Korea in Depth: Could Webber have beaten Hamilton without the undercut?

Posted on October 18, 2011


Over the past few days, I’ve seen a number of suggestions that Mark Webber could have beaten Lewis Hamilton by staying out when Lewis made his second stop. The straightforward view is that this is very unlikely as Hamilton’s new tyres should have given him enough to stay ahead, even if the intelligentF1 model shows that the McLarens were relatively slow on the harder tyre. So given that Red Bull knew they had missed the undercut from the McLaren radio message, what could they have done?

So let’s look at the race history chart for the key laps in question. The McLarens are the grey lines (solid is race data) and the Red Bull is in blue. The dashed lines are the intelligentF1 model fit for Hamilton and Webber.

The first thing to note is how much time they lost in their side-by-side battle on the out-lap. This dropped them much closer to Jenson Button than they would have been – this is significant for our analysis as the gap to Button determines how long Webber can stay out before making his stop. The later Webber stops, the larger his pace advantage will be as his tyres are younger, but he must make sure that he isn’t undercut by Button.

Let’s assume that Hamilton stopped as he did on lap 33 and Webber continued. Then Lewis would have been about on the intelligentF1 model fit as he wouldn’d have spent the lap fighting Webber. As it happens Webber’s pace was good enough that, if the tyres had lasted, he could have gone to lap 37 and still exited the pits well in front of Button. This scenario is shown in the chart below.

Then he would have had about an extra 0.4s pace advantage, giving him a whole 1s per lap advantage over the McLaren. And he would have caught up with about 10 laps to go. Could Lewis have defended against that? We’ll never know, but it would have given Mark a better chance.