Here we go again. I guess many of you will have read by now that Vettel was quick in FP2, and is clearly favourite for an eighth win in a row. And indeed, he is. The evidence is that this could be a very easy win indeed; no-one was close, and it probably doesn’t matter what strategy he chooses. It will take a first corner incident, reliability, or perhaps a puncture to stop him.
The strategy in Austin looks like being a one-stop race, as the hard tyre lasts pretty much forever, and the medium looks like being good for the 18-20 laps. However, the medium is quite a bit quicker at the start of a stint, to the tune of around 1.3s, but it does degrade less quickly. As the hard degrades less quickly, the medium is quicker over a 20 lap stint, but not by enough to make two stops worthwhile. I reckon that those who can one stop, will. Given that there were many quick laps at the end of medium tyre stints, suggesting a lot of tyre left, this is likely to be pretty much everyone.
The relative pace of the cars is shown in the chart below. This is a race history chart showing the progress of the cars during their (mainly medium-tyred) stints. Each line represents a car, and the gradient represents the speed of the car.
The fact that Vettel is fastest, and clearly so, is easy to see. Next up are Webber and Grosjean. Similar pace is also shown by Rosberg, Alonso and Button at different stages of their stints, so the battle for the podium places could be quite competitive. Given that McLaren are usually faster on Fridays than in the races, it is likely that it is once again Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes fighting for best-of-the-rest. If anything, Lotus look best. All three team mates (Hamilton, Massa and Kovalainen) were significantly slower, although Kovalainen did speed up through his stint, and his final laps were very good. I can see him doing his career a lot of good this weekend.
Hulkenburg continues to be thereabouts and must be expecting points again, and Gutierrez is not a long way behind. Force India appear to be less quick here than in the previous few races, as do Toro Rosso. Ricciardo is again looking stronger than Vergne – he has looked better and better since he signed for Red Bull – a good sign. Williams, though, are closer than they have been – Bottas was a similar speed to Force India/Toro Rosso and there is a chance that they could be in the battle for points. He could do with a good weekend .
So fitting the curves with the intelligentF1 model, we get the following underlying pace:
- Vettel fastest
- Grosjean +0.4s
- Webber +0.5s
- Button +0.7s
- Alonso/Rosberg/Kovalainen (end of stint) +0.8s
- Hulkenburg +1.0s
- Hamilton +1.1s
- Massa/Gutierrez + 1.2s
- Ricciardo +1.4s
- Perez (hards)/Bottas/Di Resta +1.5s
- Vergne +2.0s
- Maldonado (hards?) +3.0s
The interest is over second place, unless something happens to Vettel. But that second place could well be filled by a Lotus. Must admit I would quite like to see Grosjean inherit this one. Stranger things have happened…