McLaren’s championship challenge blunted at Suzuka (McLaren race review)

Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Suzuka, 2010

Both McLaren drivers finished behind the Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso Suzuka. That means both could be eliminated from championship contention at the next race.

More unreliability and a strategic gamble that failed to pay off blunted McLaren’s challenge in Japan.

Jenson Button Lewis Hamilton
Qualifying position 5 8
Qualifying time comparison (Q3) 1’31.378 (+0.209) 1’31.169
Race position 4 5
Average race lap 1’42.657 (-0.492) 1’43.149
Laps 53/53 53/53
Pit stops 1 1

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Jenson Button

Button gambled on starting the race on the hard tyre. But he wasn’t able to improve on his first lap in Q3 and regretted putting in fuel for more than one lap. He qualified sixth and was promoted to fifth by his team mate’s penalty.

Button needed his soft tyre-shod rivals to run into trouble with wear early in the race for his strategy to work. But it didn’t happen, and the early appearance of the safety car further frustrated his cause.

The team stuck to the strategy, keeping him out in the lead and causing Christian Horner to speculate that it was a deliberate ploy to hold up the Red Bulls. But Button pitted before he caused the Red Bulls any great inconvenience, and re-took fourth after Hamilton hit trouble.

Compare Jenson Button’s form against his team mate in 2010

Lewis Hamilton

Ran wide at Degner halfway through first practice and thumped into the wall, wrenching the left-front wheel off his McLaren. He missed the rest of the session and almost all of second practice.

Despite that he qualified third on the grid, but a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change left him eighth. He avoided a further penalty for holding up Nico H???lkenberg in Q3 after a protest by Williams.

He quickly moved up to fifth at the start but couldn’t do anything to displace Button. Switching to the hard tyres on lap 20 appeared to transform his car and he was catching Alonso for third when he lost third gear.

He spent the rest of the race using only fourth gear and higher, and fell back to fifth behind Button.

Compare Lewis Hamilton’s form against his team mate in 2010

2010 Japanese Grand Prix

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66 comments on McLaren’s championship challenge blunted at Suzuka (McLaren race review)

  1. Dan Newton said on 11th October 2010, 16:38

    Me thinks next years car will become the number one project for Mclaren after the next race. If things don’t go well that is..

  2. “That means both could be eliminated from championship contention at the next race.”

    Squeeky bum time has arrived

  3. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 11th October 2010, 16:49

    I don’t think they stand a chance now…

  4. DaveW said on 11th October 2010, 17:13

    Blunted? 4th and 5th at this point was really a disaster. What a tsumani of ill fortune has struck Lewis now. You have to hand it to Hamilton to come go from a 5 place grid penalty to finishing 5th with a dying gearbox. But they need sterling luck as well as great performances like that to have a chance now.

    Button’s whole idea for this race was horrendous. Were it not for the lucky retirements, he had a car that was good for 3rd on the grid and was on course to place no better than 6th; and in the process massively delaying Hamilton in the first stint. Then he has the nerve to whinge in the press about the team holding him out for 40 laps! They should have held him out much longer to jam up the RedBulls! Not impressed with Button this time at all.

    • I always like your comments. At first read I thought this was a bit harsh on Button… but you have a valid point. To make it worse the slim outside chance of the strategy working was dispelled by the safety car.

      • Paul F said on 11th October 2010, 18:55

        Totally agree. I don’t like criticising drivers too much, but it does seem to me as if Button is always happy to personally take the praise when a strategic risk he has taken has paid off, but when it doesn’t work he implies that the team have made an error…

        • Journeyer said on 11th October 2010, 19:15

          That reminds me of a certain retired British world champion… ;)

        • Carl Craven said on 13th October 2010, 15:50

          I don’t think I’ve seen him take the praise nor criticize. He just gets on with the job. If anything the team might credit a call to a driver or take the fall for a bad strategy. Now that, I have seen.

          I don’t think any drivers are adversley like that. In Singapore qualification, Ferrari called Alonso in because they needed to remap something, but he insisted on staying out to put in a good lap. He did. It paid off, it was his call, but he hardly bragged about it, especially with his EGO.

    • Hairs (@hairs) said on 11th October 2010, 19:52

      I think he was pretty down after the race, but I wouldn’t describe it as whinging – he said in the post race interview he wanted to see the data to try and work out how the various strategies would have played out.

      Having said that, I don’t think that strategy alone broke Jenson’s race – he got ahead of Alonso into the first corner but didn’t shut the door to keep him out. Had he done that, he’d got a chance to finish on the podium I think. Bad mistake, and another example of not being aggressive enough at the start, which has been his major downfall this year. But he was right, the Red Bulls were unbeatable on pace this weekend, they were toying with the rest of the field really.

      • Hairs said on 11th October 2010, 20:57

        Another interesting point is that Button’s strategy failed because of the tyres undermining the 2-tyre rule. Canada is the only race we’ve seen all year where there was any significant difference in the degradation rates between the soft and hard tyres. There’s certainly a “crossover” point that the Bridgestone engineers and the strategists can point to and say “change tyres now”, but when a driver can go 40+ laps on the “soft” tyre there’s no way to make a long tyre strategy work once you’re starting in the top 10.

        Kobayashi was on the same strategy as Button, but he had a car that was Q3-worthy passing Q2/Q1-paced cars, which is why he was able to make it work. Button was doing the same thing but trying to catch the polesitter in a slower car. Unless the Red Bulls were going to have to pit on lap 10 or 12 it was a shot in the dark.

        • Patrickl said on 12th October 2010, 9:54

          In Singapore the softer tyres went off really quickly for several teams too. Hamilton and Button’s tyres were gone around lap 10.

    • jimscreechy said on 12th October 2010, 10:13

      DaveW my goodness, you voice my sentiments exactly. When I saw the team keep Jenson out I thought “aha! Finally a smart move from Mclarent – backing up the pack for Lewis so he can have ago at Alonso and the Bulls; which lets face it was clearly the only sensible option given the pace differential between the two Mclarens. At that stage Lewis was blindingly quick and Jenson was ailing. They should simply have given Jenson the same message that Mecedes gave MSC, “no team orders, but if you send one up the inside, he won’t defend” – Fair and practical, particularly given the stage we are at in the chapionship, and the points standing. I suppose all for naught now. I havne’t given up on the WDC or WMC… yet!

  5. Ral (@ral) said on 11th October 2010, 17:22

    Switching to the soft tyres on lap 20 appeared to transform his car and he was catching Alonso for third when he lost third gear.

    I think you mean hard tyres? But yeah, that decission by Button did not really pay off. When he couldn’t improve on his second lap, did he have enough time left to come in, switch to softs and have another go? Because surely that’s when the team must have realised that it wasn’t going to work in the race either.

  6. Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 11th October 2010, 17:56

    As the championship goes, it’s slipping away.

    But as performance goes, I don’t see quite the negativity. Hamilton got 3rd on the grid and might just have come 2nd if it weren’t for having a faulty gearbox (which had nothing to do with his crash). He might have even finished 3rd without the second faulty gearbox.

    Korea will be similar to Suzuka with the helpful addition of three long straights to close the gap to Red Bull and the remaining two races will be much more of a mix – Interlagos’ blast up from Juncao should iron out the deficiency in getting traction out of the two slow infield corners and Abu Dhabi is a mix of everything. I’m not sure why we’re all under this impression that McLaren have he worst downforce as well as traction, but this weekend showed it’s not necessarily the case.

    McLaren will need some luck to halve the points deficit but they’re capable of taking the other half themselves.

    Final thought, that’s the second race in a row Button has gained a place off the start only to lose it into Turn 1.

    • How will Korea be similar to Suzuka? Suzuka has lots of long fast corners while Korea is mostly medium and low speed corners which the Red Bulls love. And I don’t think those straights will help us much either.

      The only hope Mclaren has now is for one of its drivers to win each of the last 3 races. But there’s not a hope in hell of that happening.

  7. mikeycool said on 11th October 2010, 18:59

    Tis a shame that both mclaren drivers chances are slim now, although it will still be fascinating to see the tension between the 2 red bull drivers as neither can sit back in order to win the championship. Who knows, another crack may be on the cards once more..

  8. Adrian said on 11th October 2010, 19:00

    So Button is now 31 points adrift with 75 still up for grabs…

    How does that compare to Kimi’s 17 points adrift with 30 still available in 2007?

    Althought unlikely it wouldn’t be as big a comeback…and Hamilton’s position is more favourable.

    Personally if I were McLaren I would bite the bullet and agree to back the driver with the highest points tally so far…as there’s no other way they’re going to win it now…

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 11th October 2010, 20:46

      They may have already done that. Button was definitely slowing up the pack in Suzuka, which was helping Hamilton catch Alonso. That may just be a coincidence, but it’s certainly possible as Christian Horner suggested that it was by design. If it hadn’t been for his gearbox failing I think we may well have seen Hamilton on the podium.

  9. Chris said on 11th October 2010, 19:04

    Before Q3 started I called Button going on hard tyres. It made the most sense on paper from what I had learned through the weekends coverage and what the other drivers were doing.
    However, yet again a good strategy call is nullified by these Bridgestone soft tyres that lasted much longer than they should have.
    That’s been the only real drag for me this season, I’m looking forward to new Pirelli tyres next year, hopefully for some clearer advantages/disadvantages. If it wasn’t for the mandatory change rule this year no one would run the prime much at all.

    • Todfod (@todfod) said on 11th October 2010, 19:25

      Agree. It would be great if there was no way the Softer tyres lasted more than 10-12 laps. It would a much more important dimension in race strategy. This year, with the ban of refuelling there has been almost no aspect of strategy in normal racing conditions.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 11th October 2010, 20:50

      Yeah, the steps between tire compounds need to be further apart. The super softs shoud be much softer and the hards should be harder.

    • I missed most of practice and qualifying due to some travel and the schedule changes… but I distinctly recall hearing (or maybe seeing in the timing comments on the F1 app) that the softs actually WERE wearing out rather rapidly.

      Was I imagining hearing this, or was there an actual reason to try this strategy?

      • Adrian said on 12th October 2010, 7:29

        I heard that too, which is why they went with this choice. But the combination of the track rubbering in faster than they expected and the number of laps behind the safety car meant that the softs hung on far longer than was required for this strategy to work.

  10. Calum said on 11th October 2010, 19:48

    Ive done the maths and it doesnt look good…even if Hamilton won 2 races and came second in 1 then he would still only be at 260 points and webber doesnt have to do much…Webber cant win a race if Hamilton wants the title.

    • Patrickl said on 12th October 2010, 9:57

      Of course when people refer to Kimi’s comeback in 2007 then that takes into account that the other drivers failed to finish in some races.

      Vettel has to finish in front of Webber as does Alonso. That could put pressure on them and make them take bigger risks than they normally would.

      • chemakal said on 13th October 2010, 11:58

        And the McLaren drivers, don’t they need to finish in front as well or can they manage without taking risks?
        The only thing certain is that Hammilton fails under pressure, so he has shown in the last races apart from Suzuka where MacLaren failed

  11. Hallard said on 11th October 2010, 20:34

    “He spent the rest of the race using only fourth gear and higher, and fell back to fifth behind Button.”

    This isnt actually true, as the onboard footage showed that Hamilton was in fact using second gear at the hairpin and then quickly ‘double-shifting’ to fourth as he pulled away. It sounded as though it was really bad for his engine (and what was left of his gearbox at the time as well), and I wont be surpised if he has to take another gearbox change penalty in Korea. I hate to say it, but I think Lewis’ championship challenge is effectively over now.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 11th October 2010, 20:51

      But a few laps after he lost 3rd, he reportedly lost 1st and 2nd as well. The last laps he only had the top 3 gears.

    • Adrian said on 12th October 2010, 7:31

      Martin Brundle on his BBC column seems to suggest that he won’t have to take a penalty if he fits a new gearbox at the next race…can anyone slear up what the situation is on this?

      • bosyber said on 12th October 2010, 10:58

        Actually, the GPupdate links-block on this site now shows that McLaren believe Hamilton won’t need a new gearbox, so I guess it deosn’t matter.

      • chemakal said on 13th October 2010, 12:01

        He will have to take a penalty for fiting a new box. He won´t if MacLaren manages to repair the one used in Suzuka

  12. Palle said on 11th October 2010, 20:51

    The real points table, assuming Ferrari had had a fair punishment for using team orders in Germany, looks like this:
    1. Vettel: 226 points
    2. Webber: 224
    3. Hamilton: 198
    4. Button: 194
    5. Alonso: 181
    6. Rosberg: 126
    7. Kubica: 118
    8. Massa: 110
    9. Schumacher: 58
    10. Sutil: 47
    11. Barrichello: 42
    12. Kobayashi: 29
    13. Petrov: 22
    and then no further changes compared to F(errari) I(nternational) A(ssistance) official table.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 11th October 2010, 20:53

      What was your “fair punishment?” Just a reversal of Massa and Alonso’s points?

      • Astonished said on 11th October 2010, 21:32

        It looks as if choosing now a preferred driver in Mc Laren (guess who..) will not anymore let down fans who want to see action on the track or put the sport into disrepute or bring any other disgrace.

        Curious, I would say :-)

        Playing with the ranking (and would be ranking) will not be of any help. Lewis and McLaren have just try to score as many points as possible (this might help fernando, though…) and hope for the best. I think that this is what they have to do

      • Palle said on 11th October 2010, 21:57

        Had I been steward of the day, I had voted for a grim dark shade of colour for both drivers involved, and based on this, the other drivers of that race ranking 3 to 12 would then also some more points to their tally.
        I can accept if the rule will be removed, but I watched F1 with a certain expectation to the rules and consequences for those stepping aside. Problem is probably that FIA already knew of several cases where they should have punished harshly for it in the past, and having failed to do so, they had to yield to the Ferrari pressure. But compared to seemingly much more fair racing between the team mates of the 3 or 4 closest competitors I still think Ferrari got of far far too cheap. Hence my keeping the “correct” point tally.

      • Younger Hamilton said on 11th October 2010, 22:58

        Disqualification for both Alonso and Massa

        • Astonished said on 11th October 2010, 23:14

          Wouldn’t it be sad to win that way? I don’t think Lewis will really like it.
          He will rather rather prefer to do it winning the three races and hoping for the other pieces to fall together.
          Upside, he will be getting full support from McLaren, Downside he might end up doing what Massa doesn’t want (or perhaps cannot) want to do taking VEtel(I mean vItal, sorry) points from Webber and help the hatred Alonso.
          That’s the trick of the classical Greek Tragedy… Disgrace gets to find you only because of all the effort you put in avoiding it.
          Have fun and enjoy the game (or the play)

        • Santi said on 12th October 2010, 0:07

          Sour grapes

          But seriously, if you were to hand a penalty to Ferrari. The one to punish is the team, so at most you could take points out of the constructors championship. Or ban Ferrari for the constructors. But don’t think any penalty for the drivers is fair at all. For instance, what is Massa to blame if he is asked by his team to let Alonso pass?

          • Patrickl said on 12th October 2010, 9:59

            The driver points is where the crime was designed to benefit.

          • chemakal said on 13th October 2010, 12:09

            If drivers and team had to be penalised then why is Alonso to blame? Team order coming from Ferrari, Massa slowing down… What should Alonso do, have a KitKat behind Massa?
            Besides, the media roar has become so big because the radio talks were made so blatant. So if anyone has to be penalised then Massa and his engineer for obvious manouvering and radio chating

  13. David BR said on 11th October 2010, 21:41

    Basically Hamilton needs to win all three races left with Webber in third, at most, and with Vettel and Alonso swapping second place say. If McLaren do some technical magic, just within the realms of possibility. Or a Webber DNF of course, which would throw everything open. But the latter seems unlikely unless rain turns Interlagos into a lottery (or Korea? any chance of rain there?)

  14. Stamos said on 11th October 2010, 22:32

    I agree with almost everyone that McLaren’s chances (essentially Lewis) are slim BUT never underestimate the nasty rivalry between Vettel and Webber. In other words, these two have made it difficult for each other in the past and I predict they will become more aggressive during the remaining races where finishing 1st, 2nd or 3rd will decide who will be the champ. Ferrari and McLaren have decided which of the two drivers to promore, but not RBR. I am sure McLaren is counting on this factor as well. Let’s all hope that Vettel does it again! At the end, he has a great reputation so far :)

  15. Bartholomew said on 11th October 2010, 23:19

    The problems this year for McLaren started when they switched from silver to black wheels. Black wheels look old and passée.
    If they had stuck to the original silver-chrome ones at the January presentation, they would be far better off now.
    It is well known that a beautiful livery in a race car makes a driver go faster

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