Without looking at the data at all you would imagine that we could reasonably safely predict that Red Bull will be miles ahead, with Lotus – or perhaps Mercedes – second, followed by Ferrari. The data suggested something different in Melbourne, and it turned out not to be false hope. And in Abu Dhabi? No such hopes. In fact, the pace of Grosjean and Rosberg which gave a glimmer of hope in India is not there either. Business as usual…
As far as the strategy is concerned, the soft tyre seems to be lasting about a dozen laps – maybe a little more, but this would leave 40+ to do on the medium. It is possible that a strategy of soft-medium-soft can be made to work – and the long stints on the medium from Raikkonen and Hulkenburg suggest that maybe some are thinking this way, but a one-stop looks very unlikely, and there appears to be no reason to three-stop as the soft does not have a sufficient pace advantage to make it worthwhile.
I have charted the laps which look like they are run on the medium tyre – not all the stints are obvious here, and there is nothing useful from Grosjean (disappointingly), Sutil or Ricciardo. It is worth noting that on the soft tyre Vettel was very fast indeed – much faster than Webber, and he was quicker than anyone else – so this picture may not give Red Bull sufficient credit for their pace – even though they are still comfortably quickest. I’ll admit to have not bothered with Caterham and Marussia – Bianchi was fastest, but had about 4s on Chilton, so i have no idea what is going on there. Caterham were in between…
Once more, there is a gulf between Red Bull and the rest, with the next fastest stints being from Mercedes (Rosberg’s last couple of laps were really good) and Perez. There could be a fuel effect from Perez as he is 0.5s quicker than Button, and we have not seen that before on a Friday. However, they are quicker than Raikkonen’s very long stint – Lotus may be able to play with the strategy to be competitive, but the evidence is that they are not second fastest on pure pace.
Ferrari are in trouble. They are in the group with McLaren, Sauber and Force India – with Perez’s stint suggesting that McLaren may well be at the front of this battle. Toro Rosso are thereabouts as well, but Williams appear to be a little adrift – with Maldonado ahead of Bottas again.
The intelligentF1 model curve fits give the following best guess for the race pace:
- Vettel fastest
- +0.1s Webber
- +0.5s Rosberg (well his last laps, anyway)
- +0.8s Hamilton
- +1.1s Perez/Raikkonen
- +1.6s Button/Alonso/Hulkenburg
- +1.7s Gutierrez (early laps only – slower later)
- +1.8s Massa/Vergne
- +1.9s Di Resta
- +2.3s Maldonado
- +2.9s Bottas
Seven in a row? You’d have to think it the most likely outcome, and I’m not convinced that Grosjean will have the car to challenge. Unless they are the only ones who can make better use of the soft tyres. But it has to be a long shot.