Daily Archives: March 17, 2013

Australian Grand Prix team analysis: Lotus prove importance of strategic racing

The 2013 season has kicked off with a bang, and already it’s looking good – no one team holds a decisive advantage over the other.

Raikkonen’s victory today was assisted by excellent strategic calls in the pit lane, showing how absolutely crucial tyre management will be in 2013. Let’s have a look at how each team managed in Melbourne:

Lotus

With no response from their rivals after the final set of stops, it is already clear that long distance race pace is Lotus’ strong point. Tyre conservation appears to be particularly manageable, as Kimi completed a 25-lap stint on the mediums without much difficulty.

Their qualifying pace requires work, though. A fourth row lockout may have been enough today, but in future races they will not have the opportunities like they did in Melbourne.

Raikkonen was calm and relaxed as always, and he is now a sure-fire contender for the championship. Grosjean, on the other hand, I’m not sure about. He reported possible damage to his car, but even still he never was close to his teammate’s pace.

Ferrari

The F2013 is eons ahead of the F2012, which is the most important thing for the Scuderia. With Alonso on top form, and Massa resurgent, Ferrari are possibly the biggest threat in both championships.

A smart call to pit early by Alonso allowed him to leapfrog Vettel, giving him his best shot at victory. Massa opted not to follow suit, and paid the price, although you could argue that he should have been able to make the call himself as well.

Nevertheless, both drivers performed very well, and Ferrari now have one of the most solid packages on the grid.

Red Bull

What looked to be a complete domination today failed to materialise, and instead Sebastian Vettel is now slightly on the back foot.

However, a podium finish is enough at the moment, and Red Bull can now stand back and analyse how to repond to Lotus’ and Ferrari’s pace. One issue that needs to be solved is the RB8′s heavy tyre wear, a factor that lost Sebastian a place to Alonso during today’s race.

Webber, meanwhile, had absolutely no impact on the race, and proved once again why he has been unable to win a title.

Mercedes

Clearly playing down their chances over the winter, Mercedes aren’t in the worst position at the moment. A storming performance from Rosberg in Q1, as well as Hamilton’s great race pace, is enough to show the team’s potential.

Tyre conservation is a valuable asset, with both drivers managing more than double the amount of laps on the super-softs than the Red Bulls. Raw pace is lacking, and it will remain to be seen can the team finally keep up in the development race.

Force India

Adrian Sutil’s commendable drive today showed that Force India were not wrong to re-sign the German. He led the race twice, and managed to pull away from Vettel on older tyres – a feat that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Paul di Resta, though, is now under pressure. Having failed to match his teammate’s pace across 90% of the Grand Prix, he will now have to deflect claims that he is only an average-grade driver.

The VJM06 is the perfect tool for him to do it though, as it threatens to worry the big boys at the front.

McLaren

The loss of several high-profile figures over the winter hurt McLaren badly. And with the level of competitiveness at the front, they may struggle to ascend up the order.

Sergio Perez performed decently on his first race for the team, and was able to keep close to Button’s pace. However, it doesn’t mask the fact that the MP4-28 is grossly uncompetitive, and the squad may even look to 2014 to bring the team back to the top.

Toro Rosso

Excellent qualifying performances by both drivers in Q1 was encouraging form. While it failed to materialise into points, the team look more competitive than last year, at least.

Jean-Eric Vergne finished within half a second of Perez’s McLaren at the finish, which is enough to indicate how much the field has changed since 2012. Without a flat-spotted tyre earlier in the race, he could have even challenged Romain Grosjean for a points-scoring place.

Sauber

The plucky underdogs received no luck in Melbourne, with star driver Hulkenberg out before the race even began.

After that, it was up to debutant Esteban Gutierrez to entertain any hopes of a good finish, but it wasn’t to be. Still, 13th place on his first ever F1 race isn’t too bad, so we’ll see how the Sauber really fares next weekend.

Williams

It’s the same story 95% of the time at Williams – full of talk about how much they’ve improved, only to be miles off the pace as usual.

Valtteri Bottas was the last of the midfield drivers to be classified, while a spin for Maldonado ended his race early. How the car actually fares against Sauber and Toro Rosso we don’t know yet, but it’s not looking good.

Marussia

Encouraging news for the struggling team after a topsy-turvy winter – they have made good gains on the midfield, and appear to be outperforming Caterham for the first time ever.

Jules Bianchi is also a hugely impressive driver, leaping up to 13th briefly at the start, and utterly thrashing teammate Max Chilton. I wouldn’t be so bold as to predict a points finish for the Frenchman, but I’d sure as hell imply it.

Caterham

Meanwhile, Caterham are down in the doldrums, with an underperforming car, and neither driver looking like they can match Bianchi at the moment.

Charles Pic performed decently today, but Giedo van der Garde is still an unknown, as I think his pace was masked with his battle against Chilton. Nevertheless, it looks to be another depressingly poor season for the fledgling team.

Points standings after Australian Grand Prix

Driver Standings

Driver Points
1 Kimi Raikkonen 25
2 Fernando Alonso 18
3 Sebastian Vettel 15
4 Felipe Massa 12
5 Lewis Hamilton 10
6 Mark Webber 8
7 Adrian Sutil 6
8 Paul di Resta 4
9 Jenson Button 2
10 Romain Grosjean 1
11 Sergio Perez 0
12 Jean-Eric Vergne 0
13 Esteban Gutierrez 0
14 Valtteri Bottas 0
15 Jules Bianchi 0
16 Charles Pic 0
17 Max Chilton 0
18 Giedo van der Garde 0
19 Nico Rosberg 0
20 Pastor Maldonado  0
21 Daniel Ricciardo  0
22 Nico Hulkenberg  0

Constructor Standings

Team Points
1 Ferrari 30
2 Lotus-Renault 26
3 Red Bull-Renault 23
4 Mercedes 10
5 Force India-Mercedes 10
6 McLaren-Mercedes 2
7 Toro Rosso-Ferrari 0
8 Sauber-Ferrari 0
9 Williams-Renault 0
10 Marussia-Cosworth 0
11 Caterham-Renault 0

Raikkonen takes surprise triumph in Melbourne thriller

Kimi Raikkonen has taken the first victory of the 2013 Formula 1 season, employing a stellar strategy to sneak ahead of the rest of the field.

Pole sitter Sebastian Vettel struggled for pace slightly, and could only manage 3rd position. Ferrari confirmed their excellent race pace with 2nd and 4th for Alonso and Massa, while Lewis Hamilton and Adrian Sutil put in brave drives for their teams. Here’s the breakdown of what happened:

A typical Webber start

At the start, Mark Webber made yet another disastrous start, falling to 9th by the end of the first lap. The Ferraris stormed past Webber and Hamilton, with Massa fending off Alonso for 2nd.

Having qualified a brilliant 3rd, Lewis began to slip down the order. First he was passed by Massa and Alonso, then he came under huge pressure from Kimi Raikkonen, to which he succumbed to on Lap 2. Amazingly, Jules Bianchi in the Marussia had a storming start, and managed to get up to 13th before burning out his first set of tyres.

Jenson Button, predictably, was the first to pit for new tyres, seeing as the McLaren had shredded his super-softs in Q3 earlier. Webber followed suit, and it quickly became clear that the Red Bulls were struggling to control their tyre wear.

By Lap 6, Vettel’s typical “first lap advantage” had run out, and both Massa and Alonso were breathing down his neck. Raikkonen, having dispatched of the Mercedes, was the quickest of the 4 of them, and soon joined the action up front.

Resurgent Sutil

Vettel removed his super-softs on Lap 8, with Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen pitting soon after. This left the Mercedes drivers briefly out in front, who had opted to stay out on the options for longer than anyone else.

Adrian Sutil found himself at the front of the pack, having started on the medium tyres. More impressively, he was capable of holding off Vettel lap after lap, and even began to pull away from the Red Bull.

Sebastian seemed unable to pull the maximum out of the medium tyres, and Alonso made his second pit stop in response, having been backed up by both the Red Bull and Massa. Sutil and Vettel pitted on Lap 21, and the world champion exited the pits behind Fernando, his sudden change in strategy now paying diviends.

Despite his initial pace, Massa was caught unawares by this development, and fell away from the frontrunners after his second stop. Vettel improved on his new set of rubber, diving past Sutil at Turn 3.

Approaching the halfway mark, Pastor Maldonado became the first retirement of the day, touching the grass in the braking zone of Turn 1 and spinning into the gravel.

Mercedes’ strategy falls apart

Up at the front, Hamilton and Rosberg again found themselves ahead of the leaders, being on a different strategy. Nico was running as high as 3rd, but an electrical problem forced him to pull over and retire.

Light rain soon began to fall around Albert Park, making conditions even trickier. Raikkonen now led Hamilton, neither of them having made their second stop, while the 3-stopping Alonso soon began to catch the Mercedes.

On Lap 31, after spending a few laps staring at the Mercedes’ rear wing, Alonso took advanateg of a lock-up at Turn 12, and swept past Hamilton for 2nd place. Lewis pitted soon after, and it became apparent that his attempt at a 2-stop had failed.

Once the final set of stops were over and done with, Raikkonen was now in control of the Grand Prix, holding a solid 6 second lead over Fernando Alonso. Vettel and Massa both overtook Hamilton for 3rd and 4th, whose slower car was now restraining his efforts.

Sutil led the race briefly again, but began to sharply drop back on his final set of tyres. With the Force India out of contention, the focus switched back to the front, where Alonso was doing his absolute best to reel in Raikkonen.

A tense finish

Having fallen to as little as 4 seconds during the stops, Kimi was able to bring the gap back up to 7 seconds once he put his foot down. However, Fernando remained vigilant, knowing that his tyres were 5 laps newer than the Lotus’.

Adrian Sutil slipped away from the frontrunners, even on the super-soft tyres, and was even reeled in by teammate Paul di Resta, who had a very quiet race in 8th place. The Force Indias were within a second of each other with a few laps to go, but Di Resta was ordered to hold position until the end.

McLaren knew they would have a difficult race, and a 9th placed finish by Button was acceptable considering how poor qualifying was. Sergio Perez was resurgent towards the end of the race, but was unable to pass Romain Grosjean for 10th on the final lap.

Holding the 6-second gap until the end, Raikkonen cruised to his first victory of the season, his superior strategy and speed proving to be unmatched. Alonso and Vettel joined him on the podium, while Massa and Hamilton slipped away in the final stint.

Red Bull’s “domination” clearly failed to materialise, and the 2013 season looks to be just as closely-fought as 2012. The Malsyaian Grand Prix can’t arrive quickly enough.

Vettel heads Red Bull lockout, Hamilton shines in Australia qualifying

After a 16-hour delay, qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix finally got underway, with Sebastian Vettel taking a comfortable pole position, 0.4 seconds ahead of Mark Webber.

However, the star of the day was undoubtedly Lewis Hamilton, who excelled in his new Mercedes role to take 3rd position. Teammate Nico Rosberg initially impressed in the damp Q2 session, but fell away as the session progressed.

Here is what happened across the 30-minute session:

Q2

Similar to yesterday’s qualifying, Nico Rosberg was immediately fast, remaining at the top of the timesheets for the majority of Q2. Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton all went head-to-head, each of them improving across the 15 minute session.

The track was still damp from rain earlier that morning, which gradually dried out. With several minutes to go, McLaren made a brave call, and switched both Button and Perez to the slick tyres. It failed to pay off, with both cars sliding off on their first laps. Jenson immediately pitted, while Sergio struggled on, and finished 15th.

Button recovered from his poor call, and snatched 4th on a new set of intermediates.

Drivers knocked out of Q2:

11) Nico Hulkenberg – 1:38.067

12) Adrian Sutil – 1:38.134

13) Jean-Eric Vergne – 1:38.778

14) Daniel Ricciardo – 1:39.042

15) Sergio Perez – 1:39.900

16) Valtteri Bottas – 1:40.290

Q3

While the Red Bulls, Ferraris and Mercedes drivers exited the pits on intermediates, the other remaining drivers waited in the pits, in anticipation of the the track drying out further.

This occurred with 5 minutes to go, and the frontrunners were forced to scramble back to the pits for the super-softs.

Quickly enough, the times began to tumble. Button, Hamilton and then Vettel lowered the fastest time by huge margins, with Vettel eventually setting a 1:27.407 on his second last attempt.

Mark Webber was in with a shot of pipping his team-mate, but his terrible home form continued, with the Aussie making a mistake in the final sector and dropping 4 tenths.

The Ferraris slotted into 4th and 5th, with Massa just getting ahead of Alonso. Hamilton hugely impressed with 3rd, while Nico Rosberg was forced to settle for 6th place.

None of them were able to unseat Vettel at the front though, and he starts the 2013 season in a commanding position.

Times from Q3:

1) Sebastian Vettel – 1:27.407

2) Mark Webber – 1:27.827

3) Lewis Hamilton – 1:28.087

4) Felipe Massa – 1:28.490

5) Fernando Alonso – 1:28.493

6) Nico Rosberg – 1:28.523

7) Kimi Raikkonen – 1:28.738

8) Romain Grosjean – 1:29.013

9) Paul di Resta – 1:29.305

10) Jenson Button – 1:30.357

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