From reading reports about the race, I have gained the impression that the podium finishes of Grosjean’s Lotus and Perez’ Sauber came about because of the cars’ ability to make the one-stop strategy work. While this is true, neither of the drivers would have been able to capitalise on this if they didn’t have massive pace. Grosjean was the fastest car (fuel-corrected) on the soft tyres in clear air – a full three-tenths of a second faster than anyone else. And Perez? Only Vettel was as fast on the super-softs (it’s worth noting that Webber was not) – although direct comparison is not available with many cars, as few used this tyre compound in the second half of the race, and comparison with the first stint is not valid due to track evolution.
The other thing to note here is that their respective team-mates also one-stopped, with Kobayashi mirroring Grosjean’s early stop, and Raikkonen doing the same late stop as Perez. They finished eighth and ninth. So it wasn’t just the strategy. Grosjean was plain quicker than Raikkonen in the long runs on Friday (it was in FP1 – I missed it in the article, but it is in a comment) and this is mirrored in the race. In Kobayashi’s case it’s a little more difficult to tell as he is in traffic (Di Resta is the key player here), as is Perez (Raikkonen is ahead) for essentially the entire race, but the difference is that Perez made a pass (on Rosberg) when it mattered and Kamui didn’t pass anyone. Without the pass, Perez would have been sixth. If Kamui had passed Di Resta he could have been somewhere around Rosberg at the Mercedes’ second stop – although he does seem to lose the tyres a little at the end.
I’ve put this on a race history chart – the first 30 laps are below. I’ve tried to only include the cars directly relevant to the understanding of the race, as it can get confusing with all the traces.
So we can see that the impact of the closeness of the 2012 field is huge. 30 laps into the race, and these cars (and Massa/Schumacher) are covered by just about a pitstop. Webber is unable to gain track position on the one-stoppers pulling him into this battle. Rosberg is also pulled in by getting passed by Di Resta in the opening laps, and then being held up. The other gap in the queue behind Di Resta is provided by Button, and his slow laps at the end of his first stint leave a gap between Grosjean and Raikkonen and a larger gap to the Saubers. Once he stops, we see that the Saubers are faster than Raikkonen, as are Rosberg/Grosjean. Rosberg is clearly not slow, as he maintains track position on Grosjean after they stop, even though the undercut was not working for other cars. The loser here is Kobayashi as the time lost behind Button (especially) and Raikkonen is just enough for him not to clear Di Resta. Not being able to get past meant that he would remain at the back of this group.
The second half of the race is shown in the chart below.
Here we see the strategies play out, and the true pace of the Sauber finally revealed. Webber is able to up his pace after the late one-stoppers go in, but his pace is not enough to stay ahead of Rosberg or Perez. Raikkonen, however, is not fast enough, and falls behind Webber. Kobayashi remains behind, but only because he didn’t pass Di Resta. He should have been in that shake up.
When Rosberg stopped, and was able to undercut the one-stoppers, Mercedes must have thought that fourth place was theirs. Neither Webber nor Grosjean had the pace to defeat the undercut. Sure enough Webber stopped, but Grosjean (incredibly) kept going at increased pace. This pace (corrected for fuel load and tyre life) is where he is much faster than anyone else on the softs. Often with the Pirellis last year, we could see that where someone looked after their tyres when not at full pace, they could get some of that back later in the stint. It seems that Grosjean was able to protect his tyres behind slower cars (that these are Rosberg and Webber is telling) and up his pace in free air. The Lotus may be easy on tyres, but that is still impressive, and is not shown by his team mate.
Rosberg then caught the ailing Massa, and was passed by Perez in his attempts to pass the Ferrari. Importantly, Perez’ pace had been sufficient to jump Raikkonen at the stops, and was then enough to stay with Rosberg. Once he took his opportunity to pass, Perez was then able to show pace in free air for the first time in the race. Lap 58 was his first clear lap, lap 59 was fractions slower than Hamilton, and lap 60 went purple. Without the pass of Rosberg, we may never have seen the potential speed of the Sauber. Perez was only 0.2s slower than Hamilton in race pace on Friday – this pace (on super-softs) was as fast as Vettel. It seems that Sauber can either qualify well or race well – maybe they will manage both one race.
As we now know, Vettel and Alonso messed up their strategy, leaving the Lotus second and the Sauber third. And had Grosjean not been able to up his pace after Webber’s stop, Perez would have caught him too. Both these cars spent much of the race in traffic, but when the traffic is not much slower, only a little time is lost. But free air has to be gained at some point, and used for all it is worth. Grosjean had the pace, and Perez took his chance. And that separated them from their team mates.