The European Grand Prix was certainly not a classic this year – the venue is unloved, unsupported and does not produce good racing. Therefore getting the strategy right was of utmost importance today and it decided the outcome of the race.
European Grand Prix Recap
Hamilton and Kovalainen flew off the start line with the assistance of KERS and streaked off into the lead. But Barrichello kept up with the pair of McLarens and managed to get past Kovalainen after the first round of pit stops. Hamilton managed to build up a slight lead, but after a few laps the tyres started graining and all he could do was to try and hold off Barrichello who was running four laps more fuel. So Hamilton made his way into the pits for his scheduled stop – but the team thought he could run an extra lap on his tank of fuel and tried to cancel it.
Hamilton was already committed to bringing the car into the pits and so he had to make his stop. Unfortunately in all the confusion the team did not have all the tyres ready and so Hamilton was delayed in the pits by around six seconds (according to David Croft of Radio 5 Live). This meant that Barrichello was almost certain to overtake Hamilton after his pit stop, and he did after setting some very quick lap times. Barrichello stopped early because Nakajima suffered a puncture and the team feared that a safety car would come out and spoil the strategy. However, this did not happen and from then on, Rubens controlled the final part of the race for a commanding and well-deserved victory.
But then questions started being asked. Did McLaren throw away the race by making an error in the pits or did Barrichello make his strategy work for him and overtake him anyway? Was Martin Whitmarsh right in saying they did not have the pace to keep up with Barrichello or did he get a lucky break for a change? And how close would Hamilton have been to Barrichello had his team not made an error in the pit stop?
This seemed like the perfect chance for me to analyse the data and see if any of these questions could be answered. Whilst I am a big fan of both drivers, I have been critical of Barrichello in the past, especially when he has not been able to make his strategy work for him like in my analysis of the Turkish Grand Prix… So special attention was paid to this fact to see if Rubens had finally driven the race he should have and if it helped him win today.
Let us first look at the Driver Consistency for Barrichello and Hamilton. For reference I have also included their team mates (Button and Kovalainen) for reference. First, let us look at the average lap times for the whole race:
Not surprisingly, Barrichello is slightly faster and more consistent than Hamilton. It is very normal to see the average lap times increase in the same order as the drivers finished the race.
So it is also useful to take a look at the racing laps only. Here is a graph of the average lap times without pit stops:
Now things get interesting. Hamilton is slightly faster on average when you remove his pit stops – including the one where all the time was lost! However, this does not mean we can conclude that Hamilton would have beaten Barrichello, especially because we know that in the final part of the race Barrichello was not pushing 100% as he had a commanding lead of the race.
Therefore, we need to delve deeper into the race statistics to see where the race was won and lost. A good place to start would be a chart containing all the lap times, so we can directly compare which driver was faster, and when.
The first graph plots all the laps in comparison and the second removes the pit stops so we can look closer at the differences:
We can see here that for the first stint Hamilton was faster, partly because he ran four laps shorter than Barrichello (he pits on lap 16). As Barrichello pitted slightly later (lap 20), he managed to spend about a second less in the pits which is why he was able to move ahead of Kovalainen into second place.
Hamilton is unable to keep the same pace as the track is getting warmer and the rubber being laid down increases the grip level of the track, causing his tyres to overheat and start to grain. The team advise him to conserve his tyres and you can see his lap times start to level off – however they are still very consistent.
Barrichello on the other hand has a great second stint, always matching or beating Hamilton and ultimately lapping nearly a second faster in the last four laps than his first stint and Hamilton’s race pace so far…
One final comment is that in the Turkish Grand Prix, this was the point where Barrichello slowed down and started driving inconsistently. However, you can clearly see this is not the case today!
Final Pit stop and run to the Chequered Flag
It is plain to see on the first graph that Hamilton’s delayed stop (on lap 37) was a disastrous six seconds longer than Barrichello (who pitted on lap 40)! After both drivers have finished their pit stops, Barrichello easily beats Hamilton’s lap times until both realise nothing can be done unless one of the drivers makes a mistake, so they bring the cars home.
Pit Stop Times
We need to know how long each driver spent in the pits, so here are the pit stop times for each driver. The times are from pit entry to pit exit:
We can see here that the Brawn team were clearly better at the pit stops than McLaren today – not only did McLaren make a mistake costing Hamilton 6.5 seconds but they also beat McLaren in the first stop by just over 1 second.
This is very important when also taken into consideration with the lap times around the pit stops. You may recall from earlier that just before the first stop, Barrichello matched Hamilton’s times and easily beat them by half a second for three to four laps before the second pit stops…
Gap Between Drivers
So now we are starting to get an idea of what happened during the race, but it is still inconclusive whether Barrichello did enough to win the race on his own pace or whether McLaren’s pit lane mistake cost them the race. However, I have one more set of graphs which I think will provide this proof – the gap in seconds between each driver.
Here are two graphs from each driver’s perspective – they are identical but I decided to post them both in the interest of fairness:
What they show is that Hamilton made full advantage of his lighter fuel load in his first stint, making a lead of around nine seconds. As Barrichello ran a few laps longer before his first pit stop, he manages to take four seconds out of Hamilton’s lead, plus an extra second from the better pit stop, bringing the gap down to four seconds behind Hamilton.
In the second stint, Hamilton starts to have his tyre problems and Barrichello really gets into the groove – the gap starts to plateau off and it stays at around four seconds. Now, we know that Hamilton’s second pit stop on lap 37took just over 25 seconds and Barrichello’s took 19 seconds – so this means that if Hamilton had a four second lead then all things being equal, he would have ended up about two seconds behind Barrichello.
However, if we look at the gap after Barrichello’s final stop on lap 40, it is actually six seconds! So how can we explain the unaccounted time? In fact, we have already seen the answer – after Hamilton made his second stop, Barrichello ran a further four laps at a pace which was nearly a second a lap faster than him, further eroding Hamilton’s lead.
When taking all of the above into consideration, it is clear to see that after the first round of pit stops, Barrichello had the edge and the faster car, being able to easily match or beat Hamilton’s times. Even if McLaren had not made an error and Hamilton had made a pit stop of equal length to Barrichello, I believe that Barrichello would have done just enough to get ahead of Hamilton and would have been able to keep him behind in the ‘dirty air’.
On a circuit like Valencia where it is almost impossible to overtake, then he would have been able to just pull away a bit while Hamilton would have ruined his tyres trying to keep up (as we all know he is a racer and never gives up). James Allen agrees with me and thinks Barrichello would have done just enough to get ahead too, but one thing’s for sure – it would have been damn close and it’s a shame that a silly error robbed us all of an exciting finish to the Grand Prix.
What do you think? Did I get it wrong? Did I miss something? Does it matter in the end? As always, I’d love to hear what you think about it…