Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Story from the Data

Posted on November 15, 2011

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Let’s start at the beginning. I can’t tell you if Vettel would have won. On underlying pace, the Red Bull is very close to the McLaren, but we don’t know how quick it would have been on the medium tyres as Webber only did one lap on the harder compound. Lewis had the rest handled, though.

The race history chart for the first six is shown below. The intelligentF1 fits of the underlying pace for Webber and Massa are added on, with a twist (they are the dashed lines). What I’ve done is matched the pace of the cars, guessed that the Red Bull would not be worse on the hard tyres than the Ferrari, and projected what would have happened if Webber had gone for a two stop.

What we see is that Massa’s best chance to stay ahead was to cover immediately (as shown in the fit), but that he would most probably have been undercut by Webber. When he did stop Massa’s outlap was 2 seconds slower than Webber’s – it’s hard to see how the three stop made any difference to the result. In fact, had Jenson not let Mark past, the three stop could have ended up worse. Curiously, the intelligentF1 model shows that the two stop option was almost the same pace as the three stop, even stopping as early as he did. Nothing lost, but nothing really gained either.

Back at the head of the race, Hamilton was in control, but he can’t have had too much extra pace, as he is able to extend the gap easily in the final stint – if he could have done that earlier, you would have thought that extra margin would have been nice to have. The McLaren looked quicker on the harder tyres all weekend, and so it proved – Jenson’s pace on the medium tyres is also good, and suggests that Lewis had a few tenths in hand in the last stint given the reported KERS issues on Button’s McLaren.

Rosberg left Schumacher for dust in this one, but didn’t quite have enough to beat Massa’s Ferrari. The work Mercedes have done on preserving the tyres is again evident in this race – look how Rosberg gets much faster in his second stint, and how long the tyres last. He was careful with them at the start of the stint, but it really paid off.

Schumacher, on the other hand was a little fortunate to be next up. The Force India of Sutil gave him a real run for his money, and was a match on underlying pace. The younger German had a few slow laps on wearing tyres before his second stop, which was enough to allow Schumacher past. However, if Sutil had shown the pace on the hards before Schuey’s second stop that he showed afterwards, he might still have made it out ahead. Must be kicking himself – that was a chance. The traces and the intelligentF1 fits for the battle are shown below – Sutil’s fit is matched a couple of laps before his stop and shows that without the pace drop off, he would have cleared the seven-time champion.

Now to the midfield battle, which saw some strange strategies. While the fastest race was unquestionably to make two stops, doing the first stint on the slower medium tyres could have left an advantageous position in the event of a mid-race safety car. Otherwise the one-stopper was a losing strategy. The intelligentF1 model prediction suggested that one-stopping was 15s slower than a two stop and Di Resta showed that it was actually a little worse than that because after his stop he dropped into traffic. This lost more time, and he ended the race 23s adrift of his team-mate. The midfield chart is shown below – I have added a trace which shows what Di Resta could have done on softs if he had gone for a two stop, having held up most of the opposition in the first stint. He would have been with Sutil at the end. Given that they knew the tyres pace difference having one car on each compound, it is a surprise that Force India didn’t switch to this.

As it happened, the Force India had enough pace to finish at the head of the midfield battle in any case. The one question was Buemi – he passed Di Resta in the first stint, and had good pace. It would have been marginal as to whether he would have beaten the one-stop of Di Resta, I have a few seconds in Di Resta’s favour, but it’s a pretty big extrapolation based on only a few clear air laps for Buemi. There have been claims that Alguersuari’s long pitstop cost a point. The intelligentF1 fits suggest that this is not true – he would have come out around Petrov, and was on a similar strategy. Barrichello was 12th, and he had the Toro Rosso beaten.

Williams had a terrible weekend up until Sunday. Then the race brought out a fantastic performance from Rubinho. Twelfth from last was good – but they had the pace to do better. If Rubens had stopped after 10 laps (instead of lap18), and gone on to his (new) soft tyres, he would have been right behind Kobayashi, and travelling at similar pace. The Sauber’s final stop was not fast, and the Williams’ stop was great – and that would have been the last point. Williams have been looking better in the last couple of races – it would be nice to see them snatch a point before the season ends.

But the last point went to Sauber. They did go for a two stopper starting on hards for Kobayashi – and a standard strategy for Perez was compromised when he hit Sutil on lap one. He had the pace to beat Di Resta’s one stop had he not made the mistake. As it was, he ended up on a similar strategy to Di Resta, but a pitstop behind, and was faster than the Scot for pace until he ran out of tyres in the final laps. Kobayashi, then, took the opportunity of being one of the few midfield runners who actually did the fastest strategy to score a point. The Sauber had decent pace, Perez accounted for himself, hydraulics accounted for Buemi and Williams stopped too late. It’s easy when you get it right.

Renault must be willing the season to end. This was another awful race for the Enstone team. Petrov looked like he was in the mix for a point in the first stint, despite the team never having looked good in practice. From being as fast as Kobayashi, the Russian lost 4.5s in the two laps before his first stop, and never recovered. He went on to the mediums at the first stop (to one-stop?) and was very slow – he was back on the pace on softs in the last stint, but was too far behind. Senna? Tried to do what Perez did in India, but they didn’t make the softs last. And they were slow. The odd strategy choices looked like dice rolls from a team that knew they didn’t have the pace. Memories of Singapore.

For Lotus it was the same story as in India. Kovalainen was able to keep up with the midifield on new soft tyres in the first stint – indeed he was quicker than the medium-shod Williams, but once onto the used softs the pace was not as good, and he lost touch. The cost of less downforce is that it is harder to heat up the harder tyres, and the pace relative to the midfield was another step worse in the final stint. He ended up more than 80s from the points. The race at the back is shown below:

For Trulli, the middle stint was OK, but he struggled much more than his team-mate on the harder tyres at the end. Indeed, of the three teams at the back, only Kovalainen had any pace at the end, and his was not good in comparison to the midfield. The main battle was again Glock v. Ricciardo, and again it was settled in favour of the Virgin driver – although this may be partly due to the Australian being trapped behind his one-stopping team-mate for the first stint. Liuzzi did OK for the first stint, and then struggled on the harder tyre. He didn’t have the pace to beat Riccardo even if he two-stopped.

And so another race is in the books which leaves us with just the one to go for this year. Maybe this time we will get to see a no-holds-barred Vettel/Hamilton/Alonso battle. And maybe this time the strategies will be a little more conventional. Nah, it’ll probably rain…

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