As the Friday running was wet, there is much interest in the long runs, and especially signs of tyre degradation in the Saturday free practice session. Many teams, such as McLaren, played fast lap/slow lap, perhaps concentrating on qualifying, or perhaps because they felt confident in their tyre wear. There are some long runs to analyse, with the best data coming from Toro Rosso. Each of the Italian cars managed a 10+ lap run, with no clear sign of ‘phase 2’ degradation. They’ve qualified 11th and 13th – I would think they’ll be worth watching in the race.
So let’s have a look at the pace of the cars:
We have Webber fastest, with Vettel 0.2s back, although the first part of his stint was another 1s slower. The we have:
Sutil +1.8s (+2.1s against Vettel in qualifying)
Maldonado +2.0s (+3.2s in qualifying)
Di Resta +2.5s (+2.1s in qualifying)
Alguersuari +2.7s (+2.2s in qualifying)
Schumacher +3.5s (+2.3s in qualifying – although this is probably not representative)
Buemi +3.7s (+2.5s in qualifying)
Rosberg +3.8s (+1.7s in qualifying).
Again there is great variability in the fuel loads, with some teams on split strategies, but the Red Bulls are clearly not on a full load due to the gap to Rosberg – who almost certainly is fully fuelled. The Mercedes may well have been concerned about the tyre wear on a full fuel load, but 9 laps with no sign of problems must be comforting. The consistency of the Toro Rosso lap times over 10 laps is particularly excellent.
Importantly, there is no sign of a 1s per lap drop in the lap times at the end of these stints as could be seen in the FP2 runs at Suzuka. This suggests that the tyres will be OK, and that the fears of four (or more) stops are unfounded. It is possible that everyone stopped as soon as they felt any degradation, but this is unlikely to be the case. Therefore tyre life, at least on the prime compound, looks to be fine. I think that we are likely to see two or three stops (based on Thursday’s prediction piece) depending on how much life we see from the options.
The fact that Red Bull saved their prime tyres makes me suspicious that they think they will need three stops. But it’s their sister team which look good from this data. Toro Rosso may not win, but they must be looking a strong possibility for some points.