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. SPA09 said on 10th October 2010, 19:43

    Sorry about typos. :)

  2. Mr JoeBlack said on 10th October 2010, 20:20

    well, this is not the first time that Mercedes choose the false moment to pit Shumi!
    for me it’s crystal clear, they didn’t want him to be in front of Rosberg!!!!1 but the one million question is:why??
    most probably because of rosberg/massa battle.

    from the other hand, today Micheal was close to what he really is!!! we miss u hero!

    • bananarama said on 10th October 2010, 21:07

      Yeah, Schumacher was fine .. it was nice to see that.

      The Rosberg/Massa theory doesn’t quite cut it for me. After all its much more important to stay ahead of Renault which means getting the most points possible, no matter from what driver they come .. and a driver near the front is always better than two far away from the front, just in case something unexpected happens.

      • Hollus said on 11th October 2010, 15:48

        Exactly, you beat me to it.
        At that point in time, the team considered the cars ahead out of reach and the only worries were from behind. They could not know that a car from the front would have a problem that would cost it 2-3 seconds per lap but not a retirement. How often does that happen?
        So, by pitting Schumi they assured having two Mercedes behind the leading pack. Also, with the faster one behind, any attacking cars would have a harder time passing Schumi than passing Rosberg with his older tyres.
        They get the same points for a Schumi-Rosberg than for a Rosberg-Schumi, and with the Renaults out, those points might well be worth 4th in the constructors championship.
        So, let’s assume they didn’t pit Schumi, and then the safety car comes out. Now he is behind everybody else that had pitted, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Sutil and whoever pitted in between. Why risk so many points to have a shot at a Mclaren?
        Little to gain, much to lose.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th October 2010, 15:52

          So, let’s assume they didn’t pit Schumi, and then the safety car comes out. Now he is behind everybody else that had pitted, Heidfeld, Alguersuari, Sutil and whoever pitted in between.

          Not necessarily. Remember the pack doesn’t close up as quickly in F1 as it does in, say, Indycar, because drivers have to drive to target lap time deltas when the safety car comes out.

          That’s why Kubica and Barrichello’s races weren’t ruined by the second safety car deployment at Singapore, for example: Singapore Grand Prix analysis

  3. Maciek said on 10th October 2010, 20:22

    Strategies notwithstanding, it felt strange that Schumacher seemed to back off after getting the “there are no team orders message”. Not that I have a theory or anything, it was just curious.

    • Alexi (@) said on 10th October 2010, 20:46

      Well he couldn’t exert pressure all the way through the 25 laps or so anyways. There’s a lot of turbulence, dirt and temperature of certain parts of the car you have to take care of that makes it impossible.

    • There’s a certain amount of time where after Schumacher’s pit stop his tyres would have been much quicker than Nico’s. But because of the turbulence that Maciek noted, Schumacher while chasing Rosberg would have had an increased rate of tyre wear, and so the performance advantage from the tyres which initially allowed him to close on Nico would have disappeared.

    • Shimks said on 10th October 2010, 22:01

      I agree. It was quite odd. It really did look like Schumi did the opposite after the radio message.

      Schumi’s race today made me really feel like he’s starting to come back now. I am so pleased.

      • wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 11th October 2010, 2:37

        Yes he was trying but as this been a high downforce circuit with lots of high speed corners the air turbulence from Nico’s car wasn’t helping him too much as both the car is 99% have equal set up if not less.

        & yes @ Shimks I too hope this is his comeback drive, we should all remember this is where his 8th WC dream ended 4 years back & this is where it should all start again.

  4. Merc did the right thing, I think, by the viewers, They let them fight while warning them a collision just can’t happen.
    It should be up to the drivers generosity and team spirit to let a team mate past or not.

    Well done Merc.

    Just a pity Schumacher got held up so much I think!

    • wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 11th October 2010, 2:33

      Agree it was the right decision as they did it for team spirit.Schumacher was way quicker then his team mate but they didn’t asked Nico to back off, just shows dispite Schumacher been their favourite boy they respect the way Nico drive.

  5. Felipe Bomeny (@portugoose) said on 10th October 2010, 23:00

    It’s quite interesting how Force India have been struggling for form lately, and I think it’s from the departure of James Key to Sauber. Also, they’ve lost court cases against Aerolab/Lotus and Ferrari with the Etihad Aldar sponsorship issue, and it keeps on getting worse for them. It’ll be interesting to see if Williams and perhaps even Sauber can overtake them in the standings by the end of the year.

  6. wasiF1 (@wasif1) said on 11th October 2010, 2:30

    I really liked the way Schumacher drove today, as he was fighting for some position, especially through the first sector where there are many high speed turn he was carving his way past the slower cars just like the old days.I have to say this has been his best performance of the season after Spain GP.Another thing that was positive this race that Mercedes allowed both their driver to fight & they did well,& OLD & the NEW respected each other well.Hope in 2011 we see battle for the front of the grid between them.

    • macca77 said on 11th October 2010, 4:47

      If everything goes well Schumi would be so far ahead of Rosberg, the only way Nico sees him would be when he is being lapped by Schumi. :D I know wishful thinking.

  7. Joey-Poey said on 11th October 2010, 3:17

    Schumi’s run felt uninspired if you ask me. He only managed to get past his teammate once he had crashed out.

    Koby on the other hand… every race, he continues to make more and more of a fan of me.

    • macca77 said on 11th October 2010, 4:45

      Schumi passed Barichello in a place where overtaking is almost impossible. I guess you didn’t watched the first laps of the race.

  8. Now Schumi has now finally opened his mouth! He says:

    “The car worked great this time,” said the 41-year-old after a good weekend at Suzuka.”Unfortunately, I cannot say it has been that way at all the races,” he reportedly told German television RTL.

    “There have often been problems, especially on my car, in terms of the consistency, that were not always noticed from the outside.

    “You only saw that I was slower.

    “Both cars have not always been the same,” insisted Schumacher, who just before Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix complained that the F-duct on his car was not working properly at Suzuka.

    Mercedes’ Norbert Haug responded to Bild newspaper: “I cannot disagree with Michael. As far as the car is concerned, he is right.”

    Something certainly going on inside the Merc team!

  9. Finally a good race by Schumacher. More to come next year! :)

  10. Komalan Domenighetti said on 11th October 2010, 13:16

    This is the point I was trying to make for some months now… Schumacher’s race engineer is useless and I will say it again, he should change race engineer ASAP, because as far as I’m concerned this engineer has been a key cause in Schumacher’s poor race STRATEGIES.
    Let’s face, if Schu had stayed when Rosberg pitted, he would of stayed ahead..and who knows what he would have done at the point. Brawn needs to be Schu’s engineer again, because the one he has at the moment is only favouring Rosberg……….

  11. lolmsc said on 11th October 2010, 13:57

    Nico didn’t change tire after lap2.
    Which means Schumacher had big advantage,he got new tire.
    But he coudn’t overtake Nico.This shows you how Schumacher suck! It wasn’t Monaco!It was Suzuka!
    Look @ how Kobayashi overtakes other!
    Schumacher is 7 times champion,but he couldn’t overtakes old tires teammate very long time.New guy overtakes many whith in 10 laps.

    I think Schumacher is fake!

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