Bahrain Grand Prix: Race Notes

Posted on April 26, 2013

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The dust (or sand) has well and truly settled on an eventful Bahrain Grand Prix, and now that I’m back from my work trip, I have a little time to dig into the data and discover a few bits and pieces behind what we can see in the headlines.

Vettel even faster than it looked

An odd one this. There was no evidence before the race to suggest that Vettel would walk it, and it was a very dominant performance. Which wasn’t matched by Webber, who was much the same pace as everyone else. What is strange though, is that Vettel cut his pace stint-by-stint, and had a huge amount in hand. His first stint on the hard tyres was 0.6s faster than anyone (yes, that includes Raikkonen – actually Grosjean in next up on pace), but he had a fair bit of degradation. Having a gap to play with, his next stint was 0.5s slower, and his final stint was (for the most part) a full second slower (fuel/tyre age corrected) than his first stint on the hards. Very comfortably the most dominant performance of 2013.

Big advantage to running fewer stops

I read a quote on Autosport that Grosjean was switched to a three-stop strategy as this was the fastest way through the race. Not so. There was a big advantage to stopping less frequently. On the hard tyres, Raikkonen’s pace was about that of Perez, and Di Resta was slower than McLaren, Mercedes, Ferrari and Webber. There was a big advantage to be had in two-stopping, if you could get the tyres to last. The same goes for three-stopping – Rosberg was quicker than Hamilton on the mediums, and about the same pace on the hards, but he could not keep the hard tyres alive.

What Raikkonen and Hamilton had in common

They both really struggled on the medium tyres, being significantly slower than their relative team mates on those tyres. On the hards, they were both fine. Mercedes look to have made a mistake in running Hamilton’s second stint on the medium tyre – three stints on hards and he could have been troubling the fourth place battle. I read that it was the cooler temperatures later on in the race that got Hamilton into the mix. Again, I don’t agree – there is a step change in his pace when he gets on to the hard tyres (which were faster for pretty much everyone in the race).  I think it is to do with the balance of the car on the different compounds of tyre.

That Lotus is good on the tyres

Usually I can fit the race data with the same tyre degradation fit for each car. More or less. The main difference tends to be how long they can go at that pace. Not so here – I need a substantially different fit for Lotus. Their tyre degradation effect is of the order of two-thirds of most of the other cars. And they’re running longer.

Seriously close racing

The racing was great in Bahrain. There was a group of cars (two McLarens, two Ferraris, two Mercedes, Webber) who battled the whole race, which suggests that their underlying pace was very similar. Looking at the hard tyre pace – which is both dominant for race position, and faster – the difference across this bunch is 0.2s from fastest to slowest. If we add in that Raikkonen and Sutil are in the same pace bracket, Grosjean marginally faster and Di Resta marginally slower, then we get an idea of quite how close it all was.

Perez v. Button

Sergio was quicker. Only by 0.2s, but it makes quite a difference given how much time they lost fighting each other. Had they stopped Perez first at the first stops, then the chances are he would have freed himself from the pack and gone after Webber, jumping him (almost certainly) at the second stops. And then because his pace was faster than Di Resta and his stops better spaced than Grosjean, he would even have had a reasonable shot at the podium. OK – he is a bit scary to watch wheel-to-wheel and he needs to do less of the swerving thing, but this is his first real demonstration of serious race pace in a McLaren. I guess Jenson wouldn’t be too pleased at the suggestion that he should have let him go…

What happened to Alonso?

Given his pace on Friday, I expected that Alonso would be battling through the field and getting near the podium after his DRS issues. I certainly didn’t expect to see him passed by Perez with four to go. The fact that he had caught the Webber/Hamilton/Perez train made you think that he was travelling faster and would cruise past. But no. The main reason he had caught them was because they were fighting each other which slowed them down. There was no real pace advantage that I could see in the data – in fact (whisper it) Massa was as fast on race pace. There is no evidence of lost time in traffic (from not having DRS), and there is no evidence of tyre degradation from following traffic as he was in clear air up to the last stint. On the other hand, the fact that he had got past Rosberg and was ahead of the fighting means that he would probably have been chasing Raikkonen for second in the last stint had he not had the failure. Vettel was long gone.

Williams and Caterham on the up

On race pace, and especially on the hard tyre, Williams were faster than Sauber and Toro Rosso. Maldonado’s finishing position just outside the points was all about pace. But there is almost one second in race pace between the close stuff ahead and this next group. And this next group now includes Caterham and Marussia as far as race pace is concerned. The step forward made by the green cars in Bahrain was huge. OK, Pic has been around 0.5-0.7s quicker than van der Garde, but this time it was 1.2s. That put him 0.3s up on the Marussias, and faster than Gutierrez on the hards. So the pace difference across this group is down to under a second. The slowest car was only 2.5s off Vettel – and so less than 2s from anyone else…

Team-mate battles

For the first time this season, Maldonado was actually faster than Bottas on race pace. A blip? Or perhaps Maldonado has got used to the speed of Bottas, and is responding – without crashing into stuff.

Also for the first time Chilton was as fast as Bianchi throughout the race. His best yet.

And finally. Gutierrez was somewhere close to Hulkenburg. Definitely an improvement.

Underlying Pace Table

I’ll try to get this posted tomorrow. There are enough hints in this post to piece most of it together, though…

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