Monaco GP: Tyre and Pit Stop Strategy
Mark Webber held on at the front of a gaggle of cars as one-stop strategies dominated proceedings with most setting out on Pirelli’s supersoft compound before switching to the soft. However, Sebastian Vettel, Paul di Resta and Jenson Button did things the opposite way around with mixed success – the first two climbing up the order while Button’s poor start left him staring at the back of a Caterham for most of the race. Jean-Eric Vergne was another to try something different by making his first stop ahead of the rest and exploiting the clean-air to leap up the order – right up to the point that Toro Rosso bravely rolled the dice on it being a wet finish… and lost.
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Sebastian Vettel’s tactical decision swung on a period between laps 25 and 50, enlarged below alongside the lap times of Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. The German’s lap times were still falling as the front runners were still bedding their soft compounds in, making large in-roads in to their times for the first four or five laps and not losing much after that. Quick laps as Vettel reached the end of his stint probably saved Alonso from being picked off but the McLaren driver wasn’t so lucky at the back of the train.
Alonso’ first stint also makes interesting viewing as in the early stages he appeared to be holding up Felipe Massa with Sebastian Vettel just behind him. Then on lap 17 he suddenly found an extra second a lap. This put him on Hamilton’s tail just before the stops, setting up the opportunity to pass his former team mate in the pits thanks in part to a pit stop that was just over half a second quicker than McLaren’s. The improvement was probably tactical as Ferrari took the lessons of Spain and opted to drop back and run in clean-air to preserve the tyres. However, it had the added effect of delaying Vettel and, given how close the race ran, probably made the difference between third and fourth for Ferrari.
Meanwhile, Jenson Button has less luck with his decision to start on the harder of the two compounds. That was down to being dealt a poor hand at the start which dropped him behind Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham. What would have been more frustrating was coming out behind the same car after their differing strategies played out. Kovalainen’s tyres faded badly at the end of his stint but Caterham still frustrated Button for two whole laps as their respective lap times soared. Despite following that up with two very quick laps, Button probably stayed out too long himself as McLaren focussed on sticking to his strategy – Kovalainen’s tyres came to him just in time to blitz two laps in before Button entered the pits and ensure the Finn kept his track position.
Finally, a look at Michael Schumacher and the damage that Kimi Raikkonen was causing. Lotus kept out the Finn far longer than ideal and his lap times and those of Schumacher on his tail climbed ever higher. Once Lotus finally did make the decision to stop, the Mercedes driver was able to go an incredible five seconds a lap quicker on the same tyres – underlining how difficult it is to overtake in Monaco. Lotus’ decision to keep Raikkonen out as long as they did did them no favours and the strategic thinking of the team now seems a long way from when the outfit was known as Renault. However, the decision was to also have an impact on Vettel. With Schumacher and others held at bay by Raikkonen, the front runners were able to pit and come out in clean-air. If they had hit traffic for a few laps, it could have allowed the defending champion to finish even further up the order.