Bahrain Grand Prix: Story from the Data

Posted on April 24, 2012

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There were many surprises in the Bahrain Grand Prix. The sheer pace of the Lotus cars, fifth place being almost a full minute behind the winner, the slow pace of McLaren, a two-stop strategy that worked, the lack of progress of Michael Schumacher. In fact, it was a continual stream of unexpectedness from the moment it was evident that Grosjean was going to breeze past Hamilton until more than two hours after the race when Rosberg was not penalised for driving other cars off the road. Crazy day.

As it turned out, the race was not too hard to follow. I had feared confusion due to the potential number of pitstops, but as nearly everyone did three stops at more-or-less the same times (the exceptions being Di Resta’s successful two-stopper and Kobayashi’s failed attempt), we didn’t have much to figure out during the race. Everyone was pretty much in position, and unless you were driving a black car, or had a problem with your left rear in pitstops, you pretty much stayed where you were.

The race for the first four positions has been essentially covered in the previous post. The Lotus cars were very quick on the soft tyres, and the key difference in the race was that Kimi used softs for his second stint when Grosjean used mediums. As Kimi had new soft tyres from not running in the second half of Q2 (or in Q3) they felt confident on doing a three stopper using two sets of softs – they did not have this confidence with Grosjean. As they were so quick, it only cost him a place to his team mate. The race for the podium is shown in the chart below.

Vettel’s pace is similar on each tyre (which is why the status quo is reached on the last stint), but he is consistently quick – I think that this is a great drive. Webber has a strangely slow second stint, but then is back to about 0.2s off Vettel for the remainder of the race. Once Hamilton had his pitstop issue, the only possible challenger to his fourth place was gone.

Behind the top four, a long way behind, there was quite a bit of action. Lewis Hamilton ended up racing the Ferraris, when he should have been racing Webber for fourth. The chart below shows where Hamilton should have been had the pitstops been better. Care must be taken with the precise detail as the nature of the degradation just before the stops suggest Hamilton is beginning to struggle, and this is not fully represented in the model as there is not enough data to use.

What this does suggest, though, was that Lewis would have joined Mark in the nomansland between the top three and the rest (although Webber was a few tenths quicker except in the second stint), and that they most likely would have had quite a battle over that fourth place. It is clear, however, that Hamilton would not have been near the podium places. In reality he was embroiled in a battle with his team mate, the Ferraris, Rosberg and Di Resta. Their traces are shown in the next chart.

The relative pace of these cars on the medium tyre based on the data as inferred by the intelligentF1 model is:

Hamilton, Button/Rosberg (+0.2s), Di Resta (+0.3s – but slower in the second half of his second stint), Alonso/Massa (+0.5s – but with lower degradation than McLaren/Mercedes). The Ferraris were actually 0.7s quicker on the soft tyre. and Massa used these for the third stint, but spent it stuck behind Alonso. Button struggles in the third stint on the medium tyres more than Hamilton – it makes you wonder if the McLarens would have been wiser not to make a second run in Q3 (when they would have been 4th and 5th at worst) and use some new soft tyres here.

Di Resta’s pace is competitive, and the fact that he can make his tyres last (the only person to succeed at a two-stop attempt) is something which was missed due to their non-particiaption in Free Practice 2. A three stop would most likely have seen him at the back of this battle – Hulkenburg’s underlying pace is about 0.1s slower, and his three-stopper is about the same as Massa’s from the first stop. My guess is that the two-stop gave Di Resta track position (and so sixth) when he would have been at the back of the group in ninth. It seems unlikely that Schumacher would have beated him, though.

Further back, the fastest of the remaining cars were Perez and Hulkenburg. The Sauber had degradation problems (which made Kobayashi’s two stop attempt all the more strange), which allowed Schumacher to jump him in the final stops and cost him the final point. Hulkenburg spent the first stint stuck behind Petrov, and recovered to 12th. The midifeld chart is shown below.

The relative pace of these cars, again on the mediums, is Perez (+0.2s on Hamilton), Schumacher/Hulkenburg (+0.4s – two-tenths down on Rosberg, one-tenth down on Di Resta), Kobayashi (+0.5s), Vergne/Senna (+0.6s). Ricciardo’s pace is not consistent between stints, but it is similar (on average) to Vergne. On pure pace, many of these cars are faster than Ferrari, but the red cars looked after their tyres better than all but Di Resta and Senna. It’s worth noting that Mercedes did well, given the pace of the car in the race, to get Scumacher into the points. This was done by looking after the tyres, and by slick pitwork.

There are two more items of note. Firstly, Kovalainen drove a great race. Delayed on lap one, he caught 25s on Petrov through the race – almost entirely by making the tyres last better – they were very closely matched for pace at the beginning of stints. Their underlying pace was also pretty good – I make them merely 1.5s from Vettel on the mediums. Great job. And so did Charles Pic, for as long as the car lasted. Glock may have had brake difficulties, but Pic left him behind.

A surprising race, and so different from China. Apart from the first four it was just as close, and dominated by tyres in a completely different way.

Now to Mugello for some testing, and then to Barcelona to see what the next set of surprises are in F1 2012.

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