Home of the world champion driver once again, but lost the race. That they had the pace was very evident in Free Practice, and Vettel’s first stint confirmed it. Ate the tyres more quickly than anyone else, and Vettel cut his pace by 0.9s to stay on a three-stop strategy, when four would probably have been faster. Fading tyres before the second stop left him behind Button after it, and the safety car meant that his last stop put him in traffic and that dropped him behind Alonso. Webber’s tyres lasted better, mainly because he was restricted to Vettel’s tyre-saving pace due to being stuck behind the Ferraris. He also showed good pace, only a couple of tenths slower than his team mate in the final stint on prime tyres.
A tale of two drivers. Again. Button made his tyres last, and was extremely consistent through the first three stints – was faster on used options than Vettel on new in his second stint, which set up the win. His pace was a full second slower than he could go for ten laps of the last stint (fuel saving), but he had just enough in hand. A great drive. Hamilton started well, then faded. In the first stint he was 0.2s faster than his team mate, but was 0.5s down in the second stint. Even slower than Button’s fuel saving pace on the prime tyre, which says quite a lot.
Third fastest again, looked strong in the race due to being able to delay the ‘phase 2’ tyre degradation more than any other team. This meant that the red cars were able to maintain their pace whilst the others faded. Alonso’s pace was metronomic – making modelling it very easy. His consistency paid dividends when Vettel pitted into traffic, giving him second. Showed a quirk of the Pirellis in the lase stint; was slower than his real pace in defending from Vettel, but then on gaining a gap in the traffic, was able to increase his pace and take advantage of the lower tyre degradation from running more slowly. Massa was consistently a couple of tenths slower than the Spaniard, and the safety car resulted in his dropping behind Schumacher. To be five places behind Alonso was less than he merited.
Despite Schumacher’s encouraging sixth place, Mercedes were only just ahead of the midfield ( and 0.6s behind Massa), with both Perez and Petrov within a couple of tenths of the silver arrows’ pace. The safety car was ideal, giving both cars a free stop, and the speed of the Mercedes pit work was enough to be visible in the intelligentF1 model. The two German drivers were inseparable on pace in clear air, although Rosberg didn’t have much of that on his recovery from the back row to claim the final point.
Williams race pace is not strong. Neither driver was convincing, Maldonado in touch with the rest of the midfield, Barrichello more in touch with the Lotuses, who matched him for pace on the primes. Whatever the upgrades were, they didn’t seem to help on Sunday.
With the Singapore blip over, Renault were back to being the fifth fastest car. From giving up on his chase of Kovalainen at the last race, Petrov rediscovered his mojo, and was back in the points. Went prime-prime-option in the race in contrast to most of the other teams, which did not work in their favour as they were higher up the pace charts on the options. Had the genuine pace to trouble Mercedes. Senna spent much of his race stuck behind a Williams and only really showed that he could go (almost) as fast as Petrov in the last stint.
Lucky with the safety car in Singapore, unlucky here as it put Petrov and Rosberg right behind them. The intelligentF1 model suggests that they would still have been caught by those faster cars behind them, but probably with only about seven or eight laps to go. Could well have hung on to points had the safety car not been deployed. Their pace was solid, but their race positions at half-distance were more down to their good starts than to going particularly quickly.
Another story of two races. Perez was magnificent, travelling the same speed as the subdued Hamilton on the prime tyres. Removing the effects of the safety car, and the traffic effects of starting 17th, his race time was essentially the same as Schumacher’s. The safety car helped them squeak out a two stopper with only one stint on the primes. Kobayashi had a bad day at the office, beginning with a disasterous start. A clear 0.5s slower than Perez on each tyre, the safety car came a little too early for him and left him with a long stint on the primes. The data does not support, however, the assertion that he was always in traffic – it suggests that he just wasn’t as quick as his team mate.
Toro Rosso were quick at Suzuka. Alguersuari was faster than the Force India boys, but saving tyres in qualifying left the Italian cars at the back of the midfield pack, resulting in Alguersuari staring at the back of a Lotus in the first stint. On the same strategy as Perez, made his final stop a little early and struggled for the last few laps. Had the potential to finish quite a few places higher. Buemi made a good start, but we never got to find out how fast he could go, except that on options he was faster than Petrov was on primes.
Statistically, they may have started 19th and 20th and finished 18th and 19th, but don’t be fooled. This was a great race for Team Lotus. OK, they were 1s down on the option tyres, but they were competitive on the primes – matching Barrichello. The safety car even helped them finish on the lead lap. Trulli was three-tenths down on Kovalainen on the options, but just about matched him on the primes.
Another disaster for Liuzzi. Matched Ricciardo for four laps, then went off never to recover. Was 1.5s off his young Australian team mate for the remainder of the race. Ricciardo, for his part, raced against the Virgins for the whole race and was chasing them down at the end when on the prime tyres. Two whole seconds down on Lotus, though.
There was a great race going on at the back between the Virgins and Ricciardo. Glock may have won it, but D’Ambrosio was quicker in clear air. Unfortunately for him, the safety car removed his gap and then Glock undercut him at the final stops. The Virgin held on to the tyre performance better than the HRT, and therefore they were able to finish ahead, but it was close – the gap between the Virgins and HRTs on pace has all but gone.