Mercedes may have missed an opportunity to prevent Michael Schumacher getting stuck behind Nico Rosberg during the Japanese Grand Prix.
Schumacher spent 23 laps stuck behind his team mate. Without the delay he might have been able to capitalise on Lewis Hamilton’s later problems to take fifth place.
There were a couple of fast-starters at Suzuka but most of them ended up climbing out of wrecked cars on the first lap.
Nico Rosberg, meanwhile, was crowded out and lost three places.
Qualifying and starting the race on the hard tyres was a gamble that failed for Jenson Button
Part of the problem was it limited his qualifying position to fifth. Though, as he admitted afterwards, if he’d only fuelled for one lap he might have started higher (assuming a 0.08s penalty per lap of fuel, third place was definitely a possibility).
In the end, only Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox problem meant Button finished in a better position than he started.
Tick/untick drivers’ names to show their laps, click and drag to zoom
On lap 22 Michael Schumacher was in sixth place. Behind him Kobayashi and Buemi were, like him, yet to pit and team mate Rosberg, who had pitted, was 18.3 seconds behind.
This was not enough of a gap for Schumacher to be able to pit and stay ahead of Rosberg. But the gap was growing as Schumacher consistent lapped in the mid-to-high 1’37s, Rosberg around half a second slower (see laptimes here).
Looking at how Rosberg’s times progressed, Schumacher might only have need to stay out for a lap or two more to gain an advantage over his team mate. So why was he brought in?
It’s not clear. I have asked Mercedes for an explanation and will post it if I receive one.
There was nothing wrong with his pit stop – only Jenson Button got in and out of the pits quicker during the race.
The best explanation I can think of is a concern on the pit wall that Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello, who had pitted and were not far behind Rosberg, might be able to get close enough to Schumacher. But they would have had to pass Rosberg – not an easy thing to do.
Alternatively, they might have been pre-empting pit stops by the leading cars which might have held Schumacher up. But this too is not entirely convincing.
Then there are more cynical explanations. Rosberg went into the race six points behind Felipe Massa in the drivers’ standings and would have passed him had he finished in the sixth place he held before his wheel failed. How much do Mercedes want to get one of their cars ahead of a Ferrari in the drivers’ championship?
Unlike Button, starting on hard tyres paid off for Kamui Kobayashi. He made it work with a series of passes before and after his pit stop.
The clutch of early retirements, plus later stoppages for Adrian Sutil and Rosberg, allowed Heikki Kovalainen to give Lotus their best finishing result this year with 12th.
2010 Japanese Grand Prix