Button gambles on strategy in Suzuka (Japanese Grand Prix pre-race analysis)

Jenson Button, McLaren, Suzuka, 2010

Jenson Button is hoping a different choice of strategy will help his cause in the Japanese Grand Prix. He is the only driver in the top ten starting on the hard compounds tyres.

But it’s not likely to trouble Red Bull, who have locked out the front row and appear to have a healthy performance advantage.

The start

Yesterday’s heavy rain will have neutralised much of the disadvantage that comes from starting off-line at Suzuka. The short run into a fast first corner means opportunities for passing away from the grid are limited, particularly for the front runners.

Last year the top six held their position at the start with the exception of Lewis Hamilton, who used his KERS to overtake Jarno Trulli.

Red Bull can’t afford to throw away the points on offer today having annexed the front row of the grid, so expect them to behave themselves at the start.

Alonso said after qualifying his first objective in the race is to find a way past Robert Kubica. That might not be too easy – the Renault has been very quick in a straight line since it got its F-duct at Spa.

Down in eighth, Hamilton needs to make progress and will have his sights fixed on picking off Rubens Barrichello, who has made some slow getaways in the Williams this year.

Strategy

Button has rolled the dice on strategy and will start the race on hard tyres – everyone else in the top ten is on the softs.

What the other cars do strategy-wise may be heavily influenced by Button’s performance. Can the Red Bulls build up enough of a gap to pit before Button does?

Button’s dilemma is that once cars behind him start to pit and change to the soft tyre, they will be quicker than him, meaning he is at risk of coming out behind them after he pits.

As ever, keep an eye on the gaps between the cars. Williams say a gap of 18.7 seconds plus the time taken to make a pit stop is needed to get out of the pits in front of another car.

The crucial question is how long he can afford to delay his pit stop, and whether he can overtake them on the track when he’s switched to the soft tyres. He does have the benefit of the McLaren’s excellent straight-line speed.

The most interesting dimension of Button’s gamble is that it puts him at odds with his team mate. It increases the chance that at some point one McLaren on a different strategy will catch the other. If so, will McLaren issue team orders?

The championship dimension will weigh heavily on the minds of the front runners. Sebastian Vettel knows he has to convert his eighth pole position into his third victory this year.

Mark Webber knows his closely championship rival at the moment, Fernando Alonso, is starting behind him.

But for McLaren, they need to find a way to take points off some of their rivals. Despite having taken their new rear wing off the MP4-25 they are quick enough to take on the Renault and Ferrari. The question is whether they can make it count on the track in the race.

Weather

No further rain is expected during today’s race. In the hours before the Grand Prix a few small showers to the north-west of the circuit have appeared but faded away before reaching the track.

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5 comments on Button gambles on strategy in Suzuka (Japanese Grand Prix pre-race analysis)

  1. US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 10th October 2010, 6:09

    Red Bull can’t afford to throw away the points on offer today having annexed the front row of the grid, so expect them to behave themselves at the start.

    I would be surprised if the team hasn’t had a chat with both drivers making it very clear that they aren’t to run into each other, and I can imagine the anticipation of that chat were weighing on Webber’s mind as he scowled his way through the post qualifying press conference.

    Alonso said after qualifying his first objective in the race is to find a way past Robert Kubica. That might not be too easy – the Renault has been very quick in a straight line since it got its F-duct at Spa.

    Not to mention the fact that Button and Barrichello will be breathing down his neck, with Rosberg and Hamilton not far behind. That is of course if Hamilton isn’t able to overtake a couple drivers on the start. If he can get past Barrichello, Rosberg, AND Button, you can bet he’ll be giving Alonso hell.

  2. Todfod said on 10th October 2010, 11:28

    Button really didn’t have much of a choice with his strategy for the weekend. He knew he isn’t fast enough to compete with the other 4 championship contenders, and opting for hard tyres in Q3 was his best chance to take advantage of unexpected circumstances in the race. For example, if the 6 lap safety car period was between lap 10-20 he would have been within seconds of the race leader, and as they pitted he would have had a good chance at making up at least a couple of positions.

    This kind of strategy could have worked for Lewis. He would have put in stellar laps at the start and kept the front runners at striking distance, and would have take good advantage of the clean air when he was leading the race. Jenson just doesn’t have the pace to make a strategy like this work. I kind of feel sorry for him, as he isn’t quick enough to compete with the front runners on similar strategy, nor is he quick enough to pull off risky strategies. At the end of the day pace matters, and that is why he isn’t a serious title contender in spite of being 5th in the championship.

  3. Alex Bkk (@alex-bkk) said on 10th October 2010, 12:45

    Actually I though that he had made the right call starting the race on the primes, he could have pitted at leisure waiting for the best gap in traffic. We’ve seen the options go the race distance this season, so why not the primes?

    Problem is, the difference in lap times between the primes and options at Suzuka was almost non existent. How could he know?

  4. The track rubbered in far quicker than expected. Over all I don’t think the choice either cost him or won him any places, mainly due to Hamiltons gearbox problem.

  5. chemakal said on 11th October 2010, 11:58

    Mr. Horner speculates with Button’s strategy as McLaren strategy to favour Ham against Button, which I find quite interesting and logical:
    Button in front after others finish 1st pit stop. Button’s slow race pace holds the RBs and FA so Ham catches up and the strategy gives Ham the chance to overtake. Of course, it all blew up after Ham problems with gear box.
    If this is true: team strategy or team orders? Um…

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