How Hamilton and Massa raced to the front (Malaysian Grand Prix analysis)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The McLarens and Ferraris had to fight through the field
The McLarens and Ferraris had to fight through the field

Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa gained 14 positions during the race – but used very different tactics to do it.

While Hamilton made several passes on the track, Massa made the same progress with a well-timed pit stop.

Lap 1

Lap 1 position change, Malaysian Grand Prix
Lap 1 position change, Malaysian Grand Prix (click to enlarge)

As we saw on several occasions last year, Rubens Barrichello made a poor start, falling down the order.

Lewis Hamilton, on the other hand, got away cleanly and picked off seven cars, many of them at turn one. Felipe Massa followed him and gained the same number of places.

At the front of the field Sebastian Vettel made an excellent start and capitalised on Mark Webber’s failure to defend his place to rob him of the lead at turn one. That mistake cost Webber the win.

Hamilton and Massa fight through the field

Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso's progress
Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso's progress

Hamilton, Massa and Button finished sixth, seventh and eighth having started 20th, 21st and 17th. The chart above shows their progress compared to other relevant drivers, plus Fernando Alonso who made a similar ascent through the field before retiring.

Hamiltons and Massa’s races unfolded very differently after their starts. While Hamilton began picking off the cars in front of him Massa, also on hard tyres, couldn’t make the same progress. Unlike Hamilton, he didn’t have the advantage of an F-duct.

The upshot of this was that by the time Massa made his pit stop on lap 26, Hamilton was over 13 seconds ahead. This meant McLaren didn’t need to react to Massa’s pit stop immediately by bringing Hamilton in. At this point, Hamilton’s problem was Button.

Button had lost position to Hamilton and Massa at the start, then Alonso squeezed past him too. Although he managed to pass Alonso on the track, Button came in for an early change to hard tyres on lap nine.

By lap 29 Button was going quickly enough on his hard tyres to give Hamilton a headache as his rubber deteriorated. Hamilton pitted, getting out just ahead of Button but with five seconds in hand over Massa.

Hamilton caught Sutil at over two seconds per lap but this was a car he couldn’t pass – he got on the radio and told his team the Force India was just too quick in a straight line.

Interestingly, Michael Schumacher had been only two seconds behind Sutil when he dropped out, depriving us of a Hamilton-Schumacher battle for position.

Massa eventually passed Button has the McLaren drivers’ tyres dropped well off the pace. So much so that Fernando Alonso had a good chance of passing him even with his gearbox problem, though he eventually succumbed to a blown Ferrari engine.

Pit stops

Malaysian Grand Prix pit stops
Malaysian Grand Prix pit stops (click to enlarge)

After his poor start Rubens Barrichello was the first person to pit but couldn’t make it to the end of the race on his second set of tyres.

Button, on the other hand, pitted on lap nine and completed the remaining 47 laps without another stop – though his tyres were heavily worn by the end of the race. It was not unlike his long stint at Melbourne last week, and is further evidence of his skill in looking after tyres.

The order at the front of the field could easily have been reversed had Mark Webber pitted before Sebastian Vettel. In all likelihood Red Bull (and the other teams) give priority on pitting to whichever driver is leading when they’re racing each other, to prevent arguments.

But could we see a scenario where a driver in Webber’s position takes it upon himself to pit before his team mate does to gain the benefit of being the first to pit?

Race charts

The race charts below break down the major movement in the race:

Overall race chart

Drivers' positions relative to the race leader
Drivers' positions relative to the race leader (click to enlarge)

Overall race chart (zoomed to leaders)

Drivers' positions relative to the race leader (zoomed)
Drivers' positions relative to the race leader (zoomed) (click to enlarge)

Overall race chart (all times compared to leader’s average time)

Drivers' positions versus the leaders' average lap time
Drivers' positions versus the leaders' average lap time

Lap chart

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

2010 Malaysian Grand Prix

109 comments on “How Hamilton and Massa raced to the front (Malaysian Grand Prix analysis)”

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  1. I’m a bit confused about how the “Drivers’ positions versus the leaders’ average lap time” chart gets calculated, can someone enlighten me?

  2. What I would love to have seen is a battle to the end between the two Red Bulls. Looking at the times leading up to the stops, Webber was a bit more than a second behind. Without a damaged stop, he would have returned to the track in second place with about the same distance. Considering their speeds on the track we would have had a log battle to the end. Could he have passed? Unlikely I am sad to say but it would have been great to see Vettel under some pressure through to the end.

  3. US Williams Fan
    5th April 2010, 5:23

    As always – Great Analysis Keith! Very detailed. Keep up the good work!

  4. Gr8 analysis Keith. Thanks for all the hard work. For those moaning about “…this driver did this…” and “…another driver did that…” let’s just all take a deep breath and enjoy exciting, controversial and awesome racing. It doesn’t seem that long ago that people were saying F1 was as exciting as watching grass grow or paint drying. The driving standard in terms of talent is higher than I can remember in twenty odd years and I started watching in 1982. So sit back, relax and enjoy the “show”. These times will pass all too quickly. P.S. For the fanboys/girls Hamilton is a spoilt daddy’s boy! Alonso is a liar! Button is just lucky…a lot! Massa is rubbish in the wet!

  5. hamilton took an early charge but both the Ferrari failed to do some overtaking early in the race.But once again Hamilton showed how good a driver he is given the fact he started at the back of the pack.

  6. Convient for McLaren that the tire strategies played out as they did this race. One mistake each now for Hamilton and Button. Great driving by Hamilton, shame Button had to come in so early though…

    1. Mistake? Are you talking about Button? He got in front of Massa and Alonso didn’t he?

      Of course he lost the positin, but obviously he was in a better spot than if he simply followed them around.

      At best you could say that Button should have handled his tyres better. He obviously wore them too much to be able to keep even a poor overtaker like Massa behind him.

      The big blunder was during qualifying.

      1. Felipe is a decent overtaker as he has shown before, even if maybe he is not as good as Alonso or Hamilton. He just needs to get back to the pace we know he’s capable of.

        1. Well I guess decent isn’t enough anymore. Nor has it been for the last 5 years or so.

          1. He is better than you’re making out.

          2. What’s the point of debating this? The only (rare) overtakes that Massa does are when he has a better start or when other drivers go off track (Webber taking himself and Hamilton off in Australia). Other than that people need to go back years for an example. People still need to come up with Massa passing a struggling midfielder (Kubica) in 2007 to show that Massa can actually overtake.

            THAT’s how bad he is. They need to go back to 2007 for an example.

          3. @Patrickl, I assume you slept through Australia 2007, Silverstone 2007, Japan 2008, Canada 2008, China 2009 (which was in the rain, BTW)

            And I don’t even count Hungary 2008.

          4. I agree with sumedh. And Patrick, if you spend less time writing off Massa as a sub-par driver, then other people will spend less time proving you WRONG.

          5. Hungary and Canada are exactly the races I’m talking about when he basically only shows overtaking after the start or when cars fly off track.

            You both know that there are a million races where he didn’t overtake nada in a car that should allow him to overtake plenty.

            A few races where he in fact overtook a few cars (and then mostly from the start or cars that flew off track) doesn’t negate the standard trend.

            China 2009 he didn’t overtake a single car. I’m also NOT talking about making up places because he didn’t make a pit stop and then dropped out of the race. Seriously, that’s the Sutil way of claiming you (could) have done brilliantly.

          6. You forgot about the double pass which IIRC was voted on this site as the best pass of 2008, and others, but your Massa bashing is getting too tiring to bother arguing against. I’m stopping here.

  7. SennaRainho
    5th April 2010, 16:43

    This thread is getting out of hand! My first F1 hero was the noble gentleman Jackie Stewart – and there have been many since – yet I have never watched Fangio drive. I have known about him having the most titles for most of my life but I honestly know quite little more than that.

    My hardest period in F1 was after Senna tragically passed. I had no idea where to turn in order to enjoy the sport again. I was a big Schumacher anti-supporter simply because he was Senna’s main opponent. I naturally went with Hakkinen because he stood up to Schumacher and later on it was Raikkonen.

    My point to all of this is that if you watch the sport as a complete neutral the exitement is very limited. But if you keep your hopes high for certain drivers it is a true thrill when they do well and a pain when they don’t. I see that clearly again now that Raikkonen is no longer in the field. I never naturally gave in to Massa, Alonso or Hamilton simply because I still wanted Raikkonen to beat them!

    Yes, I am guilty of saying “if…” about Raikkonen several times because it was so darn frustrating to see him with mechanical failures in 38% of all the races he ever drove for McLaren. Yes, I think he would have made better “if”…. but I am not ignorant to the fact that speed and reliability are not easily balanced. I was a true Raikkonen fan because of the spectacular drives he sometimes showed and that made the sport exiting (and frustrating) for me in those years!

    So to all the fanboys and fangirls out there supporting the sport: KEEP IT UP! Without you F1 would not be one of the biggest TV spectacles we have. We need all the supporters we can get regardles who your favourites are.

    When we are young we don’t understand every aspect and we like to place our heros higher than they might deserve, but younger supporters we have, the longer they can stay with us. We really need to embrace the opinions of everyone as long as they are only opinions. I don’t see any point in putting down fanboys or supporters of particular drivers. If you don’t agree with their views you can simply state your own. We are all just race-fans in the end and not hooligans.

    As I have stated before we are blessed with some truly great drivers at the moment. I still would have liked to see Raikkonen beat them all but I am old enough to acknowledge the talents of Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, Webber, Massa, Rosberg and others. I actually used to despise Alonso for constantly bitching about every little thing – like someone cutting a chicane – while he got away with cutting several himself in other races. However, I have seen how much he has matured over the years and something similar is happening with Hamilton at the moment.

    Along with Vettel and Rosberg they entered the sport very young and there is nothing easier than pointing fingers at people who are inexperienced in life – but when I think about it – I am not sure how I would have handled being a closely followed celebrity at the age of 22?

    Instead I am starting to realize how interesting it is to actually see these youngsters and evolve into men. Some more tha nothers but seen in that light there is a limit to what we can expect from a maybe only ten year old “fanboy” in here. If we find that their views are too “green” we can simply ignore them but please don’t try to make fools of them for what they believe. Rather try to explain why you think they might be wrong and back it up with data where possible so they can learn as much as possible and take our places when we are gone!

  8. Keith,
    Is there some data on the pitstops? During the race I thought Rosberg was fastest but I am not sure.

  9. Great analysis, thank You, Keith.
    And interesting statistic about the average grid positions. Will be fun to follow the development of that over the season.
    I think Alonso’s engine was overrevved due to the gearbox problem. But great that he tried to fight it despite this gearbox problem.
    A great race with a lot of exiting duels, and many over-takings – how many?
    Re the discussion of F1 fans, I think that motor sports fans are generally much more respectful of the competition to the drivers or teams they like, than is the case in many other sports. And of course everyone starts from zero at some point. To have someone to discuss it with You have to bid newcomers welcome and teach them in their pace. I agree a lot with SennaRainho, although I’m a very dedicated fan of the sport, without being a dedicated fan of a particular driver, or team. Being a big fan of a particular driver is IMO to overlook the fact, that the car and the design and team building it is more important to the results. As an example see how Lewis performed last year – same team, and Lewis didn’t have the excuse that he had not been able to influence the development of the car.

  10. Hi, all this debate about massa/vettel etc being worse overtakers then hamilton. Lets not forget nearly every overtake Hamilton makes these days is more due to the car then his overtaking ability. last year it was Kers and this year the f-duct, these 2 devices added with the Mercedes engine, the most powerful in f1, have made his car faster then anyone elses in a straight line, and even 2kmh faster can help his car catch a slipstream and help his car get past. (and its not just top speed, its rate of acceleration too dont forget) he can make up 5-6 car lengths down a straight just through this, not driver talent, and then its just a simple outbreak at the end of the straight. the ferrari driver dont have such an advantage, thus they couldnt overtake as well as hamilton did in the last 2 races. i wonder how many cars he couldve passed in an even playing field with no f-duct? No one can claim that it didnt aid him in his overtaking. To get an example of how much tougher it would be without the f-duct, look at how he struggled getting past Sutil, as Sutils car has a Mercedes engine also (evening out the playing field in the battle), it too longer on the straight for the f-duct adcantage to work, why couldnt he use his Amazing skills to get passed him? he was 2 seconds a lap faster then him… its all about the cars these days.
    Fanboys dont look into the details like this, they just see hamilton making passes and think he is the greatest thing in f1. They should look at how other drivers are performing in inferior cars like Kubica who has been making no mistakes and is finishing races in higher positions then the car belongs, while Hamilton is finishing lower then his car belongs. Kubica has finished twice in a row ahead of Hamilton in a car 0.5 seconds a lap slower. Hamilton has made mistakes, Kubica hasnt. In their only ontrack battle, Hamiltons car was much faster then Kubicas in Melbourne, and Hamilton made a mistake trying to pass Kubica in turn 4 after Kubica brilliantly defended in an inferior car. Hamilton eventually had to pit as he couldnt get past Kubica.

    1. You do know that Kubicas car has a F-duct too?

    2. SennaRainho
      6th April 2010, 22:43

      …so how did Hamilton blast past Button in the early stages at Melbourne? F-duct? D’OH!!

      Kubica is absolutely great but that doesn’t make Hamilton bad. Actually I would love to see both of them battle it out in a McLaren.

      I agree with Palle, (Danish?) that a large part of a drivers speed is due to the car. In the top teams however, they are all currently so even that the “rest” depends on the driver. And that’s the entire point: Even if 90% of the speed is courtesy of the car, those final 10% still makes the whole difference if e.g. the top cars are within 1% of each others speed potential.

      Besides, no car is better than it’s setup and this is another point in which the driver skill can make a difference.

      An example is when Prost won by almost a minute in (Brazil 87) by setting up his car for low down force while everyone else went for high down force. He had slow corner speed but what made the difference was the low tire wear and he only had to pit once.

      1. Even if it is necessary to have a top driver to win the WDC, Brawn succeded last year. With the risk of offending Button fans, I think it is realistic to say that the odds of Button winning was very, very small before the first test of the Brawn racer showed what it could do. I fully agree that Button raised his game, when he realized the potential and even under great pressure before the last two races last year he performed as a true champion. And what would the RB6 be without Newey? F1 is a hightech team-sport and the Fan hype on the drivers are overlooking that fact, over and over again. I like to be impressed by new drivers (like Kobayashi overtaking Button in his first race), and old drivers in new teams etc, but the drivers are only the pilots. They alone can win nothing. As in war, You can have brave, skilled soldiers, but if you’re technically and tactically inferior You will loose. The pilot depends on the service from his mechanics, his Engineer, the teams tactical computers, their weather station, etc. etc. The pilot needs a lot of people to perform for him to succeed, the team needs the pilot to perform for them to succeed, but they win or loose together.
        And yes, I’m Danish:-)

        1. hamilton passing button was probably to do with the drivers, as button wasnt driving particularily fast at that point of the race, although i cant remember who was on what tire.
          I never said Hamilton was a bad driver anywhere btw.

  11. Boys we are talk car racing…it doesn’t matter how good the driver is…you need rich uncle to even make it to this Level….just ask that kid driving the Torro rossi,he will replace that old fart at MB

  12. dj: You need a rich “uncle”, yes, but if You’re not very very talented, you can’t find a rich “uncle”, or he isn’t rich enough. The driver is important, but when we discuss the best 8 to 12 drivers at this level, the technical package seems more decisive.

    1. ya,I know,but just a Rfactor widget and we could be racing these babes…Jenson sure waited along time for a good car

  13. dj: You can’t compare armchair racing with reality. It is so physical with all those G-forces. Look at Fisichellas pole lap of Spa last year: in a turn combination he has 3,4 g lateral to the left, which then almost instantly switches to 4 g lateral to the right… 1 and a half hour like that, anybody without a lot of physical training would be totally crushed. 30 min of carting is physically tough, even if You are generally fit, and F1 is so much more, You can’t compare.

  14. SennaRainho
    9th April 2010, 18:25

    Palle, I very much agree that Button pretty much won due to the car only but I think we can both agree that the example is a bit extreme. The car was clearly not within regulations and should never have raced.

    When the cars raced are built within the same rules they are equal enough that the driver has to make up for the rest of the difference.

    Once the driver is established in the top it is sometimes hard to know the true potential and I also love to watch Kobayashi performing well in a weak car which used to be how careers were made. Vettel did it, Raikkonen, Alonso, Schumacher, Senna and the list goes on.

    Now though, as in the case of Hamilton, they come straight from McLaren’s “kindergarden” and we don’t know what they can do in an under-performing car. Or maybe we do after all as he was driving a quite poor car last year.

    Though I prefer to see the drivers prove themselves before entering top teams, it will be interesting to see if young Magnussen will make it straight to the permanent McLaren seat :-)

  15. SennaRainho, I think it is perfectly OK that the Brawn car was allowed to race. After all F1 is also an engineering competition – who can design and build the best car. Otherwise we have GP2 where the cars are quite the same, like many other racing series. The possibility of outsmarting the competition is giving F1 a unique aura of hightech and it creates a development environment, where it is possible to bring forward new advanced technologies, (almost) otherwise not possible.
    Unless Young Magnussen is technically (re feedback to his engineer, etc.) more talented than his father, he will not make it to a McLaren seat in F1.

  16. SennaRainho
    9th April 2010, 22:42

    I agree with your points but I just don’t think they apply to the Brawn case. FIA made a huge effort to try cut down force as well as cost in 2009. Both points were rare cases of sharp sight FIA but the double difuser was not only against the regulations according to most of the inspectors but it was downright contradiction to both points: Cars could barely follow each other at all and everybody had to spend huge sums to try to keep up.

    I don’t remember which team it was but someone actually inquired to the FIA about the possibility of a double difuser and was told it would be illegal. Brawn was more persistant but you basically end up with teams following different regulations which is first of all unfair but also hopelessly boring to watch.

    Kevin is already aware of his fathers shortcomings and I am sure that he will work hard not to make the same mistakes. Besides, he might be completely different person. I hope he’ll make it, now that we are about to witness the first start to a season in 20 years where no scandinavian has scored points within the first four races!!

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