massa was making his first pit stop.

They put him on a very long middle stint so as to reduce the length of his final stint on the super-soft tyres.

However the long pit stop cost him track position to Massa and Webber, and his heavy fuel load restricted his pace, so that Massa was able to make his final pit stop (see lap 56, above) before Rosberg and still stay ahead.

Williams may have had cause to criticise Rosberg’s driving in recent races, but on this occasion they let him down.

One-stop strategy works for Fisichella

Monaco Grand Prix - Fisichella vs Sutil (click to enlarge)

At the end of the race, Giancarlo Fisichella was just one place away from scoring Force India’s first point.

This graph shows how his one-stop strategy, leaving the super-soft tyres until the end, worked better for him than team mate Adrian Sutil, who stated the race on super-softs. Sutil’s lap times spike just eight laps into the race.

Had Fisichella not lost a place to Sebastien Bourdais at the start, he very likely would have scored Force India’s first point.

Race charts

Monaco Grand Prix race history (click to enlarge)

The chart above shows clearly how Vettel’s problem bunched the field up and, further back, Sutil’s had a similar effect.

It’s also clear that Fernando Alonso coped far better with the super-soft tyres than Rosberg did in the final laps.

Monaco Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

Read more: Jenson Button leads Brawn to third one-two (Monaco Grand Prix review)

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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36 comments on “Super-soft tyres key to Button’s win and Vettel’s disaster (Monaco GP analysis)”

  1. Once again, amazing charts Keith.

    I wonder how different it would have looked had the Brawns gone for the harder compound at the start. Do you think that Barrichello would have got ahead of Kimi, or even if Button would have lost a place to him?

    1. amazing stats, thats all i can say. this is the most comprehensive formula 1 website ever.

    2. Thanks chaps :-)

      I wonder if the reason Brawn went for the super-softs at the start was to make sure Raikkonen didn’t get ahead?

  2. Why is it that people like Button, Webber and Alonso do so much better on these super softs? It can’t be just that there was more rubber on track since Button used them on his first stint and, at the end of that stint, he was lapping 1.5 to 2 seconds faster than Barrichello

    LOL, I joked that Vettel would get stuck behind Fisichella with his silly short stint. Guess he managed to do even one position worse by getting stuck behind Heidfeld.

  3. Great analysis Keith, as usual.

    Great drive from Jenson, deserves every plaudit, he’s a fantastic driver.

    Its a pity Alonso got stuck behind Kimi after the Ferrari pitted. Fernando was flying, and he didnt get stuck behind Kimi for those few laps, he might have had a higher position.

    As Patrickl has said, the likes of Button and Alonso seem to take of their tyres a lot better, but thats just good tyre management, being on the limit, but in a controlled manner. Had Rosberg and Alonso stopped a few laps earlier, I’m pretty sure Nando would have over taken Rosberg, he was taking almost 2 seconds a lap off Nico in the final stages.

    Anyways, drive of the day for me, goes to Jenson, a perfect race for Brawn. I would give Fisi second place and maybe Kimi or Alonso 3rd.

  4. What I find interesting is that we tend to focus on fuel loads and tend to ignore tire usage. Most who started of SuSofts had to stop before their fuel load demanded it because of tire wear. The drivers who use their tires more “gently” seem to benefit most from the current regs.

    The tires, not fuel load, was the pivotal factor in today’s race.

    1. Very true. This highlights for me that taking away fuel strategy will not detract from next year’s racing at all.

      The strategists will be as important as ever when it comes to deciding pitstops as some drivers are harder on tyres than others.

      The difference being that with differing fuel strategies the end goal is always the same – have just enough fuel to finish. So there’s little disparity in the final laps after all stops are completed. With different tyre strategies we will most likely see cars with worn tyres having to defend their positions from cars with fresher tyres leading to some quality racing right to the flag.

    2. Yeah totally agree with this. Next seasons racing will merit drivers with the overall balance, complete drivers will benefit.

      As an Alonso fan, I think he will do well next season if his machine is a tad better. His Renault still handles like a truck, but he manages to take care of his tyres. Jenson’s a good shout for that as well. I would like to think Kimi would do well here too, throw in Trulli as well.

      The likes of Hamilton, Vettel and Rosberg will suffer if theu dont learn this art. Lewis has been known to chew his tyres up rather quickly, Rosberg and Vettel laid testaments to their capability on the SuSofts yesterday.

      I cant wait for next season, just hope that the whole budget cap nonesense blows over….I dont think I can deal with F1 if Ferrari is not present, I mean thats like saying McDonalds is going to stop serving Beef next year…it doesn’t give!!

    3. Great Stuff Keith
      You are right Flood 1, tyres were critical as thay have been in every race this year including China where the Brawns couldn’t lean on them hard enough.

    4. HounslowBusGarage
      25th May 2009, 10:09

      I think you’re right about the tyres being a major factor. But as the race was very processional, I wonder if we were robbed of a competitive and entertaining race by the silly rule about using two compounds of tyre.

    5. Yes. The top three finishers were all fuelled to pit on laps 21 to 23, but they actually pitted on laps 16 to 17. Presumably they were slightly taken by surprise by the tyre wear.

  5. raikkonen didnt have a good 2nd pitstop.if the ferrari crew would have been a bit quicker,he might have come out ahead of barrichello for 2nd

    1. I didn’t know that McDonalds served beef.

  6. Yet again, great information Keith. I have to say that Vettel’s race today reminded me of the latter stages of the Australian round, which resulted in both himself and Kubica crashing out. When those soft tyres give up their performance, they give it up big time!
    As good as Jenson Button was at Monaco, and he was exceptional, the whole Brawn GP team deserved that victory. They could easily have panicked when Button and Barrichello experienced problems with their soft tyres, but they didn’t. They found a solution, and worked around the problem. Signs of a great team, signs of championship form.
    Long at the number of times the Schumacher/Brawn pairing worked around issues during the Ferrari years of dominance, all very calm, almost military like in there execution. I really cannot believe just how good Ross Brawn is at his job, and how sick Honda must be feeling for shutting the doors in December and giving Ross the keys.
    As for Rosberg, I was impressed by his performance. After the horrible public lashing handed out by Patrick Head after Barcelona, he dotted a few I’s and crossed a few T’s. His move on Massa was as brave as it was opportunistic, and he was always there or there abouts.
    Most importantly for Williams, unlike Nakajima, he finished the race. Yet again McLaren have been left scratching their heads, after seeing Kovalainen drop his car in the most spectacular fashion. Worth every penny isn’t he?
    Irony upon irony. After two weeks of threats and lawsuits between themselves and the FIA, Ferrari finally get a half decent result. Good to see the Kimster back on the podium, has seemed like an eternity hasn’t it? All in all, a good race!

    1. The other thing about Vettel’s drive was that he’d set his best lap of the race so far on the lap before he crashed. Not a million miles away from what happened to Lewis Hamilton in qualifying. Monaco can bite you…

  7. I don’t like Jenson too much and I think that he has been lucky BrawnGP cars are far better than the rest. There is no other explanation on such a spectacular start of the season.

    Having said that I have to admit this weekend he drove flawlessly. I’m starting to think he is a better driver that I would have admited in the past.

    All in all we are not in the middle of the season and the championship looks like it’s over (as has happened other times: Schummy, Mansell …) But championship-wise this year looks more boring albeit races are more interesting … form the third position down.

    1. Prisoner Monkeys
      25th May 2009, 9:55

      If we keep the 2009 regulations for next year – that seems to be what FOTA are after, some continuity between regulations from one year to the next – then 2010 will be interesting because the likes of Ferrari and McLaren will know what they’re doing while Brawn and Red Bull will already have a solid package.

    2. Dirk Gently
      26th May 2009, 0:49

      Lol, this type of ‘post’ makes me laugh… What utter tripe. You say he’s lucky in one breath, then say he drove flawlessly. So what is your point? Why can’t people give the guy some credit? Yes the Brawn is the best car, but this isn’t the first time a particular team has been leagues ahead of anyone else. Button has grasped this oppotunity and shown he is a class act, something that anyone who has followed F1 and his career over the years will know.

  8. Keith, just a thought about the “position change” graph: there is not much point in a y axis showing .5 values…

  9. Super work. I love this analysis.

  10. Funny the chain of events.
    Vettel gets caught in quali traffic by a Williams costing him grid places.
    Snared in the pack and a) pushing too hard on a green track and (b)suffering from running too close to the car in front a la Rubens he wrecks his tyres

    This holds up Massa & Rosberg.

    Coming back out and no doubt keen to make up for all the lost time, he pushes so hard he loses it.

    End result, no pressure on the Brawns, Felipe doesn’t pass Kimi, Rosbergs end up behind Webber – though scores the same points thanks to Vettel’s exit. And Vettel’s very slim championship hopes slimmed further.

    Might have been a different race without the Nakajima incident, Vettel on pole in clean air and both Brawns on supersofts in turbulence. I still think Jensen would have won convincingly, as Kimi never found a way past Rubens when his tyres went, but might have made it a bit more interesting. And next year they want another bunch of teams to clutter up the track in quali, and no doubt another couple of Nakajimas and Piquets driving them… ho hum.

    1. The whole point of the new qualifying system is to remove the “clutter” as you put it. If Vettel cannot find space on the track amongst the 10 cars at the creme of the grid then he should be reconsidering how he approaches the session. I would say there has been much less “blocked” drivers this year than before.

      From what I understand Vettel was not on a “great” lap anyway.

  11. it seems like if raikkonen had jumped button into turn 1 he would have been a serious contender. he would have been quicker in the first stint, had the lead for the second and then, if he could’ve stayed ahead at the final pitstops, he would have led on the super-softs at a time when they were not as disadvantageous

  12. Jay Menon, I dont think it’s the drivers who just chew up their tyres, more often than not, its the car’s suspension geometry that dictates how the tyres cope with stress. Take Kovi and Hamilton for instance, Hamilton takes a shorter part round a corner, while Kovi takes a longer and supposedly gentler part round a corner, yet they both suffer from rear tyre wear. I’m not even talking about this season with the extra weight of the KERS at the back. This makes me believe that Mclaren have always had problems generating downforce at the rear end, but this had been disguised because they always had bigger wings till this season.

  13. This has to be one of your best opening remarks to any one of your articles lol

    The Monaco Grand Prix was all about tyres: super-soft tyres, to be exact. Button mastered them, Vettel went to pieces on them, and Williams screwed up their strategy because they were spooked by them.

    Out of curiousity, is there a chart for the total amount of overtaking manoeuvres at a Monaco GP over the years, because I was amazed we got the relatively small amount we did…

  14. Bigbadderboom
    25th May 2009, 17:11

    What i found interesting was the 2 in laps befor the second stop that Jenson stuck in, the timing screens went purple, although Masa had the quickest lap of the race it was obvious Jenson was performing well within the cars limits (I’m sure he said as much post race).
    Keith, is it possible to get a F1 (or ex F1) engineers views on what effects tyre wear, as many people have said already there is an enormous difference between drivers. We all, I am sure, have a basic understanding of what makes a tyre wear but am I missing soemthing!!!!

  15. I’m tired of teams having to use both compounds during a race. It would make more sense for teams to use whichever tires better suit their car and track. It would make things more interesting and closer.

    1. Yes, if you think about it, Bridgestone must have loads of information on tyre wear at all the circuits, so by now they should know exactly which compound(s) suit which circuits, and should be improving the longevity of those compounds to help the car/suspension designers.
      However, it appears from the evidence of last year and of so far into this year that Bridgestone have forgotten more about tyres than they have remembered. Why on earth does the FIA allow them to bring ‘Super Soft’ tyres to a 74 lap race when the tyres only last about 14 laps? Considering the aggro Michelin had over the same subject a few years back, it makes you wonder if the FIA know anything about tyres too….

  16. Williams may have had cause to criticise Rosberg’s driving in recent races, but on this occasion they let him down.

    I don’t how we can say this?? We really don’t know how bad those tyres would have been for an extra 10 laps. Perhaps Williams saved Rosberg 6th place instead?

  17. I was reading the papers today in the UK when will they give Button some credit. They use a “well done” headline and then spank him in the article somewhere. I am happy for the guy!

    1. Dirk Gently
      26th May 2009, 0:53

      At least Jenson has a personality…. I’d forgotten how awfully dull Raikkonen was in the post race interview. Let’s hope he fails to get on the podium for the rest of the season and save our collective sanity’s.

    2. spanky the wonder monkey
      27th May 2009, 12:03

      kimi = mr binary. just a monotonous succession of 10001101101110110. you can visually watch him after the race –
      “yeah, 3rd place!” …. smile.
      realisation dawns
      “ah ****. press interview.” …. smile gone.

  18. According to an interview that F1 magazine did with RAI he pretty much said that he hates post race press conferences because he thinks that they are dumb and always ask the same questions after every race. Unfortunatly I live in Canada and can only watch the races on TSN but they never have pre or post race coverage. Once the time slot is over, they switch to the next show and as a reslult I never get to watch the post race stuff. It is extremely annoying.

  19. Button’s smooth driving style conserving the tyres really helped him. I think this will be a major benefit for him next year as well when refuelling is banned as the cars will be a lot heavier at the start.

  20. @Brian.

    I too read the Raikkonen interview for F1 Racing magazine, and to be quite frank, thought he attitude was very standoffish. It reminded me of some other celebrities that constantly complain about press intrusion and fan harassment.
    The solution to this is simple and obvious. Do something else! In professional sports, press interviews and fan intrusion goes with the $45 million a year salary my friend. Second that to driving for a team as popular as Ferrari, it does not take a brain surgeon to realise what will happen.
    To be perfectly honest, I think Raikkonen is just a product of the modern F1 system. The answers are always the same to every question, there is no emotion in public, everything very clinical. You are starting to see the same from Hamilton also, which you did not see so much back in 2007.
    Behind closed doors, they are both probably great guys, but at the race, the corporate masks must be handed out enmasse by the teams.

  21. Jenson Button was in a league of his own and seemed to be moving closer to the driver’s championship with each lap he completed. He did a better job of managing his super-soft tyres in comparison to Barichello, and never looked like anybody could challenge him.
    Do read more on what i thought about the Monaco Grand Prix here

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