The headline lap times seem to point towards another demonstration run for the Red Bulls, but the fact that they didn’t do a clear race stint leaves us a little in the dark as to their competitiveness in race trim. I’ve had to cheat a bit to get an idea of Vettel’s pace by stringing together just enough laps, and it suggests that he is competitive. Indeed, the race could be close, with McLaren, Ferrari and the Williams of Maldonado being quick in race trim, and the Saubers and Lotuses not far behind. Once more, it does not look like good news for Mercedes, with Force India quicker and Toro Rosso about on a par.
The degradation is again low – the laptimes get faster as the stint proceeds. In fact, this effect is more pronounced than at last year’s race – a two stop is again the most likely, but it may well be two stints on the softer tyre – as the pace gap seems to be reasonably large and the tyres seem to be holding up well.
I’ve put the laptimes from the long runs (omitting slow laps) onto a race history chart to give a picture of what the stints look like, and I’ve done the curve fits using the intelligentF1 model. The chart is below:
There is no data for Webber, Hamilton, Alonso, Vergne, de la Rosa or Pic – and I’ve had to cheat for Vettel’s data. Where there is a large discrepancy between team mates, the best guess is that they are on different tyre compounds – this gives a reasonably consistent picture of 0.8s or so between the compounds, which is consistent with India, but quite big for 2012 as a whole. The fits give us:
Vettel (slightly fudged data)/Massa/Maldonado +0.0s
Raikkonen (short stint so not clear) +0.3s
Grosjean/Perez (not very consistent) +0.4s
Di Resta +0.8s
Schumacher/Senna (probably on harder tyre) +1.0s
Hulkenburg (probably on the harder tyre) +1.3s
Rosberg (probably on the harder tyre) +1.7s
Karthikeyan (not very consistent) +3.5s
This suggests that Red Bull are favourites, but may well not have things all their own way, that Ferrari look good in race trim and that Williams may once again be dark horses (unless Maldonado ran on low fuel). Lotus and Sauber look like keeping the big boys honest and should be well in the hunt for points. For Force India, this weekend looks to be more difficult – although they are as close on pace as they have been, other cars look to be more suited to the track. And for Mercedes – it could be another long weekend of qualifying reasonably and trying not to go backwards too quickly in the race. There is a big gap back to Caterham.
Maldonado has been this quick twice before on a Friday. Once he did nothing, but the other time…