2013 Japanese GP tyre strategies and pit stops

2013 Japanese Grand Prix

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2013Red Bull’s decision to convert Mark Webber to a three-stop strategy prompted claims they’d done so to favour Sebastian Vettel.

But looking at the data it’s clear to see why Red Bull chose the strategies they did – and why Vettel was always likely to come out on top given how the race unfolded behind them.

Red Bull pitted Webber for the first time on lap 11, three laps before his team mate came in. As their leading driver at the time Webber would have expected to pit first as that gave him the advantage of the ‘undercut’ and potentially the opportunity to leapfrog leader Romain Grosjean.

Team principal Christian Horner said it was necessary to bring Webber in at this time because his tyres were beginning to fade. This is consistent with expectations: Vettel has usually been able to make his tyres last longer than Webber has this year. In dry races where both started on the same compound, Webber had to pit first eight times out of ten.

Webber’s lap times also indicate his tyres were starting to go off. They were beginning to rise relative to his team mate even as the gap between him and Grosjean increased. On lap 11, as he headed for the pits, he lost six tenths of a second to Grosjean in the first two sectors.

Webber left the pits on a set of hard tyres with 42 laps remaining. He would have needed to do two stints averaging 21 laps each to make it to the end of the race. Vettel was able to manage a 23-lap stint on hards which indicates Webber could have handled this, even taking into account how he was punishing his tyres more severely than Vettel. Whether he could have done so and been quick enough to pressurise Grosjean is a matter of conjecture.

But Red Bull had an opportunity which, in the normal course of things, wouldn’t have been available to them. They could bring Webber in for an early second stop and commit to a three-stopper.

This was possible because a large gap had opened up behind their drivers. Mercedes had dropped of contention with Lewis Hamilton taking damage on the first lap – ironically due to contact with Vettel – and Nico Rosberg earning a drive-through penalty for being released from his pit box too soon.

On top of that Felipe Massa had held up his team mate (despite being ordered to wave him past) and Alonso had been further delayed by Daniel Ricciardo, who started on mediums and ran long, and Nico Hulkenberg, who jumped both Ferraris with an early pit stop.

The upshot of this was that Red Bull could bring in one of their drivers early and convert to a three-stopper without the slightest danger of them losing time in traffic during the next stint.

This had an obvious appeal on the Red Bull pit wall. When a team is attacking one rival car with both of theirs the best way of ensuring at least one of their drivers gets ahead is to put them on alternate strategies. This is what Lotus tried to do to Vettel in Germany, bringing Grosjean in before Vettel while leaving Raikkonen out.

The next decision Red Bull faced was which of their drivers to put on the three-stopper. Logically it would be the one who had pitted earliest the first time around and who was hardest on his tyres: Webber.

Mark Webber, Romain Grosjean, Suzuka, 2013With the prospect of passing Grosjean via the undercut diminishing Red Bull knew they would have to pass him on the track. Having fresher tyres would make that easier and arguably it should have helped Webber more than Vettel.

When Vettel caught Grosjean his tyres were eight laps newer and of the same compound; when Webber caught the Lotus his tyres were up to twelve laps newer (less any further distance he had covered on them in qualifying) and he was on the faster medium compound. Yet Vettel passed Grosjean after a single lap while Webber took six to force his way by.

Before catching Grosjean, Webber took almost two seconds out of Vettel’s lead in as many laps. If he’d cleared the Lotus as quickly as Vettel did it appears he would have been able to catch his team mate and potentially pass him, though Webber is sceptical about that.

Ultimately their strategies helped both drivers pass Grosjean. But what made the difference and allowed Vettel to come out on top was his raw pace.

Vettel qualified a tenth of a second slower than Webber despite losing KERS in Q3 which cost him four to five tenths of a second. That suggests he had around three tenths in hand over Webber, a supposition backed up by their lap times from Q2, when both drivers had working KERS.

If Webber had been three-tenths of a second quicker he would have had a chance to come out ahead of Vettel at the end of his third stint. He certainly wouldn’t have been stuck behind Grosjean.

Given Vettel’s performance advantage, whatever strategies Red Bull chose he was always going to make that count once he got into free air. What probably did for Webber’s chances of beating him was the confluence of events that allowed Red Bull to split their drivers’ strategies, which was their best chance of beating Lotus.

Japanese Grand Prix tyre strategies

The tyre strategies for each driver:

Stint 1 Stint 2 Stint 3 Stint 4
Sebastian Vettel Medium (14) Hard (23) Hard (16)
Mark Webber Medium (11) Hard (14) Hard (17) Medium (11)
Romain Grosjean Medium (12) Hard (17) Hard (24)
Fernando Alonso Medium (13) Hard (17) Hard (23)
Kimi Raikkonen Medium (11) Hard (20) Hard (22)
Nico Hulkenberg Medium (10) Hard (19) Hard (24)
Esteban Gutierrez Medium (9) Hard (21) Hard (23)
Nico Rosberg Medium (12) Hard (12) Medium (15) Hard (14)
Jenson Button Medium (8) Hard (15) Hard (17) Medium (13)
Felipe Massa Medium (11) Hard (17) Hard (25)
Paul di Resta Medium (10) Hard (16) Hard (27)
Jean-Eric Vergne Medium (7) Hard (14) Medium (17) Hard (14)
Daniel Ricciardo Hard (21) Hard (23) Medium (8)
Adrian Sutil Medium (8) Hard (19) Hard (25)
Sergio Perez Medium (12) Hard (18) Hard (12) Medium (10)
Pastor Maldonado Medium (9) Hard (19) Hard (24)
Valtteri Bottas Medium (8) Hard (19) Hard (25)
Charles Pic Hard (17) Medium (18) Hard (17)
Max Chilton Medium (11) Hard (18) Hard (23)
Lewis Hamilton Medium (1) Hard (6)
Giedo van der Garde Medium
Jules Bianchi Medium

Japanese Grand Prix pit stop times

How long each driver’s pit stops took:

Driver Team Pit stop time Gap On lap
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 22.551 39
2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 22.645 0.094 13
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 22.771 0.220 24
4 Mark Webber Red Bull 22.774 0.223 25
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 22.812 0.261 12
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 22.839 0.288 30
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 22.871 0.320 28
8 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 22.873 0.322 37
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 22.916 0.365 14
10 Felipe Massa Ferrari 22.946 0.395 11
11 Romain Grosjean Lotus 23.086 0.535 29
12 Mark Webber Red Bull 23.094 0.543 42
13 Jenson Button McLaren 23.105 0.554 40
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 23.184 0.633 30
15 Romain Grosjean Lotus 23.282 0.731 12
16 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 23.290 0.739 31
17 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 23.313 0.762 11
18 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 23.383 0.832 10
19 Valtteri Bottas Williams 23.421 0.870 8
20 Jenson Button McLaren 23.462 0.911 8
21 Paul di Resta Force India 23.476 0.925 10
22 Valtteri Bottas Williams 23.483 0.932 27
23 Adrian Sutil Force India 23.484 0.933 27
24 Pastor Maldonado Williams 23.524 0.973 9
25 Mark Webber Red Bull 23.617 1.066 11
26 Max Chilton Marussia 23.648 1.097 11
27 Adrian Sutil Force India 23.803 1.252 8
28 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 23.831 1.280 29
29 Paul di Resta Force India 23.858 1.307 26
30 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 23.887 1.336 9
31 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 24.087 1.536 21
32 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 24.178 1.627 44
33 Pastor Maldonado Williams 24.202 1.651 28
34 Max Chilton Marussia 24.373 1.822 29
35 Charles Pic Caterham 24.380 1.829 17
36 Charles Pic Caterham 24.381 1.830 35
37 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 24.608 2.057 21
38 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 24.876 2.325 38
39 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 25.297 2.746 1
40 Sergio Perez McLaren 25.585 3.034 42
41 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 25.816 3.265 7
42 Jenson Button McLaren 26.263 3.712 23
43 Sergio Perez McLaren 26.423 3.872 12
44 Sergio Perez McLaren 27.707 5.156 30

2013 Japanese Grand Prix

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Images ?? Pirelli/LAT, Red Bull/Getty

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54 comments on 2013 Japanese GP tyre strategies and pit stops

  1. andae23 (@andae23) said on 14th October 2013, 12:25

    Massive thanks for this analysis, Keith.

  2. Loup Garou (@loup-garou) said on 14th October 2013, 16:54

    There is a simpler way to look at this.
    Just imagine that Red Bull had allowed Webber on a 2-stop strategy and Vettel made to stop 3-times.
    The way the race went, Webber would have reached Grosjean while using wearing hard tyres rather than the grippy mediums as he actually did. But if he was struggling to pass RG on such good tyres, logic would say that he would have had an even harder time with wearing harder tyres.

    Vettel on the other hand, caught and overtook Grosjean at the first attempt while he, Vettel, had fresh hard tyres. It is safe to assume that if Vettel had mediums on, he would have passed just as easily and then caught Webber further ahead. If Webber was 2-stopping, he would have had wearing hard tyres, not much defence against Vettel’s fresher mediums.

    The inference therefore, is that Webber would not have made it to P1 either way because he failed to catch and pass Grosjean as quickly as Vettel would have done and actually did.

    • uan (@uan) said on 15th October 2013, 6:04

      then because you can’t prove (or disprove) a negative, folks would have said, RB kept Webber on a two-stopper to allow Vettel to jump him with fresher tires. If RB keeps Webber and Vettel both on 2-stops, Grojean wins with Webber holding up Vettel and folks then saying “well if Vettel were as good as people say he is, he should have passed Webber”. Etc.

      RB is on the cusp of being 4x WCC. They know how to call races and have the car that allows them to call races. They made the right call.

  3. You must understand one thing : Vettel was not pushing at the end of the race. Only 10 sec ahead of Grosjean after the finish line when Webber had 17 sec just before his last pit stop ! So Webber couln’t catch Vettel, or else you must own that Vettel couldn’t catch Webber as Webber was 17 sec ahead of Grosjean ! So in fact Webber could win the race if he don’t stopped and he culdn’t win else. An other thong : on this track you lost 20 sec for a pit stop it’s a very big handicap.

  4. Another thing : I think during the race Webber was faster than Wettel. You should look at the data. Never mind the qualifications. In the race he was faster.

  5. Loup Garou (@loup-garou) said on 16th October 2013, 21:58

    Mark is not really competition for Sebastian, and never has been. He sulks too much, too many excuses and perhaps too little focus.

    Lack of focus has been Webber’s biggest problem most of his career. He is a very talented driver and when fired-up can produce exceptional performances – Silverstone 2010 is the best example. However, such motivation is few and far between with him and if he feels that things are not going for him, he stops fighting and starts to drift. The best example for the latter is also from 2010 – that crucial last race at Abu Dhabi. After his pit-stop on Lap 11, Webber drove brilliantly for 4 laps, hoping to leapfrog ahead of Alonso when the latter came in for his own stop. But it did not work and Webber ended-up behind Alonso again. That seemed to deflate Webber and from lap 16 to 55 he did not make a single move to attack and try to pass Alonso, not even when the latter ran wide while trying to pass Petrov.

    But getting back to last Sunday, if Red Bull had kept Webber to a 2-stop, the podium would have been Vettel-Grosjean-Webber without a doubt. Then of course, all these conspiracy theorists would have been jumping up & down suggesting that Red Bull deliberately forced Webber to a 2-stop strategy knowing that he was harder on the tyres than Vettel. And being Webber, he would have continued played the ‘poor victim’ with those ambiguous comments of his which could be taken either way.
    As it was, the 3-stopper gave Webber a chance to fight for the lead but he blew it when he failed to pass Grosjean on his older tyres for so many laps. That is the simple truth.

  6. Loup Garou (@loup-garou) said on 16th October 2013, 22:47

    Another thing : I think during the race Webber was faster than Wettel. You should look at the data. Never mind the qualifications. In the race he was faster.

    No, he wasn’t – at least not when it mattered. Webber had the fastest lap alright and probably the next few fastest to follow but that is hardly surprising when he was the only one of the top three drivers to have option tyres with a lighter car. But unlike qualifying, being the fastest driver over a few laps is not the ticket for victory but being faster than the other guy and passing him when it matters. That is where Vettel succeeded and Webber failed on Sunday and if anything he was lucky to get P2 from Grosjean who deserved it better.

    • Please explain to me how “if Red Bull had kept Webber to a 2-stops, the podium would have been Vettel-Grosjean-Webber ”

      I have some difficulties to explain myself in English, but it’s not hard to see than Webber was faster than Grosjean from lap 29 to lap 42 and that the gap between them passed from 4 sec to 17 sec during theses laps. I am repeating and repeating myself, but not only was it impossible for Grosjean to catch Webber but I think if he don’t stop at lap 42 Webber would have finished the race 25 sec ahead of Grosjean… and some seconds ahead of Vettel. At any rate who CANNOT deny that Webber was BOUND to finished the race LARGELY ahead of Grosjean ? Don’t forget that Vettel finished the race 10 sec ahead of Grosjean and that Webber at lap 42 was already 17 sec ahead of Grosjean. So Vettel wasn’t pushing at all at the end or he could never have catched Webber (if you think of it) and an other thing Webber could not catch Vettel because even if he had passed Grosjean at once Vettel would have been pushing and pushing ahead and the result would have been the same at the end with Webber 2 sec instead of 7 behind Vettel.
      Lastly the difference between medium and hard compound was small as explained by pirelli motorsport (look on the pirelli site they predicted also BEFORE THE RACE that the best strategy will be 2 stops with the second stop at lap 37 !!….and Vettel has do 2 stops with the second at lap 37 and Webber 3 stops ! They said also that a worn tyre will CONTINUE TO PERFORM WELL nowinstanding the degradation. Think of it.) and Rosberg with hard tyres made the same lap time than Webber at the end. And last of last the lose of time on suzuka track for a pitstop is 20 sec. If it was only 15 sec as on other tracks Webber would have issue from pits directly behind Vettel and ahead of Grosjean. This strategy could not work on such a track. Obvious.

      • Dave (@raceprouk) said on 17th October 2013, 16:06

        it’s not hard to see than Webber was faster than Grosjean from lap 29 to lap 42

        After which the tyres would drop off massively (Webber punishes them more than Vettel), costing Webber a few seconds a lap. 17 seconds is nothing when the guy behind is 3 seconds a lap faster with 15 laps to go.

        • Only 11 laps.
          I own I don’t know exactly about this point. But as Grosjean tyres were worn as well, I think it’s impossible.

  7. Loup Garou (@loup-garou) said on 17th October 2013, 16:56

    The reality is that Mark’s just not fast enough to beat Vettel, never really has been.

    Although I am no Webber fan, I don’t entirely agree with that. Occasionally, when fired-up for some reason, Webber can produce exceptional performances – Silverstone 2010 is a good example. But he lacks consistency and motivation and can get bogged down behing someone for ages. He can be good but lacks ate all-round skill and commitment that Vettel has.

  8. Loup Garou (@loup-garou) said on 18th October 2013, 7:19

    Mark couldn’t be close enough in the straight to pass Grosjean, I don’t know why. I remember than Vettel was very very close before the chicane and so can pass him on the straight. I cannot understand how he could be so close, he was much faster in the back straight, it’s odd, but Grosjean perhaps make some mistake somewhere and so Vettel could catch him so fast. I don ‘t know if you can watch again the race. I don’t. But if you can look again try to figure out why Vettel why so fast in the back straight. The reason why Vettel passed Grosjean is because he was instantly so close. I don’t know if it was because of his talent or something else.

    It is simply talent and despite what some people prefer to believe, there is no “something else”. Never has been.

    To answer your question, Vettel was so close to Grosjean before the pass because he planned that move in advance. He got very close a couple of turns before the straight and remained that way as both of them got on to the straight and into the DRS zone. That enabled Vettel to deploy his DRS and whip past Grosjean with still some of the straight left and then pull away before the next turn.

    Webber on the other hand, did not plan the pass as well and did not have his car in the optimal position as Grosjean and he entered the straight. He was not close enough and so when he made the pass attempt, they were too far down the straight already and approaching the next turn. This allowed Grosjean to ‘close the door’ on Webber repeatedly.

    • Funny :
      Horner also revealed Vettel used the DRS (drag reduction system) to perfection to pass Grosjean on lap 41, while Webber had made a mistake with the technology, costing him precious time at the end of the race, when he was on quicker tyres.
      “Seb has DRS when he passed Grosjean,” he said. “There was one lap where Mark got right into the slipstream but because he pushed the button too early the flap didn’t open so he didn’t get the benefit.”

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