Japanese Grand Prix: Friday Practice

Posted on October 11, 2013


OK. This is a difficult one. You could think that Rosberg was a whole second faster than the Red Bulls on the medium tyres. Or indeed, you could think that he was over two seconds slower on the hard tyres. It’s easy to dismiss this as fuel loads, wave our hands in the air and claim we can say nothing. But that would be defeatist – so the question is whether we can see any patterns in the data. And of course, we can, although they are not as clear as normal.

There is a big difference in the pace of cars on their first and second stints on the long runs. It could be that they are running less fuel in the second runs, which would make sense if the second stints were on the harder tyres, as everyone seems on start the softer tyres these days. But this is not the case – there is a fair spread of those running the hards first. And there are a couple of stints which get quicker over a few laps in the middle of the stint. So it seems, strange as it may be, that something, be it track condition, ambient temperature or something else caused the pace to change fairly dramatically during the last half hour of running.

Lets have a look – roughly – at the pace of a few cars. The Red Bulls and Hamilton ran the mediums first, and were then the best part of a second faster on the hard tyres. Rosberg did the opposite, and was more or less two whole seconds faster on the mediums. And this pattern of roughly 1s or 2s difference between stints is reasonably consistent. This gives the medium tyres about 0.5s quicker than the hards, and a pace difference of a whole 1.5s in the conditions. There is no way to be exact about this, but it does make a big difference if the run was made early (45-70 mins) or late in the session. So although we can be pretty confident that Red Bull are fast – it’s hard to know about the others. Given that the pace difference between the Mercedes is 1s, and the gap between the Toro Rossos is similar, then we will use 1s as our early-late correction.

What I have done is to choose the runs on the hard tyres – from whenever they were in the session. We have a decent idea of whether the cars ran early or late, and we have two cars for most teams. So the race history chart is below:


We have clear daylight between the Red Bulls and the rest. Hamilton ran at a similar time, as did Hulkenburg and Button. Alonso is harder to tell as he ran in the middle somewhere, but Massa ran early. Gutierrez ran very late, when the track appears to have been ever quicker, so although Sauber are quick, they are maybe not that quick. McLaren, also, are not looking too good. Lotus seemed better on the medium, but they were not fast on the hard – even though Grosjean ran early. Force India are disappointing – their runs were when the track was faster. Similarly Williams.

So the best guess at pace – giving those who ran early 1s (noted in the list) – we get:

  • Vettel
  • Webber +0.3s
  • Alonso +1.1s (ran early – this may be a little generous as he didn’t run that early)
  • Hamilton +1.2s
  • Rosberg +1.2s (ran early)
  • Massa +1.3s (ran early)
  • Gutierrez +1.5s (ran very late)
  • Grosjean +1.6s (ran early)
  • Hulkenburg +1.8s
  • Button +1.9s
  • Vergne +2.1s (ran early)
  • Ricciardo +2.1s
  • Sutil +2.4s
  • Di Resta +2.5s
  • Bottas +3.3s
  • Caterham/Marussia @6s – Chilton ran earlier than the Caterhams…

We can hang on to hope from Rosberg’s run on mediums, but in the real world it’s Red Bull. Mercedes look to be next best – perhaps Ferrari will be there as well, they are not easy to read – but Lotus were not as quick today. They seem to between Mercedes/Ferrari and Sauber/McLaren, with Toro Rosso next up. From there back it’s business as usual.

I think we’ll be seeing little of the leader in the race. Unless there is a battle between the two dark blue cars. Memories of Sepang…