Belgian Grand Prix: Friday Practice

Posted on August 24, 2013


Due to the late arrival of this piece – as I write I’m hoping to have it out before qualifying – you could be forgiven for thinking that intelligentF1 was no more. But I am still here. Having returned from a great holiday, the summer break came at an ideal time as my family and I prepared to move across the South of England. We moved on Thursday and so things are in flux – but I am actually writing now. Anyway, enough about me – what about the cars?

I guess the first question from Hungary is whether Mercedes are now in control of the tyre situation, and whether that makes Hamilton the greatest threat to Vettel in the championship. If indeed there is any threat. Someone needs to go on a roll, and now is the time.

And so to the data. The data assessed here is from the long runs in Free Practice 2 as this is the best indication of race pace. What I have done (as usual) is to plot the long runs which are most representative of a first stint pace (based on expectations from last year) on a race history chart. There is no (good) data for Alonso (or Chilton) – I don’t plot stints with too few laps as there is too much noise, and the data from some of the others (Button, Raikkonen, Bottas) is inconsistent enough that it is dangerous to draw too much from it. I’ve tried to take the hard tyre runs to be race representative, although it is worth noting that the stints with the medium tyre are significantly quicker – but there are some cars which have only run the mediums (or so it seems from the pace) – I’ll note those. The chart is below:


This one makes for quite interesting reading. Vettel looks like he has a clear pace advantage over the rest – with Webber, Grosjean, Massa and Ricciardo next up. Raikkonen’s pace is about with Grosjean, but the lap times are fast/slow so it’s hard to know what is really going on. A similar fast/slow effect is seen with Button, and he averages out to Perez’s stint. Whether this means that Button has some pace is hand is impossible to predict. McLaren, however, don’t look to be clear of the chasing pack from this running – Sauber and Toro Rosso look to be as fast as they are on this evidence.

Mercedes are a Friday engima once again. There seem to be some reports that they were clearly running on a very low engine mode, so there is more to come – and they looked better on the medium tyre. Hamilton has been slower than Rosberg (very similarly to here) a number of times this year and only once (Barcelona) has that been reflected in the race. Mercedes are also generally faster on Sunday than on Friday, so they may be in the mix. Hard to say from here. Lotus are a genuine contender based on this evidence. Ferrari would need the 0.5s Alonso usually brings in race trim. The latter two cars may benefit from their more gentle tyre usage here, though. The evidence from FP2 is that the medium is much quicker than the hard – somewhere around 1-1.5s quicker – although I haven’t found anything on any other site which confirms this. Therefore if they can run more of the race on the medium tyre, then there could be a significant advantage. If the advantage is really this big, then running three stops using mediums as the main race tyre would be faster than running two stops but using hards as the main tyre.

The cars to watch out for, though, look like the Toro Rossos. Ricciardo was very quick, but may well have been on mediums, but Vergne was only about 1s behind Vettel as well, and his stint was quite long. Their pace was consistent too. I would guess that they are more likely to challenge the top four than McLaren this weekend.

Of the others, Sauber look set for quite a good weekend, and Force India’s woes look to be continuing. McLaren look in real trouble, but the faster laps in Button’s stint give some hope. Williams look to be struggling again – but Bottas has a couple of quicker laps which appeared from nowhere which would put them closer to the midfield. Caterham and Marussia are dropping back, and seem to be behind Williams comfortably now.

The pace order from the intellignentF1 model is:

  • Vettel fastest
  • +0.3s Massa/Grosjean/Raikkonen (faster laps)
  • +0.4s Ricciardo (mediums?)
  • +0.5s Webber
  • +0.6s Rosberg
  • +0.9s Vergne
  • +1.0s Button (faster laps)
  • +1.3s Gutierrez/Hamilton (unlikely to be representative)
  • +1.5s Di Resta/Hulkenburg
  • +1.7s Sutil
  • +1.8s Perez
  • +2.0s Bottas (faster laps)
  • +3.7s Maldonado
  • +3.8s van der Garde
  • +4.0s Pic/Bianchi

Another easy win for Vettel? The other easy wins (Bahrain, Canada) didn’t have him clear in Friday practice, so it’s not so easy to tell. But he must be favourite. Lotus must be in the mix, especially if they can run the mediums, and Mercedes and Ferrari should be next up. Mercedes especially are a big unknown.

But the cars to watch might just be from the Red Bull B team. IntelligentF1 generally shows Vergne to be marginally faster in the races than Ricciardo – but he doesn’t qualify well. This really is the time for these guys to put themselves in the spotlight.

There we go. Half an hour to go to qualifying. I made it!