Spanish Grand Prix: Race Notes

Posted on May 13, 2013


Pick the bones out of that one! I realise that this probably doesn’t translate to those of you who don’t have English as a first language, but there was a crazy amount of stuff going on in the Spanish Grand Prix which could keep me busy for a very long time… There’s inconsistencies in pace, there’s relative merits of pushing harder and softer, there’s a misjudgement of the pace the tyre can take (by everyone) in the first stint, there are tyres falling off cliffs (step forward Mr. Hamilton), there is a crazy attempt at hanging on for a three stop (why did you leave Chilton out there? Why?), there’s cars faster on hards, cars faster on mediums, cars where one driver is faster on one tyre and the other on the other. Madness, I tell you. Madness.

Three stops or four?

Theoretically, given Alonso’s relative pace on the mediums and the hards (he was faster on the hards), it was better to three-stop. But, if you have to cut your pace by more than 0.1s in order to get the tyres to last – then it was a four stop. It seems almost certain that this was the case for everyone – so four stops was the right call. For Raikkonen, conversely, as the degradation was worse on the medium tyres on which he was faster, he would have been faster four-stopping regardless.

Vettel is an interesting case. Red Bull decided they wanted to do three stops, but his first two stints weren’t long enough. Instead of immediately converting to a four-stop, they decided to cut their pace, which they did to the tune of 0.6s per lap. By my reckoning, a pitstop is gained inside 30 laps (being about 18s time loss) and you get less time on newer tyres (which is worth a lot). I cannot figure how this is a good call. Anyway, if Vettel could have four-stopped at his original (stint 2) pace, then he would have been challenging Massa for the podium. But no better. Oh, and stopping a few laps earlier really wouldn’t have made that much difference.

Was Alonso really fastest?

Interesting question this. The answer is yes, which should be obvious, but the reason that the gap is so large was his pace on the hard tyres. On mediums, Alonso was 0.3s slower than Raikkonen, but on hards he was 0.8s faster – although Raikkonen may have been settling for an easy second in the last stint. Even if Kimi were only 0.3s slower on the hard, the advantage is with Alonso because of the degradation characteristics of the two tyres and that (on average) the two tyre types were essentially the same on pace. Essentially he gained due to the fact that his preferred tyre lost its pace less quickly, which was a significant advantage over a stint. I reckon he had more than 1s per lap in his pocket in the last stint – he could have won by a lot more…

How everyone got the first stint wrong

The important thing about the first stint was that Rosberg was holding everyone up. Wasn’t he? Well, he was, but then the tyres didn’t last for anyone and they all came in early. The pace in the first stint was a little slower than Alonso/Maldonado from last year, but not much. Then, fuel corrected, once past, Alonso and Raikkonen proceeded to go faster than Rosberg went in the first stint. But everyone else slowed down – including Rosberg – by a significant amount.

Usually in the race, the opening laps of a stint are fairly consistent, and drop very closely to the fuel correction for the number of laps. Therefore from stint 1 to stint 2, given a 10 lap stint, the times should be 0.8s quicker. Rosberg is no faster – indeed it’s slower. For stint 3, which should be 2.3s faster, its marginally better. And stint 4 – well we see the correct fuel effect from stint 3. So, at a best fit, Rosberg’s pace is 1.2s from the first stint pace (fuel corrected) for the rest of the race. And this may be most extreme for Mercedes, but we see it for nearly everyone.

I have never seen any data (before this race) which suggested that people were intentionally driving slowly to preserve the tyres. There are mutterings about nursing tyres, but this is about driving style to maximise tyre life for minimum time loss – not about driving slowly. This race was genuinely about finding the right pace for the tyres, and the fact that it was significantly different in nature from any previous race is shown by the pace of the first stint not being sustainable for the race duration. This is a first, otherwise why would they all have got it wrong?

How hard to push?

If you add the fuel correction to the qualifying times, you will get that the laptimes at the start of the race should be of the order of 86s. They are about 90.5s, which suggests that the car is being driven at 4.5s from its real pace. This isn’t true – and never has been – quotes of things like this to suggest this is all due to driving slowly to preserve tyres are misleading. There are many things in qualifying which distort the picture – engine mode (worth at least 1s on its own), KERS use, DRS use, optimisation of tyre temperature and brake temperature for a single lap (which you can’t prepare if you’re racing the previous lap). These are worth at least 2s from what I can figure. However, the effect is bigger this year than last year, despite reduced DRS in qualifying, which does mean that the tyres are having a larger impact in 2013. The impact of driving the tyres carefully was about 1s last year – it looks to be more this year. But Barcelona was extreme. This was the first race where you can see clearly in the data that the teams were having to decide how quickly to go to get the tyres to last.

Strategy nightmares

Apart from all going normally in the first stint, and realising that they weren’t going to get to the end like this, there are two notable strategy disasters. Now you may have thought that Lewis Hamilton disappeared into obscurity through poor tyre management, but the team really didn’t help. OK – he lost a bit of time in the first stop, but he was still only 10s behind Rosberg. He was struggling in the second stint, but then only as much as his team mate. Then, at the time when they could have switched to a four stop, he hit the cliff. He lost 2s on lap 24 and they didn’t react. So he lost another four on the in lap and ended up dropping a further 4s fighting with Maldonado on the outlap. Gap doubled.

But the biggest disaster befell Max Chilton as Marussia insisted on sticking to a three stop strategy. He was ahead of Pic when the Caterham stopped on lap 8. Up to that point his laptimes were in the 93s bracket. From about lap 11, up to his stop on lap 16, he went from being a pitstop ahead to being nearly 10s behind the car he was racing – with laptimes in the 95s and 96s brackets. And this despite an almost equal underlying pace… Switch to a four stop? No, they didn’t. They had similar (but less extreme) issues at the end of each of the stints. He finished 45s behind Pic.

Great performances

Alonso – still 0.5s faster than Massa in race pace.

Raikkonen – the only other guy in the race.

Sutil – faster than Di Resta with a great comeback drive.

van der Garde  – faster than Pic for the first time, and by quite a bit

Gutierrez – genuinely faster than Hulkenburg (well on the hard tyres anyway…)

I’ll post the underlying pace tables in the next couple of days. As long as they make enough sense.