#F1 Forensics: #JapaneseGP Race Notes

Brought to you in partnership with Dr James Beck of IntelligentF1

Now I’m not one for conspiracy theories, and although Sebastian Vettel is clearly favoured at Red Bull, I don’t think they have ever intentionally hindered Webber. However, the events at Suzuka at the weekend had me wondering if they had moved Mark out of the way deliberately.  As always, I will leave it to the data to tell the story.

So, first things first; to fit the curves using the intelligentF1 model. In this piece I’m only going to look at the first three – the rest will follow later. And what do we see? Well, the first thing of note is that the fastest car is clearly Vettel. He has about 0.3s on Webber on the hards and 0.7s on Grosjean.  It looks like that the Red Bull is better on its tyres that the Lotus; firstly, Grosjean doesn’t look like he could go faster on the tyre in the second stint, and then he takes it much easier at the start of the final stint – just maintaining enough gap to Vettel to ensure that he was ahead after Vettel’s stop. Indeed he drops 0.7s per lap on his second stint pace.

Let’s have a look at the fit for Grosjean. The race history chart below for the first three cars has the dashed line, which is the intelligentF1 model fit for Grosjean superimposed.


So what we see is that he looks like he tries to go a little faster in the middle of the second stint, but they decide that they can’t do this. I guess he had a few more laps possible, and I make a stop on lap 35 (five laps later) optimal, with a gain of about three seconds – plus not going as slowly in stint three. Could it have won him the race? No – but it might have beaten Webber. His start to the third stint is about 0.7s from his stint 2 underlying pace, but once Vettel is past, he goes back to his real pace – the fit and the trace are now parallel, which means that his pace is what it was in stint 2. This could be fuel saving, or tyre concerns. Either way, there was no way for him to beat Vettel.

Now let’s look at Webber. It’s the same chart, but with Webber’s fit.


In the first stint we can see that Webber’s pace was dropping off. The decision to bring him in early was most likely the correct one. Vettel’s stop was only three laps later, though. We can see from the pace fits that he was faster than Grosjean, but not by enough to go past. Which meant that to get a pace advantage to pass, he had a choice – either undercut, or go long. We can see from the chart that Webber’s pace was fine when he made his stop, so he could have gone longer, and indeed could most likely have two-stopped. But he had to make sure he jumped Grosjean. Had Webber gone longer, Lotus would still have had a chance of winning. If Grosjean stopped first, which he was bound to – chances to win don’t come along all the time, Webber would have had to pass on track. This would also have kept Vettel to Webber’s pace, and we would have had Grosjean-Webber-Vettel with less tyre age difference in the last laps. Which could have played for Lotus.

So going long was risky. Going short, however, meant a three stop and a more likely pass of Grosjean with a newer tyre pace advantage. I reckon that Webber had 1.7s pace advantage on Grosjean in the last stint – and it still took 6 laps to get by. Had he got by immediately, he could have caught Vettel, but he wouldn’t have won…

Finally, then, let’s look at Vettel’s race. Same chart again, but Vettel’s fit.


The first thing to note is that Vettel spends very little of the race at full pace. We can see evidence that he is fast from the odd fast laps he puts in during the first stint. Then we see his pace once Grosjean and Webber make their second stops. Indeed, mapping that back to the start using the model fit, we can see that Vettel has lost more than 10s following the cars in front – this is not the case for Webber. And there’s more – once Vettel has passed Grosjean, his pace is 0.6s off what he can do. So he would have plenty of pace and tyres left were Webber to have been a threat. A note on the pass of Grosjean, I figure that Vettel’s pace advantage was 1.5s, so not as large as Webber’s. Had he taken 6 laps to pass, he would have had Webber on his tail.

So what do I think? Red Bull had a big pace advantage, but there was a danger that Webber would not have got past Grosjean, and their faster car would have been stuck. So they did need to do something.

So what if Red Bull had called it the other way round, and stopped Vettel? Best guess is that Grosjean would have stopped a few laps later, holding Webber up until he did. Let’s assume that Webber stayed out until the time of Vettel’s real stop. Webber would have come out behind Grosjean with a 0.8s pace advantage, and have Vettel right behind with a 0.8s pace advantage on Webber. Unless Grosjean needed to fuel save, in which case Vettel might have jumped them both… Either way, it would have looked like a favoured strategy for Vettel – even though it wasn’t – partly because he was faster, and partly as Lotus were racing Webber, the immediate threat.

So was it a conspiracy? Vettel had the faster strategy, no question. But he was also unquestionably faster, made his first stop later, and overtook Grosjean more quickly with a smaller pace advantage. By splitting the strategy, Red Bull all but guaranteed the race win. And it was a much clearer win if they three-stopped the slower car. Did they move Webber out of the way for Vettel? Hard to say – but it was the strategy to give them the best chance of winning a race that they should not have been in a position to lose.

If you want someone to blame, blame Grosjean. If he hadn’t done such a brilliant job, Red Bull would have been cruising to a 1-2, and the first corner would probably have decided it…

23 responses to “#F1 Forensics: #JapaneseGP Race Notes

  1. Brilliant article. People should look more at numbers like this instead of accusing red bull every time vettel wins…

  2. This analysis is awesome! Great piece of technical and strategy analysis!

    If I may suggest, I just want a better format/graphic design for TJ13. It’s one year from the beginning of this site and I feel that already needs a leap forward regarding design.


    • We’ll do what we can, but unlike F1Fanatic we don’t want to ask for between £1-£5 a month from our readers………..

      Glad you love the content though………

  3. This “dissection” of data (along with the daily news) are my favourite things to read on this blog. Great insight JB. Nothing like a simple graph to sort out the complexities and variables within a race.

  4. brilliant analysis! my 2 cents: for many reasons, F1 has MANY issues we are all aware of. I wish to comment on the sustainabilty and GROWTH of our beloved sport.
    having been hooked on F1 since 1962 after picking up my first Sports Car Grafic magazine in the States, I, as many here have seen all the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly over the decades.
    I have and do follow many forms of motorsport, have done some successful racing, SCCA corner work, Club VP, Event organizer, timing and scoring and all that over the years.
    like most esteemed, funny, and knowlegable members here, I usually have little problem following and understanding the stategic postures/risks/rewards as they unfold (within the oft sketchy constraints of the media broadcast 🙂 fortunately, even their failings are mostly FAR more in depth/accurate/timely than what the average ticket holder ever has available while crammed in an uncomfortable seat…
    my concern is not with “us” who have learned to embrace this aspect of racing, but with the “newbies” who understandibly and in all likelihood fail to grasp the incredible nuances of our sport.
    most can “understand” the complete visual SMACKDOWN by Seb in Korea. most can understand the brilliance of the Hulk over 3 WCD in Korea. I wonder how many newbies and potential newbies appreciate and embrace the “hidden” brilliance that RB and Seb accomplished to win and post a 1-2 victory at Suzuka?????
    I fear virtually no newbies get that AND they may be forever lost as future fans of F1 …
    I only have the question – not the difinitive answer, but I suspect today’s F1 racing is NOT long-term sustainable for the singular above reason…

      • I currently live in West Central Florida of the USA. turning 65 next month. my racing experience was decades ago centered in NE Ohio. saw and worked MANY SCCA, F1, Indy, Can Am, F-5000, Trans-Am, enduro and 12 & 24 hr Bike races at Nelson Ledges, Mid-Ohio, Indy, Watkins Glen, Mosport, and Mont Tremblant back in the day.
        also attended and raced short track oval racing at Sharon (dirt and asphalt), Barberton , and Cloverleaf Speedways in Ohio.
        while I did a few SCCA races im my Titan Mk 5 heavily modified FF to Formula Atlantic specs, most of my “racing” was in Solo II, hillclimbs, and Time Trials at most of the above tracks along with some ilicet laps in my Dad’s ’62 Olds Super 88 (do not knock it!) and my modified ’72 Mazda RX-2 (Mosport is the friggin’ bomb and scarier than friggin’ hell!!!)
        a very close friend was the crew chief for the Archer brothers in the VW Rabbit racing series in the States (check out their record!). was one of, or the first to use nitrogen for tires in the World…
        funny story from the early ’70’s: a good friend from Mansfield, Ohio bought a book on the science of exhaust header design, he built his own header for his 911 Porsche and lapped Mid-Ohio faster than he ever had. an old man walked up and sniffed the exhaust – then told my friend to “cut here – go faster”. later that day, my friend hears strange noises and finds the old man hack-sawing his “perfectly tuned” exhaust !! my friend went faster than ever b4 and won his race. guess who the “old man” was!!!
        I was a pretty decent driver in anything from on old FWD Rabbit or dirt track Pinto, my Smokie and the Bandit Trans-Am to the Titan, but my successes were mostly due to my engineering skills. for instance: an A-Mod SCCA Nationals Solo ll FTD winner who holds the Smokey Mtn Hillclimb record never once beat me in Solo ll competition…
        but I never had the money of GUTS to persue a real racing career… oops for me 🙁
        I watch SKY coverage of F1 on my computer thru feed2all.eu

    • TitanRacer-

      I think your concerns are valid ones.

      I only relatively recently started watching F1 with some friends who had been years-long fans. After years of scoffing at their fascination with “cars going ’round and ’round tracks, I finally opened up to the wonderful circus/soap opera that Bernie and The Boys put on for us.

      I am very lucky in that my F1 circle is made up of a couple of guys who have a great deal of knowledge about and respect for the history of F1. Interestingly, even as a relative newbie, I understand the significance of Hulk’s recent accomplishments and what Seb/Cristian/Adrian pulled off in Japan via excellent coaching from my homies and a serious commitment to research on my part.

      But, to your point, we, too, always have in the back of our minds, the long-term viability of this sport. While we’d like to think that most fans are as tuned into the politics, finance and psychological gamesmanship at play behind the minutiae of every tyre choice and the timing of every pit stop, I wonder if we lose sight of the forest for the trees.

      All those fans in Japan: are they there for the reasons we love F1 or are they there as an expression of a cultural fascination with the extreme and the technological? The “fans” in Monaco: are they there in appreciation of the importance of qualifying at that track or to see who has the bigger yacht?

      These issues are especially of interest to us fans in The States, I think. Frankly and honestly, you and I both know that there’s no way that the average American is going to gradually drift into an appreciation of the technology and gamesmanship at hand in this sport with it’s three-week breaks and it’s “stench” of European elitism without a F1 “Lance Armstrong” to draw them into the sport. On the other hand, without getting too political, there may be opportunity in The States to succeed as a sort of “Monaco” for the 1%’ers (Which would explain Bernie’s forays into Mexico City and the Middle East, I believe).

      We can only hope that, globally, there’s enough overlap in the ensuing decades between the disciples and the acolytes to sustain the sport, post-Bernie.

      Until then, we’re just glad to see that we have a global community with people like you and The Judge with whom we can commiserate about these amazing drivers and ridiculous people.

      Also, swearing on the internet about the same said characters is surprisingly cathartic. So, there’s that.

      • Those fans you mention aren’t the same as those who come to spa. I, myself am a belgian. And every year we see a great variety of fans come to, what many think is the greatest track. People who travel hundreds and thousands of kms. Just to see what all the fuzz is about.this are the fans you dont see on the telly in close up. But this are the fans that get up at 5.30 in the morning on sunday to be the first at the gates of the circuit. Just to have the best possible seat for a race that starts at 2 in the afternoon. And the same goes for the fans on most of the f1 circuits. Monaco has always been en will alway be for people who go out just to be seen. But not all of them are like this.

        • It is for me indeed the greatest F1 circuit – the setting, the history, the challenge of the track layout – and the fans….

          I was walking up hill along the Kemmel straight, and on the banking to the left where the trees are not set back very far, was a mini grandstand – made out of scaffolding.

          20 odd blokes were up there, chairs, TV beers….. They must have carried 2-3 scaffolding poles each and connectors and built their own vantage point.

          The nearest exit was some walk away too. The made much merriment over Mrs. J’s boobs as they are pretty large and it was a hot day 🙂

        • Interestingly enough, I was going to mention Spa as an example of a place that appears to us to have a feeling of “Old Europe” which, in the case of F1, probably just means post-WWII (I assume). Spa seems like a link to “Old F1” and “New F1”.

          Of course, now, when we watch on NBCS in 2014, instead of tradition and honor to F1 legends of the past and future, now we’ll just be thinking of ogling The Judge’s wife’s knockers.

          To tradition!

      • Was a shame Scott Speed didn’t make it – his name has an All American razzmatazz feel to it.

        Hey… I love the US of A.. and get there when I can

        My concern over a New York race though is whether the folks of the Big Apple people will be able to see beyond the – “Why is this happening? Who are these people coming and making that racket? Why is the government allowing this?

        Shrink bills rocket and no-one except the shrinks can afford to go watch the ‘bumper to bumper racing’ – except the shrinks are too busy making money…..

        But I would love the chance to come and have eggs NY style before some F1 😉

        • All the critics love you in new york according to prince. But is a skyline enough for a good race? In my opinion, no. But I’m a bit more traditional i geuss. I’m one who goes on about the fact that they have to bring real circuits back. I was very happy to see austria back on the calendar. And every year I hope for imola. Imola is in every way better than those arabic circuits. Or the chinees… but what i would want the most. More than anything. Is to see a f1 race on la sarthe. Le mans is one of the great olds. And to see a f1 car race that track must be mind blowing!

        • They did draw pretty good crowds to Watkins Glen back in the day, I think, so one would hope that they could draw a decent crowd by virtue of being that much closer to the city. Although, certainly, New Jersey is not quite as picturesque as the Finger Lakes. 😉

        • There is a funny story that floats around here in the California karting / racing scene about how Scott Speed won that Red Bull U.S. talent search…

    • I guess when you get old you get ignorant?? Or, I bet it is more likely you have always been closed minded? I wonder if you wife, or ex-wife would agree?

      I apologize for being rude, but don’t underestimate my generation and the power of the internet to bring us up to speed on any topic we choose to take an interest in.

      I am a “newbie” to F1; didn’t start watching until Austin and since then I am absolutely hooked—hence the reason I am here commenting. I can’t get enough of it.

      When RBR made the call to bring Webber in, it was clearly brilliant. I even said out loud to my girlfriend (who could not have cared less) “wow RedBull is unstoppable, there is no way Lotus can win now. RBR has Grosjean no matter what strategy they choose.”

  5. Love this analysis, gives a real insight into what must be happening in the back of the pits and in the strategy centres back at the factories during the race!

  6. Now, after reading Dr.Beck’s analysis, Judge, could you please admit that you was biased writing “http://thejudge13.com/2013/10/14/daily-f1-news-and-comment-monday-14th-october-2013/” about Vettel’s favouritism and don’t you owe some apology to Danilo?

    I really need to say that kind of bashing kept me away from this site for couple of days (and I see Danilo gone?)
    It is very easy to slip to “usual english media” route… very easy. And many hard-gained readers will leave no looking back…

    • Ha ha! Don’t worry Padre, even the Judge is held accountable by his jury 🙂 Danilo is still kicking and well… Keeping the Judge in check. You should not stay away, I think TJ will admit he is wrong when he is but Red Bull are not doing themselves any favours… and that is the problem.

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