Well, well, well. Just when you thought it was all over, the cruise to the title for Sebastian Vettel has a few more bumps in the road. He could have been (had Mr. Hamilton just settled for second and Renault alternators been reliable) 23 points ahead, simply needing Alonso not to win to take the title. But it’s not quite that easy. Firstly there is the weather forecast, which allows for pretty much anything to happen. And if it is dry, Friday practice cannot have done much to calm the nerves at Red Bull unless they were running everything on low and have about half-a-second in hand. Trouble is, Ferrari are fast and Alonso could win in the dry based on Friday practice. It’s not all over yet.
Given that the weather is uncertain for race day, I would have expected fewer race stint simulation runs as they may well not be meaningful. As it happens, we have data for all cars except the HRTs. I have put these stints on a race history chart (missing out the slow laps) and done the curve fits using the intelligentF1 model. What I get is below:
And what we see is that the Ferraris are quick (especially considering Alonso’s stint is on the harder tyre) and Red Bull are in the middle somewhere. The degradation is much heavier than at the previous couple of races, which will mean at least two stops. It seems that the harder tyres are suffering with overheating which may drive teams to three stints on the mediums and three stops – which was the solution for many last year. The pace of the hards seems to be about 0.5s slower than the mediums. Mind you, it’ll probably rain.
The pace as I have it is below:
Massa +0.0 (fastest)
Grosjean +0.0 (had a consistent quick burst at the end of his stint – the early laps were slower)
Hamilton +0.1s (had quite a few slow laps – not certain this pace can be maintained without overheating the tyres)
Hulkenburg +0.2s (good consistent run – tyre degradation at end of run visible)
Alonso +0.4s (on hard tyres – could well be fastest of all)
Rosberg +0.4s (consistent)
Button +0.7s (pace tailed off in stint, but step changes – possibly engine modes)
Schumacher +0.7s (very consistent – Mercedes best weekend for a while?)
Di Resta +0.7
Webber +0.8s (not that consistent)
Senna +0.8s (quicker bit in the middle of the stint)
Vettel +0.9s (pace tailed off in the stint – degradation issues? Have hidden pace by about 0.5s in some recent race weekends)
Raikkonen +1.2s (started similar to Grosjean, then got slower as team mate got faster)
Vergne +1.2s (short stint)
Perez +1.4s (short stint)
Ricciardo +1.8s (tend to be disproportionately slow on Friday – maybe on harder tyre)
So Ferrari look quick, Hamilton is there and flashes of pace from the Lotus of Grosjean. Red Bull look to be sandbagging a little.
Of the others, Mercedes look set for their best weekend for some time, Force India look to be contenders for good points and Caterham are much closer to the midfield than they have been recently. Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso don’t seem fast, and may well be struggling to get points. Marussia are about where we would expect – I doubt that the Caterham pace is real.
Anyway, we’ll know more when the grid is set, but I have a suspicion that this will be a closer run thing than we may have expected. Vettel still has a job to do.