Why Kubica probably wouldn’t have won (Australian Grand Prix analysis)

Robert Kubica got his super soft stint out of the way early

Robert Kubica got his super soft stint out of the way early

After Robert Kubica and Sebastian Vettel’s controversial crash in the dying stages of the Australian Grand Prix, Mario Theissen claimed Robert Kubica would have won had he got past Vettel cleanly and been able to chase after leader Jenson Button.

But the lap times don’t seem to support what Mario Theissen says. Here’s a look at the data from the Australian Grand Prix.

Kubica and Vettel

Sebastian Vettel versus Robert Kubica, Australia 2009 (click to enlarge)

Sebastian Vettel versus Robert Kubica, Australia 2009 (click to enlarge)

In the final phase of the race leaders Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel were nursing their cars home on the unfavourable super soft tyres. Meanwhile Robert Kubica, on medium compound tyres, was catching them.

But he was catching Vettel more quickly than he was catching Button. Vettel’s tyres seem to have past their best on lap 51, and three laps later his times suddenly got a lot worse, allowing Kubica to close to within 0.4s at the line. It was then that the BMW driver launched the attack that ended with both of them in the barriers.

Had the two not collided, and Kubica had got by cleanly, would he have been able to catch and pass Button before the end of the race?

We don’t know what would have happened to Button’s tyres, because the safety car came out after the crash. But he made his final pit stop three laps later than Vettel. So even if he was going to suffer the same sudden drop-off in performance Vettel did, it wouldn’t have been for a few more laps.

It isn’t necessarily the case that would have happened – as we saw all weekend long the Brawn was the most superior car out there. Plus, Button already had four seconds in hand over Kubica.

It might have been close, but it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Kubica had the race won.

Race and lap charts

2009 Australian Grand Prix race history chart (click to enlarge)

2009 Australian Grand Prix race history chart (click to enlarge)

This chart shows each driver’s time difference to the leader during the Australian Grand Prix.

The first thing that jumps out is how Felipe Massa’s struggle with deteriorating super soft tyres bunched up the field earlier in the race – a Massa train!

The safety car eventually wiped out the huge advantage Button and Vettel had over the rest of the field, which is worth keeping in mind when looking back at the different decisions teams made about whether to use the super soft tyres first or last.

Some drivers have been quoted saying how difficult it was to pass KERS-equipped cars, as they could use thier power boosts defensively. The Ferraris ran with KERS but they discovered that using it too much caused tyre wear problems, no doubt making their predicament even worse.

But these new complexities certainly added up to give us an entertaining race.

2009 Australian Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

2009 Australian Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)

More F1 statistics

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54 comments on Why Kubica probably wouldn’t have won (Australian Grand Prix analysis)

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  1. Achilles said on 31st March 2009, 7:39

    Certainly the teams inexperience with the tyres and Kers will have now changed, I can see many more teams getting these tyres out of the way early doors, Kers will certainly be exploited by all teams, as the advantages are very strong, As for Kubica, I think Theissen was talking it up as he had nothing to lose, still feel the penalties for Vettel were one-sided, but hey that’s F1!!

  2. Hounslow said on 31st March 2009, 7:59

    Yes, but Mario Theissen said so . . .

  3. keepF1technical said on 31st March 2009, 8:09

    i would still rather see drivers pushing and trying to gain places, even the win wasnt possible. Its better than holding position for some safe points.

    Surely the teams will tell the drivers to cool it towards the end of the race for fear of retribution by the FIA affecting the next race.

    stupid decision by the FIA… and it flys in the face of the ‘spirit’ of the new rules wanting more action and overtaking.

    • John H said on 31st March 2009, 17:50

      Indeed. Also, if only the FIA had gone with the FOTA points system, it would have been able to be applied for this season.

      It’s the stewards that make the decisions though, not strictly the FIA remember :)

    • Jay Menon said on 1st April 2009, 2:13

      I’m just happy that they went for it, proper racing, all out. Many drivers would have settled for a podium in the season opener, but both the guys went for it, which is why I respect them.

      We all know Kubica is a no nonesense driver, and it showed..great stuff! I still see that crash as a racing incident, don’t know why Vettel was punished. If punishment was due, both should have been subject to it. I’m a Vettel fan and am ****** off at the fact that he’s been handed a 10 place drop!

  4. FIA’s decision over tyres will really spice up the races. They force Bridgestone to bring two sets of tyres, compounds of which shouldn’t be adjacent to each other. That is, among four types of Bridgestone tyres: Super Soft – Soft – Medium – Hard, we will have always two levels of compound differentiation. In Aussi, we had Super Soft and Medium. In Malaysia, we’ll have Soft and Hard. That’s really interesting for teams in terms of championship how to make the most out of option tyres during races. It will be as decisive as grip levels and downforce. It’s a good decision by FIA.

    • Patrickl said on 31st March 2009, 9:33

      I think the tyre difference is lame.

      Although I have to say that Hamilton and Kubica used the tyres to maximum effect and people like Rosberg and Vettel got it horribly wrong. I guess that adds an element of strategy, but it’s too much depending on luck for my taste.

      Overall it just adds an element of lottery to the race. I guess it brings overtaking and excitement, but I feel it’s cheap excitement.

    • John H said on 31st March 2009, 17:51

      Once the teams get used to how there cars really handle the super softs, they’ll be able to adapt things accordingly and hence the luck element will be reduced.

    • John H said on 31st March 2009, 17:52

      I’ve done it again. I need to go back to school… ‘their cars’ (sorry)

    • Jay Menon said on 1st April 2009, 2:07

      I think that soft tyre wear will still be a problem is Sepang. If there is no rain, the heat on track will in the region of 40 to 50 degrees C. This will probably aid in getting the Hard tyres up to temperature.

      I still think that cars running KERS have a weight balance issues. None of the guys on KERS seemed to be totally happy with the way their cars were going. Yes, they managed to use it to their advantage on a number of occasions, Alonso defensively against Glock and Hamilton on a number of occasions at the start.

      The interesting this year, if Melbourne was anything to go by, filling up to the brim may not be the best strategy if you’re starting from the back. I think being fuelled light and on soft tyres can get you up the grid rather quickly, especially if you have KERS.

  5. Patrickl said on 31st March 2009, 9:20

    Good article Keith. People should see the truth.

    Theissen actually claimed that Kubica was gaining 2 seconds a lap. Obviously, Kubica gained less than a second on the last finish as the biggest gain. In fact he gained about 2 seconds over the whole set of laps at the end.

    Kubica gained at best 2 tenths total on Button over 6 laps. So that’s nothing. Clearly Theissen was blatantly lying about Kubica’s pace.

    He might have anticipated Button’s tyres going off, but that’s highly unlikely to have helped matters that much and it still doesn’t make Kubica 2 seconds faster at that time. If the same drop off had happened for Button at best Kubica would have been 2 seconds closer to Button at the finish line.

    Kubica was behind Vettel for a while already so Kubica would have come out of that battle with a gap to Button much bigger then the 4 seconds it was on lap 55. Lets say it was 5 or 6 seconds at that point.

    So, taking everything into account. Kubica would still have been at least 3 to 4 seconds behind Button if he had survived that pass.

    Also, Button was clearly instructed to maintain a 4 to 5 second gap. He was cruising. I’m sure he could go faster if instructed to do so. Since he was not, his tyres would most likely have been much less worn than Vettels.

    After the start and after the first safety car, Button quickly pulled a 4 to 5 second gap and then kept that steady. Every time he demonstrated that he could easily go at least .4s per lap faster than the guy behind. (draw the lap chart comparing only Button and Vettel and you’ll see what I mean. If not already apparent from the full lap chart)

    I’d say this was Ross Brawns genius at work. He knew there was no point to risk breaking the (still largely untested) car. By the nature of the track, there would be safety car situations galore. They weren’t sure about reliability so they took it easy.

    • Patrickl said on 31st March 2009, 9:57

      Sorry, I meant compare the “race history” of Button and Vettel to see the constant 4 to 5 sec gap.

      Actually now that I think of it. Button was keeping the 4 second gap to Kubica in the last stint. Vettel was obviously no longer a threat and only Kubica could still gain some ground. Makes me even more sure that Button would have just kept the gap intact since he clearly was able to go much faster than he did.

    • Hounslow said on 31st March 2009, 11:32

      Totally agree. Thiessen was being hugely over-optimistic in the heat of the moment. Rather silly of him, really.

  6. 000o0 said on 31st March 2009, 9:35

    Button had the race well under control. I doubt that Kubica would have made any ground after passing Vettel. Still…. Vettel was well beaten and should have yielded.

  7. Paul Sainsbury said on 31st March 2009, 10:11

    Still seems to me that handing Vettel a penalty was totally wrong. Isn’t this supposed to be racing? Kubica could have given more room, and now drivers will probably be content to plod around for position rather than risk retribution fron the hysterical FIA.

    • I agree the penalty’s too much – Vettel’s already thrown away at least 6 points and gone to apologise to two team bosses. That should be enough punishment, why should he suffer in the next race as well?

      This group of drivers seem to get on well and respect each other – as well as Vettel, look at Kubica turning up at the Brawn party to congratulate them – but they’ll be encouraged to blame the other driver every time there’s an incident – and driving standards could deteriorate.

  8. Bigbadderboom said on 31st March 2009, 10:39

    Agreed, Mario’s prediction of what could have been fall outside of the evidence, the only thing that contary to that is the radio message jenson received which gave the opinion Brawn GP thought Kubica would be threat. However after all the ifs and buts are done if the safety car had not made a couple of appearances Jenson would have been long gone anyway! I had the impression during the closing periods of the race that the brawns had pace in hand, and i still think the same.

  9. sultryBOB said on 31st March 2009, 10:44

    i dont think that a penalty was the right thing to do i know if it was me i would not be out there just giving up positions

  10. skova265 said on 31st March 2009, 10:56

    i personally think that Kubica would have got around because he does not waste time in the back of other drivers

  11. I agree with the article that Kubica wouldn’t have won the Australian GP. I think if needed Button could have pushed more at the end of the race and even if Kubica had caught Button, he wouldn’t have just gone straight past him even taking into account the tyre situation.

    The punishment on Vettel was harsh as it was just a racing incident. The stewards seem to be penalising drivers for things which they would have got away with a few years ago, their thinking increasingly seems to be if there is a coming together someone must to blame. Yet the FIA say they want drivers to take risks and overtake, at least that was the main argument behind a medals system.

    The drivers who started on super softs gambled that a safety car would wipe out the time they lost at the start of the race, and judging from the history of the Melbourne GP you have to say it was a it wasn’t a massive bet. On other circuits I feel there will be greater uniformity in the team’s tyre strategies of having the worst tyre on the final stint when the race has settled down.

    I know we don’t go to Indy anymore but how would the new tyre rules work if the soft tyres couldn’t work there and Bridgestone had to take the hardest tyres they could?

  12. chaostheory said on 31st March 2009, 12:00

    From what ive read Theissen said its Robert who was certain he would catch Jenson. And he said the collision with Sebastian Vettel cost Kubica “probably a victory”. So saying Theissen was lying or something (like someone said in comments) is wrong. Sure, maybe they were wrong, maybe there was no chance to win the race, but during the race there were reasons to think Kubica have a chance to win. Correct me if I am wrong but Rosberg was on softs at the end of the race and he was struggling much, he lost a lot of positions due to tires. When I was seeing this during the race for me it was a proof that Kubica can go past Vettel and Button. Maybe BMW team thought the same?
    I am not argue with your analysis Keith, just with some of the comments made here.

    • Patrickl said on 31st March 2009, 22:49

      Theissen said:

      “On prime tyres, Robert was two seconds quicker with Button struggling on his softs. We have lost, in all probability a victory.”

      Was Kubica gaining 2 seconds on Button? No. So is that a lie or what?

      Was Kubica likely to overtake Button? I estimate that (even if all had gone well on lap 56) Button would have gone into lap 56 with a 6 second lead over Kubica. Would Kubica have even a remote chance of making up 6 seconds in 2 laps? Of course not.

      So I call the statement that Kubica was robbed of “a victory in all probability” a lie. It’s incredibly unsportsmanshiplike to make claims like that. It’s like saying to BrawnGP “OK you won, but you were lucky because Vettel knocked us of. We were better than you.”

  13. Hajnr said on 31st March 2009, 12:35

    I come from Poland and I’m a big fan of R.Kubica, but I agree whit whole article. Why? Just read what Patrickl wrote in comments, it’s 100% truth.

  14. sayonaraman said on 31st March 2009, 13:21

    I must say I din’t really expect such a detailed analysis of what might have happened if KUB/VET didn’t collide. Nice one Keith but although the comparison of raw times say clearly that there was no way the Pole could’ve cath up on BUT let’s not forget abut a possibility of an error from the latter. You can’t say there’s absolutely no chance of it, especially in a situation BUT would have found himself in, being chased by a faster car on the very last laps of the race. Still, I agree that Kubica’s statement that he was robbed of victory was a bit over the roof but agree with a penalty for VET. I guess we’ll never know what would happen.

  15. F1madness said on 31st March 2009, 14:11

    two things:
    a) immediately after the race in interview for polish tv Kubica aksed about chance to get button said “I think we would have fight for 1st”. getting close to button was one thing but taking 1st position is a different story and Robert was aware of this

    b) agree penalty for vettel is too much, the way I see it non of them make mistake and both of them could avoid crash (kubica going a bit wider, vettel not letting go break when he saw kubica). so it was just racing incident

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