We’ve already discussed Rubens Barrichello’s strategy at length but there was much more going on in the Spanish Grand Prix.
Here’s how Mark Webber bagged third, why Nico Rosberg had a poor race, and how Giancarlo Fisichella set a faster lap than Lewis Hamilton.
The first lap was dominated by the havoc at the first corner: Jarno Trulli, Adrian Sutil and the Toro Rossos of Sebastiens Buemi and Bourdais were all eliminated.
Lewis Hamilton was among those delayed by the melee, briefly falling to last, but it worked out nicely for his team mate Heikki Kovalainen, who moved up seven places. He was due a good start though, having been eliminated on the first lap in the first two races, and losing six places at the start at Bahrain.
Felipe Massa’s KERS was not quite the ace in the hole it was expected to be. Yes he got past Sebastian Vettel (who started two places in front of him) but Rubens Barrichello’s lightning getaway was just as good, propelling him ahead of Vettel and pole sitter Jenson Button.
I was surprised to see Button has only lost a total of three places in the five starts so far this year (one of which was a rolling start) – I had the impression that he was doing rather worse. But he has tempered poor starts on two occasions with quick re-passes: on Fernando Alonso at Sepang, and on Vettel at Bahrain.
Massa’s problem – and Vettel in clean air
Ferrari suffered yet another strategic embarrassment this year when they discovered Felipe Massa didn’t have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race. A faulty refuelling rig was blamed.
It left Massa having to back off towards the end of the race to save fuel – but judging by his lap times either the instruction came too late or he didn’t start backing off soon enough.
He did his final 22-lap stint at an average lap time of 1’26.541s – but look how slow those final laps were. You have to wonder if he’d backed off sooner whether he might have been able to save enough fuel without having to surrender position to Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
Massa’s crisis gave Vettel his first chance to run in clean air from lap 63 and he soon started lapping quicker than Button. Of course, Button was managing a healthy lead and had no need to push, but even so the Red Bull still seems to have good race pace. Their challenge is to stop squandering it by getting stuck behind slower cars.
Nico Rosberg’s consistency
James Allen has written about Williams criticising Nico Rosberg’s “inconsistency”. Here’s how his lap times compared race winner Jenson Button’s:
Button’s times are quicker because he had a faster car – but what we’re interested in here is consistency and it does look like Williams have cause to be displeased.
Rosberg’s pace dropped halfway through the first stint. Later in the race he lost seventh place to Nick Heidfeld after being held up by Sebastian Vettel (that’s no fault of Rosberg’s of course), but wasn’t able to keep up with Heidfeld on the hard tyres in the final stint.
I think if Rosberg is to be criticised for anything it’s willingly diving off the track at the first corner to yield position to Alonso. This may have caused the problem with his floor which Allen talks about:
I heard last night before I left the track that Rosberg had suffered some problem with the floor of the car, which may have affected him in certain corners around the Barcelona track and resulted in him struggling to turn in consistent times.
Mark Webber’s middle stint
A lot has been said about how strong Button’s middle stint was. But just as Button won the race with this stint, Mark Webber grabbed a podium from fifth place using the same tactic.
His middle stint was a lap longer than Button’s and, after losing a little time in the early laps, he lapped close to and often quicker than Button.
Race and lap charts
Giancarlo Fisichella’s fastest lap (1’23.796) was better than Lewis Hamilton’s (1’23.839). So is the Force India suddenly quicker than the McLaren?
No – this was largely thanks to Fisichella’s strategy, which allowed him to spend the minimum time on the hard tyre. He started on the unfavourable compound and switched to softs under the safety car, and continued using them for the rest of the race.
It allowed him to cut Kazuki Nakajima’s advantage from 40s to 14 in the final stint when Nakajima was on hard tyres. A mid-race safety car period would have played into Fisichella’s hands nicely – but one never came.
It’s worth considering this in the light of next year’s rules. If teams find themselves with an unfavourable tyre to use, and no refuelling forcing them to take a decent load of fuel on each visit to the pits, we could see some unorthodox strategies with very short stints. Taking this year’s Australian Grand Prix as an example, it’s not difficult to imagine a team choosing to spend no more than half a dozen laps on a soft tyre that has poor durability, merely to satisfy the requirement for them to use each compound of tyre twice.
A final word on Rubens Barrichello’s race-losing three-stop strategy (discussed at length in another post). The race chart above indicates that even if he had been on the pace in his third stint, when he struggled with his tyres, he would likely have got stuck behind Massa and Vettel. This makes the decision to keep him on a three-stopper harder to understand.