Canadian Grand Prix: Race Notes

Posted on June 11, 2013


It seems that the response to the Canadian Grand Prix has been very positive. Proper racing, unlike the tyre management of Barcelona and the Monaco cruise. To some extent I agree – Monaco was dull (except for Sergio) and Barcelona was too confusing. But I don’t think that the cars should simply be ‘flat out from start to finish’. For interesting races, the problem for the teams to solve (how to get the best finishing position) has to be as difficult as possible. Where is is simple, so purely about building the fastest car over a lap, then we get the cars lining up on the grid in pace order, nothing happening in the race (DRS is no use when the faster cars are just pulling away) and bored spectators. Sounds a bit like F1 pre-Pirelli – and certainly pre-refuelling ban. Where Pirelli struggle is that in order to set a problem which is difficult enough for the teams, it is one which they cannot know the precise answer to themselves. Which is why the answer can end up being four stops, or one.

In Canada, we saw what happens when the problem is difficult, but the solution lies in about the right place. And no, the cars weren’t flat out from start-to-finish. But they were being raced, and (for the most part) raced well.

Did Alonso have the pace to beat Vettel?

Ferrari have been quoted as suggesting that had Alonso started on the front row he would have been able to challenge Vettel. I tend to disagree. With the ambient temperature being higher on Sunday, the set-ups of the cars leaned towards having the medium in the right operating window, and not the supersoft. Therefore, everyone was quite a lot quicker on the medium tyre – in most cases between 0.7s and 1s. Vettel was only 0.6s quicker, which suggested that he had something  in hand after the first stops. The underlying pace difference on the medium tyre was 0.1s in favour of the Ferrari driver, and so he might have given Vettel a race, had the Red Bull had nothing in hand. The data suggests, though, that Vettel was comfortably faster on the supersoft, and would have gained a lead in the opening laps which he could have held. Most likely, the result would have been the same.

Mercedes playing for second

I’m not sure that Mercedes got this quite right. They used Rosberg well when he was struggling to free Hamilton, but they were still wary of tyre wear so Lewis was not pushing until towards the end of the second stint – once Webber/Alonso got within 10s. Had he started to push when they jumped Rosberg (on the assumption that the tyres lasted to the second stop – which looks to be a good assumption) then he would have had enough in hand to hold second despite being 0.4s off Alonso’s pace. Without Rosberg there, Lewis would have had to push harder much earlier in the second stint – as long as the tyres held he just about had Webber handled, so I don’t think that Rosberg got him a podium – but it could have been the second step.

Di Resta on the right strategy?

There has been a fair amount of comment that starting on the mediums was the right strategy. It worked for Di Resta, but it didn’t work for Grosjean. The difference was simply that Di Resta was faster. In fact, the difference between starting on supersofts and making one stop at lap 16 and starting on mediums and making one stop 16 laps from the end is negligible. Just look at the drive from Vergne. His second stop was merely precautionary to protect him from Di Resta on new tyres. In fact, he drove almost the same race as Di Resta, just on the opposite strategy. The right strategy – for the cars who could keep the tyres running – was a single stop with about 16 laps on the supersofts. The advantage of running the mediums first, was that you could keep going for as long as possible, and be sure of a one-stop when you made the stop.

In fact those hurt by using a wrong strategy were the cars that took on a second set of supersofts at the first stops – and that was only Rosberg and Massa.

Opportunity knocks

Two drivers were given an unexpected opportunity to shine in Canada. First, the stunning second row grid slot from Bottas in the wet. And second, the top six finish from Vergne. In fact, being able to get past Bottas, when others (notably a spinning Sutil) did not provided Vergne with a cushion to the midfield. He drove well in the race, and much faster than Ricciardo, but was no faster on underlying pace than Perez, and slower than Button, Di Resta and the Lotus cars. He was just consistent and free from traffic. But when the opportunity comes, you still have to take it…

Lotus/McLaren not (quite) as bad as it looked

Both Lotus and McLaren struggled, with Raikkonen claiming a couple of points and McLaren taking home nothing. But pace-wise neither were as bad as it looked. McLaren spent much of the race tyre-managing and only realised in the second half of the race that they could push much harder. Button was faster than all bar Red Bull, Ferrari and Hamilton, and Raikkonen was as fast as Rosberg. Kimi lost a lot of time in traffic and in his stop, without which he would have been somewhere around Vergne. An earlier stop for Button, and driving at real pace could have challenged Di Resta. Perez was about Raikkonen pace, but Grosjean was slow…

From third to fourteenth

We knew that the Williams would struggle in the dry. They were two seconds off the pace. But Bottas was faster than Maldonado (and Sauber), so that’s something. I guess he will be disappointed, but that will surely be nothing in comparison to Ricciardo who was running at the same pace – which was a full second slower than Vergne. They weren’t worried by Caterham and Marussia though. The small teams were 0.5s adrift of the lower midfield here, which more than in most of the previous races and finished a long way behind.

Some final thoughts

I guess we can rely on the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve for a good race. But it seems crazy that a marshal can be killed in an innocuous looking building-site type incident when Kubica can be virtually unharmed in a violent accident just a few years previously. My prayers are with the bereaved family.

Apparently there’s a tribunal coming up. Something about secret tests which were of no benefit to the team running their current cars and gathering data for Pirelli. No benefit? Really? If that’s the case, then it’s no wonder that Mercedes are struggling with their rear tyre temperatures – they must be ignoring all the data they collect. Give me fuel loads and laptimes and I can tell you loads – without all the telemetry data they must have… Normally I would assume that Mercedes would be in big trouble, but I’ve been watching F1 a long time, and nothing surprises me any more.

I’ll post an underlying pace table later in the week.