It was a weekend where strategy was key. As the weekend approached, Pirelli had suggested that a one-stop strategy were possible this weekend thanks to the nature of the circuit and tire compound adjustments. That left every team guessing. Should we one-stop? Two-stop? Three? Only one strategy would prove successful. Paired with speed, teamwork and driver skill, Lewis Hamilton came out on top with a three-stop strategy, finally ending Sebastian Vettel’s domination.
All three practice session timesheets began with Sebastian’s name, suggesting that he would be the favorite to take the win again this weekend. To cement our predictions, he put the car on pole where the McLaren duo closely followed (Button in second and Hamilton in third). Early the next morning, fuel from Hamilton’s car had leaked through to the air filter and around the car components. There were six minutes until the formation lap and Hamilton’s pit crew managed to reassemble the car just in time. Would it start? Would it stall? It bloody went on to win the race.
‘Jenson, let’s put some gap to the field before DRS kicks in,’ Button was instructed on team radio on lap 2.
Strategy talk kicked in immediately. Vettel suffered a poor start which let both Button and Hamilton through before Turn 1. DRS, the Drag Reduction System, aids drivers (who are within one second from the car in front of them) to overtake. A flap located on the rear wing of the car is raised in order to reduce drag and add several extra kilometers to its speed.
‘Okay, your pace is good. Just be patient. Stick with it. You’re doing a good job,’ Vettel’s team radio on lap 7.
Imagine being on pole, starting poorly and having no power to protect your position whatsoever. Luckily for Vettel, Redbull had KERS working from the start of the race (as opposed to having no KERS in Australia). Even while using KERS, to try and minimize the gap to the McLarens at the start, he couldn’t keep Button and Hamilton from overtaking. That is incredibly frustrating to endure and knowing Vettel, who is used to lead a race rather than follow, was feeling edgy. Good of them to remind him to be patient.
Webber had a mammoth of a job to do from starting 18th on the grid. He, unlike the drivers around him, started on the prime tires. Those would take him a great distance before his first pit, but at the advantage of speed. Several laps after the start he had only managed to gain a place. On lap 11 he pit for the softer prime tire and went for it. A three-stop strategy (the latest third pit stop of the front runners) meant he was quick enough and his tires were fresh enough to overtake Button for third place.
If Webber hadn’t been that fast, Button was on the hunt to overtake Vettel. The problem with Vettel’s two-stop strategy (other than the fact that two stops was not the way to go this weekend), was that his second stint was shorter than it should have been. If he were to have held it out a little longer before pitting for a second time, his tires after his pit stop would have been fresher and would have produced the pace to get him to the finish line in front of Hamilton. Because that didn’t happen, Hamilton’s tires were newer than Vettel’s. Vettel pit on lap 31 for the last time. Hamilton pit eight laps later. The winning difference.
The most memorable moment during the Grand Prix had to go to Button’s first pit stop. Both him and Vettel pit on lap 13. Just a little reminder: as Redbull’s are the defending world championship team, they are automatically granted the first pit in pitlane. McLaren took second and get the second pit……and so on. As the two drivers entered, both groups of mechanics stood prepped and ready. Button drove into the Redbull pit with Vettel close behind. Luckily for everyone, Button realized immediately and continued driving on through into his spot, costing no time at all to Vettel and his stop. I have to say, preparing to welcome your car into the pit and have a competitor’s car drive in instead must be incredibly disorienting. Fortunately for them, Redbull are not champions for nothing and let Vettel loose in front of Button.
Ferrari enjoyed a slight speed improvement. Massa outpaced Alonso all day, but on a two stop strategy were not able to fight for much.
Another key development: Kovalainen beat Maldonado and Perez to take 16th position and Trulli’s fastest lap was faster than Alonso’s and 0.7 down on Vettel. A good day for Lotus indeed.
Next up: Turkey – May 8th, 2011.