Bahrain Grand Prix: Friday Long Runs and Strategy Predictions

Posted on April 20, 2012

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This is going to be an interesting one (if it goes ahead). Whereas the Chinese Grand Prix Friday could be taken pretty much at face value with most of the teams doing similar programmes (only Mercedes pace turned out to be misleading), the programmes seem to be much more varied in Bahrain. It is certain that not everyone was on the same programme, so sorting out the data will be less easy. We also have the difficulty of not having previous data for Pirelli tyres from Bahrain – and so we cannot fix the pace against an expectation from last year.

The data shows a number of useful pointers for Sunday. Firstly, the degradation is high – all the traces show a linear part, where the tyre degradation is normal, but then quickly a gentle ‘phase 2’ degradation kicks in after somewhere between 4 and 8 laps. The extra ‘phase 2’ degradation also varies from team-to-team. Williams look to be doing very well in keeping the tyres alive. Maldonado’s standard soft and medium tyre back-to-back showed the two tyres to be almost identical on pace in a stint – the soft may be up to 0.2s faster. Therefore, it is looking like the medium will be the preferred race tyre. Also of note is that the Williams cars did longer stints than most of the other cars, and although they pushed the tyres to the cliff, they do look to be confident with their tyre life. Maybe they have a chance at two-stopping. The only other stints which are long enough for us to see good tyre life are from Rosberg (on mediums) and Grosjean – Massa’s stint is good, but not quite long enough to be sure.

Looking at the other cars, 15 laps for a stint looks like it could be a challenge. This means three stops (at least). Unless the track evolves significantly, or the teams figure out how to look after the tyres better, it could be a race of survival. This has all the hallmarks of a chaotic classic.

It may well be that the car which looks after its tyres best will win, but the pace of the cars on the long runs will count. So what I’ve tried to do here is to provide the pace and an indication of the tyre longevity for each car. The pace will depend on the fuel load, so based on form so far this season, I’ve taken a guess as to whether the fuel load is a first stint or second stint (about 1s faster) load.

I’ve put the laps done on a race history chart to give an idea of the spread of laptimes (which is quite big). I have two stints for Rosberg and Maldonado.

As you can see, the Lotus cars are fast, Toro Rosso are slow, Sauber have high degradation and Williams low. But that is not the whole story.

The cars which appear to be on a first stint fuel load (relative to the fastest stint by Raikkonen) are:

Schumacher +1.0s (OK tyre life)

Rosberg +1.2s (OK tyre life – softs)

Alonso +1.2s (poor tyre life)

Maldonado +1.3s (good tyre life – softs)

Maldonado +1.5s (excellent tyre life – mediums)

Ricciardo +1.5s (OK tyre life)

Vergne +2.0s (OK tyre life)

Then we have some cars which seem to be faster than this, but it is unlikely that they have as little as a second stint fuel load. I’m guessing that they are about half-way (based on Senna’s pace relative to Maldonado).

Vettel +0.7s (OK tyre life)

Webber +0.4s (too few laps to tell)

Button +0.9s (OK tyre life)

Hamilton +0.3s (OK tyre life)

Kobayashi +0.5s (poor tyre life)

Perez +0.7s (poor tyre life)

The fastest cars, who seem to be on a second stint fuel load are the Lotus cars, whose pace is:

Raikkonen +0.0s (good tyre life)

Grosjean +0.2s (good tyre life)

Massa +0.4s (good tyre life)

Now if we take a guess that the Lotus cars have about a 1s per lap fuel load advantage over the full load cars, and that the middle group has about a 0.5s advantage, we get the following (very close) picture.

The fastest cars are Hamilton and Webber, with the Mercedes, Lotus, Sauber and Alonso within a few tenths. Williams, Massa and Toro Rosso are slightly slower, but have the best tyre wear – it may be that these are not unrelated. Button is in a bit of trouble, unless he has a bit more fuel on board, or comes up with a major car improvement overnight.

So what can we expect? Well, Mercedes Friday pace looks significantly better than it has at any previous race, Red Bull are clearly thereabouts, and Hamilton has had a quiet session but is in the mix. Sauber may flatter to deceive again as their tyre wear is very poor. It’s the old names of Lotus and Williams which seem to be the most likely source of a surprise – Lotus have pace and their tyres look good, Williams are not quite as fast, but their tyres are maintaining performance even better.

Let’s see what we can learn tomorrow. And see if there is any chance of the track rubbering in such that two stops are possible.

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