The grid may be a two-by-two affair, but there were a number of intriguing factors in the Friday practice data, which make it a little harder to read than normal. Firstly, the tyre degradation is low. Well, the pace loss of the tyres is very low (as last year), and the stints in Friday practice were quite long. This has two effects – it suggests that a one-stop could well be on the cards for many teams, and it also means that the undercut is likely to be ineffective. Therefore passing may well have to be on track – which is a little concerning given that last year’s race was somewhat processional. However, it is worth noting that we do not know how long the tyres will last, and that they may fall off a cliff. If so, then predicting this and switching to two stops at the right time could be important. I’m inclined to think it’s one stop, and potentially dull – hope I’m wrong.
The second issue making things harder to read is that a number of the cars put in quick laps at the end of their stints. This (I guess) is to see how much life is left in the tyres, and perhaps will change the pace which they think they can run in the race. Red Bull and Williams especially seemed to be disproportionately fast in their final laps of the stint and so may have more pace than they showed.
The stints (removing slow laps) on a race history chart look like that below. I have not included those with no useful stint (Button, Massa, Kobayashi, Petrov, Karthikeyan, Pic).
Alonso looks to be fastest, and Hamilton looks to be competitive with Vettel. Fast laps at the end of the stints can be seen from most cars, but this can be factored out in tyre wear in most cases. Vettel, Webber, Maldonado and Rosberg are the exceptions. So with the caveat that these cars may have some pace up their sleeves, the underlying pace which best fits the data is:
Di Resta +1.6s
De la Rosa +2.3s
Apart from Caterham and HRT which seem too fast, and Rosberg who seems too slow, this is not too unreflective of qualifying. Hulkenburg will be disappointed, but he maintained the gap to his team mate. It looks concerningly like grid order is very close to speed order which doesn’t make for an exciting race. Having said all this, it’ll probably be great.