The data from Saturday’s practice offers very few clues as t0 the relative pace of the cars, but the data from Q1 and Q2 is very interesting indeed. The first segment of the qualifying session offered a direct comparison between the hard and soft tyres for almost all the cars, the difference being of the order of 1.5s in pace for the top teams. This is also true for the Force India and Toro Rosso cars, but the Williams have a 2s difference and the Renaults seem to struggle relatively on the harder tyres being more than two seconds slower than they are on the softs. Referring back to Thursday’s strategy prediction, it seems that a two stop race, with a short stint (maybe 6-10 laps) on the harder tyres will be the preferred option. There is nothing to choose between two and three stops, and I would guess that the faster teams will try to undercut each other and end up on three stops. As the soft tyre is performing very well, I would expect to see some gambles on an early safety car. Start on the hard tyres and you can take your free pitstop even if the safety car comes out on lap one. With Sauber struggling in qualifying, they especially have little to lose. Their pace is clearly not as good as suggested yesterday, so they must have been running a reasonably light fuel load, but I am not convinced they will be left behind to fight the Lotus cars in the race.
So for pace, the differences between the cars on the long runs and in qualifying match quite well. The qualifying value I use is an average across all (representative) ‘hot’ laps.
Car: Qualifying FP2
Red Bull Fastest Fastest
McLaren +0.3s +0.2s
Ferrari +0.5s +0.5s
Mercedes +1.0s (Rosberg) +0.8s to +1.4s
Renault +1.7s (+2.3s on hard tyres) +1.5 to +1.8s
Williams +2.1s No clear runs
Force India +1.7s (Sutil) +2.5s
Sauber +2.6s +1.0s to +1.8s
Toro Rosso +1.6s +2.0s
Lotus +3.9s +2.5s to +3.0s
HRT +5.6s No clear runs
Virgin +6.1s No clear runs
The differences are due to either fuel load, or that the car performs differently in race pace in relation to one-lap pace. So the frontrunners look to be about the same on pace – and as the tyres are not expected to wear too much, the race should be close, but a Ferrari leading at the first corner would probably make things more exciting. In the midfield, Schumacher should get himself into the points, and I would expect Petrov to be trying to chase down the Toro Rossos from his (penalised) grid position. I have a suspicion that Sutil’s lap was extremely good, and Force India might not be so fast in the race as was the case in Korea and Japan.
Of the others, Lotus tend to be faster in the races than in qualifying, as do Sauber, and Williams tend to be slower. There is no reason to suppose that things will be different here. At the very back, though, Glock will need to pull out a strong drive to prevent Virgin being beaten by both the HRT cars. It’s been coming.