The ‘thou shalt not pass’ nature of the Monaco Grand Prix circuit allows the cars to run at nowhere near their real pace and still come under no danger of attack from similarly paced cars. Therefore, the true pace of the top six cars were totally masked by Webber’s controlled pace. I am certain that the pace he ran the race was not the true pace of his car – indeed there were only glimpses of pace from the front six. One small burst from Alonso before the first stops, and Vettel’s run in the lead are the only clues to ultimate pace – Alonso on supersofts was about 0.4s per lap faster than Vettel on softs. But that’s about all we can say.
So for this race, the underlying pace is pretty much impossible to get out – due mainly to the amount of time cars spend in traffic, and partly due to the smaller number of pitstops. Therefore, I’m going to concentrate on the race data, and tell the story from there. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the story surrounds the pitstops.
The race history chart for the first six is shown below. It was close, but that is really down to the way that Webber expertly controlled the race, rather than because of any closeness of pace of the cars. In a lot of ways, this race was back to the days of no overtaking and wait for the stops. Which made it the least exciting race of 2012 in my book even though the top six were nose-to-tail.
The most striking thing of note is that the tyres take a very long time to generate grip. The pace at the start, and after the stops takes a very long time to reach a consistent level. It is beyond lap 10 before the pace evens out – after the stops with the track rubbered in it still takes 5-6 laps for the pace to come to the tyres. However, Hamilton’s pace after the pitstop was slightly quicker than his pace immediately before, so Alonso got past due to a one second faster in lap and a two second faster pitstop – this gave him a three second gain, which was easily enough. Yes, the tyres did not warm up quickly, but this is not the real reason Hamilton lost out.
Also worth noting is that Webber is controlling the pace – his pace drops once Vettel is safely behind him, and is controlled to the end of the race.
Quite a lot has been made of the possibility to have gone longer at the first stops as the tyre warm up was poor, especially for Alonso. What we can do is to assume that Alonso would carry on at his pre-stop laptimes (maybe limited by Hamilton – but we can’t assume so), and see where he would have come out. I make it that he would have needed an extra three laps to jump Rosberg, and probably an extra five to have got Webber (see chart below – the line dips below Webber’s as the model has the pitstop time loss in one lap where in reality it is split over the in-lap and the out-lap).
On the other hand, if Alonso had an extra half second in his pocket (which is quite possible), then two extra laps would have been enough. It may well have been on. The other thing we can look at is how the relative position of Vettel to the cars behind changed between their pitstops and his. We can do this by shifting Vettel’s curve down by the 21s loss time from a pitstop to obtain his relative ‘post pit stop’ position. This is shown in the chart below.
Vettel caught up significantly in the first five laps after the stops, but then was essentially racing Hamilton. It was very close, but a final quick couple of laps gave Vettel enough to come out ahead. Just.
This race was actually a set of mini-races, each a queue of cars behind a leader who could not keep up with the pace in front. We had the ‘Webber race’ for the top six, the ‘Raikkonen race’ for the points, and the ‘Kovalainen race’. Only Vergne successfully jumped up from one race to another by virtue of his early stop – only Ricciardo went the other way as he stayed out too long. The ‘Raikkonen race’ history chart is shown below.
Raikkonen more or less keeps up with the race ahead until the tyres begin to switch on properly (about lap 17). Instead of gaining pace here, he starts to lose pace and falls a pitstop behind within ten laps. Schumacher showed that it was still possible for these cars (just about) to affect the race for the lead as Massa came out behind him. Had Raikkonen not been there, Schumacher would have had the pace to stay with the race at the front, and the Force Indias would have been about 0.5s off the pace which would still leave them far enough ahead of Webber after his stop that they probably would not have come into play – especially as the leaders were slow directly after their stops. It is impossible to ascertain Senna’s pace, but I think it likely he would have kept up with the Force India cars. Therefore, I’m not sure that these cars would have interfered much with the race at the front.
Hulkenburg and Senna were unlucky to come in on the same lap as Raikkonen, as this meant they stayed behind. Perez assisted Hulkenburg past, but Senna was stuck. This looks to me like an obvious place for use of the ‘pit if he doesn’t’ tactic – both Hulkenburg and Senna would have benefitted had they stayed out for some more laps (as Di Resta did). Maybe they weren’t so unlucky – they could have modified what they did, especially Senna who had more than 1.5s to react. Di Resta made the most of this to jump them all.
Schumacher? Well, his pace was about the same as the top six. Could he have won if he started on pole? Sure. What is more amazing, though, is the pace of Vergne. Once Schumacher had emerged in front of him, he proceeded to lose merely 7s over the next 20 laps. And on old tyres. However, his pace drop when the track got slightly wet at the end was massive in comparison to the other cars – suddenly he was five seconds per lap off the pace. They would have been past, even at Monaco. I think he had to risk the stop and hope the rain continued. It didn’t, and another impressive drive went unrewarded.
Race three involved Kovalainen, Button, Ricciardo and Perez. I have included Senna’s trace on the chart below to show that this race was not a long way from the back of the points, although the gap did grow in the second stint. Caterham did well here.
Kovalainen was in touch with the race for the points up to the first stops, but the Caterham’s pace was not as good on the harder (soft!) tyre, and he dropped away from Senna at the rate of about 0.3s per lap. Which puts Caterham close to the points battle.
Button stayed out longer than the Caterham, but got stuck behind Ricciardo who didn’t quite have the pace to allow him to jump Kovalainen. The McLaren was clearly fast enough, but circumstances didn’t work out for Jenson. He was stuck in the wrong race. Ricciardo, for his part stayed out a couple of laps too long, and with a slowish stop dropped from the ‘Raikkonen race’ to the ‘Kovalainen race’.
Perez, fighting from the back, caught Button in the first stint, but he had used his tyres up, and fell back before his stop – and got a penalty for messing up Raikkonen as he went in. Thereafter he showed his pace, but couldn’t get past the cars in front until they all started bumping into each other and he ended up 11th as the others got punctures and wing damage. Interestingly, had Perez stopped when he had caught Button, he had the pace to jump the ‘Raikkonen race’ and pull away sufficiently to be in with a chance of staying ahead after a second stop. Judging by his pace, my modelling suggests that a two-stopper could have netted Perez some points – maybe even seventh as the race panned out.
So an interesting race, and one where getting the strategy right made a big difference. I think that many teams will be feeling that they missed a chance to do a little better. Pace certainly counted for less at this race in comparison with the others this year.