Canadian Grand Prix: Friday Practice Analysis

Posted on June 9, 2012

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After Monaco, it is good to be back at a racetrack on which cars can race, and it is good to have some useful data from a Friday practice once more. In the Monaco article I pointed out that the Friday data taken at face value provided a better guide to the actual race pace of the cars than all attempts to infer some fuel load guesses. I think that part of this is that the teams cannot trust fully their simulation data to extrapolate to the behaviour of the tyres on full tanks, and so more teams are running with a full fuel load in Friday practice. This is good for us as it gives us a better form guide.

However, there are always those who do not provide the data we need, and this weekend it is Lotus (whose pace seems competitive, but there are only odd laptimes on a decent fuel load) and Ferrari (who are definitely quick from their few laptimes).

Below I have a chart of the stint pace (it’s essentially a race history chart for the stint) and I have removed the slow laps (usually traffic related). These are laptimes in the target first stint range (about 80s). Worth noting is that there is very little sign of the tyres going off – indeed the degradation from the tyres is less than the fuel burn (so the pace increases) and this is the case after up to 20 fast laps on the tyres. I think that we will see no more than two stops, and it is possible that one stop could be done – although the advantage to this is small with the small pitstop loss at Montreal.

By fitting the curves using the intelligentF1 model, we get that the fastest car is actually Maldonado, with Hamilton next 0.1s slower. The pace of Massa is clear to see, but as he does so few laps we cannot be sure that this pace is reliable. Alonso did three representative laps, and he is at a competitive pace, but we cannot say more than that. Next up, another tenth down, is Rosberg, who is the only car to appear to run out of tyres – although you can never be sure of this on a Friday. The Autosport article suggests that Mercedes made their tyres last best – but I can’t see how they infer this from the laptime data. If anything, McLaren look strongest in the plot above.

The Sauber of Perez is another 0.1s down, which bodes well for their weekend. Red Bull seem to be a bit off the pace. 0.2s from Rosberg leaves Webber 0.4s off the pace, and Vettel is another 0.3s back on the harder prime tyres. Usually these two are well matched on Fridays, so this gives an indication of the gap between the compounds.

Of the others to post useful times, the Toro Rossos and Force Indias are about 1.0s off the pace – with a gap between the first six teams (seven if we include Lotus) and them. Force India seem confident about qualifying, but I don’t see the race pace. Caterham are about another 0.6s down – close to the midfield again, but not quite there.

It is worth noting that almost all the cars showed very slow warm up of the tyres at the start of the stint – it took about five laps in most cases to get up to pace. This is very similar to the behaviour at Monaco – so we may well see that the undercut is also ineffective here, and that it is staying out longer which can be beneficial. I wonder if this is a trend, and that the slow tyre warm up is part of the way that the teams are able to manage the tyres better and maintain the performance window. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this is coming races – it’ll make the tactics more difficult to call.

In summary, I have:

Maldonado

Hamilton +0.1s

Rosberg +0.2s

Perez +0.3s

Webber +0.4s

Vettel +0.7s (prime tyres)

Vergne, Di Resta +1.0s

Hulkenburg +1.6s (prime tyres)

Petrov +1.6s

I would guess that we will see a Mercedes on pole – with perhaps Hamilton their only real competition. For the race, though, much will depend on whether the fast cars can qualify well – especially in the case of the Williams. Ferrari are certainly competitive given the few laptimes they have done – perhaps even fastest, Lotus seem to be a couple of tenths down, which still leaves them in the mix.

This one seems pretty open, but I think it’ll come down to Hamilton, Rosberg and Alonso. Not necessarily in that order.

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The strategy options are shown in the chart below. I have assumed 18s loss time at the pitstops, and the fuel/tyre effects are based on the Friday data.

What we see is that if the tyres last (30 laps for the option,  40 for the prime) then one stop is about the same as two stops. For a two stopper to work, the tyres need to do 20-22 laps (option) and 25 laps (prime) which seems almost certain to be OK based on the Friday data. Three stops is about 10s slower, so there is some margin on a two-stopper even if the tyres behave less well than expected. Unless there are pitstops well before lap 20 (and I think it unlikely), we will not see three-stop races.

If the tyres do not quite last, then the one-stopper will be very vulnerable in the final stint. The good news there is that if the tyres start to go, then the timing will be such that a switch to a two-stopper can easily be made in the lap 20-25 window. I think that we will see quite a few cars go for one stop, with the fast race cars which have not qualified so well amongst them. For a car on the first two rows, two stops seems to be the safer option, but I can see this one being won by a one-stop gamble. Especially if that stop can be made under a safety car…

Of course, a late safety car can play into the hands of those who have made more stops, as they will be on newer tyres.

When was the last boring Canadian Grand Prix? Can’t see it being dull this year…

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