How Schumacher got stuck behind Rosberg (Japanese Grand Prix analysis)

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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.

Lap 1

Lap 1 position change

There were a couple of fast-starters at Suzuka but most of them ended up climbing out of wrecked cars on the first lap.

Robert Kubica made a much better start than the Red Bull drivers did, but only had time to get by Mark Webber before swinging into turn one.

Nico Rosberg, meanwhile, was crowded out and lost three places.

Pit stops

Pit stops

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.

Race progress

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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?

Lap chart

Lap chart

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

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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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    67 comments on “How Schumacher got stuck behind Rosberg (Japanese Grand Prix analysis)”

    1. i really liked schumis drive today he was really inspired i think that we all know that rosberg is one of the best out there certantly at the same level of vettel, he could have won 2 races but he was unlucly with williams and now with mercedes anyway next year may be hs year

    2. I think it was a blatant strategic error or sabotage. I was watching Michael’s lap times constantly and he was comfortably faster than the cars behind him.

    3. This is totally like Schumacher track. No wonder he did well.

    4. Sorry to say so, but you got me puzzled there Keith, with a typo: “In the end, only Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox problem meant he started higher than he finished.”
      That should be the other way around, right?

      1. Or maybe not, with a higher as in a higher number, therefore further back?

      2. It’s a bit clumsy, I’ll re-word it.

    5. Would Mercedes really disadvantage Schumi to get Rosberg a few extra points? Who would have expected something like that at the start of the year!

      1. Lol yes, of course and isn’t irony a wonderfull thing?

    6. I don’t really see why they would make that much of an effort to get Rosberg ahead of Massa in the standings?
      I mean what are they going to do at the end of the season? Make a TV spot where they say “Buy a Mercedes, because our best driver was better than Ferrari’s second driver, but not anywhere near their first driver!”?

      1. Why wouldn’t they want the highest possible WDC finish for their drivers?

        1. I don’t think anything other than 1st or not 1st matters to the teams in the WDC. It’s the WCC where they look to finish as high as possible in order to improve their funding position for the next season.

          1. Better driver position and team position I do believe result in better price money so it’s of interest to the team to get as far up as possible even if it don’t mean winning the championship. Just look at the new teams they battle fiercely trying to finish a head of their rivals.

            1. Yes every drivers wants to be number one as Vettel said when you are second you are first loser, but every teams & drivers wants to finish the highest position they can as the upper you finish the more points you score the more money you get.

        2. Because they are not going to win the WDC, and given that the most benefit can be gained only by their position in the WCC. Getting the driver doing better in the race in front of the one doing not as well would have given them a better chance of more points at Suzuka.

          1. Read above. They still get better prize money for higher WDC placings.

    7. Schumi was great…he is coming Back surely Next year…

    8. I’m a bit confused as to why they didn’t just tell Nico to let him through (coded of course). Brawn said there’s a time and a place for team orders and surely with Hamilton’s problems this was it?

      I’m not sure how happy Michael was. He seemed his usual more relaxed self but said he enjoyed racing Nico “to a point”…

      1. I really doubt Schumi would have caught Hamilton and passed him, as he was a fair way behind. I really do not think Rosberg would have moved over for Schumi either, there is no way Rosberg would want to be tagged a Barichello.

        1. Yeah, sixth was really the maximum Schumacher was going to get from this race.

          1. I know but it was a bit like Aus with Massa and Fernando. He could have at least had a go and hopefully got close to Hamilton, put him under some pressure and see what happens. It’s a long shot but Mercedes really have nothing to lose this season.

        2. If Schumacher had not got stuck behind Rosberg in the first place through his pit stop he could well have finished ahead of Hamilton.

          Once Schumacher got in front of Rosberg he was around 1-1.5s per lap faster. So we can estimate the time lost behind Rosberg between laps 24 and 47 at around 23-34.5 seconds.

          Schumacher finished 20.3 seconds behind Hamilton. So I think even with a conservative estimate for Schumacher’s lost time and assuming Hamilton had some performance in hand, Schumacher could have got fifth.

      2. Did the Beeb play the radion transmission to Schumi? SPEED played a transmission right around when he made his attempt to pass Rosberg that was something to the effect of: There are no team orders, but Nico knows what to do…

        1. Whoops, meant radio, not radion.

        2. The exact words were “Michael, no team orders, but Nico knows to be sensible if you make a move.”

          Considering that it should give MGP at least two weeks of not having to reaffirm publicly that they aren’t looking to replace MSC…well. Kubica and Renault were going to be pointsless anyway.

    9. Yup, for all the horrible performances he’s delivered so far this was easily Schumacher’s most solid race of the season… apart from the blatant strategic mistake I was very surprised he didn’t try a Kobayashi though, as he was even told Rosberg wasn’t going to run into him if he tried to make a move.

      1. I’m not surprised he didn’t make a move* if he and Rosberg had collided there goes his most impressive race in a while, converted instead into taking his team mate out.

        *I actually think he did try a move, but we didn’t see it. The lap before Rosberg lost his wheel the gap between the two of them at the end of the lap was 0.2s. Whereas otherwise it was pretty constant at 0.4 to 0.6s. For it to be that close he must have been making a challenge.

        1. Schumacher did try to make a move while his tires were still fresh. Rosberg stayed ahead of him.

    10. I guess Mercedes didn’t want to come as favoring one driver specially when Rosberg is far ahead of Schumi in the points this year. But yes, Rosberg lacked a bit of touch considering how defending a position already cripples your lap times and how Massa and Kubica were already out. Merc made a mistake too since they should have let Schumi to pit later, he was very light on the tyres today.

    11. The team radio i heard Said that Nico wouldn’t defend if Michael attacked at which point he stopped trying to get past.

      Funny how driving fast and passing people seems to make a strategy work while staying in position and not pushing at all doesn’t…

      1. I don’t think Schumacher was able to get close enough to even try and pass, So Rosberg not defending didn’t ever come into it.

        1. The radio message came after Rosberg went Defensive on him, Strange that as mentioned above his own team told him to have a go because Rosberg would let him past.

    12. For a team headed by Ross Brawn, Mercedes have made some very questionable strategy choices this season – who can forget the farce of Montreal?

      I’m not sure if Button’s strategy would have worked without the Safety Car. More problematic I think was – again – the durability of the soft tyres.

      When we were talking about the refuelling ban at the start of the year part of the appeal was for the prospect of drivers going long on hards and then sprinting to the line on softs. Not only has the enduring difficulty of overtaking (Kobayashi notwithstanding) in F1 spoiled that but because the soft tyres usually last too long anyone on them can eke out enough time advantage before they degrade to come out of the pits not only with less than a pit-stop’s gap to a driver on the hard tyres (and in the top teams, comfortably ahead of most of the others on the hard compound) but with fresh rubber they’re still going faster. So the driver on the contrary strategy either has to pit for softs – and have his tyres wear out too much to keep the lead, if he ever regained it in the first place – or be slowly caught and then finally relinquish the lead 15 or so laps before the end.

      I’m surprised one of the Improve The Show Groups hasn’t noticed this yet and either got rid of the mandatory tyre change or mandated super-soft and soft tyres for all races. They’d rather have adjustable wings which would give us a little more overtaking at the price of cheapening it considerably.

      1. Here, here just what i think.

        Instead of contrived “give the guy behind an advantage” crap, use the controlled part that everybody has i.e. tyres and then its up to the teams and driver as to how well they manage it.

        And it puts everybody in the same boat!

      2. The opposite would be true too, give them rock hard tires with very little grip. A combination of rock hard tires and super sticky tires that go off quickly would make for some interesting racing.

      3. I’m in total agreement with the ‘get rid of the mandatory stop’ line. I’ve been saying that since race 1.

    13. Yeap fighting for one place in every race that place being 5 – 10

    14. Joking of course

    15. Schumi did rather badly by not making enough gap when his tyres were at prime. He should have been with a margine faster with softs than nico was with hards in the first stint but no. So why blame other things when he just didnt drive fast enough. Nico was faster with hards and rthats why he landed infornt of MS. The fact then MS had NEW FRES TYRES and clearly was faster doesnt mean a thing when he was too slow in the first stint.

      1. What makes you think there was more performance in the car at that point? His lap times were very consistent, it’s not as if he was missing chunks of time on some laps.

        It’s a bit easy to sit back and say ‘he should have driven faster’ without offering anything to prove it was possible at that point.

        Besides which, it doesn’t answer the question of why he was brought into the pits when there was no need to change his track position and he was lapping quicker than Rosberg.

        1. all the front runners came to pit stop pretty much same time, maybe few laps apart. The soft tyre prime goes down pretty fast and if you dont come to pit your lap times crash, maybe 3 sec. slower when the tyre is off.

          …maybe Schumi had to come to pit. It wasnt like 10 laps from the start. it was normal 1st stint. Was it lap 22, so basically he had almost 20 laps to do gap big enough but it just didnt happen. Thats my view, and i dont think im biased.

          Ofcourse you guys think that Ross as Michaels friend wants to make himlook bad. Doesnt sound right, does it??

          1. @SPA09: I promise you Schumi will come stronger next year.

            1. I hope it also!! We´ll see.

          2. all the front runners came to pit stop pretty much same time, maybe few laps apart. The soft tyre prime goes down pretty fast

            But that hadn’t happened to Schumacher yet – he was still lapping consistently and he was still lapping quicker than Rosberg. (I’m assuming you meant ‘time’, not ‘prime’.)

            Based on the lap times he’d done up to the point he pitted, there was no reason believe he was suddenly going to go three seconds slower on the next lap, as you say.

            1. Yes i know what you mean, but i cant see the option that they want MS to do bad.
              (Ross Brawn)

              And if its ruled out then the only option is the tyres were done. MS has been hard to tyres all year long. And made few early pit stops before.

              I dont think that they were letting Nico past MS to get him jump Massa in points. That would be pretty farfetched.

              Anyways Keith, interesting article and you sure can be right and they wanted for some reason get Nico before MS. And did it by taking MS in too early. But i think its not the case.
              And i really thought they did it to Kimi from 5 th race of 2008 forward so i know what you mean. Quess we will never know the truth.
              It was easier to influence driver order when Qs were with race fuel. And they had 2 pit stop to screw one driver over, unlike now with one. :) My favorite one is to put one driver on hold behind teammate when safetycar is at the track. Now its only Massa waiting nicely behind Fernando, not Kimi.

              At Ferrari it doesnt mean you are screwed only when your chance for WDC is lost, like this season from Germany forward has shown.(i wasnt surprised, i thought they did it to Kimi long before)

              To sum it up. We´ll never know the real truth behind the scenes. (even Stepney keeps his mouth shut, and got away with sabotage with basicly no penalty, i bet he had some info to bargain with Ferrari, you know Coughlan was with Macca the whole Kimis career, and the car was really unreliable ;))

              Sorry about too long post, i got carried away, wont happen again.

    16. Sorry about typos. :)

    17. well, this is not the first time that Mercedes choose the false moment to pit Shumi!
      for me it’s crystal clear, they didn’t want him to be in front of Rosberg!!!!1 but the one million question is:why??
      most probably because of rosberg/massa battle.

      from the other hand, today Micheal was close to what he really is!!! we miss u hero!

      1. Yeah, Schumacher was fine .. it was nice to see that.

        The Rosberg/Massa theory doesn’t quite cut it for me. After all its much more important to stay ahead of Renault which means getting the most points possible, no matter from what driver they come .. and a driver near the front is always better than two far away from the front, just in case something unexpected happens.

        1. Exactly, you beat me to it.
          At that point in time, the team considered the cars ahead out of reach and the only worries were from behind. They could not know that a car from the front would have a problem that would cost it 2-3 seconds per lap but not a retirement. How often does that happen?
          So, by pitting Schumi they assured having two Mercedes behind the leading pack. Also, with the faster one behind, any attacking cars would have a harder time passing Schumi than passing Rosberg with his older tyres.
          They get the same points for a Schumi-Rosberg than for a Rosberg-Schumi, and with the Renaults out, those points might well be worth 4th in the constructors championship.
          So, let’s assume they didn’t pit Schumi, and then the safety car comes out. Now he is behind everybody else that had pitted, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Sutil and whoever pitted in between. Why risk so many points to have a shot at a Mclaren?
          Little to gain, much to lose.

          1. So, let’s assume they didn’t pit Schumi, and then the safety car comes out. Now he is behind everybody else that had pitted, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Sutil and whoever pitted in between.

            Not necessarily. Remember the pack doesn’t close up as quickly in F1 as it does in, say, Indycar, because drivers have to drive to target lap time deltas when the safety car comes out.

            That’s why Kubica and Barrichello’s races weren’t ruined by the second safety car deployment at Singapore, for example: Singapore Grand Prix analysis

            1. True, it used to be more dramatic in the past than now.

    18. Strategies notwithstanding, it felt strange that Schumacher seemed to back off after getting the “there are no team orders message”. Not that I have a theory or anything, it was just curious.

      1. Well he couldn’t exert pressure all the way through the 25 laps or so anyways. There’s a lot of turbulence, dirt and temperature of certain parts of the car you have to take care of that makes it impossible.

      2. There’s a certain amount of time where after Schumacher’s pit stop his tyres would have been much quicker than Nico’s. But because of the turbulence that Maciek noted, Schumacher while chasing Rosberg would have had an increased rate of tyre wear, and so the performance advantage from the tyres which initially allowed him to close on Nico would have disappeared.

      3. I agree. It was quite odd. It really did look like Schumi did the opposite after the radio message.

        Schumi’s race today made me really feel like he’s starting to come back now. I am so pleased.

        1. Yes he was trying but as this been a high downforce circuit with lots of high speed corners the air turbulence from Nico’s car wasn’t helping him too much as both the car is 99% have equal set up if not less.

          & yes @ Shimks I too hope this is his comeback drive, we should all remember this is where his 8th WC dream ended 4 years back & this is where it should all start again.

    19. Merc did the right thing, I think, by the viewers, They let them fight while warning them a collision just can’t happen.
      It should be up to the drivers generosity and team spirit to let a team mate past or not.

      Well done Merc.

      Just a pity Schumacher got held up so much I think!

      1. Agree it was the right decision as they did it for team spirit.Schumacher was way quicker then his team mate but they didn’t asked Nico to back off, just shows dispite Schumacher been their favourite boy they respect the way Nico drive.

    20. It’s quite interesting how Force India have been struggling for form lately, and I think it’s from the departure of James Key to Sauber. Also, they’ve lost court cases against Aerolab/Lotus and Ferrari with the Etihad Aldar sponsorship issue, and it keeps on getting worse for them. It’ll be interesting to see if Williams and perhaps even Sauber can overtake them in the standings by the end of the year.

    21. I really liked the way Schumacher drove today, as he was fighting for some position, especially through the first sector where there are many high speed turn he was carving his way past the slower cars just like the old days.I have to say this has been his best performance of the season after Spain GP.Another thing that was positive this race that Mercedes allowed both their driver to fight & they did well,& OLD & the NEW respected each other well.Hope in 2011 we see battle for the front of the grid between them.

      1. If everything goes well Schumi would be so far ahead of Rosberg, the only way Nico sees him would be when he is being lapped by Schumi. :D I know wishful thinking.

    22. Schumi’s run felt uninspired if you ask me. He only managed to get past his teammate once he had crashed out.

      Koby on the other hand… every race, he continues to make more and more of a fan of me.

      1. Schumi passed Barichello in a place where overtaking is almost impossible. I guess you didn’t watched the first laps of the race.

        1. in the tv they dont show replay, how shumi get pass rubens, it was great!!!!

    23. Now Schumi has now finally opened his mouth! He says:

      “The car worked great this time,” said the 41-year-old after a good weekend at Suzuka.”Unfortunately, I cannot say it has been that way at all the races,” he reportedly told German television RTL.

      “There have often been problems, especially on my car, in terms of the consistency, that were not always noticed from the outside.

      “You only saw that I was slower.

      “Both cars have not always been the same,” insisted Schumacher, who just before Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix complained that the F-duct on his car was not working properly at Suzuka.

      Mercedes’ Norbert Haug responded to Bild newspaper: “I cannot disagree with Michael. As far as the car is concerned, he is right.”

      Something certainly going on inside the Merc team!

    24. Finally a good race by Schumacher. More to come next year! :)

    25. Komalan Domenighetti
      11th October 2010, 13:16

      This is the point I was trying to make for some months now… Schumacher’s race engineer is useless and I will say it again, he should change race engineer ASAP, because as far as I’m concerned this engineer has been a key cause in Schumacher’s poor race STRATEGIES.
      Let’s face, if Schu had stayed when Rosberg pitted, he would of stayed ahead..and who knows what he would have done at the point. Brawn needs to be Schu’s engineer again, because the one he has at the moment is only favouring Rosberg……….

    26. Nico didn’t change tire after lap2.
      Which means Schumacher had big advantage,he got new tire.
      But he coudn’t overtake Nico.This shows you how Schumacher suck! It wasn’t Monaco!It was Suzuka!
      Look @ how Kobayashi overtakes other!
      Schumacher is 7 times champion,but he couldn’t overtakes old tires teammate very long time.New guy overtakes many whith in 10 laps.

      I think Schumacher is fake!

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