Alonso out front
An intriguing Chinese Grand Prix, then – with some things matching the Friday/Saturday analysis here, and some surprises. That Ferrari were able to maintain the pace on the medium tyre was a surprise – the Friday data matched the performance of Massa, but Alonso’s practice run was too short to know that he was in control of the tyre degradation, even at the fast pace of the first few laps. Alonso was dominant – the model shows he had 0.3s underlying pace advantage over the field in the race. Indeed in the last stint, when he stated “I’m not pushing”, it was true. His underlying pace on new tyres and lower fuel matched exactly his underlying pace in the previous stint. This was a win for pace, and not strategy.
Raikkonen’s nose and Hamilton’s fuel
The next fastest cars in the race were Hamilton and Raikkonen – and it’s difficult to split them on pace. What is interesting is that Kimi lost more time in traffic, but was able to catch it up for two reasons. Firstly, Lewis chased Alonso in the second stint, and paid a tyre wear penalty causing him to struggle for the second half of the stint bringing Raikkonen up to his tail, even after his nose-altering moment. This made Mercedes wary, and they did not have the luxury of undercutting for the final stint as they were worried about wear. Lewis has also pulled a gap after Raikkonen got stuck behind Button, but this time it was lost to a period of consistent lower pace in the third stint from the Mercedes – generally typical of fuel saving. My guess is that they underfuelled again – most likely for preservation of the softs in the first stint.
And there is no sign of any effect on pace of the damage to Raikkonen’s nose. In fact, if anything, he is marginally quicker in the final stint that in the rest of the race. Apparently Lotus have stated 0.15s, but I should be able to see anything bigger than 0.1s, and I can’t. Looks to me like they called it right not to change it.
Strategy call: Vettel/Button do get it right (in my opinion)
I’m amazed how many times I’ve read that Vettel’s strategy didn’t work, but that Button’s did. Vettel, as the fourth fastest car, with a 0.1s per lap pace disadvantage to Raikkonen and Hamilton was within one small mistake (the slide just before the DRS checkpoint) of finishing on the podium. Which is a success. In fact, contrary to expectation, Vettel lost much more time in traffic that the cars which started on the softs – and this is purely due to getting passed by Hulkenburg in the first stint. At a best guess, based on his underlying pace, this cost him 13s – I’m sure he saved a bit of fuel, so let’s say 10s. For the rest of the race, I reckon he lost a further 6s in traffic, which matches Alonso’s loss – Hamilton lost a little more, and Raikkonen a little less.
If, as we would have expected, Vettel had not been passed by Hulkenburg, he would have been just failing to catch Alonso at the end for the win. I agree that being passed – or making a bad start – was a possibility of starting ninth, but I still think that Red Bull lost nothing on a bad weekend for them, and a slightly different falling of the cards would have given them a big gain.
As for Button, his underlying pace was slower than Massa, Di Resta and Ricciardo. And he beat all of them. Oh, and by my reckoning doing two stops was no gain over doing three – it would have come out about the same. And three could have been better if he were able to push a bit more…
Sergio takes one for the team
With Button in position to take good points, and the unknown of the soft tyre life, McLaren decided to test the soft tyre on Perez. And they tested it to destruction. He lost about 5s running slowly and being passed in the final two of his 7 laps. His final stint was poor, but it was clear that he would be 11th with the faster cars bearing down on him. He was genuinely 0.3s slower than Button, but those 5s would have given him a very good chance of being in the mix for 8th.
Ricciardo finally does it
There has been much talk of the Ricciardo turning a qualifying performance into a good race performance. The intelligentF1 model invariably has Vergne as the faster Toro Rosso driver in race trim. But not this time – Ricciardo was 0.2s faster. Let’s see if he can consolidate this. And I need to figure out what Toro Rosso are doing in the Friday Practice long runs, because they have been very slow this year…
What might have been for Force India
The incident between Di Resta and Sutil was blamed by the Scot for their failing to get more points. Is it true? Well, the underlying pace I get for Di Resta is about 0.8s from Alonso – so 0.3s from Raikkonen and faster than Massa, Button and Ricciardo who finished ahead. I can offset his trace, and use his underlying pace to see what he lost stuck behind cars he would have been ahead of. I have him in a fight with Button for fifth, which would be decided on whether the three-stopping Force India could pass the two-stopping McLaren on track. If held up badly by Button, he could have lost out to Massa, but he had the pace to be fifth.
I can see a big result for the orange cars coming.
Edit: I note that Force India have claimed “We targeted seventh, and without the first lap incident we could have got Jenson [Button] as well.”