Webber’s fine drive and Rosberg’s troubles (Spanish Grand Prix analysis)

Fisichella's Force India was faster than Hamilton's McLaren

Fisichella's Force India was faster than Hamilton's McLaren

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.

Lap one

Spanish Grand Prix - first lap position change (click to enlarge)

Spanish Grand Prix - first lap position change (click to enlarge)

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

Spanish Grand Prix - Massa, Vettel and Button (click to enlarge)

Spanish Grand Prix - Massa, Vettel and Button (click to enlarge)

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:

Spanish Grand Prix - Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button's lap times (click to enlarge)

Spanish Grand Prix - Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button's lap times (click to enlarge)

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

Spanish Grand Prix - Button and Webber's middle stints (click to enlarge)

Spanish Grand Prix - Button and Webber's middle stints (click to enlarge)

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

Spanish Grand Prix - race chart (click to enlarge)

Spanish Grand Prix - race chart (click to enlarge)

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.

Spanish Grand Prix - lap chart (click to enlarge)

Spanish Grand Prix - lap chart (click to enlarge)

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35 comments on Webber’s fine drive and Rosberg’s troubles (Spanish Grand Prix analysis)

  1. Gman said on 11th May 2009, 22:06

    It was great to see a good result for Webber- coming into the season with Vettel as his teammate, i thought he was under the most pressure of any other driver on the grid to perform relative to the other driver in the team. Here’s hoping for some more good performances for one of the truly good guys in the sport.

  2. simonrs said on 11th May 2009, 22:14

    Very interesting about Rosberg, how is Nakajima getting away with it? He’s yet to score a point. I’m surprised Nico hasn’t even come up with anything in quali though, I don’t understand why they would always run light in practice, it’s either that or Rosberg just bottles it when it matters.

    I agree with Keith’s analysis that Red Bull are right up there with Brawn at the moment. I think Red Bull, who are normally impressive at Monaco, will 1-2 with their updates there.

    Very interesting to hear as well from Newey that they have KERS developed but choose not to use it because of Webber’s size, refusing even to go down the BMW trodden route of 1 driver with, one without. Clearly the only real advantages of KERS are off the start line and defensively.

  3. zerogee said on 11th May 2009, 23:06

    I don’t think Rosberg is the rock star he’s been painted. Yes, he has flashes of speed but never when it matters. The Williams obviously has some speed but a combination of driver and team conspires to keep him from the greatness everyone breathlessly predicted when he arrived on the scene.

    To reinforce the idea that the car is pretty good, Nakajima is able to impress in the sessions that don’t matter. He’s getting away with it because he was forced on the team (arguably) by Toyota. Nico’s being paid for this. He’s no Nelson Piquet, obviously, but he’s no Lewis or Vettel either.

  4. Biggles209 said on 11th May 2009, 23:17

    Keith,

    Where do you get the raw data on lap times for the enrire race from?

    TIA, Dave

  5. 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.

    This would have only been noticed after he was committed to the 3-stop, not before as was the case with Button.

    • Patrickl said on 12th May 2009, 1:28

      Indeed, how could they have predicted that right from the start?

      Brawn calculated that 3 stops was the fastest strategy. They might have thought that Massa and Vettel were also on 3 stop strategies.

      Massa and Vettel make the stop after Barrichello has been put on what they feel is the fastest strategy.

      Only then it turns out that Massa and Vettel are on a 2 stop and that Barrichello might run into Massa and Vettel. He still had 7 laps extra on them though so it would have been enough to get past them after their stop and pick up the place anyway.

      The only thing you can conclude here (in hindsight) is that Barrichello would have lost the position to Button even if he hadn’t had a problem in his third stint.

  6. Bas said on 12th May 2009, 1:23

    Keith, I think your conclusion as to the race chart throwing upp more question marks over Barrichello´s strategy is incorrect. This is why: (copied from my response to the link you posted in the dedicated entry on Barrichello´s tactics)

    The way the race unfolded, yes, that would have happened, but obviously the race didn´t unfold the way Brawn expected (Rubens ahead of Jenson at the start, Jenson ending up behind Rosberg after his first stop). RedBull made the same gamble with Webber as Brawn with Vettel, and actually put in pretty much the same lap times over that looong middle stint. (on the side: why arent all these bloggers screaming hell of RedBull ´obviously favouring´ Webber, especially as they screwed up way bigger with Vettel – being simply outwitted on tactics by Ferrari – than many suggest Brawn did with Barrichello?) This shows that Vettel would have been capable of the same with a clear track, which he would have had if it wasn´t for Ferrari calling Massa in early – at the same time as Vettel, that is – in order to defend track position.
    That means Barrichello actually wouldnt have been held up by Vettel, because he would have been further ahead racing him for the victory (as Brawn expected comparable laptimes from the RB Barrichello wouldnt have caught him even if Vettel had made a longer second stint, which Brawn obviously were surprised they didnt, reference to which is made elsewhere here).
    It also means that Barrichello wouldnt have been held up by Massa, because, if Massa had stayed out longer for his first stint, he would have optimised his laptimes better (whilst sacrificing track position to Vettel) – just give him 3 more laps in his lapchart which are on pace with his best first stint laps, and subtract .1 of a second from his remainging second stint laps because his tyres wouldve been less worn over the slightly shorter distance on the slightly lower fuel weight, and because he wouldnt have to drive defensive lines… we didnt get to see much of the two of them but surely Massa has been looking in his rear view mirrors more than once. That would have put him some 3-4 seconds further ahead, for some 9 in total, of Barrichello.
    Barrichello, of course, was hoping to be gain 12 seconds on the duo during the course of his 3rd stint – with them lapping at roughly the same pace as button throughout their shorter middle stint – but he would still not have caught them as they were to pit only halfway the duration of his projected 3rd stint, which was cut short by 3 or 4 laps due to traffic. Even if massa had pitted 4 laps later, barrichello would have had him just under 2 seconds ahead of him by the time the ferrari would have pitted (in this hypothetical scenario Vettel would necessarily have gotten past the ferrari by virtue of pitting earlier for his first stop). Just do the maths, like Matt did, i gave my interpretation of what the numbers (laptimes of Barrichello) should be in response to his post.

    I know the list of factors that are changed from reality is enormous, and at this level the discussion is all becoming extremely hypothetical, but that is why F1 teams hire crews of specialist engineers and game-theorists to work highly complex computer models for predicting the race unfolding and making strategic and tactical decisions. If you want to challenge the quality of a strategy (Barrichello´s) on paper (not the way it worked out in practice), you have to come up with arguments that provide for the same number of variables as these professionals do.

  7. Bas said on 12th May 2009, 1:27

    Still, great charts and analysis Keith, as ever!

  8. sean said on 12th May 2009, 1:32

    they showed the start on BBC from massa’s car he never used the kers from the start down to the first corner apparently the unit cannot be active until the car reaches 100mph. Does this mean that the advantage at the start is exaggerated or is it that some of these driver have yet to master it’s full potential.

    • Personally I don’t think the viewers KERS display actually worked, there were plenty of drivers pushing their KERS and the graphic going yellow, but not diminishing.

  9. m0tion said on 12th May 2009, 1:38

    Perhaps Mark is losing nearly 1 lap in duration to Vettel per stint due his +12kg difference and thats why they fueled them equally. The head-on-head with Button is real world because both were on nearly the same strategy and heavy through the middle. Vettel was blinding fast in some sectors in the latter part when unleashed from Massa but he was slower in S1 than Webber throughout the weekend so they seem to have some setup variations coming through. This is a good thing because Vettel won the developmental setup war while Mark was wounded and it is he who has had to adapt while at the same time dealing with his weight penalty. I’m not sure if Vettel was foxing in free practice or Q1 & Q2 where Mark had the wood on him in times only to see that turn in Q3.

    I trust what Rubens said about his last set of hard race tyres because he was performing on the hards all weekend. Brawn has to pay some regard to the value of his franchise, if he screws Rubens it is going to cost him financially in the public goodwill that brings in the commercial support. That is different to Ferrari where the brand could withstand him being clever and delivering more with the scoreboard than with personal repute.

  10. Ace said on 12th May 2009, 1:54

    Perhaps Mark is losing nearly 1 lap in duration to Vettel per stint due his +12kg difference and thats why they fueled them equally.

    As a Webber fan I’d like to believe that, but the car weights are the same, it’s just that Vettel has 12-13kg more ballast to position in his car to his advantage.

    In order to address the problem of driver weights unfairly penalising the bigger drivers, has anyone suggested weight ‘belts’ or pockets with weights in the torso of the lighter drivers suits so they all weigh the same, and the weight distribution is similar? Seems to make sense to me (if there’s no major safety concerns).

  11. Patrickl said on 12th May 2009, 2:09

    Love the charts and the analysis.

    I have to agree with Bas that (in hindsight) they should have put Vettel on a longer strategy too. That Red Bull didn’t even more implies that they also though that was a risky strategy.

    So both Button and Webber, being the second placed drivers, were put on a more risky strategy and luckily for them it paid off. Nothing sinister about it.

    In the case of Red Bull, they could have known better though. They seem too complacent about their chosen one. Somehow they assume things will be fine, but they never just turn up fine. I wonder when they will learn. Vettel is fast in clean air, not someone to pass other cars. Especially since the Red Bull car has no KERS and probably no adjustable front wing either.

    About the case of Button and Webber in their long stint. Button does gain a 5.5s lead over Webber during that stint. Oddly enouh Button also loses about 5 seconds on his last stop so the gap in the end doesn’t change much.

    Still, Button was almost 2 tenths per lap faster during that 30 lap stint. I’d say that’s a pretty sizeable margin.

    With regards to Massa and his fuel. I wonder when he got his message. We saw it on TV with about 10 laps to go. So Massa would have been told a bit earlier. Maybe even around lap 51 to 53 where he actually seems to slow down by half a second for those few laps.

    Then a few laps later they come back again and then almost at the end they really quite explicitly tell him to knock it off.

    It’s kind of baffling that his laptimes really don’t move at all until they explicitly order him to let Vettel pass with only 4 laps to go. It seems quite odd that he would simply ignore the teams warnings.

    Doing 4 laps on 4 laps worth of fuel means you need to save 25%. Doing 10 (or 15) laps with one lap of fuel less would have been less than 10% (or even 7%). He should have been able to save a bit of fuel with less time damage if he had taken more laps to do so.

    He might still even have finished ahead of Alonso if he had listened. At least he should have tried instead of battling with Vettel when the team already told him that conserving fuel should be his top priority.

    • Bas said on 12th May 2009, 2:35

      I think your right with Massa; he could have saved himself 5th by nurturing his fuel better (now he almost lost sixth to Heidfeld). But from what I heard on Dutch tv, they weren´t explicit in forgetting about fourth until he let by Vettel. For a racing driver, it is extremely frustrating to let someone else by for position, and not something you do unless your engineer tells you its necessary. So it may be partly his frustration-fed unwillingess that cost him a point, but his engineer should have been more explicit early on imho.

      Its true Webber lost little over 5 seconds to Button in that middle stint, but all of that is basically in the first 11 laps. After that, he matches the Brawn for pace fairly well. I think that is what Keith is pointing out. That is unusual, since the Brawn saves the tyres better than the RB, so it shouldve been the other way around.
      I just induced that if Webber could match Button´s pace there and then, the RBs were on pace with the Brawns and Vettel would have been able to be faster than Webber – and button – in his shorter (optimised) middle stint and end up very near Button with his regular two-stop strategy when given free track.

    • Patrickl said on 12th May 2009, 7:18

      They might not have told him explicitly to let Vettel by, but they told him to conserve fuel. He didn’t do anything. Well maybe he flipped some fuel consumption switch in the car or something, but he didn’t back off.

      He acted like the team was nuts and told them he was fighting for position and what else they expected him to do. Question asked is question answered I’d say.

      Would have been interesting to see how much he could slow down and still keep Vettel behind.

      Maybe Button pushed his tyres a bit too much during the first dozen laps.

    • Bas said on 12th May 2009, 14:39

      thats right patrickl, and Massa was probably too eager to hold on to that position which cost him, its just that im not shure how much I would back off in this situation.

      When you dont have a fuel gauge, and your told ´conserve fuel´ in nine of ten races that means just changing fuel mixture. They didnt tell him how much fuel to conserve, he could have thought that he was 1kg short, when in fact he was probably almost 4kg. Also, i dont know how well briefed/practised F1 drivers are on what to do when told ´conserve fuel big time´… shortshifting maybe but I doubt that all of them are prefect economy drivers.
      Obviously Massa would be frustrated with his fuel shortage and with Vettel in his mirrors, he was maybe not thinking as clearly as schumi wouldve, so if you know that as an engineer, i think youve got to be as clear as possible about what to do in order to help him out, rather than telling him `You need to save more fuel next lap´ which i think was pretty vague the first few times we heard it. Only when we heard over the radio `youre one lap short´ was it that we got to know the extent of the drama… or did Massa learn of this any earlier?

      SO yeah its definitely due to Massa´s hardheadedness, but thats something you need to get to the top in F1, and maybe if the engineer had been more explicit and practical Massa would have understood earlier what to do.

  12. Hollus said on 12th May 2009, 3:20

    Sean:
    I also noticed how Massa only used about two seconds of KERS in the start, but he actually used them much later than he reached 100Km/h. He was squeezed into the right side of the track by Vettel, so he probably thought that there was no space to use it. One has to think that with the other four seconds available he could have led at the first corner.
    About Massa’s fuel:
    I am as baffled as everyone about how he refused to back up after being told explicitly that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the race, but I an even more baffled about his engineers. He could (should of course) have backed up just a bit much earlier, but otherwise, if you acknowledge that he was lacking the necessary fuel about 11 laps from the end, why not stop him. He only needed a splash and dash, costing about 20 seconds, and he could have changed back to soft tires at the same time, surely worth at least a second per lap, 10 seconds in total. And with KERS in the car, the options of re-passing Alonso on hard tires would have been good indeed. And good for us fans to see!

  13. Hollus said on 12th May 2009, 3:47

    Has anybody counted overtakings on track during the race? Beyond the first two laps, in the chart I am counting a grand total of one, Hamilton on Piquet on lap 6. That is without considering Massa or the 20 meters that Alonso spent ahead of Webber, which were anyways helped by the safety car.
    And yet, it was obvious that the cars could follow each other more closely than other years.

  14. Aaron said on 12th May 2009, 3:51

    seems that people forget that Mark was also stuck behind Lewis Hamilton just after exiting the pits, and was stuck behind him untill Hamilton pitted for his 1st stop.

    After he was released from the McLaren then his lap times are on par with Button.
    So the 5 seconds is not reflection on his speed but who had clear air.

  15. great result for mark webber. he had a great middle stint

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