Monaco Grand Prix: Friday Practice (on Thursday)

Posted on May 25, 2012

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Usually I call these pieces ‘practice analysis’, but it’s a little difficult when the second practice is washed out as this is when the race simulations (usually) take place. So I’ve taken the opportunity to do a little work to see what we’re missing – and it turns out that Friday practice has been a much better indicator of the rest of the weekend that it has been given credit for – and certainly a much better indicator than it was last year.

So first things first – the race at hand. Last year’s race data suggests that we are looking for a first stint race pace of about 79.5-80.5s for the leading cars. There are a couple of runs early in first practice which could be around the correct pace, but it is very likely that they are on a lower fuel load as the track has no rubber down at this stage. The later runs are all too fast to be first race stint simulations. In second practice, the wet track conditions don’t let us do a real analysis of the data. So there is very little we can add to the views from trackside, and a broad look at the times – which is what is done in many other places. McLaren and Lotus look strong – Williams, Ferrari and Sauber seem to be carrying on from where they left off in Barcelona and Mercedes and Red Bull don’t seem to be quite there. However, I have no hard data to back up these views. Which is a shame as the Friday data has been a very good pointer to race pace this year – and has revealed the surprises before they happen – if you let yourself believe the numbers.

We can see this by checking over the first five races of the year (except Melbourne which was wet on Friday):

Malaysia:                                   FP2                                Race (dry part)                       Notes

Red Bull                                    -0.9                                        -0.2                                       Lower fuel in FP2

Ferrari                                      -0.5                                        +0.2                                      Lower fuel in FP2

Lotus                                         -0.2                                        -0.6                                        Fast in race

McLaren                                    0.0                                         0.0

Williams                                  +0.1                                        -0.1

Sauber                                      +0.4                                       -0.2                                        Fast in race

Mercedes                                +0.5                                        +0.3

Force India                            +0.8                                       +1.0

Toro Rosso                            +0.8                                         +1.0

On the whole not a bad start – Red Bull/Ferrari were not full in FP2, but the other fast cars in FP2 were fast in the race, including Sauber and Williams.

China:                                        FP2                                        Race                                       Notes

McLaren                                  0.0                                          0.0

Lotus                                        N/A                                       +0.2

Red Bull                                 +0.2                                          0.0

Ferrari                                   +0.4                                        +0.5

Williams                                +0.4                                          0.0                                        Fast in race

Sauber                                    +0.5                                       +0.8                                        Slow in race

Force India                          +0.6                                       +0.5

Mercedes                              +0.7                                       +0.3                                        Fast in race

Toro Rosso                           +1.0                                       +0.7

These pace predictions are really good, and gave a good picture of the pecking order come the race. Again Williams race pace stands out.

Bahrain:                                 FP2                                         Race (on softs)                    Notes

Lotus                                         0.0                                          0.0

McLaren                                +0.6                                      +0.7

Sauber                                    +0.6                                      +1.1                                         Slow in race

Mercedes                              +1.0                                       +1.2

Ferrari                                   +1.2                                        +1.2

Williams                                +1.3                                        +1.2

Toro Rosso                          +1.7                                        +1.4

Red Bull                                 N/A                                        +0.7

Force India                          N/A                                        +1.4

Much interpretation was put into this data – I had the Lotus cars as ones to watch as even on a second stint load they were competitive, but I (nor anyone else) had the guts to say it was real pace. The alignment between Friday pace and race pace is close – for almost all teams. Indeed, only Sauber look like they are using a lighter fuel load in FP2 than in the first stint. It’s a shame that Force India did not run on the Friday, as it would have interesting to see if the two-stop strategy of Di Resta could have been called. Only Williams looked like potential two-stoppers from the data.

Spain:                                       FP2                                        Race (softs)                         Notes

Lotus                                        0.0                                         +0.6                                      Slower in race

Williams                                  0.0                                           0.0

McLaren                               +0.0                                        +0.6                                      Slower in race

Ferrari                                   +0.2                                        -0.1

Sauber                                   +0.4                                        +0.6 (est.)

Red Bull                                +1.0                                         +0.6 (est.)                          Faster in race

Force India                         +1.0                                         +1.3

Mercedes                             +1.3                                         +1.0

Toro Rosso                          +1.5                                         +1.6

Again there are some anomalies – especially Lotus and McLaren would have been expected to be faster in the race – although how much we saw of Hamilton’s pace is unknown due to his going for a long two-stopper. However, it shows that the pecking order on a Friday as deduced by the intelligent F1 model (without interpretation for fuel levels) is actually quite powerful in its prediction of who will be fast on Sunday. It could be argued that the cooler day made a difference in Barcelona, but we only see a huge effect in two teams. Fluctuations of maybe 0.3s (which is significant in 2012 F1) can be seen for others, but nothing that will make a bad car into a good car (or vice-versa).

So in terms of predicting Sunday form, it seems that the approach taken here is very useful in giving pointers from the Friday practice data. Which makes it all the more annoying that there is no useful data from free practice at Monaco. Such is life.

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