And we’re back. The cars look (a bit) different and sound (a lot) different, but the Formula One circus is go. So much for all the cars breaking down, and no-one going out to practice. There’s a fair bit of data, and most of it looks to be reasonably consistent. The gap from front to back on headline times was about five seconds, with 13 cars within 1.7s. The race data looks to be quite a bit more spread out.
In comparison with Free Practice 2 last year, the race pace of the fastest car is about 1s slower, and the relative effects of fuel and tyres look to be pretty similar. Which means that if the fuel effect is about two-thirds of last year (100kg to 150kg), then the tyre degradation is also about two-thirds of what it was last year. There is some evidence of tyre degradation, especially on Massa’s very long stint, but generally the tyres look pretty well behaved. Can’t see anyone wanting to stop more than twice.
So – to the pace. Most of the cars did a nice consistent stint to assess, but there is nothing from Caterham and Maldonado, and Gutierrez didn’t string anything useful together. Grosjean is interesting – he did three laps (of four) at a good pace, but whether this is really representative of the race is a big question. It is reasonably rare to see this outside of the race work, though.
As last year, I have plotted the most relevant stint of each car on a race history chart – some obviously irrelevant laps have been deleted. If we imagine the top of the chart as a car being chased, if the trace representing the line is going up, it is catching this car; going down it is falling back. So the fastest cars will end up at the top of the chart, the slowest at (or off) the bottom.
And what do we see. Well, running down the order at first glance we don’t see quite what we might have expected. Mercedes at the top, yes, but then Grosjean (surely this isn’t real?) and Vettel (bet this is real). Then we have Bottas, Perez, Button and Alonso. Interestingly, the Ferrari starts out as the fastest of this group, and ends up the slowest. Whether this is tyre use, engine settings or anything else is something we just cannot know.
It is also interesting that apart from Mercedes, whose drivers are pretty much equally matched, Force India and Toro Rosso, there is a pretty big gap between the drivers from each team. There seems to be between 0.7s and 1.3s between drivers, this would give about 1s difference between the compounds in race pace, but it could also be engine mode, or even (whisper it) the driver.
Fitting the curves using the intelligentF1 model, we get the following race pace chart:
- Fastest : Rosberg, Hamilton
- +0.5s Grosjean (again, surely this isn’t real, and he isn’t going to finish anyway)
- +0.6s Vettel
- +1.0s Bottas
- +1.4s Alonso (starts at 1.0s and fades to +1.7s by the end of the stint)
- +1.4s Perez
- +1.5s Button, Hulkenburg
- +1.6s Ricciardo
- +2.0s Massa
- +2.2s Magnussen
- +2.8s Vergne, Kvyat
- +3.0s Raikkonen (yes, really! Car problem?)
- +4.5s Sutil
- +6.0s Bianchi
- +6.7s Chilton
Favourites have to be Mercedes, as expected from testing. But then, well, it could be anyone. The consistent runs from Vettel and Bottas suggest that they are the most likely to challenge. Force India are thereabouts, McLaren are thereabouts, and Ferrari are in this battle although the fading pace has to be a concern. Toro Rosso are a little adrift, but nowhere near as badly as Sauber, who appear to be in a fair bit of trouble. Disappointingly, Marussia are way back – I had hoped that they would be closer than this.
A Mercedes one-two is on the cards. But I have a feeling that they might just be sharing the podium with the current world champion…