Italian Grand Prix – Race Notes

Posted on September 9, 2013

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I quite enjoyed the Italian Grand Prix. Races where key players get out-of-position are often fun. Add in a really good midfield battle, even without the Lewis and Kimi double act, and the Alonso pass on Webber and there was a lot to like. It’s just a shame that the race winner was never really in doubt.

There are a few questions that were thrown up by the race, and comments afterwards. Was Raikkonen really as fast as Vettel? How fast was the Mercedes? How did Hulkenburg stay in the top five? By using the intelligentF1 model we can account for the effects of fuel load, tyre degradation/age and type compound and get to the real, underlying pace of the car/driver combination. All pace is relative to Vettel on the medium tyre. Here’s what we find out.

Easy for Vettel

It looked easy.  And in reality, it was much easier than it looked. The tyre degradation is about half of the fuel effect here and so the lap times get faster as the stint progresses. Vettel shows this up to about lap nine, and then roughly maintains his pace.  The others get faster in the stint, so his lead was nowhere near what it could have been – part of this will have been nursing his flat-spotted tyre, but they were just making sure they reached the pit window. Most cars were around 0.5s slower (underlying) on the hard tyre , including Webber – Vettel was 0.9s slower so he had plenty in hand in the second half of the race too – before he slowed down further with about 10 to go. Webber should have been second, but was one of many to suffer from having a car which was too slow in a straight line.

Vettel: +0.0s medium, +0.9s hard

Webber: +0.3s medium (traffic), +0.8s hard

Ferrari not as fast as it looked

In terms of maximising a result, Ferrari did exceptionally well in Monza. They were quick on the medium tyre, but not on the hard – Alonso struggling especially. It seems that the team knew this – and kept Alonso on the mediums for as long as possible to give him a tyre advantage over Webber, whilst keeping him ahead. The relative straight line speed of the cars did the rest. Massa was not as quick on the medium, but faster than Alonso on the hard. The radio messages to Rosberg about a podium chance were genuine.

Alonso: +0.3s medium, +1.2s hard

Massa: +0.6s medium, +1.1s hard

McLaren miss out

McLaren, on the other hand, should surely have done better. They certainly had the beating of Ricciardo, and so should have been 7th and 8th at worst. But they couldn’t get past – another example of the striaghtline speed having a big influence on the race. The biggest clue to their real pace came in the few laps after Perez dropped back having been passed by Raikkonen. There was 0.4s they couldn’t use…

Button: +0.7s medium, +1.5s hard (traffic)

Perez: +0.8s medium, +1.2s hard

So was Raikkonen as fast as Vettel?

No, although a naive overlay of the traces would suggest that he was. The first counter is that Vettel had a huge amount in hand, and second Raikkonen did the race from lap 2 on the faster tyre. Given about 0.5s per lap gain from running mediums for 30 laps results in a 15s advantage, and that Vettel had at leat 15s in hand in the second stint provides a better idea of the difference. Raikkonen was about as fast as the Mercedes, and about the same as the Ferrari on the soft tyre. Grosjean was about as fast as Massa on the hards. Had they started near the front, they would have been fighting with the Ferraris. But not Vettel.

Raikkonen: +0.4s medium, no data on hard

Grojean: +1.0s medium (traffic), +1.1s on hard

So how fast were Mercedes?

This is quite a hard question to answer. From the evidence, the best guess is that they were the second fastest team, but this was masked by two things – firstly the underperformance in qualifying, and second their relative lack of straightline speed. Hamilton was at least as fast as Vergne in the first stint, but couldn’t get by.  A good (and early) stop could have seen him ahead of the Ricciardo/Perez train and chasing Rosberg in the second half of the race. Must admit, I was thinking that they might see if he could finish with one stop (there was no sign of the tyres going off a cliff on any car), especially as Kimi did 30 laps, and he needed 40. Might have lost two points, might have gained 10. Rosberg had a bit in hand in the first stint, but not quite enough to jump Hulkenburg – and was quicker on the hard tyre, but got stuck (straightline speed again). Should have been in the battle ahead.

Rosberg: +0.5s medium (traffic), +0.8s hard (traffic)

Hamilton: +0.4s medium, +1.0s hard (traffic)

Hulkenburg shows his talent on Ferrari home ground

This looked like a great drive from Hulkenburg, but looking at the data makes it seem even better. Whilst his pace at the end of the stints was up with Mercedes/Ferrari, he paced himself more at the start of the stints, using the gap to Rosberg at the start and after the stop. Once Rosberg got close, he upped the pace enough to keep the Mercedes behind. A very intelligent, mature drive deserving of more than 10 points. Gutierrez was 0.3s slower on the medium, and 0.5s slower on the hard, which accounts for the gap between them.

Hulkenburg: +0.5s medium, +0.8s hard

Gutierrez: +0.8s medium, +1.3s hard

Nothing to write home about

Force India have nothing to take from Monza. Di Resta made it to turn four, and Sutil was not in the shout for points. In fact, they were eighth fastest team, although Sutil’s pace on the hard was OK – and shows how bad the Ferraris were. The best thing for them is that McLaren had a bad race as well.

Di Resta: no data

Sutil: +1.0s medium, +1.2 hard

Ninth fastest again

Williams inhabit the space between the midfield and the tail. Maldonado beat Bottas. Nothing more to say, really.

Maldonado: +1.2s medium, +1.6s hard

Bottas: +1.3s medium, +1.7s hard

Overperforming

Like Hulkenburg, Toro Rosso overperformed at Monza. They went for qualifying well on the medium tyres and straightline speed at the expense of the performance on the hard tyres. Like Ferrari, they were rewarded as the first half of their race was quick, and in the second half no-one could pass. Even Williams were faster than Ricciardo in the last 20 laps, but no-one got by. Vergne was as fast, but lost time fighting with Hamilton/Button before retiring.

Vergne: +0.8s medium, no data on hard.

Ricciardo: +0.8s on medium, +1.5s on hard

Doing something different

Caterham were the only team who went for two stops. And curiously they did two stints on the hard tyres, on which they were slower. No idea why, but you have to be converned by their tyre use. Contrary to Friday practice there was a clear performance gap between Caterham and Marussia, and so they had a very lonely race.

Pic: +2.1 medium, +2.6s hard

van der Garde: +2.3 medium, +2.6s hard

Challenging Bianchi

At the start of the season, Bianchi was outperforming the Caterhams, and making Chilton look like he did not belong in Formula One. At Monza, the story was different. After a battle at the start which dropped them a long way back, Chilton sat on his team leader’s tail and was as fast for the whole race. Shame they were well behind everyone else.

Bianchi: +2.9s medium, +3.4s hard

Chilton: +2.9s medium, +3.4s hard

Final thought

Vettel did what was threatened on Friday, but the battle for second didn’t materialise as Mercedes and Lotus (and McLaren) underperformed. Ferrari, Hulkenburg and Toro Rosso showed the value of track position and straightline speed at Monza and brought home good points. The closest Vettel got to losing this one was locking up at turn one.