Australian Grand Prix: Friday Practice

Posted on March 15, 2013

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Well, well, well. Red Bull fastest. Thing is that this is by no means the whole story in Melbourne. While the testing analysis did suggest that Red Bull had to be picked as favourites, and the headline times make them big favourites for pole, the long run times are somewhat less easy to assess. Which means that we may well have a race on our hands on Sunday.

As with last year, the plan is to have a go at predicting the race pace of the teams/drivers from the Friday Practice 2 long runs. I do this by fitting curves to a race history chart of the laptime data from the long runs. This gives a best guess at the degradation of the tyres as well, which allows for a guess at the strategy.

So, first things first. Here’s the race history chart of the long runs. You won’t find Massa, Hamilton, Gutierrez or van der Garde on it as they didn’t do a representative stint.

2013_australia_1

The first thing to notice is that the cars at the top aren’t the Red Bulls – we have Alonso and Raikkonen ahead of Vettel. On pace, Raikkonen and Grosjean are fastest, but Alonso is comfortably the most consistent. Red Bull and McLaren split their strategy as their was about 1.5s difference between Vettel/Webber and Button/Perez later in the stint. It looked like Button was on a lighter load (as the degradation is consistent on both McLarens), but I have a suspicion that Webber is being harder on the tyres than Vettel as their initial laptimes are similar, but Webber’s tailed off – a lot. Rosberg is in this mix as well, but Mercedes look to be fourth fastest in race pace.

So, for the first five teams, it looks like Ferrari and Lotus look very good for the race, and are each looking very good in terms of tyre degradation. Red Bull may well be sandbagging some more, but Webber’s stint would be a concern. I’m not convinced that they will be the fastest car in the second half of stints. I would be tempted to go for a red or a black car for the win.

After the first four teams, we have Sauber, Force India and disappointingly Williams and McLaren. Button had a good stint, but Perez was comfortably in the midfield. The most interesting feature here is that Williams had plenty of tyres left late in their stints – so either they have a bit of pace in hand, or they will be looking very good later in the race. I can see the blue cars struggling in qualifying, but working their way forward in the race.

It’s hard to know what to make of McLaren. Button is ahead of this group, and Perez behind. I would have put them ahead based on testing, but I can see them in the midst of this battle on Sunday. Not sure I see them heading forwards in the race, either.

Toro Rosso look to be a little behind these teams, and Marussia (especially Bianchi) look to be well ahead of Caterham. In fact, Bianchi could well keep the Toro Rossos honest.

A quick table of stint pace, relative to the pace of Raikkonen, who was fastest:

Raikkonen

Grosjean +0.1s

Alonso +0.4s

Vettel/Rosberg/Button +1.0s

Hulkenburg +1.6s

Maldonado +1.8s

Di Resta/Sutil +2.0s

Webber/Perez +2.5s

Bottas +2.8s

Vergne +3.1s

Ricciardo +3.2s

Bianchi +3.3s

Pic +4.1s

Chilton +4.5s

Are some running light? Some running heavy? Guess we find out in a couple of days time…

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Tyre degradation is massive. The rate of laptime loss is about three times what it was in the race last year – so about 0.22s per lap after about lap 5. This is more severe than at any race in the last two seasons. So we are likely to see more stops this year. This means that the undercut is going to be huge, and that an extra stop, or a well timed stop may make a big difference. There could be quite a shake up of track position at each round of stops – I think that qualifying is going to be less important this year as a result. I’m beginning to wonder if teams will use the softer tyres to get through to Q3 and then run on the harder tyres as this will be better for the race.

If the softer tyre will do 15 laps, and the harder 20 laps, then two and three stops are both pretty competitive with the three stoppers catching the two stoppers in the last stint. If the softer tyre only does 10 laps and the harder 15, then it looks like three stops. I think we’ll see most on three stoppers. Williams, and perhaps Lotus, look like the most likely to be able to make it two.

Lotus for the win? Or will normal service be resumed?

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