Now this is fun. In comparison with 2013 there is much more going on in the races. There are a lot of interesting features in the race history chart traces which we didn’t see last year, pretty much all of which is playing with engine modes. The key thing we see is that there are more cars who spend time in an obvious fuel save mode – and that this is really due to the racing between cars. Most of the cars on their own, or running purely at their own pace, were pretty consistent through the race. This suggests to me that the fastest way to run a race is to stay in the same mode – fast and slow doesn’t pay unless there is a track position reward.
In fact, there was a bit of a fast/slow split. Almost all of the cars who ran the race at the same pace throughout, with no obvious major changes, were in the back half of the race. Lotus, Caterham, Marussia, Sauber and Toro Rosso. The other car who ran the race like this was Valtteri Bottas. Where some of the pace levels of cars is a little hidden by the fuel saving patch, there is no such issue for Williams. Their pace was real. All of it.
Mind you, this pace was a lot slower than the Mercedes. Rosberg was in a race of his own, and it was much more dominant than it looked. The gap between the Mercedes and Ricciardo was over 1s per lap, and the fuel saving of the Red Bull (whatever the flow rate) was quite a bit more extreme. Apart from that, the McLaren and the Williams were a little shy of 2s adrift, although the McLaren was a little more competitive on the medium tyres. Rosberg could have been 1s per lap quicker in the last stint, so the win could have been 45s. Easily.
A nice little feature of the regulations is that cars can up their pace when a position is threatened. As Bottas cruised up behind people, the majority of them went faster to try to keep him behind, and then dropped pace once the Williams was past. This is a new, and fun, feature of the racing. However, there were places where a faster car was trapped and didn’t use some extra fuel to force the issue. Given the pace after Hulkenburg stopped, it seems unlikely that Alonso could not have got past earlier, at the cost of a little fuel. As Alonso was then able to run more than 0.5s faster than his standard pace for the last ten laps suggests that they could have gone for it earlier. If he had got past early enough, it might have gained him a place on Button. Having said that, I haven’t seen an on-track pass of a Mercedes-engined car, although it is worth noting that Sutil (Ferrari engine) was able to hold up Perez (Mercedes engine) for 10 laps despite being quite a bit slower.
So can we get an underlying pace from the data? Of course we can – there is a little higher uncertainty than last year as the traces are less consistent – but no more than where the degradation of the tyres was low. In fact, the level of confidence is pretty good.
So we have:
- Rosberg (Mercedes) fastest. By miles. On both types of tyre, with the medium being 0.7s slower.
- Ricciardo (Red Bull) +1.1s. Used too much fuel after the safety car, and saving dropped him back to Magnussen
- Magnussen (McLaren) +1.7s. Better at +1.4s on medium tyre. You can almost pick the fuel saving mode from the pace changes in the trace. Impressive.
- Button (McLaren) was always in traffic on the softs, but was 0.2s up on Magnussen on the mediums.
- Bottas (Williams) +1.8s. But didn’t fuel save like the McLarens so might have been slightly faster over the race distance. Wouldn’t have beaten Magnussen without the accident.
- Alonso (Ferrari) +1.9s. Faster in the last 10 laps as was able to save fuel behind Hulkenburg. Did he have the straightline speed to pass?
- Kvyat (Toro Rosso) +1.9s. Fast, consistent. First impression is very good.
- Raikkonen (Ferrari) +2.0s. Gap to Alonso was much less in the race.
- Vergne (Toro Rosso) +2.0s. Slightly messy last stint – nearly 0.5s slower than Kvyat on the medium.
- Hulkenburg (Force India) +2.1s. Didn’t use a lower mode until the last stint.
- Perez (Force India) +2.3s. Better than it looked.
- Sutil (Sauber) +3.0s. The most consistent car out there. Just slow.
- Gutierrez (Sauber) +3.2s. Also better than it looked.
- Grosjean (Lotus) +3.3s.
- Maldonado (Lotus) +4.1s. Grosjean cruised up behind, passed, and pulled away.
- Bianchi (Marussia) +4.2s. Probably one of his best races – fast, consistent and massively faster than Chilton. They might have cheated with the engine mode knowing he was only going to do 50 laps, but still impressive.
- Chilton (Marussia) +5.4s. Might have been behind Ericsson, but should have beaten him quite easily on pace.
- Ericsson (Caterham) +6.0s. Ouch.
Mercedes’ lead is comfortably bigger than Red Bull’s at the end of last year. And Red Bull are comfortably next up. But then it is very, very close. Five teams are within 0.5s. There should be some good racing this year. Will it get to the stage where everyone is desperate for Vettel to break the Mercedes stranglehold?