How Schumacher got stuck behind Rosberg (Japanese Grand Prix analysis)

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Suzuka, 2010

Mercedes may have missed an opportunity to prevent Michael Schumacher getting stuck behind Nico Rosberg during the Japanese Grand Prix.

Schumacher spent 23 laps stuck behind his team mate. Without the delay he might have been able to capitalise on Lewis Hamilton’s later problems to take fifth place.

Lap 1

Lap 1 position change

Lap 1 position change

There were a couple of fast-starters at Suzuka but most of them ended up climbing out of wrecked cars on the first lap.

Robert Kubica made a much better start than the Red Bull drivers did, but only had time to get by Mark Webber before swinging into turn one.

Nico Rosberg, meanwhile, was crowded out and lost three places.

Pit stops

Pit stops

Pit stops

Qualifying and starting the race on the hard tyres was a gamble that failed for Jenson Button

Part of the problem was it limited his qualifying position to fifth. Though, as he admitted afterwards, if he’d only fuelled for one lap he might have started higher (assuming a 0.08s penalty per lap of fuel, third place was definitely a possibility).

In the end, only Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox problem meant Button finished in a better position than he started.

Race progress

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On lap 22 Michael Schumacher was in sixth place. Behind him Kobayashi and Buemi were, like him, yet to pit and team mate Rosberg, who had pitted, was 18.3 seconds behind.

This was not enough of a gap for Schumacher to be able to pit and stay ahead of Rosberg. But the gap was growing as Schumacher consistent lapped in the mid-to-high 1’37s, Rosberg around half a second slower (see laptimes here).

Looking at how Rosberg’s times progressed, Schumacher might only have need to stay out for a lap or two more to gain an advantage over his team mate. So why was he brought in?

It’s not clear. I have asked Mercedes for an explanation and will post it if I receive one.

There was nothing wrong with his pit stop – only Jenson Button got in and out of the pits quicker during the race.

The best explanation I can think of is a concern on the pit wall that Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello, who had pitted and were not far behind Rosberg, might be able to get close enough to Schumacher. But they would have had to pass Rosberg – not an easy thing to do.

Alternatively, they might have been pre-empting pit stops by the leading cars which might have held Schumacher up. But this too is not entirely convincing.

Then there are more cynical explanations. Rosberg went into the race six points behind Felipe Massa in the drivers’ standings and would have passed him had he finished in the sixth place he held before his wheel failed. How much do Mercedes want to get one of their cars ahead of a Ferrari in the drivers’ championship?

Lap chart

Lap chart

Lap chart

Unlike Button, starting on hard tyres paid off for Kamui Kobayashi. He made it work with a series of passes before and after his pit stop.

The clutch of early retirements, plus later stoppages for Adrian Sutil and Rosberg, allowed Heikki Kovalainen to give Lotus their best finishing result this year with 12th.

2010 Japanese Grand Prix

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67 comments on How Schumacher got stuck behind Rosberg (Japanese Grand Prix analysis)

  1. spectator said on 10th October 2010, 16:20

    i really liked schumis drive today he was really inspired i think that we all know that rosberg is one of the best out there certantly at the same level of vettel, he could have won 2 races but he was unlucly with williams and now with mercedes anyway next year may be hs year

  2. AmoebaF1 said on 10th October 2010, 16:22

    I think it was a blatant strategic error or sabotage. I was watching Michael’s lap times constantly and he was comfortably faster than the cars behind him.

  3. This is totally like Schumacher track. No wonder he did well.

  4. BasCB said on 10th October 2010, 16:30

    Sorry to say so, but you got me puzzled there Keith, with a typo: “In the end, only Lewis Hamilton’s gearbox problem meant he started higher than he finished.”
    That should be the other way around, right?

  5. BasCB said on 10th October 2010, 16:35

    Would Mercedes really disadvantage Schumi to get Rosberg a few extra points? Who would have expected something like that at the start of the year!

  6. Felix said on 10th October 2010, 16:39

    I don’t really see why they would make that much of an effort to get Rosberg ahead of Massa in the standings?
    I mean what are they going to do at the end of the season? Make a TV spot where they say “Buy a Mercedes, because our best driver was better than Ferrari’s second driver, but not anywhere near their first driver!”?

    • David-A (@david-a) said on 10th October 2010, 16:57

      Why wouldn’t they want the highest possible WDC finish for their drivers?

      • adam23 said on 10th October 2010, 17:22

        I don’t think anything other than 1st or not 1st matters to the teams in the WDC. It’s the WCC where they look to finish as high as possible in order to improve their funding position for the next season.

        • macahan said on 10th October 2010, 18:57

          Better driver position and team position I do believe result in better price money so it’s of interest to the team to get as far up as possible even if it don’t mean winning the championship. Just look at the new teams they battle fiercely trying to finish a head of their rivals.

          • wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 11th October 2010, 3:04

            Yes every drivers wants to be number one as Vettel said when you are second you are first loser, but every teams & drivers wants to finish the highest position they can as the upper you finish the more points you score the more money you get.

      • Daniel said on 11th October 2010, 8:26

        Because they are not going to win the WDC, and given that the most benefit can be gained only by their position in the WCC. Getting the driver doing better in the race in front of the one doing not as well would have given them a better chance of more points at Suzuka.

  7. Rahim RG said on 10th October 2010, 16:48

    Schumi was great…he is coming Back surely Next year…

  8. I’m a bit confused as to why they didn’t just tell Nico to let him through (coded of course). Brawn said there’s a time and a place for team orders and surely with Hamilton’s problems this was it?

    I’m not sure how happy Michael was. He seemed his usual more relaxed self but said he enjoyed racing Nico “to a point”…

    • Todfod said on 10th October 2010, 19:14

      I really doubt Schumi would have caught Hamilton and passed him, as he was a fair way behind. I really do not think Rosberg would have moved over for Schumi either, there is no way Rosberg would want to be tagged a Barichello.

      • David-A (@david-a) said on 10th October 2010, 19:17

        Yeah, sixth was really the maximum Schumacher was going to get from this race.

        • I know but it was a bit like Aus with Massa and Fernando. He could have at least had a go and hopefully got close to Hamilton, put him under some pressure and see what happens. It’s a long shot but Mercedes really have nothing to lose this season.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th October 2010, 19:31

        If Schumacher had not got stuck behind Rosberg in the first place through his pit stop he could well have finished ahead of Hamilton.

        Once Schumacher got in front of Rosberg he was around 1-1.5s per lap faster. So we can estimate the time lost behind Rosberg between laps 24 and 47 at around 23-34.5 seconds.

        Schumacher finished 20.3 seconds behind Hamilton. So I think even with a conservative estimate for Schumacher’s lost time and assuming Hamilton had some performance in hand, Schumacher could have got fifth.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 10th October 2010, 21:01

      Did the Beeb play the radion transmission to Schumi? SPEED played a transmission right around when he made his attempt to pass Rosberg that was something to the effect of: There are no team orders, but Nico knows what to do…

      • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 10th October 2010, 21:02

        Whoops, meant radio, not radion.

      • The exact words were “Michael, no team orders, but Nico knows to be sensible if you make a move.”

        Considering that it should give MGP at least two weeks of not having to reaffirm publicly that they aren’t looking to replace MSC…well. Kubica and Renault were going to be pointsless anyway.

  9. Yup, for all the horrible performances he’s delivered so far this was easily Schumacher’s most solid race of the season… apart from the blatant strategic mistake I was very surprised he didn’t try a Kobayashi though, as he was even told Rosberg wasn’t going to run into him if he tried to make a move.

    • Daniel said on 11th October 2010, 8:31

      I’m not surprised he didn’t make a move* if he and Rosberg had collided there goes his most impressive race in a while, converted instead into taking his team mate out.

      *I actually think he did try a move, but we didn’t see it. The lap before Rosberg lost his wheel the gap between the two of them at the end of the lap was 0.2s. Whereas otherwise it was pretty constant at 0.4 to 0.6s. For it to be that close he must have been making a challenge.

  10. Alexi (@alexi) said on 10th October 2010, 17:49

    I guess Mercedes didn’t want to come as favoring one driver specially when Rosberg is far ahead of Schumi in the points this year. But yes, Rosberg lacked a bit of touch considering how defending a position already cripples your lap times and how Massa and Kubica were already out. Merc made a mistake too since they should have let Schumi to pit later, he was very light on the tyres today.

  11. Sparky Jay said on 10th October 2010, 18:30

    The team radio i heard Said that Nico wouldn’t defend if Michael attacked at which point he stopped trying to get past.

    Funny how driving fast and passing people seems to make a strategy work while staying in position and not pushing at all doesn’t…

    • I don’t think Schumacher was able to get close enough to even try and pass, So Rosberg not defending didn’t ever come into it.

  12. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 10th October 2010, 18:33

    For a team headed by Ross Brawn, Mercedes have made some very questionable strategy choices this season – who can forget the farce of Montreal?

    I’m not sure if Button’s strategy would have worked without the Safety Car. More problematic I think was – again – the durability of the soft tyres.

    When we were talking about the refuelling ban at the start of the year part of the appeal was for the prospect of drivers going long on hards and then sprinting to the line on softs. Not only has the enduring difficulty of overtaking (Kobayashi notwithstanding) in F1 spoiled that but because the soft tyres usually last too long anyone on them can eke out enough time advantage before they degrade to come out of the pits not only with less than a pit-stop’s gap to a driver on the hard tyres (and in the top teams, comfortably ahead of most of the others on the hard compound) but with fresh rubber they’re still going faster. So the driver on the contrary strategy either has to pit for softs – and have his tyres wear out too much to keep the lead, if he ever regained it in the first place – or be slowly caught and then finally relinquish the lead 15 or so laps before the end.

    I’m surprised one of the Improve The Show Groups hasn’t noticed this yet and either got rid of the mandatory tyre change or mandated super-soft and soft tyres for all races. They’d rather have adjustable wings which would give us a little more overtaking at the price of cheapening it considerably.

    • djdaveyp said on 10th October 2010, 19:27

      Here, here just what i think.

      Instead of contrived “give the guy behind an advantage” crap, use the controlled part that everybody has i.e. tyres and then its up to the teams and driver as to how well they manage it.

      And it puts everybody in the same boat!

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 10th October 2010, 21:04

      The opposite would be true too, give them rock hard tires with very little grip. A combination of rock hard tires and super sticky tires that go off quickly would make for some interesting racing.

    • Daniel said on 11th October 2010, 8:34

      I’m in total agreement with the ‘get rid of the mandatory stop’ line. I’ve been saying that since race 1.

  13. Yeap fighting for one place in every race that place being 5 – 10

  14. Joking of course

  15. SPA09 said on 10th October 2010, 19:41

    Schumi did rather badly by not making enough gap when his tyres were at prime. He should have been with a margine faster with softs than nico was with hards in the first stint but no. So why blame other things when he just didnt drive fast enough. Nico was faster with hards and rthats why he landed infornt of MS. The fact then MS had NEW FRES TYRES and clearly was faster doesnt mean a thing when he was too slow in the first stint.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 10th October 2010, 19:44

      What makes you think there was more performance in the car at that point? His lap times were very consistent, it’s not as if he was missing chunks of time on some laps.

      It’s a bit easy to sit back and say ‘he should have driven faster’ without offering anything to prove it was possible at that point.

      Besides which, it doesn’t answer the question of why he was brought into the pits when there was no need to change his track position and he was lapping quicker than Rosberg.

      • SPA09 said on 10th October 2010, 21:45

        all the front runners came to pit stop pretty much same time, maybe few laps apart. The soft tyre prime goes down pretty fast and if you dont come to pit your lap times crash, maybe 3 sec. slower when the tyre is off.

        …maybe Schumi had to come to pit. It wasnt like 10 laps from the start. it was normal 1st stint. Was it lap 22, so basically he had almost 20 laps to do gap big enough but it just didnt happen. Thats my view, and i dont think im biased.

        Ofcourse you guys think that Ross as Michaels friend wants to make himlook bad. Doesnt sound right, does it??

        • @SPA09: I promise you Schumi will come stronger next year.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th October 2010, 8:20

          all the front runners came to pit stop pretty much same time, maybe few laps apart. The soft tyre prime goes down pretty fast

          But that hadn’t happened to Schumacher yet – he was still lapping consistently and he was still lapping quicker than Rosberg. (I’m assuming you meant ‘time’, not ‘prime’.)

          Based on the lap times he’d done up to the point he pitted, there was no reason believe he was suddenly going to go three seconds slower on the next lap, as you say.

          • SPA 09 said on 11th October 2010, 14:24

            Yes i know what you mean, but i cant see the option that they want MS to do bad.
            (Ross Brawn)

            And if its ruled out then the only option is the tyres were done. MS has been hard to tyres all year long. And made few early pit stops before.

            I dont think that they were letting Nico past MS to get him jump Massa in points. That would be pretty farfetched.

            Anyways Keith, interesting article and you sure can be right and they wanted for some reason get Nico before MS. And did it by taking MS in too early. But i think its not the case.
            —————-
            And i really thought they did it to Kimi from 5 th race of 2008 forward so i know what you mean. Quess we will never know the truth.
            It was easier to influence driver order when Qs were with race fuel. And they had 2 pit stop to screw one driver over, unlike now with one. :) My favorite one is to put one driver on hold behind teammate when safetycar is at the track. Now its only Massa waiting nicely behind Fernando, not Kimi.

            At Ferrari it doesnt mean you are screwed only when your chance for WDC is lost, like this season from Germany forward has shown.(i wasnt surprised, i thought they did it to Kimi long before)

            To sum it up. We´ll never know the real truth behind the scenes. (even Stepney keeps his mouth shut, and got away with sabotage with basicly no penalty, i bet he had some info to bargain with Ferrari, you know Coughlan was with Macca the whole Kimis career, and the car was really unreliable ;))

            Sorry about too long post, i got carried away, wont happen again.

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