Not hard to call this one. All the headlines have Red Bull as favourites with the best part of a second advantage. And apart from a few laps from Raikkonen, the race pace picture looks even more one-sided. Behind the Red Bulls, and it looks like only they can stop themselves finishing one-two, it looks like it could be a good race. Lotus, McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari all look to have a chance of the final podium place.
Over the last few races, with the reversion to the 2012 tyre construction, the race pace of the cars has become faster relative to last year. The impact on the competitive picture has been to swing the trade-off between pure pace and tyre management in the favour of pace. The main loser in this has been Force India, and the main winner is clear for all to see. Finally, Red Bull have been able to unlock the pace of their car, and it is now clear that it, and not the Mercedes, is the fastest car of 2013. Over one lap or seventy.
With the change to turn 10, the laptimes are quicker than 2012 – but they are over four seconds faster in race pace, when the only prediction I saw suggested the gain would be around one second. Admittedly, for all but the champions it is only three seconds. However, this is more evidence that the tyre change has shifted things in favour of Red Bull.
The tyres seem to be holding up reasonably well – the supersofts are going off in about 10 laps so it is looking like a two or three stop race, which is most likely to be dictated by the timing of safety cars. I think that most cars will plan on two stops, but be ready for three.
On to the long runs. As usual I have plotted the data on a race history chart – with each line representing a car. Heading towards the top of the chart is good, heading down is bad. Once again there is data for all 22 cars.
There are two dark blue lines at the top of the chart. Enough said. The only trace near them is that of Raikkonen, who is about 0.5s down for four laps, and then 1.5s off thereafter. And that is as good as it gets for the opposition. The next cars – McLaren, Mercedes and Grosjean – are very closely matched. Mercedes tend to be a little better in the races than on Fridays, so my guess would be a battle between Kimi and Lewis for third. Ferrari are thereabouts, but not quite on the pace of the others. Fifth fastest team here?
Then we have a gap. The next fastest cars are Di Resta and Gutierrez, but they are about 1.5s quicker than their respective team mates which suggests to me that they are running a different programme. Williams look a little better than usual, and Toro Rosso are again in this battle. It is not easy to call this battle, but the Toro Rossos tend to be relatively faster on Sundays, and are probably favourites to head this group.
At the back, Bianchi was much faster than the Caterhams and Chilton. However, in Monza Marussia were faster than Caterham on Friday, but were way behind in the race.
Fitting the curves using the intelligentF1 model, we get the following order:
- Webber fastest
- Vettel +0.2s
- Raikkonen +0.5s (slowing to +1.5s)
- Rosberg/Hamilton +1.5s
- Button/Perez/Grosjean +1.6s
- Alonso/Massa +1.8s
- Di Resta +2.3s
- Gutierrez +2.5s
- Maldonado +2.9s
- Vergne +3.0s
- Ricciardo +3.4s
- Hulkenburg +3.5s
- Bottas/Sutil/Bianchi +4.0s
- Pic/van der Garde/Chilton +6.0s
Foregone conclusion? It’s as close as it gets, but you never know. Maybe, just maybe, Raikkonen can cause the blue cars some trouble. But I can’t say that’s what I’m expecting.