Ah. Some dry running. Well, in FP3 anyway. Qualifying was somewhat different and showed quite different pace of the cars depending on the track conditions. Some will be hoping for a fully wet race, some a mixed race. Maybe Caterham would like it to be dry.
Let’s start with the dry running. The most reliable guide to form is always the race simulation data – it gives the largest number of laps and the highest probability of the cars being on equal fuel loads. The question is – can we tell if the runs are made with the right fuel loads for comparison? Using last years’ data we have to be slightly careful as the beginning of the race was wet, but in modelling the second half of the race, we would be expecting laptimes of the order of 100s for the opening laps of the race in the dry. Therefore, we would look to find stints of about this laptime to be able to infer useful data on the underlying pace of the cars.
The only teams who ran stints at this pace are Mercedes, Lotus and Toro Rosso. Of these, Lotus looked the best, and the others were closely matched. Schumacher especially didn’t look good – and his comments that their best hope was a wet race seem to support this. Apart from that we only have the single lap pace to go on – and we know how unreliable that can be. Both Caterham and Ferrari ran short stints with all the laps at this pace or slower, and Ferrari’s best laps were ahead of Lotus, and Caterham were up with Toro Rosso. But there is not enough evidence to say that these runs were actually representative. If they are, then they indicate that Ferrari look very good, and that the Caterham upgrade is a good step forward.
From qualifying, there was a large difference in the performance of the cars when on wets in comparison with that on intermediate tyres. Especially notable was that Hamilton was fastest in Q2 (on wets) but only eighth in Q3 (on inters), a full 1.8s down. If the race is fully wet, then Hamilton looks strong, as do Maldonado, Hulkenburg, Schumacher, Alonso and the Sauber cars. Lotus seemed to be thereabouts (in all conditions). It is interesting that Rosberg, Di Resta and Button were significantly (and consistently) slower than their respective team mates. As the conditions changed in Q3, and intermediates became the tyre of choice, the big gainers were Ferrari and Red Bull, and the big losers Hamilton, Maldonado and Hulkenburg. Sauber lost out through running inters in Q2, so it is not clear what their pace on inters would be.
So what do we expect? The latest forecast I have suggests that there will be continuous rain all day (earlier in the day it was suggesting that the rain would come around the start of the race), so the best guess is that it will be fully wet. This may mean that the difference in the performance of the cars on inters/wets may not come into play. But it’ll probably be more fun if it does…