Malaysian Grand Prix: Friday Practice

Posted on March 22, 2013

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The programmes being run by the teams on Friday may have been disrupted by the weather, but one race in on these new Pirelli tyres and there are already signs of a shift of emphasis. Rarely do we see teams do long runs in Free Practice 1, and if they do they are rarely repeated in Free Practice 2. So the long runs from Mercedes in both FP1 and FP2 suggest that ultimate qualifying speed is to be sacrificed for race pace. As someone who likes wheel-to-wheel racing, and overtaking, this makes me smile as the cars will not be qualifying in speed order.

It also suggests that Mercedes think that they are better than they showed in Melbourne, and that there is much more to unlock from that car. As they were in the gap between the top three teams and the rest in Australia, which was not quite as good as testing had suggested, I have the feeling that, come Sunday, they may well be mixing it with the top three on race pace. And I suspect that there may be more work on long runs on Fridays – which is good for data analysts.

The other big difference is that most of the longer runs that we have are on the prime (harder) tyre – usually the longer runs are on the option. But the number of pitstops in the race is going to be all about how far the teams can go on the harder tyre. Get more than 20 laps from the prime, and you might be on a two-stopper. Otherwise (most likely) it will be three.

However, with the rain, there are some teams who have given us nothing to go on (Sauber, Caterham) and some which have given us precious little. And unfortunately both Ferrari and Lotus fall into the latter category. I don’t really like including any data with less than five laps, and ideally more than eight – and the stints chosen are those in the right laptime band for a first stint based on last year’s data. But there’s not much choice. The stints I have picked to analyse are on the chart below. In addition to Sauber and Caterham, I have not selected data for Grosjean, Perez, Sutil and Chilton.

2013_malaysia1

So, as normal, the gradient gives the pace of the cars, and so when a car’s trace is high up the graph it is fast – and when it is low, it is slow. Degradation is seen when the curves bend downward – this shows the laps getting slower. The most apparent thing immediately is that only Mercedes have really tried to go long on these tyres – and Hamilton has done better than Rosberg. Red Bull have clear degradation issues – but Webber has tried to fix those at the cost of the pace of the car by the look of it. His curve is a cheat as it is two stints put end to end, but the pace is consistent, so it could well be representative. The interesting this is that this would put him behind Mercedes and Ferrari, where Vettel is ahead – until the tyres go.

Raikkonen’s curve is almost certainly not representative – as he is much faster after the opening couple of laps. If this is not fuel effect, then we are looking at his lapping the field! So the Lotus pace remains a mystery – and with nothing more than a five lap stint to go on, their degradation is also unknown. I guess I could predict what I like, but as this site is focused on the data, and I try not to infer anything that I don’t think we can say from the data – I can’t really say anything. If there’s useful stuff in FP3, then I’ll post something after qualifying, but I don’t really expect there to be.

There’s a big gap between the first five teams (which include Force India) and the rest, with McLaren (and possibly Sauber if they had data) in the gap. Williams look to be in trouble, both Toro Rossos are really slow (not convinced this is representative) – and only just ahead of Marussia.

So to the pace list. I’ve done this relative to Vettel, as I think this is the fastest race pace we see:

  • -2.5 s Raikkonen ( surely not really that far ahead?)
  • 0.0s Vettel
  • +0.5s Alonso/Massa/Rosberg/Hamilton
  • +0.7s Di Resta
  • +0.8s Webber
  • +1.4s Button (but deteriorates to +2.5s)
  • +3.0s Bottas
  • +3.5s Maldonado
  • +3.7s Vergne
  • +3.8s Ricciardo
  • +4.1s Bianchi

So it looks like Red Bull may well be fastest on pure pace, but may be as low as fourth fastest on race pace. However, it does look better than Friday practice in Melbourne for Red Bull. Ferrari look like they are competitive and Mercedes look better on race pace than in Melbourne. Force India look to be maintaining their good form, and McLaren/Williams are still struggling. Marussia are looking like they will keep up their good start too. I don’t know what the Toro Rossos are doing.

The real mystery, though, is the black cars…

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