Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Underlying Pace Analysis

Posted on November 8, 2012


A curious race this one. With Vettel’s charge from the back, you’d think that the fastest car in the race would be his Red Bull – or perhaps Hamilton, and that Alonso and Button would be significantly slower – and Webber nowhere. That’s not what I get from the data. Vettel wasn’t that fast. You can argue that he used his tyres in getting past traffic, but I don’t buy that.

It just so happens that there was a big pace gap between the top six cars (Red Bull, McLaren, Raikkonen, Alonso) and the rest in Abu Dhabi, so all things being equal Vettel would have found his way to sixth. Maybe seventh if Maldonado’s KERS had held together. But Webber accounted for himself, reliability accounted for Maldonado and Hamilton, and the second safety car lucked him a chance at getting past Button (which he did take brilliantly). His pace looks better than the others partly because he spent longer on the faster soft tyres due to making two stops – both of which were close to time-loss free due to safety cars. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great drive, and he would have been fourth (maybe fifth) even without the safety cars. He just wasn’t as fast as some have made out – and certainly not the fastest car in the race.

With the safety car periods, there is a odd behaviour from the tyres which I have not seen before. Usually, it is as if the tyres do not degrade further during the safety car periods – so they stay at the pace they were before the safety car came out – and their life extends by about the same amount. In this race, the tyres recovered during the safety car period – meaning that the underlying pace of the cars was actually slightly faster (fuel-corrected) than it should have been for the number of racing laps completed on the tyres – which means that some care has to be taken in calculating the underlying pace.

Anyway, I’ve done the calculations, and this is what I get. All pace is relative to the fastest car on the soft tyres (Hamilton):

1. Raikkonen (Lotus); +0.3s on soft, +0.9s on medium: OK, he inherited the win, but Hamilton was the only car faster than him in the race. Once he was ahead of the others at the start, none of them had the pace to threaten.

2. Alonso (Ferrari); +0.5s on soft, +1.1s on medium: Again headed the cars with similar race pace to his, despite starting behind all of them (except Vettel). Master of maximisation does it again.

3. Vettel (Red Bull); +0.5s on soft, +1.1s on medium: No faster than Alonso, yet ended up right behind him having started last. Benefitted from spending three-quarters of the race on soft tyres, and from the half second pace gap between the top six and the rest.

4. Button (McLaren); +0.4s on soft, +1.0s medium: Faster than Alonso, could well have been second without the second safety car. Had he made the start that Kimi made, he probably would have won. Only Hamilton and Raikkonen had better race pace.

5. Maldonado (Williams); +1.1s on soft, +1.7s on medium (KERS issues): His pace did not improve after the first safety car in line with the other cars – so the suggestion that he lost KERS during this perios checks out. This left him in a no-mans-land of pace – slower than the top cars, but still faster than the rest. Seventh fastest on merit.

6. Kobayashi (Sauber); +1.8s on soft, +1.8s on medium: Really slow on the soft tyres at the start of the race and held up Schumacher for 40 laps. Faster on the mediums, so was able to keep his sixth place once he had inherited it from the rest of the cars driving into each other. Not one of his better races, even if it was one of his better results.

7. Massa (Ferrari); +1.2s on soft, +1.8s on medium (maybe traffic): Not in Alonso’s league here. Could argue that he was held up on the mediums at the end, but not on the softs. He just was not fast – Perez and the Williams cars were faster – so would have about scraped a point on pace. Worse than it looked.

8. Senna (Williams); +1.1s on soft, +1.2s on medium: Fast. Maybe just slower than Maldonado on the soft tyres, but faster on the mediums even with Maldonado’s KERS problems. The first corner incident left him at the back, and it took him too long to get through the slower cars. Went long on the hard tyres and had great pace in free air. A story of what might have been.

9. Di Resta (Force India); +1.4s on soft, +1.8s on medium: Faster than Toro Rosso and Schumacher. Slower than the rest of the midfield. Caught the pack at the first safety car after his first lap pitstop, and put on new tyres. Finished in the right place – but ordinarily wouldn’t have scored.

10. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso); +1.7s on soft, +2.5s on medium: Neither Toro Rosso was quick here. Ended up playing the strategy better than Vergne, and that got him a point – which he wouldn’t have got on pace.

11. Schumacher (Mercedes); +1.6s on soft, +1.8s on medium: Spend half the race stuck behind Kobayashi. This would have gained him seventh after the incidents and safety cars played out. But he got a puncture. Didn’t really deserve to score on pace.

12. Vergne (Toro Rosso); +1.7s on soft, +2.1s on medium: Faster than Ricciardo on the mediums, but stopped under the first safety car, and stayed out having just stopped on the second. Last stint was awful once he lost the last points place.

13. Kovalainen (Caterham); +2.8s on soft, +3.1s on medium: The real Heikki is back! Over a second slower than the midfield, but much faster than the rest. Couldn’t have done much more.

14. Glock (Marussia); +3.7s on soft, +3.2s on medium: Stragely faster on the medium tyre (unless the data is backwards). Kept Petrov behind for the whole race, and beat him on merit.

15. Perez (Sauber); +1.0s on soft, +2.5s on medium (in traffic): Passed Massa and Maldonado on merit, jumped Webber in the stops. It was looking good, and then he was a second a lap faster than Di Resta/Grosjean and couldn’t get by after the stop. Had fifth place nailed on when he lost his head.

16. Petrov (Caterham); +4.0s on soft (in traffic), +3.8s on medium: Probably had more speed on the soft tyre, but couldn’t get past the Marussias. Glock then left him behind on the medium. Much slower than Kovalainen – first time for a while.

17. de la Rosa (HRT); +4.4s on soft, +4.2s on medium: Closer than at previous races. HRT did OK here.

Ret. Pic (Marussia); +3.9s on soft, +3.8s on medium (traffic): Chased Glock/Petrov well. Then held up by Petrov on the medium tyres until reliability intervened. Could well have made it both Marussias ahead of Petrov.

Ret. Grosjean (Lotus); +1.6s on soft (traffic), +1.6s on medium: Was about 0.7s slower than Raikkonen, which is a lot. May have tried to hang on to the tyres to the end, but was a long shot and I don’t think he would have scored unless he stopped again. Curiously slow.

Ret. Webber (Red Bull); +0.6s on soft, +1.2s on medium: Only 0.1s off Vettel’s pace, but a much less impressive drive. Retirement wasn’t his fault, but being that far back was. Messy.

Ret. Hamilton (McLaren); +0.0s on soft, no data on medium: Had 0.3s on everyone in a class of his own. This would have been an easy win.

Ret. Karthikeyan (HRT); +4.7s on soft, no data on medium: Slower than de la Rosa.

Ret. Rosberg (Mercedes); no data on soft, +1.7s on mediums: Not many laps so data is not too solid. Consistent with Schumacher’s pace.

Ret. Hulkenburg (Force India); no data

This one was Lewis’. Until it became Kimi’s. All the fighting was going on behind these two.