2013 German Grand Prix analysis: Where Sunday's race was won and lost
Did Kimi need to pit again? How much time did the Caterhams cost Button? Did Ferrari get Alonso's strategy wrong?
By James Galloway and William Esler
Last Updated: 09/07/13 1:21pm
Did Kimi Raikkonen really need to pit again?
Not for the first time over the last two seasons, Lotus were left pondering 'what might have been' after Raikkonen just came up just short of victory at the Nurburgring. Eric Boullier certainly felt that a win had slipped through their fingers and pointed to the laps Raikkonen spent trapped behind the two Mercedes' after the first pit stops as the moment things unravelled.
However did Lotus have a later - and perhaps more realistic - opportunity to overhaul Sebastian Vettel by gambling and changing strategy at the third and final stops? Having inherited the lead after Red Bull covered Romain Grosjean's stop on lap 41, Raikkonen held a 15-second advantage over Vettel on his rival's return to the track and was able to maintain that gap over the next four laps as the Red Bull came up behind first Lewis Hamilton and then Jenson Button. However, once finally in clean air again on lap 47, Vettel's fresher rubber told and over the next two laps he took seven tenths and then five tenths respectively out of Raikkonen's lead before the Finn finally headed to the pits for softs at the end of lap 49, locking him into that late charge back from third.
But what might have happened had the Finn just kept going? Well, certainly, with 12 laps to go Vettel would have had to start closing at a faster rate of knots than he had been up to that point - effectively a second a lap - to overhaul the Lotus. It's also probable that Vettel's pursuit would have naturally gained momentum anyway as Raikkonen would have needed to keep his medium tyres intact across a mammoth 36-lap stint. However, rather neatly for such a hypothesis, that was precisely the length stints completed by both Paul Di Resta and Sergio Perez at the end of the race, so it at least shows it could have been done.
That's not to say it would have worked - both Di Resta and Perez were lapping several seconds off Sebastian Vettel's pace in the closing laps and each lost positions to three-stopping cars - but the key caveats here are that Raikkonen arguably had the fastest car in the field and the E21 is famously tyre-friendly. Of course, it's impossible to know how such a gamble would have played out in reality but even Raikkonen himself was left "wondering if we should have done it" in his interviews after the race. He wasn't the only one.
How much time did Lewis Hamilton lose behind his team-mate?
While Lotus were naturally the more vocal post-race about the time they lost behind the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, Hamilton himself also had reason to feel more than a little aggrieved to have found himself trapped behind the sister Mercedes for so long given they were on opposing strategies.
Having pitted at the end of lap six, Hamilton was told by his race engineer to give it a "big push" on his out lap as they aimed to undercut the Red Bulls and also, seemingly, keep track position ahead of Raikkonen, who would stop himself two laps later. However, after catching Rosberg mid-way round lap eight, Hamilton would, somewhat inexplicably, spend the next six laps running within a second of his team-mate - and at times nearly on the sister W04's rear wing - without being released.
Hamilton was clearly annoyed, protesting over the radio that "Nico is not in the same race". Yet despite Rosberg getting told on lap 12 by his engineer "Nico you are on different strategy to Lewis, don't hold him up" it wasn't until the start of lap 14 that the German finally heeded this message. With Rosberg having consistently been lapping in the high-1:38s up until then, Hamilton had already completely lost touch with Vettel - his pre-stop deficit of 2.5s ballooning to 8.6s - and was also jumped by the flying Romain Grosjean.
However, while it undoubtedly marked Mercedes' second questionable handling of strategy of the weekend, Hamilton's lap times didn't actually improve once he was ahead of Rosberg. Between lap 15 and his early second stop, the Briton never dipped into the 1:37s and actually twice slipped into the low-1:39s, with the sluggish pace even allowing Raikkonen to overtake him on track. The fact that Hamilton ultimately finished nearly half a minute behind the man he had started alongside on the front row really told you all you needed to know about Mercedes' race - and pace.
Did Ferrari get Alonso's strategy wrong?
Ferrari's latest attempt to get round their long-standing single-lap pace woes at the Nurburgring saw them sacrifice any shot at qualifying on the front two rows on Saturday and set their Q3 laps on the slower medium tyres.
The plan was to gain track position over faster cars ahead by running a longer first stint, and then going on the attack on the soft tyres when the fuel levels decreased in the closing stages. However, amid the highest temperatures of the weekend, the first part of that plan failed to pay dividends as Alonso only managed to stretch his opening stint to 12 laps, some nine tours shorter than Jenson Button's on the same compound - albeit Alonso had put three laps on his medium set in Q3 - and, quite amazingly, one lap less than Romain Grosjean managed on the apparently brittle softs.
Although Alonso was able to duly attack when he himself eventually took to the softs after his lap-49 final pitstop, even setting the fastest lap of the whole race, he still missed out on the podium by a couple of seconds. Both driver and management were adamant after the race that the result wouldn't have been any different had they started a couple of places higher up on the grid as the F138 simply didn't have the performance to outrun the Red Bulls and Lotuses on outright pace in either qualifying or the race. The sobering reality for Ferrari's flagging title challenge is that it's hard to disagree with them.
How much time did Jenson Button lose lapping the Caterhams?
There is no doubt that Lewis Hamilton was lapping quicker than Jenson Button when he caught and passed him on the final lap, but was his former team-mate right to blame Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde for allowing the Mercedes driver to close on him?
When the pair crossed the line on lap 55 to start the final five laps, they were separated by 7.068 seconds. That gap was cut by 1.595 seconds the next time around as the McLaren man lapped Max Chilton's Marussia - Button dropped eight tenths of a second on his previous lap time.
Hamilton by contrast managed to set his fastest lap of the race when lapping the Marussia driver - his time on lap 57 was 1:34.156. Button by contrast had now caught the Caterhams and lapped the Nurburgring in 1:35.857.
Button's time was slower by a further 1.154 seconds on lap 58 as he fought his way past Pic and van der Garde, allowing Hamilton to cut the gap to 1.922 - the Mercedes driver 1.853 seconds faster.
Thus negating the time lost behind lapped cars, it would appear that Hamilton was consistently between seven and eight tenths of a second quicker than Button in the closing stages. That would not have been enough to close the seven second gap in the final five laps without the outside intervention of the Caterhams.