McLaren: Button’s pit mistakes almost cost Hamilton

2011 Chinese GP team review

Posted on

| Written by

Hamilton won for McLaren in Shanghai despite being compromised by his team mate.

Lewis HamiltonJenson Button
Qualifying position32
Qualifying time comparison (Q3)1’34.463 (+0.042)1’34.421
Race position14
Pit stops33

McLaren drivers’ lap times throughout the race:

Lewis Hamilton107.286104.641104.767104.155104.023104.168103.928104.307104.357104.762105.029105.047105.697107.762112.046121.036103.416102.881103.062102.83102.799102.928103.164102.713106.843118.153101.694101.601101.441100.736100.732101.627101.02101.592101.668101.252101.079105.573117.724102.132101.488102.03101.034101.85100.899100.957100.923100.415100.939102.05102.867102.289101.427102.027102.218103.142
Jenson Button105.908104.859104.884104.013103.955104.037104.032104.162104.53104.719105.118105.341105.974110.89124.61103.959103.816103.254102.612102.983102.79102.779102.818106.504118.125102.468101.536101.59102.342101.532101.409101.23101.209101.396102.381103.251106.777118.159100.623101.192101.376101.245101.709101.519102.384102.505101.736101.934101.829101.611101.508102.191102.366102.877103.58104.089
Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Shanghai, 2011

Lewis Hamilton

Following his problems in Malaysia, where a flat-spotted set of tyres in qualifying compromised his race, Hamilton gambled on only running once in Q3. This allowed him to save a set of fresh, soft tyres for the race.

He followed Button past Sebastian Vettel at the start. However Button’s failure to come into the pits when he was first called on lap 13. He stayed out a lap longer, meaning Hamilton had to stay out a lap longer too.

But Hamilton was already struggling with tyre wear and was passed by Vettel and then Felipe Massa. This left him fifth, but now he was on the set of fresh soft tyres he’d saved.

In the next stint, free from having Massa in front of him, he caught Button and dived down the inside of his team mate at the first corner. The pass was successful, but it must have caused a collective intake of breath among those on the pit wall.

Hamilton said: “I knew that I had a pit stop coming up, so I was able to push quite hard in those last few laps and I was very, very good on the brakes into turn 14, very close on the way up to turn 16 and I was able to get a real good tow from him out of the last corner.

“I’m not sure whether he expected me to go on the inside there into turn one but, fortunately, he left me enough space and I was able to capitalise on that and he put up a fair fight but there was nowhere really for him to go, because I was fully up alongside him.”

Hamilton started his final stint seven laps later than leader Vettel. But he still had to pass Nico Rosberg and Massa.

He spent a couple of laps duelling with Rosberg and complained about his driving at one point, telling his team: “Rosberg’s driving is dangerous. He just moved drastically in front of me.”

Hamilton eventually made it past as Rosberg was struggling to save fuel. Two laps later he drafted past Massa on the straight.

With 12 laps to go, Vettel was less than five second up the road, and over a second per lap slower. He defended his place carefully at the hairpin, but Hamilton dived for the inside at turn seven and took the lead with five laps to go.

That sealed his 15th and surely his most memorable Grand Prix victory.

Lewis Hamilton 2011 form guide

Jenson Button

Button out-qualified Hamilton by a few hundredths of a second and converted second place into the lead within seconds of the race starting.

However he missed a call to pit on lap 13 and when he did come in he pulled into the Red Bull pit by mistake. They waved him through but he lost a position to Vettel, who pitted at the same time.

Hamilton passed him at the end of his second stint, leaving him in a battle with Massa and Rosberg.

Button passed the pair of them, but he couldn’t prevent Mark Webber from taking third place off him just two laps from home.

Jenson Button 2011 form guide

2011 Chinese Grand Prix

    Browse all 2011 Chinese Grand Prix articles

    Image © McLaren

    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...

    Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

    90 comments on “McLaren: Button’s pit mistakes almost cost Hamilton”

    1. Smarter guys defeat faster guys.

      1. I think the real difference between Jenson and Lewis was highlighted in the last 15 laps of this race. One was cruising, coasting, and managing tyres without a worry in the world, and the other was racing to win.

        1. Sorry.. didn’t mean to reply to your post. It was supposed to be a separate post.

        2. It is a myth that Button is better on his tyres than Lewis. All the data points to very similar tyre wear from them both.

          1. + 1 but only because we got to see their red faces! If we’d seen the look on Jenson’s face when he realized where he was parked…

            1. oops, replied to wrong Lee comment! (red face) see below ->

          2. I think up until 2010 Button was better on his tyres than Hamilton. But I think Hamilton has been able to use Button’s data and work with his own engineers to adapt his driving style to take on some of Button’s “smooth” style.

            I definitely think Lewis has gotten more out of this pairing than Jenson, but I still also think it’s the strongest on the grid.

            1. The notion that button is easy on his tyres is a myth. We saw him last year wearing out his tyres quicker than anyone. He even has a knack for inflicting severe damage to his tyres behind a safety car!!

          3. i guess you’ve forgotten malaysia already… it’s ironic that hamilton’s weakness (well, one of them) with tyres is what led to his strategy in qualifying, which ultimately won him the race. let’s not get all excited about how awesome he is regarding tyre wear. turkey will be the real test.

        3. That makes no sense.
          Buttons tyres were in a worse state in the final stint.

          1. They both were on a new set of hards.. so dont believe every lame excuse that comes out of Jenson’s mouth. ‘Balance’,’Grip’ and now ‘Tyres’ have been included in his arsenal of excuses for why he is just not quick enough.

        4. Really? Were you not watching the race? I thought Button was trying to stay in front of Webber for much of his final stint…

        5. No, one was on better tyres than the other !

    2. Button pulling into the Red Bull’s pit one of funniest things seen in Formula 1

      1. Yeah, I’ve never seen such top driver makes such silly mistake.

        1. I still think Hamilton into the back of kimi in canada was perhaps the stupidest.

          1. Not at all. I remember other drivers panic stopping at that light. I think the stupidest are when team mates take each other out.

          2. Yeah it was pretty stupid, but lets not forget other cars crashed into the back of hamilton as well so maybe it was an understandable mistake.

            1. Probably only because Hamilton brake tested them though. I don’t think Rosberg would have carried on had he saw a stationary car in front of him, it’s just the fact that Hamilton didn’t, had no time to stop, so of course the car behind has even less time to stop.

        2. I’ve saw Mark Skaife do it at Bathurst a few years ago in the Aussie tin tops.

          This one’s more understandable – he pulled into the sister team pit, one with almost identical livery & pit team uniforms. I like this one though because the guy on the front left almost begun changing his tyre.

      2. That was another fine anecdote for the books from Button!

      3. i don’t know, Ferrari mechanics running down the pit lane chasing their fuel rig was pretty funny…

        1. Hmm, I do remember Ferrari mechanics missing a … tyre during pitstop in 1999. Wether it was Salo or Irvine can’t tell now, but that one was really hilarious.

          1. Ya it was Irvine, cost him a fairy tale world championship that year! was rooting for my fellow Irishman so didn’t find that one overly amusing!!

            1. You know, I always had the feeling Ferrari themselves sabotaged that particular year so that Irvine didn’t win it. It was almost as if they only wanted MS to win the champoinship…..

      4. Could only have been more funny if Vettel’s pit crew had lifted Button’s car, taken the wheels off and pushed it into the garage ;)

        1. now that would be funny

    3. Does anyone know why/how Button didn’t come in for the pit stop when he should have?

      1. Claims of a communication error, that he didn’t get the message to pit. Always a communication error involved when Button tries a stunt to put Hamilton in trouble it seems.

        Yes, McLaren have a habit of leaving their calls (too) late, but when he has Hamilton right behind, and both drivers rapidly approaching the looming Pirelli cliff, he stays out an extra lap and pushes Hamilton under a Ferrari bus.

        Benefit of the doubt the first two times … if it happens again though, questions will surely need to be asked.

        1. Conspiracy Alert! Conspiracy Alert!

          1. A conspiracy involves multiple parties. My post makes no mention of collusion between multiple parties.

            Therefore your reply is without merit and is best ignored.

            Pro Tip: Read what others have written, not what you imagine them to have written.

            1. Alonso probably planned it all for him…

              Alonso is always behind everything controversial in F1.

            2. lack of humour alert! lack of humour alert!

        2. I do agree. We have to mention that Hamilton’s pit is always longer…

    4. Actually, Button’s mistake partly prompted the three stop strategy.

      McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh revealed that Jenson Button’s mistake during his first stop – when the Briton stopped in Red Bull’s pit slot – was most costly than initially thought.

      Whitmarsh also said Button should have stopped a lap earlier, something that cost him and Hamilton valuable time.

      “It cost Jenson position and it cost him time,” said Whitmarsh. “Within the stop itself it cost over two seconds and it cost a position, the fact that he stopped a lap later than he should have done as well cost him time, and it cost Lewis time and it cost Lewis track position as well, in that last lap was when Massa got by and he should have stopped by then.

      “It was pretty calamitous, simple way of looking at it, we were first and second and we were whatever fifth and sixth [actually seventh] after the first stops, so at that point we knew we had to do something different. That partly prompted the view that we had to change strategy. In the end, that would be the right way to go.”

      Had they stayed on a two-stopper………

      1. True. I can remember being puzzled during the race that Massa has been allowed to get past Lewis – it could have only been sudden tyre wear from the McLaren that would have let him overtake (!) Seems like it was a marginal call, 2 or 3 stops, and even now Horner thinks 2 stops could have worked (presumably had Vettel stayed out a bit longer on his second stint).

      2. His mistake was irrelevant to their 3 stop strategy. Whenever the drivers pit, the team examine the tyres and adopt their strategy accordingly. The lap Button stopped was the one Hamilton should have and already Hamilton was struggling with his tyres as Button was diving to the pit. Button’s tyres also had began to show a massive drop in performance on his previous lap.

      3. This whole two-stop vs three-stop difference is hugely overrated anyway. Button and Rosberg were on 3 stops and they hardly made any gains from it. Button went from P1 to P4 with that strategy.

    5. I’ve been thinking about Button’s mistake in the pits. And I think it could have been an easy one to make. I say this because in the last race, Mclaren pit crew used black overalls. And haven been distracted by looking at his steering, the moment he raised his head and saw those dark clothing, he just assumed it was his team.

      But it was funny still especially the way the Redbull pit crew pointed forward and told him to scat. :-)

      1. Corrections Dept
        18th April 2011, 20:10

        ??? McLaren pit-crew did not have black racesuits last race, and haven’t for a decade or so.

        They have worn their White and Rocket Red suits consistently ever since the Vodafone deal.

          1. Corrections Dept
            19th April 2011, 0:10

            No, not nope.

            The correction was issued in response to an inaccurate suggestion that McLaren wore black racesuits in Malaysia.
            They did not, they wore the usual whitesuits, hence no nope.

            1. Did you watch all of the Malaysian race weekend?

    6. Its always refreshing to look at the charts for the Mclaren boys, the first couple of stints there is nothing in it between them whatsoever.

      1. They were running nose to tail.

        1. Button had clear air and couldn’t pull a lead, but Hamilton couldnt overtake with DRS (he wasn’t even in the zone for most of the first stint) or KERS. They were that close on pace. It’s what I love about Mclaren. Of course at the end, there’s hard-charging Hamilton smelling blood in the water. But I thought it could be either boy’s race until that last stint.

          1. DRS doesn’t allow cars to simply drive past each other. There still needs to be a significant difference in speed for an overtake to work.

            There is no way that Hamilton is going to gamble on a crash or damaging his tyres when he’s only a few tenths faster.

    7. Back to the actual race itself. I expected Button would have tried to push hard in the early part of the race, using Hamilton as a buffer between himself and Vettel.
      The fact that he had clear air in front of him meant he could do a steady pace without hurting his tyres, unlike Hamilton who would have to compromise his tyres while trying to not lose position to Vettel, while
      still not being able to get ahead of Button.

      When people talk about Button’s ability to manage his tyres, I say that is all well and good. But these tyres they use currently don’t have any predictable formula for management. I saw Button having several small lock ups and micro flat spotting all while running on his own. What one may infer from this is that the tyres ablate too easily. Even minor lockups from other drivers, result in the generation of incredible amounts of tyre smoke.
      I bet the requirement to produce tyres of this nature is resulting batches of tyres unable to be made to the same level of precision as would have been possible if made of much more durable compounds/materials.
      So today you may be a hero for saving your tyres, tomorrow you will be left scratching your head at your inability to get the tyres to go even the expected distance.

      1. So today you may be a hero for saving your tyres, tomorrow you will be left scratching your head at your inability to get the tyres to go even the expected distance.

        Spot on, which is why I’m against the C4&p tyres. I’ve NOT got a problem with the drop off in performance (thats good for racing) but they have to be consistent between sets.

        1. How do you know that they aren’t?

      2. I expected Button would have tried to push hard in the early part of the race, using Hamilton as a buffer between himself and Vettel.

        He probably did, but he simply wasn’t faster than Hamilton and Vettel

    8. With regard to tyre management. Is it not significant that McLaren went to three stops instead of staying with the original two-stop strategy?


      “There was an awful lot going on,” Prew told AUTOSPORT. “And a great deal was changing through the race, depending on tyre choice and how the different cars used their tyres and how the drivers used the tyres as well.

      “We were working out how the tyres were going to behave, and how long they were going to last, once we’d established that, once the drivers were giving us feedback about tyre performance, that dictated very much our strategy, and that’s when we adopted the three-stop.

      “We went into the race truly not knowing what we were going to do. If the tyres had kept going, then the two-stop might well have been the fastest strategy. But for us we made the decision that it wasn’t, and we adopted the three-stop.”

      He added: “Overall we went into it with a clear two-stop intention, which I think a lot of people did. We adapted to three stops just in time, because we could see tyre degradation was going to be significant, we didn’t think we could safely do two stops, just looking at what other cars were doing.”

      The two-stopper would have been a disaster, for both drivers.

      1. Maybe if Button hadn’t made that mistake though, they could have both stayed ahead of Vettel. That’s at least what Horner was saying he thought would have happened if Vettel had had the same strategy as the McLaren’s.

        1. But how long would they have waited to pit again if they had stayed ahead of Vettel?

          They were expecting Vettel to only pit twice, which he did. When they fell behind Vettel they had no choice but to try something else because they would probably have fallen way behind him if they had stuck to two stops.

          1. Begs the question of why RBR did not cover McLaren’s strategy. If you have pace and track position makes no sense to play Pirelli-roulette.

      2. Hamilton made his biggest gains in his last stint. He was about 10 seconds faster than all the other top 5 drivers.

        I don’t see why he wouldn’t have been able to make it past Vettel.

        Besides he had an extra set of fresh softs that would have helped him get close.

        Vettel just didn’t have the pace all through the race. He couldn’t even get any distance to Massa.

        1. Actually, Hamilton did
          15 laps on soft (used Q3)
          13 laps on soft (fresh)
          13 laps on soft (fresh)
          17 laps on hard (fresh, same or even worse
          lap time as prev. stint)

          Mclaren probably did not give Ham the
          perfect strategy.

          With fresh softs he could have stayed out
          longer on the 2nd and 3rd stint.

          The guys who won most (e.g. Webber)
          minimised the time on the slower hard.

          In Ham’s case, for example, he could have emerged 6 laps later on the hard, with
          around 0.6s better lap-time on each of the
          (now 11 laps) of his final stint.

          I’d guess he would have been 7s further
          up the road.

          1. I think they wanted to use the new tyres for performance rather than durability. I’m guessing Hamilton was told to max out each set, he would have been given delta times to meet.

            I read somewhere that the new softs went on in his 2nd stint. if you notice there is a much bigger jump in average lap time between his first and second stints than his second and third stints, so that fits my theory.

            1. Fuel load can also play a part in that. We don’t even know which sets of softs he put on. The one he used in Q2 or the one he saved in Q3.

            2. Performance and durability is the same thing with these Pirelli’s.

              The tyres simply get slower every lap they are used. Obviously they also last a lap less every lap used :)

              So a tyre that’s done a lap is both slower and lasts shorter.

    9. McLaren did well getting Hamilton onto the grid at all, he was seconds away from starting at the back.

      I expected more from Button though, pit mistakes, struggling with tyres and seemingly lacking his usual awareness. Maybe his mind was elsewhere during the race.

    10. So, Button making a surprise decision with the pitstop leads to a win for the team in China – only this time, it ends up not being him.

      You do have to wonder how much faster Hamilton could have been had he been able to pit a lap earlier; and also how much Vettel and Button would both have been out of the pits without it too; I guess Ham would still have gained more from that situation because he lost so much time that lap, but I guess it mainly made Nico’s race better, and possibly that of Massa, and Webber maybe.

    11. In the first stint, the lap-times already went up after five laps. Yet they were driving another eight laps with those tyres. In the second stint, there were no signs of massive tyre-degradation, but both McLaren-drivers were only using these tyres for ten laps. It seems that McLaren could have improved the strategy by postponing the second pitstop.

      1. exactly.

        At least for Ham these were both fresh
        sets, and they stuck to their “13 lap rule book”

        Pushing these out would have gained
        better lap time on the final hard stint by starting the final stints on fresh
        hards on a lower fuel load.

        I estimated a 7 second gain by delaying
        both second and third stop a bit.

    12. Two laps later he drafted past Massa on the straight.

      It’s true, Massa lost positions, but I’m glad to see him fighting again, and to be overtaken by Lewis he first has to be in front of him, so I’m happy for Felipe.

    13. Did Button not pit on purpose to compromise Hamilton perhaps?

    14. button staying out a lap longer was terrible for hamilton, I don’t know how much time he lost but it must have been alot to lose two positions.

      1. Hamilton lost 5 positions and Button about 3 I think. Although part of this was Rosberg pitting earlier and jumping them all.

      2. I guestimate from the graph above and before/after distances to Vettel that he lost approx. 3.74 seconds. That hurt a lot!

    15. Button’s pit LOL

    16. When you see that Hamilton even fell behind Massa before his stop, you can see how dreadful their position must have looked then. But this goes to show how mysterious the tires remain. As it was, even dropping behind Massa and Alonso, Hamilton was able to storm back to the front. Meanwhile, Button’s tires went poof in stint 4. There is nothing between these two in tire management, desipte the popular vapors about “smooth driving”. This leads also to a fair suspicion that the tires are unpredictable in terms of wear rate and from set to set.

    17. Good weekend for McLaren aside from Button just missing the podium. Comedy from Button too!

      Hamilton was class. Really good. Thoroughly deserved win even though Vettel was suffering with tyres. That shouldn’t take anything away from Hamilton.

    18. A brilliant win. Button’s pit fail was comical, the reactions of some of the RBR mechanics (get the **** out!! style hand signals!) was funny. Hamilton was imperious, especially given he would have been panicking 2 minutes before the race started, he would have had to sort his head out fairly quickly. Great calls on choosing when to overtake both Button and Vettel as well.

    19. I think Lewis and Jenson are the perfect team mates for McLaren and to a degree each other. Lewis is aggressive and Jenson is calm, as proved last year, sometimes a calm head will win you a race and sometimes aggression is needed. They seem to get on and Jenson is the type of person that will look to diffuse a situation rather than escalate it. Lewis doesn’t need a fast team mate to push him, he will push himself and Button is the perfect team mate to pick up the pieces when that ‘balls out’ style of Hamilton sends him to the wall.

    20. It was so funny to see Jenson pull into the Red Bull pits. Even more because they are the most contrasting colors one the dark blue and other white/red. I guess he got carried away in the moment. But it was a lighter moment for once in the race. More fun to watch was Vettel waiting and Red Bull guys waving at button to move on. I am sure the Redbull and Mclaren pit crew both would have missed a heart beat when Jenson pulled into the wrong box. I was actually thinking this whole move of Jenson would play into Hamilton’s hands and he can gain opposition after his pit stop. Looks like the opposite happened as he started losing position on old tires.

    21. Just from my own observation. Why is Mclaren using it’s tires more during its first stint than Red Bull and Ferrari? Mclaren can’t usually push hard on a heavy fuel load because maybe they have to look out for their tires more than Red Bull & Ferrari during the first stint. But after that, as the fuel load goes down, it seems they could manage their tires and be at par with these teams.It seems if Ferrari can unlock their qualifying pace, they could be a real threat on raceday. I might be wrong tho.

      1. Perhaps McLaren set up their car more for the end of the race?

        1. I think they really have more degradation compared to RBR and Ferrari. With the exception of Australia, Mclaren seem can’t push hard as RBR & Ferrari during its first stint. For China their original plan was for a two-stop strategy so they did set-up the car for a longer run ( It’s just a bit puzzling why on a Full fuel load and usually on the first stint, they have more degradation but after that they could manage it almost at par to Ferrari and closer to RBR. Maybe Mclaren’s little bit of weakness is the first stint? Or trying to set-up the car to be faster on a single lap to try and snatch the front row on raceday? It’s just a bit of a concern if Ferrari all of sudden can qualify higher and then be more kinder to its tires on raceday.

    22. Why didn’t they pit Lewis 1st, since Button had missed his opportunity?

      1. Well to be fair to them we don’t know what was happening. If what they say is true and Jenson was having a comms issue then it may be that the only reason he knew to box was because it was on his pit board – they may not have wanted to risk having both cars come in at once or a tyre mix-up e.t.c. that can result in last minute tactical changes when there are communications issues.

      2. I had the same thought. But Hamilton was so close behind on lap 13 there was no way to recognize the situation and do the swtich in that time. Had they called Hamilton in for lap 14 instead of Button, it would have been no good, because Vettel, in a very cltuch move, passed Hamilton into turn 14 on that lap covering the possiblity of getting out of pitlane behind Hamilton if Hamilton also pitted. Button, stranded for another lap on those dead tires, would have been jumped by Vettel anyway.

        From McLaren’s point of view, even with the missed stop, everthing was fine after they saw Vettel go round again, because they then knew that they would stay ahead of Vettel (with a good pit stop). And win the race most likely. The double irony is that Button massively cocked up the stop, and Hamilton, really left for dead by that choice of the team, absorbed the loss of several seconds and still passed pass both of them later.

    23. OceanRacer (@)
      19th April 2011, 10:15

      A mistake there Keith.

      Hamilton passed him at the end of his second stint, leaving him in a battle with Massa and Rosberg.

      Hamilton passed Button at the end of his third stint not second.

      1. You’re right, sorry about that. Have edited the text.

    24. Younger Hamii(Formerly Younger Hamilton)
      19th April 2011, 10:52

      *sighs* Echoes of Germany 2008,What do you think Guys

      1. Much much better drive for Hamilton in this race and not such a bad clanger for McLaren either – it was a team mate mistake this time rather than a strategy error as such that cost Hamilton places. Also in 2008 his car was much superior to those in front of him (excepting his team mate but he wasn’t much of a challenge) and also the drivers were (and I don’t want to sound disrespectful) of a lower calibre than those he was fighting in China (excepting Massa).

        This was in a different league to Germany 2008

        1. Ferrari had the faster car in 2008.

    25. I really don’t know why more is not being made of this. Button was planned to stop 1 lap before he did (according to team boss whitmarsch ) while Lewis was scheduled to stop on the the lap that Button eventually stopped. The strategy must have been known to both drivers before the race or somewhere along the line. So, Button ignoring his lap to stop and carrying on one extra – remember he was in front (in this Pirelli times) where even half a lap on the wrong tyre could mean P1 or P7. did Button intentionally try to sabotage Lewis race? If Lewis or Alonso or even Vettel has done this, wouldnt there be uproar now by the media? I’m not too sure about this nice guy image Mr Button that the media seem not interested in criticizing you know. In this Pirelli time, you can’t mess about with no one pitting time.

    26. Very strange stuff by Button, first he ignores his team calling him to box, jeoprdising his strategy and that of his teammate, then the whole pitbox cockup, caught napping when Lewis passed him…..definately not 100% focused this race. If he had pitted on his designated lap, he’d have very likely kept Vettel behind him (at least for a while making him lose time), and Mclaren would have been in a good position for a 1-2. Very surprised by his poor performance.

    27. Maybe after his girlfriend had “rocked up”, his mind was elsewhere…

    Comments are closed.