Interlagos has a short lap – this provides us with more laps per unit time, and therefore a little more data to play with on the Friday. The flip side is that the time gaps between the cars are smaller, and therefore traffic plays more of a role. The upshot of this is that the fits are a bit piecemeal, and more stints have gaps and traffic – in fact there are few sustained stints which are properly useful. However, the extra number of laps means that an idea of the tyre degradation on the softs can be obtained, and it’s pretty consistent from car to car. On the 15 lap (or so) runs that we saw, there is little sign of the tyres reaching any kind of problems, but both the Mercedes slowed significantly about 10 laps in to their runs. This could be traffic, but it could be an issue for the silver cars.
The intelligentF1 model fits (dashed lines – the solid lines are the laptime data) for the first four teams are shown in the chart below. There are a number of interesting points.
Firstly, in contrast to the last few races, the Red Bulls appeared to be on different programmes, with Webber being about 0.5s quicker. The most interesting thing about this is that his pace over his opening laps was about the same as his team mate, but in his two fast-one slow lapping, he was clearly quicker. Looking at the early part of Vettel’s stint, and the later part of both stints, the degradation is consistent, and the tyres are fine. Hamilton also went for intermittent slow laps, and was about 0.5s slower on meaningful laps, with the degradation in line with the Red Bulls. The 1s gap to Webber is about what we have seen in the past few races. Lewis is looking good.
The same cannot be said of Jenson. It has been reported that he is not happy on the softer tyres, and he was 1.2s from Vettel’s pace (0.7s from Hamilton). Perhaps a race strategy based around the medium tyre (I’d guess soft-medium-medium, or perhaps an attempt at a one-stop), which appears to be competitive might be in the mind of the 2009 world champion. Alonso’s data is not useful, and Massa shows reasonable pace, at 0.9s behind Vettel. Ferrari look to be third fastest.
There are suggestions that the Mercedes think they can beat the Ferraris, but both cars were significantly slower than Massa – Rosberg 1.5s from Vettel, and Schumacher about 0.1s behind. We know that the Mercedes were not full of fuel as Rosberg ran a few laps after his main stint with an even higher fuel load – a full second slower. It looks like business as usual in the nomansland of seventh and eighth unless Force India can challenge.
For the other teams, there is little truly useful data – the Force Indias, Buemi, Perez and Kovalainen provide something worth plotting, which is in the chart below:
The Force India pace is strong – faster than the Mercedes, and either side of Button. Di Resta is 1.1s off Vettel, and Sutil 1.3s. As Force India usually split their Friday strategy, and Sutil was very quick on his low fuel lap, I wonder if the German had a heavier fuel load and has some serious pace. Either way, their pace is looking strong. A full 0.5s behind we have Buemi and Perez, with the Sauber and Toro Rosso on essentially identical pace. Kobayashi was slower, and probably on higher fuel, Alguersuari was about the same as Buemi. Both Renault and Williams were 0.5s slower still in the few laps which can be assessed.
This would put them on a similar pace to the Lotus of Kovalainen which was 2.1s from Vettel. Lotus tend to run the Finn light on the Friday long runs, but they are clearly happy with their new rear wing. It doesn’t look like they have quite enough pace to reach Q2 in a dry qualifying session or beat the midfield for pace in the race But they will be thereabouts to pick up pieces in the race – maybe keeping Williams within reach. Virgin and HRT seem to be quite closely matched once more, but they are comfortably 1.5s adrift of Lotus.
Back at the front, this looks like a close one, but McLaren have the pace on the harder tyre. If it is dry, this could prove decisive as new mediums look to be close in pace to used softs. If it is wet then McLaren keep their tyre temperature up better than Red Bull or Ferrari. A silver lining to end the season?