2012 Chinese Grand Prix tyre strategies

2012 Chinese Grand Prix

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Mark Webber, Jean-Eric Vergne, Red Bull, Shanghai, 2012Red Bull’s aggressive strategy for Mark Webber shaped the race – and helped Nico Rosberg to win.

They brought Webber in for a very early pit stop just six laps into the race.

Red Bull’s gamble

This partly came about as Webber had made a poor start and fallen to ninth behind Fernando Alonso. With Red Bull showing poor straight-line speed – Webber was sixth-slowest at the speed trap – they elected to try to make progress by pitting him very early.

Pitting this early was a strategic decision. Webber was not in tyre trouble at this point. Christian Horner said: “Ultimately from where we started, and where we were on the first lap, we faced some difficult strategic decisions. We were the first to stop with Mark, which was very aggressive.”

In years gone by teams avoided pitting drivers until they knew they had plenty of clear space to drop into when they came out of the pits. Red Bull’s move was aggressive because they didn’t have much space to drop Webber into.

They risked their race on Webber being able to overtake the slower cars more easily. Overtaking had proved quite easy at Shanghai last year.

Webber came out just four seconds behind the battling pair of Vitaly Petrov and Jean-Eric Vergne.

Red Bull gambled on Webber being able to pass them quickly enough that he would not lose time to the leaders. And that’s exactly how it worked out.

Webber set the fastest lap of the race up to that point when he came out on lap eight. On lap nine he passed Petrov and Vergne yet lapped just one-hundredth of a second off the pace of the fastest car on the track – Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes.

McLaren’s response

This led McLaren to respond, bringing in their drivers to keep them ahead of Webber, and committing to a three-stop strategy. They cut it very fine: Hamilton only just stayed ahead of Webber when he emerged from the pits on lap 11.

Halfway through the race Button’s race engineer told him “a lot of the other drivers are on plan B”. This further supports the view that McLaren’s three-stopper came in response to Webber’s – and also suggests they thought more of their rivals were doing the same.

After Button’s slow final pit stop dropped him into a train of cars, his engineer told him: “We need to overtake at least Vettel, the rest will probably pit.”

Among “the rest” he was referring to was no doubt Kimi Raikkonen. He had made his first pit stop on lap ten – one lap before Button. Lotus tried to run a two-stop strategy from there but Raikkonen couldn’t make his medium tyres last for a 26-lap final stint.

Should McLaren have two-stopped?

Would McLaren have been able to win the race using a two-stop strategy? From looking at their lap times, Button certainly seemed capable of running longer in his first three stints.

This is one of those decisions which looks easier to make with hindsight. Most likely, their early first pit stops committed them to three-stopping, and at that time they were behind both Mercedes with the lead McLaren 6.8s in arrears after ten laps.

So it’s not hard to see why McLaren found a three-stop strategy more attractive at that time, allowing them to cover Webber and go on the attack against the Mercedes.

But recall last year there were times when Button urged the team to run longer stints. They may well have had similar conversations in their debrief today.

Particularly as Romain Grosjean made his first pit stop on the same lap as Button, and successfully completed the race with only one further change of tyres.

Chinese Grand Prix tyre strategies

Stint 1Stint 2Stint 3Stint 4Stint 5
Nico RosbergSoft (13)Medium (21)Medium (22)
Michael SchumacherSoft (12)Medium (0)
Kamui KobayashiSoft (9)Medium (16)Soft (13)Medium (18)
Kimi RaikkonenSoft (10)Medium (18)Medium (28)
Jenson ButtonSoft (11)Soft (13)Medium (15)Medium (17)
Mark WebberSoft (6)Medium (15)Medium (13)Medium (22)
Lewis HamiltonSoft (10)Soft (12)Medium (16)Medium (18)
Sergio PerezSoft (16)Medium (19)Medium (21)
Fernando AlonsoSoft (12)Medium (15)Soft (11)Medium (18)
Romain GrosjeanSoft (11)Medium (21)Medium (24)
Sebastian VettelSoft (9)Medium (22)Medium (25)
Felipe MassaMedium (18)Medium (23)Soft (15)
Pastor MaldonadoSoft (11)Medium (22)Medium (23)
Bruno SennaMedium (12)Soft (17)Medium (27)
Paul di RestaSoft (11)Medium (21)Medium (24)
Nico HulkenbergSoft (9)Medium (21)Medium (26)
Daniel RicciardoMedium (17)Soft (16)Medium (23)
Jean-Eric VergneMedium (11)Medium (17)Soft (13)Soft (15)
Heikki KovalainenSoft (12)Medium (16)Medium (1)Medium (18)Soft (6)
Vitaly PetrovSoft (10)Medium (19)Medium (26)
Timo GlockSoft (18)Medium (18)Medium (19)
Charles PicSoft (19)Medium (18)Medium (18)
Pedro de la RosaSoft (17)Soft (14)Medium (24)
Narain KarthikeyanSoft (16)Soft (16)Medium (22)

2012 Chinese Grand Prix

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    Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images

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    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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    19 comments on “2012 Chinese Grand Prix tyre strategies”

    1. I feel gutted for Kimi,his pit stops went badly,he lost 4 positions in two stops,nuff said.When Webber first pited for primes he was purple right away,and writing was on the wall,they should have pited Kimi for the first time a lap earlier,and he would have undercuted both Mclarens.It went all downhill from there.Felipe Masa aka ˝THE TOOL˝was the final nail in the coffin.Enter idiotic strategy and stupid DRS zone in the mix and you have champion driver and third fastest car finishing 14.

      1. @kimster381

        his pit stops went badly

        They weren’t great but Grosjean lost more time in the pits to the tune of a few seconds.

        When Webber first pited for primes he was purple right away,and writing was on the wall,they should have pited Kimi for the first time a lap earlier

        This is the sort of thing that’s easy to say with the benefit of hindsight and much harder to call at the time.

        Consider, for example, that as Webber put the first of those purple sectors in he was 25 seconds behind Raikkonen, meaning the Lotus driver was 18s away from the end of the lap.

        So it’s not at all unreasonable that they didn’t call him in straight away.

        Furthermore, no-one else pitted within three laps of Webber’s first stop. That further underlines that the decision was not the no-brainer you say it was, from the useful vantage point of the end of the race.

        As this quote from Permane shows, before the race the team felt two stops was the right way to go for their car. Keep in mind that Raikkonen didn’t do any high-fuel running on Friday:

        2012 Chinese Grand Prix fastest laps

        And Grosjean made a similar strategy work – yes, he began his final stint four laps later than Raikkonen, but he made it to the end alright and Raikkonen was in trouble much earlier than four laps before the end.

        1. Yes, even if Kimi had pitted the lap Vettel passed him, which was what I expected Lotus to do at the time, he wouldn’t have finished in the points. Although it may have saved him 10 seconds, but still he would likely have finished twelfth.

        2. Yes but… it was far more the circumstance of Kimi’s stops than the overall time loss in the pits. Grosjean may have lost more time stationary in the pits but Kimi lost out more overall because he got hemmed in behind Webber and Massa after his stops – if had his stops been smooth he would have got out ahead of them and so not suffered from following them.

          In the first pitstop both Hamilton and webber got ahead when better pit work would have seen kimi reenter ahead of them. This allowed Alonso to get onto his back (where he should not have been had Kimi had a smooth stop). Then his slow second stop got him stuck behind massa – and I reckon sliding around in the dirty air of the ferrari would have done his mediums no favours in those laps.

          If Lotus had balanced the use of the medium tyre more equally over the two stints – ie 24 laps on each rather than 28 on second and 20 on the first, I think Kimi would probably have lost fewer places in the end, and might have even clung on for a podium.

          1. I agree with Roland. Kimi’s tyres and race were ruined because he was unable to get past Massa. In hindsight, it might have been better just to pit him to get him out on fresh rubber and away from Massa.

            What I don’t understand is if Lotus had decided to run a two-stop strategy, why they felt they had to pit quite so early for them. Traffic was always going to be an issue with how tight the whole field was, so surely it would have been better to space the stops out a bit more and have better rubber at the end?

        3. Wasn’t that focused on Grosjean to be honest,so i wouldn’t know how his pits went in detail.As far as the benefit of hindsight is concerned,there wasn’t any,at least for me.Not because i’m so smart,but because i was simultaneously watching the race on PC,and the live timings on my netbook,and it was clear what was going down.Webber was flying on fresh rubber right away.Decision to pit him when they did was wrong,he has lost track positions to prove it.He got clobbered by the opposition,nuff said.To opt for a two stop without the high fuel runs as you say,speaks volumes for it self,basically running blind,we all know how that went.Grosjean did make his two stop work,so what? What difference does that make,it was clear to all who wanted to see that Kimi was never gonna make it on that set of rubber.Horrendous strategy plain and simple.Btw this is nothing new,this is the continuation of the last seassion’s sucky starategy calls from Lotus Renault.

      2. Kimi’s 2 pitstop strategy was OK, but pitted on lap 28 whilst still had good pace? Big mistake..

    2. Interesting enough Sergio Perez commented after the race that he thinks a 3 stopper could have helped them achieve a better result.

      1. Didn’t see that comment, but I’m not surprised he feels that way.

        I often have the feeling Sauber have become too conservative with their tyre strategies. Their car seems to be far more capable. Judging from the pace Perez had prior to the first pitstops, he probably would have been well into the points.

    3. I was very surprised to see the likes of Vettel pit so early for a 2 stop strategy. I was expecting them to pit later for their first stop to avoid falling off the cliff in the final stint.

    4. I enjoyed Mark Webber’s race today. I felt he did set the tempo of the race. It was fun to see him and Hamilton move through the field over and over. It went unnoticed that his 3rd pit stop put him ahead of Hamilton. He’s definitely a powerful driver and I agree that his strategy did set the tempo of the race.

      1. What I didn’t understand whilst watching the race was how he managed to lose so little time after almost launching the car into the stratosphere. I would have thought that that would A) damage the car, and B) knock your confidence for several laps. I haven’t looked at the lap times yet, but it seemed that he kept up good pace even after this incident.

        Anyone have an estimate of how much time he lost from this? Did this ultimately cost him 3rd place…or 2nd place?

    5. Mark’s race was great from a strategic point of view. He kept coming and coming, using the undercut to kick the board and catch the McLarens. Considering he was battling with Alonso at the beginning of the race, it was certainly the best decision for him. He almost got into the podium.

      About the race itself, I have to say I was wrong. It indeed had 10/10 potential. I saw it two times more during the day (as Fox Sports showed it 3 times today) and I guess the early morning time for the race put it down for me a bit. It was a real thriller all race long!

      1. @enko and @fer-no65, Agreed, and Lewis passing Kimi in the pits was unfortunate for Mark because Mark would have been ahead of Kimi if Lewis had followed Kimi out and Marks tyres would have suffered less from trying to outrun Lewis than the wear they took chasing Lewis. I think that McLaren stop more than made up for Jensons bad stop.

        1. McLaren stops were impressive for real. They got Lewis out infront of Kimi, and kept Lewis infront of Alonso, though Alonso’s stop was a whopping 3.1 sec… It’s a shame they delayed Button really… But that’s motor racing. If .. If… If….. (the biggest two letter word).

    6. Very interesting Keith. While watching the race, I felt that HAM strategy wasn’t the right choice since even though he won position in that first stop, he still got stuck behind Massa, and then Perez, both on a two-stopper for several laps, and that was predictably a difficult pass for him to make after last year. His speed after passing Perez seems to show he could otherwise have been right behind Button even before Button got stuck behind Vettel.

      But we don’t know if his tyres would have held a two-stopper/longer first/second stint, and even then he might have been too far behind Rosberg to go for the win anyway, and on tyres more worn than Button’s, most likely, holding his teammate back might not have worked well either. (And strategy can’t predict bad pit-stops, of course).

      Still, something to really consider a bit more for that McLaren strategy computer has to be the amount of dependence on what others do, like the effort to pass people, esp. in the HAM/MAS combo (though many have trouble passing Massa, including Button), and trying to run their own, long, game at times. Worked for Rosberg.

    7. Even though Vettel was pushed off the podium, I do think that the team made the right choice regarding the tyres. I guess that’s easy to say with hindsight as he didn’t suffer anywhere near as badly as Raikkonen did but Red Bull can look back and congratulate themselves for calling it right (considering he started 11th) and also thank their lucky stars a little that the tyres just about held on.

      1. But we can still wonder what would’ve happened if they’d pit Vettel say 4 laps later. Possibly a 2nd place would have been possible, which would’ve been a great result.

    8. Very interesting season, and I think it`s going to get even tighter as the season progresses.

      McLaren really need to translate their speed into wins and points now. I can`t put my finger on it, but I feel the McLarens are the closest to the “finished” package on the grid. McLaren`s car is more of an evolution of their “pre-blown-diffuser-car” than any of the other cars. McLaren have changed their chassis less than the other teams. It is therefore no surprise that Mclaren hit the ground running this year. But they seem to have lost some of their advantage allready, why is that? Can it be that once the other teams get to grip with their “new cars” the conclusion is that the stepped nose configuration has bigger potential than McLarens solution throug development? I also wonder whether McLaren will have a tough time fitting a W-duct into that low car. It might be easier for other teams with a configuration more similar to Mercedes..

      There`s also several teams that seem capable of competing for top honons this year.

      First we have Mercedes. They`re allready there, but it remains to be seen if the team has solved the problem with tirewear. If they have, look out for Mercedes, the high-speed cirquits might be Mercedes favorite “hunting-ground”.

      Then there`s Red Bull. They`re off the pace in qualifying but race pace is good and the car seems to be kind to the tires. Even though many seem to write Red Bull off I think the RB 8 is a work in progress with big potential. The problem seems to be related to the balance of the car and particularly on softer “grippier” tires. That would suggest that there is too much grip on one end of the car and too less grip on the other end. The question is how big changes has to be made on the car to iron out the imbalance. I got a sneaky feeling Red Bull will solve this sooner rather than later based upon their race pace. It`s hard to imagine there`s something fundamentally wrong with a car that is competitive in race trim on all tire compounds.

      Lotus might also be contending for top honors this year. They`re not far off, and this year they seem to be able to keep up with the development race better than last year. Raikkonen is quickly adapting to F1-racing again, and come SPA anything can happen.

      Finally we have Ferrari. Totally off the pace, but sometimes great things are born from desperation. I find it highly unlikely that Ferrari will get to grips with their problems in the near future, but stranger things have happened.

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