McLaren: The car is faster but is their strategy?

McLaren took a well-deserved win today in Hungary and Lewis Hamilton drove an impecable race. The Briton was dominant all weekend long but the same cannot be said of his British teammate, Jenson Button. Button struggled in the waning part of the race and drifted back to 6th place after a couple of early pit stops put him in traffic. Button said he isn’t sure why the team decided to change their strategy for a 3-stop race instead of the original 2-stop plan:

“I don’t know what was going on there really,” Button said. “The weird thing was after the first stop I could still see the leaders so it was close, but we decided to go for a three stop and we were stopping early, and both times I came out in traffic and wondered why.

“The tyres were still in good condition and I think they were trying to jump the cars in front but we went straight back into traffic and that was it. Normally you pit and come out into clean air.

“Then we did that again later on in the race, so not a great race. Hopefully we will learn from this because it happened twice – I don’t think we looked too good on strategy today.”

It can be common to pit early when a car is starting to lose pace with the rest of the field as the tire degradation sets in but Button didn’t feel he was having a tire issue and is unclear on why the team chose to pit him early:

“I don’t know why we pitted so early each time when the tyres were still in good condition,” he explained. “I said to the guys ‘Is this traffic quicker than the guys we are racing?’, and they said ‘no’…

“I didn’t really think it was [a tough race on tyres] but the team obviously did. I wasn’t going slow but we pitted early twice and it put me straight into traffic, which made it very difficult to race those guys. Obviously it was a slight misunderstanding of positioning on circuit. Every time I stopped it just got worse and worse.”

McLaren have certainly worked hard on the car over the past few weeks and the upgrades have shown obvious improvements with Buttons’ podium in Germany and Hamilton’s win today but strategy is still a crucial element in the process. Hamilton received a call from the team stating that they were going with plan B as well but without knowledge of what plan B is for Lewis, it could have been a notification that they were switching Button to a 3-stopper.

For Hamilton’s part, he drove a terrific race and the strategy was spot on when you consider the pace of both Lotus F1 cars of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. The McLaren team kept the strategy fluid and reacted when they needed to after the Lotus cars started making ground on Hamilton mid-way through the race. McLaren is fully aware of the late-race pace of Lotus and were keen to make the right call at the right time….this they did and Hamilton won.

So is McLaren’s strategy up to par with the pace of their car in 2012? If you use Hamilton’s performance today then one could say yes but listening to Button gives reason for pause as the Brit was running within touch of the leaders for most of the early laps. What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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