The 2014 Japanese Grand Prix took place in difficult conditions as the leading edge of the Typhoon Phanfone storm system drenched the Suzuka circuit. The rain was never torrential but fluctuated from drizzle to heavy downpours during Sunday afternoon. The race was stopped seven laps from full distance after a bad accident involving Marussia driver Jules Bianchi required an ambulance to be deployed onto the track.
Lewis Hamilton won the race, leading team-mate Nico Rosberg by a comfortable margin in the final classification. Seb took third place and Daniel fourth. These are the statistics and strategy choices behind our race weekend.
Seb and Daniel cumulatively ran 1307km over the weekend – with Daniel missing most of FP2 after hitting the wall at the start of the start-finish straight and badly damaging the front-left corner of the car. They did 511km on the prime (hard) tyre (12 sets), and 261km on the option (medium) tyre (10 sets) across practice and qualifying. Sunday's race was conducted exclusively with the full wet and intermediate compounds. The completed 377km on the Intermediate tyre (five sets) and 157km on the full wet (six sets).
Pitstops and red flags
A good pitstop at Suzuka takes around 23s and, were the race to be run in the dry, a two-stop race of Option-Option-Prime was the fastest way to the flag, according to Pirelli's prediction. A three-stop race of Option-Option-Option-Prime would be around seven seconds slower. However, there was no doubt the race would be held in wet conditions, so pitstops would largely be determined by conditions and driver-feedback.
The field started behind the Safety Car on the full wet tyre. The race was halted by red flags at the end of lap two and everyone fitted a new set of full wets (because the new tyres would come straight off the stacks and out of the heated blankets – and therefore be in better shape. The race resumed after a 20-minute hiatus and ran behind the safety car until the end of lap nine, at which point the track was reaching the crossover point where intermediate tyres would become more effective. The field all pitted, with the first to stop being Jenson Button on lap nine, and the last being Lewis Hamilton on lap 14. Daniel came in on lap 11 and Seb on lap 12. Seb managed to leap-frog both Kevin Magnussen and Daniel during the stops.
The rate at which Inters degraded was car-specific. With drizzle continuing to fall and the lap times remaining in the inter window, cars began to pit for a second set of inters as early as lap 19 (Jean-Eric Vergne), while Valtteri Bottas went as late as lap 38. Seb took his second set of Inters on lap 29, while Daniel pitted for more Inters on lap 36. Heavier rain began to fall around lap 40. The Safety Car was deployed on Lap 44 after Bianchi's accident, and Seb immediately pitted for intermediate tyres, while Daniel elected to stay out. The red flag was waved on lap 46 and the field came into the pitlane and halted for a second time.
Overtakes on track
There were 34 successful overtaking moves during the Japanese Grand Prix. After the first Safety Car period and the initial round of pitstops had shaken out, Button was running P3, Bottas P4, Felipe Massa P5, Seb P6 and Daniel P7. The Williams cars had been faster in the dry but appeared to be struggling in the wet. Sebastian passed Massa for P5 on lap 16, and Bottas for P4 on lap 18. Daniel followed suit, passing Massa for P6 on lap 17 and Bottas for P5 on lap 19. Sebastian was able to undercut Button during the second round of pitstops when the latter had a long stop for a steering wheel change. Daniel and Button enjoyed an excellent battle on track for P4 that ran for several laps with Daniel eventually making the decisive move on lap 42.
The fastest Red Bull speed recorded through the trap was 270kph (184mph) set by Daniel towards the end of his first Inter stint. Seb's top speed in the trap was record as 268kph, set on his first lap with his second set of Inters. The fastest car all day was Nico Rosberg, recorded at 274kph. The speeds were well down of what would be achieved during a dry session.
Lewis Hamilton set the fastest lap of the race with 1:51.600 on lap 39. This was the final lap before the heavier rain began to fall, when the track was at its driest and the fuel load had dropped considerably. Seb and Daniel both set their fastest laps of the day shortly after taking on a second set of Inters. Seb managed a 1:51.915 on lap 32, while Daniel set 1:52.231 on lap 38.
There are still a few strategic decisions to be made during a wet race – but when teams know the race is doing to be wet for the duration with variable amounts of rain, this is largely driven by driver feedback. Head of race strategy Will Courtenay sums it up the afternoon like this:
"The only major strategy decision in the race was when to switch from extreme wet tyres to intermediates after the first safety car. Button pitted very early for intermediates and had good pace, showing us and the rest of the field that the track was ready for inters. However in the mêlée of pit stops in the following few laps, who gained or lost out was more to do with who got clear air or tangled up in a battle, than the specific timing of the pit stop. After that the track conditions were relatively stable and the intermediate tyres lasted well."
In the battle between our drivers for the final spot on the podium, Seb was five seconds ahead of Daniel when the latter finally cleared Button. Daniel had tyres that were nine laps fresher than Seb's with 11 laps to run. The race was neutralised and ultimately stopped before there was any opportunity to see how that would play out.
At the point the race was stopped, Daniel was running in P3 and Seb P4. However, when a race is halted for a red flag and then a decision is taken to not restart, protocol sees the finishing order revised according to a formula laid down in article 42.8 of the F1 Sporting Regulations. It states: If the race cannot be resumed the results will be taken at the end of the penultimate lap before the lap during which the signal to suspend the race was given. The race was suspended on lap 46 with the classification wound back to the end of lap 44. That effectively erased Seb's final pitstop for intermediate tyres and saw him returned to P3.