Japanese Grand Prix: Long run pace analysis

Posted on October 7, 2011

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The lap time samples from free practice are very small, and with the variations in laptime gained from finding spaces in the traffic, things always look a little messy. However, applying the intelligentF1 model to the long run data from the second session, we can start to see a picture emerging. We’ll split the cars into groups to make the graphs less cluttered. So, if I put the data into a ‘race history chart’ for cars 1-8 (except Hamilton, who did not do enough representative laps in has stint) we get:

The speed of the Red Bulls is obvious, but there are a few significant things. Firstly, the times:

Vettel;

Webber +0.0s (the model has uncertainties of about 0.1-0.2s, it certainly can’t split them based on this few laps)

Alonso +1.6s

Button +1.7s

Schumacher +2.2s

Rosberg +3.0s

Massa +3.0s

There are some differing programs here. We may expect Alonso to be ahead of Massa, but 1.4s is too much. Again, the pace difference between the Mercedes is unlikely to be representative. Therefore, it is likely that Massa has more fuel onboard than Alonso, 1.4s is about 14 laps worth (+/-1 lap), so somewhere around the first stop for a three stop race – or a test to see if they can two stop from there. If Alonso is testing a second stint fuel load, that would make sense. For the Mercedes, the most obvious correlation would be between second stint fuel loads if Schumacher was on a two stopper and Rosberg on a three stopper. The time to Alonso would be consistent with expectation at around 0.5s. If the Mercedes are fuelled fully, then it would seem that Ferrari are in trouble. The laps from Hamilton were slightly slower than Button, but do not provide a real reference, so we don’t know what McLaren are doing – the interview from Paddy Lowe quoted in Mark Hughes piece on the Autosport site suggests that they were running a full load. That would give them a full 1s on Ferrari (if Alonso is running a second stint load). The Red Bulls are fast – if they are doing a second stint run, then maybe they are only a few tenths ahead of the McLarens, but it could be that they are really 1.5s clear. Nobody did many laps, though, so it is hard to tell that much about tyre life.

For the midfield runners, the Williams did not do a representative run (Maldonado did a mid-late race run which was 1.5s off Vettel), and the Saubers did a number of short runs, so it is hard to tell what they were doing. Alguersuari, Trulli, Liuzzi also provided nothing useful to go on. For the rest we have this picture, which is fairly messy. I have tried to fit the curves to what looks representative, but there are quite a few space finding (slow) laps.

However, the pace for these guys is as follows:

Sutil +2.5s

Petrov +2.7s

Di Resta +3.4s

Senna +3.5s

Kovalainen +3.9s

Glock +4.1s

Buemi +4.2s

D’Ambrosio +5.2s

Ricciardo +5.5s

Again, it looks like there are teams on split programs. My guess would be that Renault and Force India are doing much what Mercedes are doing, but around 0.5s slower, with Toro Rosso a little further behind. It’s hard to know what to make of the times of the Lotus, Virgin and HRT cars. Lotus at 1.5s from Renault, with Virgin another 1.3s down (from Petrov, Kovalainen, D’Ambrosio) would make the most sense.

There is some evidence of the tyres beginning to struggle at the end of these stints. Certainly it seems like the teams are considering different strategies, which suggests that they are trading off between two and three stops. Thus it seems likely that we will see both strategies on Sunday. There should be more clues in FP3.

Let’s hope that the Red Bulls aren’t genuinely 1.5 seconds clear of the field and able to do only two stops. Unless Mark makes a good fight of it.

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