USA Grand Prix: Underlying Pace Analysis

Posted on November 20, 2012

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So it turns out that the US Grand Prix was a good race after all. With enough of the little uncertainties Formula One is always trying to remove (traffic, tyre warming) which make for opportunities and speed differences between cars. In some ways, the lack of grip made this a little more like a wet race, with some cars struggling more (Schumacher), some cars struggling at certain points (Hulkenburg), some cars taking a while to get the tyres working even though their pace was good (Raikkonen) and some cars not being able to overtake and so show only glimpses of their true pace (Williams).

In comparison with Friday Practice, the degradation of the tyres is higher, and the fuel model only has a small number of two stoppers to work with, but it checks out OK. This is not as solid as at the other circuits, but it checks out with what we have, so it’s as good as it can be. The degradation on the medium was much higher than on the hard tyre, and there was a little phase 2 degradation – interestingly mainly among the leaders. The underlying pace is (as usual) measured against the fastest car on the faster tyre.

1. Hamilton (McLaren); +0.0s medium, +0.7s hard: Was ever so slightly faster than Vettel, but needed a little outside help to get by. That a backmarker would offer a chance could be predicted from watching the previous 10 laps, so it was no surprise when the opportunity came. Had some phase 2 degradation on the mediums before his stop, and no problem getting the tyres warm.

2. Vettel (Red Bull); +0.2s medium, +0.8s hard: Actually more competitve on the hard tyres, but got his tyres about 2 laps further on the mediums to have a little gap come the stops. Got the tyres warm well, but didn’t quite have enough to stay away from Hamilton in traffic.

3. Alonso (Ferrari); +0.6s medium, +1.1s hard: More competitive on the hard tyre once he got it working – but spent 2 laps two seconds off the pace before they warmed up. Also had degradation problems in the first stint (not visible in Massa’s trace) which cost him 0.8s per lap for the six laps before he stopped. Third place, but not close to third fastest.

4. Massa (Ferrari); +0.5s medium, +1.0s hard: Marginally faster than Alonso, yes, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Massa had good pace on his mediums up to his lap 26 stop, when Alonso managed 14 before running into problems. From laps 15-20, Massa was a full second faster – same fuel same tyres. Had similar tyre warm-up issues, but was much the more impressive Ferrari driver in this race. Fernando is not faster than you.

5. Button (McLaren); 0.9s medium, +0.6s hard: Peculiar data from Jenson made me question the fuel model, but no-one else shows this trend – not even Rosberg who ran a similar strategy. So I think the fuel model is OK – but it does show up uncertainties in the degradation model which can be driver specific. With Jenson’s medium tyres being newer (and the degradation curve looking OK), I would have expected him to be closing on the hard-tyred Massa at about 0.5s per lap. But no. His pace in free air at the end of his first stint was excellent, and he was faster on the old hards than the new softs (fuel corrected). Which is odd. With Lewis’ pace on the softs, he might have troubled Alonso. There’s something odd in this data.

6. Raikkonen (Lotus); +0.5s medium, +1.3s hard: Finished behind faster cars and ahead of slower cars. Had real problems getting the hard tyres to temperature and lost more than 2s per lap for four laps. Lost the same behind Hulkenburg as well – which is how Grosjean got so close.

7. Grosjean (Lotus); no data medium, +1.3s hard: Was able to get heat into the tyres faster than Raikkonen. This was evident from his pace until his spin – although there is not enough data to get a definitive pace for him on the mediums. Had no problems heating his hard tyres, and was lucky that Hulkenburg was travelling much more quickly for his four laps stuck behind the Force India.

8. Hulkenburg (Force India); +1.5s medium, +1.7s hard: An opportunist drive. Getting past Schumacher made his race – as he then had a buffer to the faster cars behind. Once they were past Schumacher, Di Resta then became the car protecting him. His pace in the first stint dipped on lap 10, and he made an early stop as he was really struggling on the mediums. A later stop would have meant no points, so they called this well. Much better on the hards, but had no right keeping the much faster Williams cars behind him. Like Alonso, had no right finishing where he did.

9. Maldonado (Williams); +0.8s medium, +1.1s hard: As fast as Ferrari on the hard tyre, but stuck in traffic for most of the race. An opportunity missed – Williams could well have been sixth/seventh here – especially with Grosjean spinning and Raikkonen’s tyre heat-up issues.

10. Senna (Williams); +0.5s medium, +1.0s hard: Faster than Maldonado. Ninth in first stint – lost out to Button/Grosjean and undercut Perez/Di Resta. Had he hade a lap 15 stop to cover Grosjean, could have been seventh. And could well have beaten Raikkonen too. Williams had the pace, but couldn’t overtake anyone – except Schumacher… I know that a double points finish is good, but surely they must be really disappointed with this.

11. Perez (Sauber); +0.8s medium, +1.9s hard: In the mix on the softs, but had no pace on the hard tyres. Didn’t have a problem getting them to speed – but my guess is that they were running slightly cool so the full pace wasn’t there. Ahead of Kobayashi again.

12. Ricciardo (Toro Rosso); +1.2s medium, +1.8s hard: Got the mediums to go a long way – and appeared high up the leaderboard, but in reality lost out by stopping late. On the other hand, he probably wouldn’t have finished higher if he’d stopped earlier (unless he went really early, like Hulkenburg) so it was worth a go.

13. Rosberg (Mercedes); +1.0s medium, +1.6s hard: At the back end of the midfield on pace, but at least had reasonable pace on the medium tyre (which Schumacher did not). Once past Schumacher, was slower than the cars ahead – caught a bit on the mediums in the final stint, but was never really going to threaten. Had he been fifth at the first corner, Mercedes might have hung on to a point.

14. Kobayashi (Sauber); +1.9s medium (in traffic), +2.0s hard: Stuck a the back of the midfield queue, and then behind Schumacher as he failed to undercut the Mercedes.  And suffered the same as Perez on the hard tyre.

15. Di Resta (Force India); +1.7s medium, +2.2s hard: Whilst his team mate is scoring points in a car that probably shouldn’t be, Di Resta is beginning to fall into obscurity. Defended his team mate in the first stint by holding slower cars behind, but couldn’t hold back the Williams’ after the stops. Might have held Perez at bay for 11th without the spin and extra stop, which would have been more than the car deserved.

16. Schumacher (Mercedes); +1.8s medium, +2.4s hard: Better not to say anything. Especially as this was the new spec car – surely it shouldn’t be 0.8s slower than the new one?

17. Petrov (Caterham); +3.1s medium, +3.2s hard: Still the chasm to Caterham widens, and the gap to Marussia narrows. Beat his team mate on pace.

18. Kovalainen (Caterham); +3.2s medium, +3.3s hard: Passed Glock in the first stint as his tyres came in faster – Glock was faster by the end of the stint. Ended up hanging on against the Marussia at the end.

19. Glock (Marussia); +3.2s medium, +3.2s hard: Had the pace of the Caterhams – Marussia are looking like they are about to be 10th team on pace.

20. Pic (Marussia); +3.2s medium, +4.2s hard: Lost a lot of time in the early laps, then settled well. Did not have the pace on the hard tyre, but when you have 30s of clear air ahead and 50s behind, what’s to race for?

21. de la Rosa (HRT); +4.5s medium, +5.2 hard: HRT struggled here.

22. Karthikeyan (HRT); +4.5 medium, +5.3 hard: Kept up with de la Rosa, just about. And innocently provided the race-winning opportunity.

Ret. Webber (Red Bull); +0.6s medium, no data on hard: Well slower than Vettel, but hard to imagine that the podium place wasn’t his for the taking. Was set for a lonely race.

Ret. Vergne (Toro Rosso); no data. Not enough data to say anything.