Safety car spares Hamilton and Alonso’s blushes (Chinese Grand Prix analysis)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The second safety car period gave Hamilton the opportunity to attack Kubica
The second safety car period gave Hamilton the opportunity to attack Kubica

Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso owed their large points hauls in Shanghai at least partly thanks to the second appearance of the safety car.

The erased the huge amount of time they had lost with extra pit stops at the start of the race and, in Alonso’s case, a penalty for jumping the start.

But Robert Kubica was left to rue the second safety car period which ultimately cost him a podium finish.

The start

Chinese Grand Prix - lap 1 position change
Chinese Grand Prix - lap 1 position change (click to enlarge)

As mentioned in the pre-race analysis, the Shanghai layout tends to keep the cars in grid order at the start. Sure enough, the major changes on the first lap came because of Fernando Alonso’s jumped start and the crash which eliminated Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sebastien Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi.

However Mark Webber did manage to get his revenge on team mate Sebastian Vettel by passing him at the start, as Vettel did to him at Sepang two weeks ago.

Top three drivers’ lap times

Chinese Grand Prix- top three drivers' lap times
Chinese Grand Prix- top three drivers' lap times (click to enlarge)

Hamilton’s off-the-chart spike on laps six and seven show where he lost a huge amount of time to leaders Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button because of his early switch to intermediate tyres.

Once back on slicks he was able to lap much quicker than them whenever he found clear air. He set the fastest lap of the race very early, on lap 13, when the track was at its driest.

Lap 19 was Rosberg’s undoing as he ran off the track and was subsequently passed by Button. The five seconds he lost on that lap are obscured on the chart because of the pit stop he made immediately afterwards.

The McLaren drivers made their final pit stops on laps 37 (Hamilton) and 38 (Button). From that point on it was a straight race to the flag between them. Button pulled away initially, pulling a ten second lead over his team mate.

But he went off the track on lap 51 at the hairpin and from that point on Hamilton was quicker. It’s likely he spent the first part of this stint preserving his tyres knowing how long they’d have to last – look at the wear Webber suffered having made his final stop for intermediates two laps before Hamilton.

On the final lap Hamilton took a second out of his team mate’s lead to finish within 1.5 seconds of Button. What we don’t know is whether the team were telling them to cool it while Hamilton pressed on, hoping his team mate would slip up again.

Pit stops

2010 Chinese Grand Prix pit stops
2010 Chinese Grand Prix pit stops (click to enlarge)

The unpredictable weather made a mockery of several teams’ strategists, particularly those who made early stops for intermediate tyres and then returned to the pits only a couple of laps later to go back to slicks.

By the end of the race Jaime Alguersuari and Nico H?â??lkenberg took the record with six visits to the pits each. Alonso finished fourth despite pitting three times in the first six laps.

As the chart above shows Renault were the only team to get the call right for both their cars. Button, Rosberg, Pedro de la Rosa and Heikki Kovalainen also stayed out – the Lotus driver was rewarded with a short-lived elevation to the dizzy heights of sixth place on lap eight.

Lap chart

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

The different fortunes of the two Ferrari drivers is striking. Their strategies were similar but despite the added advantage of a drive-through penalty Alonso battled through the field much more effectively than his team mate.

Felipe Massa ended the race with the Red Bulls and Renaults separating him from his team mate.

After reaching sixth Kovalainen’s tumble back down the running order was inevitable. But the much-delayed H?â??lkenberg never caught the Lotus driver, ending the race nine seconds behind the Finn.

Interactive race chart

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The interactive race chart makes it easy to see the state of play before that crucial second safety car period. Hover over lap 21 to see just how far ahead Button and Rosberg were before the safety car was summoned so the marshals could recover debris from Jaime Alguersuari’s car.

At this point Hamilton, seventh, was 54 seconds behind and Alonso, tenth, was 76 seconds adrift. Without the safety car, Rosberg and Kubica would have remained out of Hamilton’s reach and Alonso might not even have got past Vitaly Petrov.

It takes nothing away from the quality of their drives which were distinguished by few mistakes and some excellent passes. But you can see why Renault are regretting Kubica’s lost podium.

2010 Chinese Grand Prix

Browse all 2010 Chinese Grand Prix articles

94 comments on “Safety car spares Hamilton and Alonso’s blushes (Chinese Grand Prix analysis)”

  1. Both guys were the best part of a minute behind Button and Rosberg. Had it not been for Alguersuari’s broken wing, it might have stayed that way.

  2. Alonso for me, is driver of the day. 5 stops and he only finished 12 seconds behind Button.

    Hamilton also did fantastically well also. His overtaking definately made a huge contribution to today’s race being awesome.

    1. I’m not sure but someone posted this on a forum…

      Does each driver get allocate their OWN tyres? (as they have a certain number of tyres each.)

      If so did Alonso take on Massa’s tyres during his pitstop as surely the team had Massa’s tyres ready before as Massa was in the lead on track. Of course, Alonso overtook him into the pitlane and came into the pits first. Surely then he took on Massa’s tyres instead of his own unless Ferrari switched them VERY quickly.

      Could be complete irrelevant but thought it was interesting…

      Any know anything about this?

      1. Jarred Walmsley
        18th April 2010, 20:26

        Yes, they do get allocated their own tires but as Massa was right behind Alonso, I don’t think it would have really mattered

      2. I can only assume they got the tyres switched around, or there surely would have been a penalty.

        1. Near as I can remember, the tyres are allocated to the teams on a per car basis. Not per driver. The drivers are then further limited from using more than a certain number of sets of any particular compound per race meeting.

          The tyres are serialized for tracking and recorded before and after usage.

          That is: The tyre warmers may say “Massa”, but it is just a little matter of changing the paper-work, after installation.

          If the team gets two sets of boots per compound, per car, they may use them on either car, so long as the team does not exceed the allotment restrictions on a per car usage for the race weekend.

          Of course, I have been wrong before.

      3. I looked it back and the mechanics are ready with both sets of tyres since both cars were coming in anyway.

        Guess they quickly switched them when it turned out Alonso passed Massa.

        1. Very slick work by the Ferrari pit crew regardless.

    2. It was good, but the extra stop he made compared to Hamilton, Vettel et al was only a drive-through, and obviously the SC nullified the extra stops as well

    3. It was a good recovery drive from Alonso – but if he hadn’t jumped the start and then pitted for intermediates too early he wouldn’t have needed to recover…

    4. slr, the article does kind of point out that though Alonso, an indeed Hamilton made excellent drives, it was luck an possible “show improvements” that made that possible.

    5. Absolutely Alonso driver of the day, excepting his mistake at start. Also Hamilton did a great driving. Fantastic race at China, hoping show continues like that!

    6. Totally agree. Petrov was #2.

      But there is a stealth player in this championship. We need to start paying attention. It is Rosberg.

      Last year we all knew Rosberg was a strong quali and racer, but it never (shined/shone ?) through in the end. Perhaps the Williams Toyota?

      This year in the Factory Mercedes he is continually and consistently besting Schu.

      His races are fairly uneventful, so I fear we don’t focus on him as a result.

      But he is fast.

      1. “His races are fairly uneventful” That just might be why he is doing so well….

    7. “Alonso for me, is driver of the day. 5 stops and he only finished 12 seconds behind Button.”

      Yes, but the safety car came in handy didn’t it. ;)

  3. You should work as a specialist for investment banks, Keith. Fantastic analysis and beautiful understandable charts. Amazing!!!

    1. Thanks but I like my current job a lot more :-)

      1. Jesus, I wish I heard stuff like that more. We would be a better human race. (Pun intended)

        Great Site! Thanks for all the work.

        I’m recommending you for the Bridgestone Peace Prize.

  4. Ivan Vinitskyy
    18th April 2010, 19:58

    Is there any statistics as to how many overtakes each driver did?

    1. Marc Connell
      18th April 2010, 20:01

      That can easily be guessed, hamilton,alonso,petrov (he did alot!) on top and the HRT cars down into the negatives!

      1. Lots of drivers did many overtaking moves this race, even Sebastian ‘cant overtake’ Vettel :D

    2. I second to that; Clearly in terms of overtaking, Hamilton is an disputed overtaker ever sense he started racing. Almost every race he dose most flamboyant and exciting overtakes. very entertaining to watch…

      1. Yup, that double overtake on Vettel and Sutil was a real beaut.

      2. “Hamilton is an disputed overtaker ever sense he started racing”


        No offense, Filmon, but prove it.

        (I’m assuming you meant “an undisputed”)

        I’m disputing it.

        I’ll claim that Massa has passed more drivers in the first 20 seconds of races than Hamilton has in his life (not counting lappers/moving chicanes). Massa kills on starts.

        Alonso is probably better than Hamilton. What is Schu’s history? Senna? Prost?

        Let’s ease up a bit on the Hamilton disease. Please. At least without evidence.

    3. I’m working on a version of this but it’s quite complicated.

      I can already track every change of position for every driver. But you need to eliminate changes of position due to pit stops which is tricky.

      Then you have things like Alonso getting past Petrov because he spun. Does that count as an overtake? Not really, but filtering these out requires a lot of manual fiddling.

      1. This is an excellent idea. You should immediately patent it as “Fanatic’s Overtake Analysis.”

        But you need to stop thinking about it as work and the complexity of analysing past races.

        Just do it going forward, use China as a test case but plan on Spain being the opener.

        Yeah, definitely, forget spins, crashes, pits, etc. Just straight-up passes in the field. Everything should have video evidence.

        When you think about it, there are actually very few full-on passes between real racers.

        What you will have to deal with from the human-construct/ arbitrary-type angle is the single or multiple re-pass incident. China had several of these. The Massa-Schu ones (one?) were (was?) my favorite :)

        That final corner onto the front stretch in the rain at China makes this race worth everything. When the inters started to go off with 10-5 laps left and nobody could pit because it meant you were done on position this race really became great.

        From second minus 1/1000th (when Alonso started the race) until lap 56 when Hamilton might’ve passed Button, this was one exciting race.

        I really hope China doesn’t give up on this adventure.

    4. clip the apex does an analysis of the overtakes for every race. They maintain statistics and have charts showing the number of overtakes per season.

      They counted 70 overtakes. That has to be a record for the decade.

      They actually have a very conservative guideline for counting overtakes. they don’t count overtakes when a car goes off track. Which I personally would count since often it’s a driver that’s forced into a mistake by the following driver.

      According to them the top overtakers were: Lewis Hamilton (11), Fernando Alonso (9), Adrian Sutil (8), Sebastian Vettel (8)


      Petrov didn’t do “a lot”. Only 3 (Alguersuari, Schumacher and Webber). Those were some nice moves though.

      1. Ned Flanders
        18th April 2010, 21:08

        Well saying as this was only the 4th race of the decade then that’s hardly a huge accolade… Besides, the Australian GP overtakes tally probably wasn’t too far behind

        1. Decade as in last 10 years. Funny man :)

          Australia had 41 overtakes. So nearly twice as many today.

          1. Hahaha, funny ned, but since when was 41 (quote) “nearly twice as many” as 70 ^^

            And thanks for that cliptheapex link

          2. I guess you read it wrong. I said 70 is nearly twice as many as 41.

            That second “as” that you added wasn’t in my sentence.

      2. Jhonnie Siggie
        18th April 2010, 21:32

        @Patrickl – Thanks for this linke :)

  5. That second safety car was a bit of a shame and felt really artificial, even if it made the race an awesome spectacle. I’m glad button won, he really deserved it.

    Again solid job by Lotus and Kovalainen. I really like seeing Heikki so motivated there, must give the team a lot of motivation as well. Hopefully this will turn out to be a good learning path for him as a driver. Of the new teams the Lotus crew really seem to have a good philosophy behind their startup, I hope they’ll have caught on to the back of the rest a bit more than we all expect when we go back to Europe. :)

  6. I can’t help but feel the second safety car was totally unnecessary, but I shan’t complain too much as it helped hammy loads!

  7. The lines on the first 7 laps of the Lap Chart tell you everything, pure chaos! Great stuff Keith.

  8. deploying the safety car was suspicious to say the least. there had been races with far more debris on the track than from Alguersuari’s broken wing today. Then no safety car was needed.
    looks to me like it was a plan to help other drivers.
    shouldn’t the safety car rule be modified to provide for logging time differences before the deployment of the SC and then using this data in the final calculation when the race is over.

    1. Exactly…very suspicious….

      Button, Rosberg and others made a fantastic call staying out on slicks and gained a huge advantage…. But of course that advantage was “bad for the show”… so I bet Bernie was glad when that advantage was totally wiped out by the safety car…. an unnecessary safety car at that.

      The debris on the track could have been cleared under flags… at least they should have tried for at least one lap rather than just deploying the safety car immediately.

      There are far too many safety cars in F1 these days.

      1. “Exactly…very suspicious….”

        Yes….. Very, very suspicious!
        I’ve heard that Charlie (Whiting)
        owes Flavio money!

        Pat Symonds

  9. How did Alguersuari break his wing? looked like he hit one of the Hormone Replacement Therapy Cars?

    1. I just spent some time analysing this, and based on the 6 or 7 frames of image that was given over the feed, you can see by the car colour and the drivers helmet, that Alguersuari hit Senna

      1. Aah right… thanks

  10. Are there any thoughts on Alonso’s alleged jumping of the start. I replayed the one camera angle Speed TV Provided in slo-mo and could see absolutely no evidence of movement before there lights went out.

    1. JR – the World Feed on the BBC showed a shot from the start control room where you can clearly see Alonso jump the start (it was a 3/4 view of the grid) and straight away you saw Charlie Whiting’s hand point at Alonso. Alonso clearly knew he’d jumped the start as he backed off and then (as Brundle pointed out) just carried on hoping to get as much distance ahead of the RBR’s before he was called in to the pits.

      I didn’t notice it on the front view of the grid, but from the other angles it was very clear.

      1. or perhaps ALO was just spot on perfect? it does look like a close call from the onboard shot.

        1. I mentioned this in another thread. If they luck into guessing the start spot on are they fine? Cos they would certainly look to be getting an unfair advantage.

    2. Well he admitted it himself so I guess that’s good enough!:

      I made a serious mistake at the start as my reflexes let me down and I left early. It’s never happened to me before and I am very disappointed with myself.

      1. Thanks, guys, for the information. I’ve been fretting about this all day :)

        Tifosi, Tifosa!

  11. few questions about safty car:

    1) why did it went out (alg parts were lost mostly in pitlane)
    2) why it stayed soooo long, until petrov and the rest got top 3.
    3) what was the sense on SC, even if there were any parts on the track. petrov and the rest still pushed to get top3. so SC slowed them down only on last SC lap.

    very very strange. i think someone had a bussiness to make race interesting again :)

    1. Exactly ! Thank You !

    2. Iffy indeed, not that I minded. I’m sure Button’s bunching of everyone before the SC pitted (which verged on the comical) was directly related to this fact though!

  12. I can smell bulls..t. Can someone tell me but honestly what was that safety car doing on the track ? Those 2 or 3 debris made them coming in and stay for 2 or 3 laps ? It must be a joke…

    1. From my understanding from what SpeedTV indicated was that there had been a lot of gravel kicked up on the track.

      1. This is correct. I saw the brief clip shot of the cornerworkers clearing the gravel mixed with fiberglass parts. The corner was a minefield if not impassible. And it was soaked.

        I would rather drive through Boston potholes after a snowstorm.

        1. Yes, and it was right on the right hander. They would have surely gone straight off if they did not make an attempt to clean.

  13. Ned Flanders
    18th April 2010, 21:10

    Did Sutil and Barrichello both lose their front wings on lap 1? I didn’t see it

  14. The safety car was out because debris was on the pit entrance. If it is on the track drivers can drive round it and this can’t be done in the pit lane. Can we drop the conspiracy rubbish please. I think that if it had been a dry race and no driver was expected in the pits it would have been cleared without the safety car.

    1. That is a very good point. Although I did think they were rather slow in actually removing the debris on the track, I presume it was much more difficult at the pit-lane entrance. You wouldn’t fancy being in the McLaren garage if someone’s front wheels burst on carbon fibre and the “Buemi-ed” into the pitlane, even at 100kph…

  15. As many here I watched the race with live timing next to me. And again I was baffled how fast Hamilton was in clean air. 2 to 3 seconds faster then most other drivers.
    Great race pace in that McLaren. I do hope Hamilton get’s his victory soon as he deserves one with his great driving!

  16. Was boring from the start for me since most of the focus was on Alonso jumping the gun. Got better when Jenson, Rosberg and the Renault boys kept going while the rest changed tyres and messed that up.

    Second safety car spoiled a great race in my opinion, but nearly made up for it when Jenson slowed down to a standstill. I have never seen so many cars bunched up that close, unless being on the M20 ofc.

    Vettel vs Lewis was an interesting tussle glad they both didn’t get punished for that. I also feel Alonso got away from a decent punishment, which he should of had since the drive through (I think) wasn’t enough to hurt his point collecting.

    Congratulations to Button, Lewis and Rosberg getting on the podium and keeping the season “STILL” interesting.

    1. I felt that the drive-through was adequate, it demoted him back down the field to negate any advantage gained by accidentally jumping the gun and then punished him a little for doing so.

      Couldn’t have been intentional because as was shown it only has a negative impact on your race.

      1. true, true you would have to be some piece of work to do it on purpose.

        I guess it does feel all different with past drivers giving their view of things to the stewards.

        Maybe all the fans like me should try to change with the new rules and just take it on the chin when it doesn’t go their way.

        1. You would also have to be exceedingly dim to think you could get away with it in today’s sensor-infested, camera-laden F1! :-D

          1. ha ha very true.

          2. “You would also have to be exceedingly dim to think you could get away with it in today’s sensor-infested, camera-laden F1″

            Or, with those meddle-some teenagers.

            andy wants a Scooby-snack!

  17. that is one messy lap chart!!!
    how come the lap 1 positions change chart shows KOB as remaining in the same position? he crashed and surely lost loads of places?….

    1. how come the lap 1 positions change chart shows KOB as remaining in the same position? he crashed and surely lost loads of places?….

      He didn’t have a position at the end of lap one because he was out of the race, so there’s no difference to plot.

      1. oh, cheers!!! btw, where are the adverts on the site? i wanna click them to support ya.

  18. poor old PdLR and KOB. especially KOB who is probably a great driver but hasn’t had the chance to show it yet! all of his retirements have been beyond his control.

  19. disappointed at the stewards inconsistency with the hamilton/vettel pit incident given webber’s penalty for an unsafe release at spa last year..

    1. Brilliant work Keith. But I am spending more time on the site and less on my work so all of these terrific analyses are costing me.

      I think the pit-entry debris theory is correct. And the emergency of lead-killing events is part of the risk you assume when you expend the car to build a lead.

      Anyway, I think its a bit unfair to say all Hamilton and Alonso needed to catch the lead cars was the safety car. They both still had to pass several cars to gain their positions, and Hamilton came from several positions back on the restart to the point of bearing down on Button in the last laps. Those two guys, it is clear, have uncommon skills.

      I for one was desperate to see the duel between the McLarens, in the wet, on simiarly busted intermediates. I wanted to see Whitmarsh wringing his hands because I’m certain that Hamilton would have become profoundly deaf in both ears if the hold-station radio call had come over the radio.

  20. Exciting race this weekend….even though its good for the sport it has taken the public expectation to new high…something which barceleno,i doubt ,will be able to fulfull…so expect the ‘f1 being boring’-gate to make its grand entrance in three weeks…

    1. Barcelona isn’t famous for its great racing and it’s the only track on the calendar that most teams have some 2010 setup data for. Yawn..

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