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The Decisive Moments - Melbourne

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The Decisive Moments - Melbourne
Mar 31, 2010, 11:38 PM

Welcome to a new content strand on JA on F1, which will look at the decisive moments after each Grand Prix and the strategy behind them.

Welcome to a new content strand on JA on F1, which will look at the decisive moments after each Grand Prix and the strategy behind them. The content is being sponsored by FX Pro.

The Strategy Briefing is produced after consultation with a number of leading F1 engineers and analysis of the data. The idea is to help fans get more understanding of why the race unfolded as it did and to get closer to the sport.

As F1 strategy is now less pre-planned and is more reactive, thanks to the no refueling rule, it will analyse the key decisions and the reasons behind them.

Jenson Button won the Australian Grand Prix by taking a bold gamble on lap 6 to pit for slick tyres. Some people have described his win as "lucky" but luck didn't play much of a part in it.

The intermediate tyres used at the start were holding up reasonably well for most drivers at the time of the first pit stops. The safety car had been out for the first four laps, so there was only one flying lap before Button decided to pit for slicks. He has said that his intermediates were struggling.

There was some graining on the fronts which is inevitable in

the drier conditions, which would have been giving some drivers

understeer. The rears were wearing, again inevitable given the

conditions.

This would not have affected grip or traction much, most engineers agree that if the track is drying out then inters wearing down to slicks is fine. The problem comes when it then starts to drizzle again. There was an interesting spread of times from cars at this stage, with Felipe Massa in third place lapping two seconds slower than Adrian Sutil in 11th place!

Button's performance was more akin to Massa's than Sutil's at this stage and decided to pit.

Button's gamble was open to anyone to make and one would have expected a midfield runner to take it on the basis that he had nothing to lose. Button had set the fastest lap of the top seven cars on lap 5 but on lap 6 was passed by his team mate. He pitted on lap six and his stop was three seconds slower than the optimum. He also went off track briefly on his out lap.

This put one or two teams off the idea of copying him and so they waited a lap or two. But as soon as he started setting fastest sector times, it was clearly time to move. Massa, Kubica, Rosberg, Hamilton, Barrichello and Schumacher among others, went in. All fitted the softer tyre because it has better warm up in the damp conditions.

Red Bull who had the two leading cars, delayed their stops, playing it cautious. By missing the opportunity to pit Vettel, the lead car on lap 8, they forced Webber to come in too late on lap 10 and this lost him four places. Some engineers believe he would have lost less if he had queued behind Vettel in the pits on lap 9, rather than go around again.

The slick tyres went through various phases of graining on all cars, where they would drop off in performance by a second or two per lap and then come back again.

The teams were in unchartered territory here. The wet start had meant that they were no longer obliged to use both dry tyre compounds, so the choice from this point on was between doing a one stop and a no stop strategy. No-one had done 250 kilometres on a set of soft tyres in testing, so no-one knew what would happen.

It is now clear that tyre degradation is much smaller with this new generation of Bridgestone compounds, which have been made to cope with high loads imposed by the new rules banning refueling ban. Some engineers put the estimate at 20 times less tyre degradation compared to the option tyre last year in Melbourne.

Schumacher was the first fast car to pit for a second set of tyres on lap 29. Having damaged his car at the start he was, to some extent, used as a guinea pig for Mercedes to assess whether to stop Rosberg again for new tyres.

Barrichello, Webber Rosberg and Hamilton were the only leading cars to stop a second time. Although they were able to lap two seconds faster than before, they had lost track position. All they did then was create work to get back to the same position they were in before pitting. Rosberg from fourth to seventh, Hamilton dropped from third to fifth, but he had the advantage of the McLaren low drag rear wing for overtaking. Nevertheless he surrendered a podium to Robert Kubica with that move.

The lesson was that it was a mistake to take the second stop. They should have continued on the original tyres because they would have come back just as they did for everyone who stayed out. Button was lapping in the low 1m 31s at the time of the second stops. His next 14 laps were in the 1m 30s and then he dropped into the 1m 29s on lap 45, with 13 laps to go. Alonso said afterwards that the simulations clearly gave priority to staying out and keeping track position over the extra performance of the new tyres.

Barrichello opted for the harder prime tyres, which turned out to be an extra mistake as they didn't have the grip of the softs.

So although we had an unforgettable Grand Prix that overturned the negative impressions of the new rules given by the first race in Bahrain, the take-home lesson of Melbourne is actually rather worrying.

The 50 lap stint on soft tyres was a step into the dark at the time, but its success for the top four cars means that it is very unlikely that anyone will try a multi-stop race as clearly the cars staying out will be able to hold track position.

It is now far more likely we will have one stop races like Bahrain, the

stop lap just decided by the size of the gaps between cars behind.

The only possibility for interesting races is if we have rain or if the softer tyre is so marginal that the front runners (who have to start on their qualifying tyres) are unable to build enough of a gap on the cars starting in 11th place and below

We should enjoy the memories of Melbourne while we can.

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