Alonso’s speed and Rosberg’s smart strategy (German Grand Prix analysis)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Trulli and Alonso set eight of the race's nine fastest laps
Trulli and Alonso set eight of the race's nine fastest laps

Where did Fernando Alonso’s stunning turn of pace come from? How did Nico Rosberg get from 15th to fourth?

Let’s take a close look at how the German Grand Prix unfolded to find out.

Lap one

German Grand Prix lap one (click to enlarge)
German Grand Prix lap one (click to enlarge)

It was a particularly exciting start and amid all the drama of Lewis Hamilton flying off the track and Mark Webber and Rubens Barrichello clashing it was easy to overlook some significant moves.

Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica both profited from the chaos to the tune of six places. That was partly due to Jarno Trulli and Kazuki Nakajima tangling in front of them, and of course Hamilton falling to the back of the field.

Nelson Piquet Jnr might have out-qualified Fernando Alonso for the first time ever, but it counted for little as Alonso had passed him by the end of the first lap.

All the KERS cars bar Hamilton gained places: Kimi Raikkonen two, Heikki Kovalainen three and Felipe Massa four. Hamilton very nearly went from fifth place into the lead with his. KERS could play a decisive role at the Hungaroring in two weeks’ time.

How the race was won

German Grand Prix leaders (click to enlarge)
German Grand Prix leaders (click to enlarge)

Rubens Barrichello was seriously unhappy after the race, which he thought he could have won. But as Ross Brawn patiently explained afterwards this wasn’t the case – and the graph above makes it clear.

Look in particular at laps 25-31, when both Barrichello and Webber were in clear air. Webber took up to a second per lap off Barrichello despite carrying more fuel.

Taking every lap time set by every driver into consideration, Barrichello only managed the 39th best of the race. Team mate Button managed the 14th. Brawn simply didn’t have the pace this weekend.

The biggest surprise, in terms of fastest laps, was Fernando Alonso:

Top 10 fastest laps at the Nurburgring

1. Fernando Alonso – 1’33.365 (49)
2. Fernando Alonso – 1’33.526 (50)
3. Jarno Trulli – 1’33.654 (52)
4. Fernando Alonso – 1’33.744 (48)
5. Fernando Alonso – 1’33.749 (51)
6. Fernando Alonso – 1’33.777 (52)
7. Mark Webber – 1’34.003 (37)
8. Jarno Trulli – 1’33.058 (51)
9. Jarno Trulli – 1’33.078 (54)
10. Jarno Trulli – 1’33.086 (53)

Part of the reason Alonso set the fastest lap of the race was that the Red Bulls weren’t pushing in the last stint – indeed Webber had probably backed off before then.

But Alonso’s pace emphasises how variable each team’s performance has been this year on different tyres in different conditions. As Michael Counsell pointed out in the comments yesterday, seven different drivers and six different teams have set fastest laps this year.

Webber backed off so much in his final stint, it allowed team mate Vettel within ten seconds of him by the final lap. Webber had begun the stint 16 seconds ahead which, added to the ten seconds he lost taking his drive-through penalty, hints at the size of Webber’s advantage over his team mate.

Much of that, of course, was down to Vettel’s failure to get the extra lap he wanted in qualifying yesterday, which left him stuck in traffic at the start of the race. In this way the race was a repeat of Silverstone – but with the other Red Bull driver not getting the result he wanted in qualifying.

Race and lap charts

German Grand Prix race chart (click to enlarge)
German Grand Prix race chart (click to enlarge)

It would have been interesting to get an idea where Lewis Hamilton might have finished had he not picked up a puncture on the first lap. Unfortunately as he spent much of his first stint being lapped and losing more time it’s difficult to get any meaningful conclusions from the data.

Although Vettel spent much of his first stint stuck behind other cars, when he hit clear air in his second stint he wasn’t able to make an impression on Webber.

Having made his great start Rosberg again demonstrated the benefits of a long first stint, using it to leapfrog both Brawns. It’s no more than he deserves, though, having lost points due to questionable Williams strategy earlier this year (notably at Monaco).

We can only assume that Brawn expected to suffer tyre problems on a two-stop strategy, because the three-stopper left them very vulnerable.

German Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)
German Grand Prix lap chart (click to enlarge)