The 2013 Spanish Grand Prix was all about saving tyres. Pirelli have been asked to make tyres which degrade quickly to make races more entertaining. But in Spain, even Pirelli's motorsport director Paul Hembery admitted that tyre degradation was way too much as drivers had to make up to four stops to finish the race. One of the drivers who maximised on a four stop strategy was Fernando Alonso who took a comprehensive victory in front of his home crowd. While many others shifted to a four stop strategy, Kimi Raikkonen and Lotus decided to stay on a three stop strategy and ultimately finished second. So could Raikkonen have beaten Alonso to victory on a four stop strategy? We analyse that and more in our Spanish GP strategy analysis.
How Alonso and Ferrari tought others a strategic lesson
When all teams were trying to save tyres so that they can complete the race on a three stop strategy, Ferrari allowed drivers to push longer in the race as they completed the race on a four stop strategy. Before the race, computer models showed that a three stop strategy was 6 seconds faster than a four stop strategy, but in the race with degradation higher than expected, a four stop strategy turned out to be a faster way to complete thee 66 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya. Ferrari instead of spending much of the race saving tyres, decided to let their drivers push and do an extra stop. The plan worked well and Alonso took his 3rd win in front of his home crowd. Here's how he executed the strategy.
Fernando Alonso started the race from 5th place, a grid slot he is very familiar with after the 2012 season. While Alonso didn't make any places on the run down to turn 1, he did make two by the end of 1st lap. Into turn 2, Alonso squeezed past the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen and then almost instinctively made a move around the outside of turn 3 over Lewis Hamilton and made it stick to move into 3rd place.
He then undercut Vettel and Rosberg by pitting on lap 9. While Alonso was able to leapfrog the triple world champion by pitting earlier, he had to overtake the pole sitter on track and by overtaking the German he took the lead of the race and put the Spanish crowd on their feet.
He then made three more stops on lap 21, 26 and 49 respectively with no stint extending for more than 17 laps. And once some of his rivals switched to a four stop strategy, he didn't had to waste time overtaking drivers who would have otherwise stretched their stints and came in his way.
Was there a chance of Kimi Raikkonen beating Alonso had he switched to a four stop strategy?
So the question is whether Kimi Raikkonen could have beaten Fernando Alonso for the top stop on the podium had he completed the race on a four stop strategy. Well, first of all Lotus have been very easy on their tyres since last year and have always tried to maximise this advantage as they did in Australia this year, with Kimi Raikkonen winning the race from 7th on the grid. Further, computer simulations showed that a three stop strategy was 6 seconds faster than a four stop strategy. With these circumstances, Lotus saw no point in starting the race with a four stop strategy in mind or switching to that midway during the race.
However, as explained above, four stops turned out to be the better of the two strategies in Spain and Lotus didn't complete the race on that strategy. But even if Lotus had switched to a four stop strategy, Raikkonen wouldn't have been able to beat Alonso. The reason is that the team didn't had enough set of fresh tyres for the race. To improve their qualifying performance, the team used way too many tyres during qualifying and were left with just two set of fresh medium tyres and just one set of hard tyres for the race. A driver requires a total of five sets of tyres to do a four stop strategy. Alonso in contrast had more sets of fresh rubber. So on account of lesser new tyres for Raikkonen and similar pace between the Ferrari and Lotus, Raikkonen would have still finished behind Alonso had he gone for a four stop strategy.