So the European season starts, everyone brings their big upgrades and hopes that they did better than anyone else. History tends to dictate that the improvements are generally fairly even and that the impact on competitiveness here does not really tell the whole story. Indeed, last year’s race was quite anomalous with Williams and Ferrari being the fastest cars, and Red Bull being fifth fastest.
There are a good number of long runs in Free Practice 2, with some cars running on both the medium and the hard tyre, at similar speeds – which gives us an idea of the relative race performance of the two tyres, which is very much not the same thing as the qualifying performance. In comparison with last year, the long runs look to be quicker, but with higher degradation – which is consistent with what we have seen in the first four races. Qualifying will almost certainly be faster than last year, indeed Pirelli have claimed that their medium this year is faster than the soft from last year – part of this is car performance, so it’s not a totally clean comparison, even though it is most likely true. However, the races have generally been a little slower than 2012 as far as the pace fits are concerned.
Last year’s first stint pace was just under 90s, which compares pretty closely with the runs from FP2, so the fuel loads again look to be reasonably representative. It is worth noting that the Red Bull (of Vettel, at least) and Toro Rosso have tended to be a little quicker in the races than they have looked on Friday, and Force India a little quicker, but generally the times are reasonably representative of race pace.
We have data from everyone, with Massa’s stint being a little anomalous. I have plotted the cars faster runs, which are almost exclusively on the medium tyres (as far as I can make out). The hards seem to be a little slower, and don’t seem to last as long – Rosberg’s runs are a good example of this, similarly for Grosjean. I’m not sure that we’re getting the stable non-degrading tyre that Red Bull were looking for. In fact, I can see the teams trying to run the mediums for as much of the race as possible, with a hard tyre stint at the end, which could favour those who can definitely do three stops. Given the degradation looks like last year, I’d expect that three stops is the way to go, especially as the pit stop loss time is small at Barcelona.
So to the data itself. The pace chart for medium tyres is below, with all cars on it. The easiest way to understand the chart is to imagine a pace car at the top of the chart going at constant laptime – when the lines are going up, you’re catching this pace car, when they’re going down, you’re dropping away. The steeper the line, the faster you’re catching. Hope that helps.
Once again on a Friday it’s red and yellow lines at the top. And if you look closely, you can see that the cars which look fast at the start tend to start to drop pace about lap 5 or 6. Except Raikkonen. As his stint is shorter that most of the others, it’s not easy to tell what would happen, but this has a bit of a Melbourne look about it. In order to get the best idea of pace, I’ve tried to fit the second half of the curves rather than the first (which is a big difference for Massa), and this leaves Raikkonen comfortably fastest as he doesn’t have a slower part of his curve. I don’t think that the size of the gap is real, but I do think that Kimi is looking very good here.
Ferrari look to be next up on race pace, and then Red Bull – with Vettel and Webber producing remarkably similar stints. If they qualify at the front, which they are likely to do, then they will be in the mix for the podium.
Then we have a few cars whose pace is not as fast in the early laps, but appear to keep the pace better – and they are Force India, Rosberg, and Bottas (surprisingly). Bottas has been quoted as saying that the upgrades have worked, but the 0.8s gap to Maldonado is a little suspicious – that suggests that some of the pace may well be a lighter fuel load. If not, then Bottas could be in the mix for points, which would be impressive.
Hamilton is surprisingly off the back of this group, and leads the next group, which has pretty much everyone else in it. I think that Rosberg’s pace is more representative, but it does suggest that Mercedes is again fourth (or maybe fifth) best here – they are likely to qualify better than that, but a podium finish looks to be unlikely from these runs. This pack is very closely matched, with the most striking feature being that Bianchi is right in the middle of it, with Chilton close. Marussia have tended to go badly in Bahrain, and much better in Barcelona – they could be mixing it with the midfield in the race, if not in qualifying. Caterham look to be returning to the back.
The underlying pace as I have it from the model fits is:
- Raikkonen fastest (but disproportionately so due to the short stint)
- Alonso +0.6s
- Grosjean +0.7s
- Massa +0.8s (first part of his stint is -1.0s, don’t really know what’s going on there)
- Vettel/Webber +1.1s
- Rosberg/Bottas/Di Resta/Sutil +1.3s
- Hamilton/Button +1.9s
- Maldonado/Gutierrez/Hulkenburg/Vergne +2.1s
- Perez +2.2s
- Bianchi +2.3s
- Ricciardo +2.6s
- Chilton +2.8s
- Pic +2.9s
- van der Garde +3.7s
In a lot of ways, this looks like Melbourne at the front. As long as Lotus are in the first three rows, then they look extremely good, even if they three stop like everyone else. Challengers will be Ferrari and Red Bull, who will probably start ahead – which bodes well for a good race.
Apart from the race at the front, I’ll be interested to see if Bottas’ pace is real, and if Marussia can take some scalps. Could be an interesting one, especially if everyone is in sequence in the pitstops as overtaking will not be easy… Here’s hoping.