Now this is an odd one. I’m not sure anything has been straightforward in Korea. Two years ago all we heard about was that it was going to be a five stop race, and it turned out to be a two-stopper. The next year, all signs pointed to Ferrari dominance, and Vettel walked away with it. This year there seem to be some very different fortunes on the super-soft tyres, and some strange looking long runs.
First things first – since the change of tyres, the pace of the cars has increased significantly, and that trend continues here. The faster long runs were over a second quicker than the same runs last year. So we do have the danger of Red Bull having some pace to unleash without risking the tyres, but it is not clear that they are the fastest in race pace from the Friday running. However, the race may be dictated by how well the cars run on the softer tyre.
For Vettel and Lotus, the difference in pace in the long runs on the two tyre types is small. But Alonso seems to be 2s slower on the super-softs. For most the super-soft seems to be slower, and between 0.5s and 1s slower. It could be that there is some testing of the super-soft for an opening stint, but it isn’t clear that is the case. In fact, Hamilton went quicker on it, but only did three laps of note. A clear picture, we do not have.
However, as there are some good long stints on the super-soft, and the medium lasts as long as anyone could wish for, it is looking like two stops for everyone this weekend. One stop is slower, especially as the degradation rate looks to be higher than last year. All the strategy options look to be dependent upon how the team wants to run the super-softs.
So to the data – only Ricciardo has failed to provide us something useful. As usual, the stints are plotted on a race history chart which shows the cumulative pace over the laps. The gradient of the lines gives the speed.
The trace at the top of the chart is Raikkonen’s. He and Webber are the most consistently strong in pace (although I think on different tyres), but others – notably Vettel – show strong pace, but less consistently. Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus are clearly thereabouts. Vettel’s pace at the end of the stint is suspicious, but it does not look like Singapore. Maybe Spa, but not Singapore.
Ferrari do not look good, and are slower than McLaren, although we often see McLaren looking better on a Friday than in the race. Also in this group is Di Resta, although Sutil is much slower. So this could be low fuel, or that they are struggling on one tyre type. Alonso’s stint on the super-softs is here, and it is slow – his trace is with the Saubers, Vergne and Maldonado!
So as a best guess, the front three teams may well be quite close here, with a gap to McLaren and Ferrari. Then another gap to Sauber, Toro Rosso and Force India. Williams to occupy their normal place ahead of Caterham and Marussia. The curve fits to the stints using the intelligentF1 model are:
- Fastest Raikkonen
- +0.1s Vettel/Rosberg
- +0.2s Grosjean/Webber
- +0.3s Hamilton
- +0.7s Di Resta
- +0.8s Button/Perez
- +1.0s Massa
- +1.4s Alonso (super soft struggles)
- +1.5s Maldonado/Hulkenburg
- +1.8s Gutierrez
- +1.9s Vergne/van der Garde
- +2.0s Sutil
- +2.6s Bottas/Chilton
- +3.8s Pic/Bianchi
There are a number of large gaps between drivers, which are also mirrored by large gaps in pace between stints by the same drivers. This could be fuel loads, and sometimes it is obvious that it is, but the patterns are not familiar here. There is quite a bit of mystery to this one.
They might not qualify on the front row, but the use of the super-soft tyre looks good on the Lotus. I’ll go with Raikkonen.