Singapore Grand Prix: A few discoveries in the data

Posted on September 26, 2012

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I do like the Singapore Grand Prix. The night race buzz really works – even when the race is a little devoid of action. Things certainly livened up after the safety car, which was useful – especially as an intriguing battle for the win had been lost. The story we have is that Hamilton was cruising, and that McLaren had ‘only a few laps’ warning of the impending doom. The laptime data trace from Hamilton makes for interesting viewing in the light of this.

On the race history chart below I have plotted the first five cars (at that stage of the race) up to the safety car, and added a few notes. The dashed lines are model fits for Hamilton, Vettel and Button.

What we can see is that the first two set off at a fast rate, and then their pace begins to fall off. Curiously, it is the Red Bull which pits first suggesting that it was not just Hamilton who was struggling to keep the supersofts going. However, it is the pace of the leaders after the stop which is most intriguing. The model fits are based on the pace of Vettel and Button once Hamilton had retired (indicated by the ‘show real pace’ arrow). Given an equivalent pace gap between soft and supersoft for both McLarens, this is about 0.4s faster than Hamilton was going for the first five laps of his second stint. Cruising? Maybe – and as the laptimes were pretty consistent it is hard to argue against that. However, his pace drops off further at the point indicated by the ‘problem?’ arrow. If you compare this to the pace of Maldonado and Alonso behind, there is clearly something amiss.

Had Hamilton had no problem, and all other things remained equal, then the safety car would probably have won him the race. I don’t think Vettel would have passed him on track, and it would have evened out the tyre strategies. My simulations suggest that with no safety car period, two stops would have been better than three (even with a very fast last 10 laps or so on the supersofts), and so Vettel’s only chance was to undercut Hamilton and hope that the tyres lasted well enough in a long final stint. Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that they might have done – and that is provided by a certain Fernando Alonso.

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It is possible to argue that Michael Schumacher saved Ferrari’s race in Singapore. Alonso had stopped for the second time four laps before the safety car had come out, and was pretty much committed to a three stop race. So when Karthikeyan stuck it in the wall, he stayed out, and was able to retain third place from Di Resta, but was at the most risk of those around him in the safety car queue of needing to make another stop. Massa came in, but he put on the supersoft tyres which were very unlikely to make it to the end. The best chance for Ferrari now? To reduce the number of racing laps to the end of the race and hope that both their drivers would be able to hang on to the tyres. Step forward (or forget when to brake) Michael Schumacher.

The race history chart for the last stint shows how well the Ferrari drivers did – and how marginal it was for Massa.

Alonso was able to match his second stint (fuel-corrected) pace right up to the end of the race, which is some achievement from both driver and car. The pace of other cars which had stopped four laps later (Rosberg’s Mercedes for one) was waning earlier. Di Resta’s underlying pace was about 0.7s slower than Alonso’s, and so the newer tyres weren’t worth quite enough to make the difference. Now, had the first safety car been about four laps later, the story might have been very different… Massa, for his part, started to lose the tyres a couple of laps from the end – had the full 61 laps been run, he would probably have lost a place to Ricciardo.

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On underlying pace, the two Force Indias of Di Resta and Hulkenburg are very closely matched. And this closeness translated into fourth and, er, fourteenth. It seems inpossible that Hulkenburg can have run so quickly for so much of the race, been behind Di Resta in the first safetyqueue, and come nowhere. Indeed Hulkenburg spent the first stint directly behind Raikkonen, who finished sixth. The problem was the choice of tyres at the first pitstop. Hulkenburg started on the softs, and changed to another set of softs at the first stop. When the safety car came out they had a choice of hoping to finish the race on supersofts (Massa did this, but he had little to lose and a very tyre-friendly car), or to try to extend the stint on softs knowing that they had to run the supersofts at some point. They chose the latter, and so the second safety car was a disaster, and consigned Hulkenburg to the scrap for a point, which ended in contact with both Saubers.

Had they run supersofts in the second stint (thereby giving themselves the option of running to the end on softs when the safety car came out), having run a good length first stint, he would have been (at worst) right behind Raikkonen/Grosjean for an eighth place finish, but he had about 0.5s pace advantage on the cars in front, and more than that on Rosberg. It is not impossible that he could have come fifth. Fastest lap is nice, but this could have been a huge result for Force India. If only…

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