Even with his gearbox issue, Vettel was never really challenged for his second place in the Brazillian Grand Prix. And Jenson Button was the only person to do two stints on the harder tyre. At first glance, you might imagine the McLaren driver might have been better off doing a three stop race, with three stints on the faster soft tyres. But there was a better option – and he must have been close to taking it.
The race history chart for the top four finishers in the race, with the intelligentF1 model fit for Button, is shown in the chart below.
One of the nice thing about Jenson Button is that he is very consistent – it is pretty easy to fit his trace using the intelligentF1 model. This means that we can be very confident in his underlying pace, and as he did two stints on each set of tyres, both the fuel model and the tyre model are clearly valid. This means that the extrapolation to other strategies is particularly solid in this case.
So what was the best choice for Jenson? Well, if he were brave enough to have gone onto the medium tyres at the first stint (and most likely allow his team mate to overtake him), he would (based on the tyre life of others) have been able to stop just once more. The chart below shows how his race would have panned out from there.
He may have dropped 10s to Alonso in the second stint, but Alonso would have got nowhere near gaining the time needed for his extra stop. And what’s more, Button would have been very close to Vettel at the German’s third stop. We know that Vettel’s gearbox was marginal, and that he did have some more pace. But would he have used it? Could he have maintained the place? Would Button have been able to cause him to push to breaking point? We could have had a very interesting final part of the race – and a battle in the closing laps of the season between its two stand out drivers.