Sunday, 17 April 2011

China: post-race analysis

Since Malaysia:

Both Alonso and his best friend forever Hamilton got slammed with 20 second time penalties (the former for ramming the latter, who got his for apparently moving around too much on track to stop the Spaniard passing him). This made no difference to Alonso, who stayed 6th, but put Hamilton 8th, behind Kobayashi.

Here’s the analysis from Brundle:

Qualifying Summary:

The most exciting and unpredictable session so far, at the back of the grid anyway. Webber remains assailed by dire luck, lacking KERS, suffering a pre-qualifying electrical failure and then having the team put him out on hard tyres which saw him qualify a staggeringly rubbish 18th.

Renault continues to veer from the ridiculous to the sublime. Heidfeld, fresh from a podium in Malaysia, qualified a pitiful 16th. Petrov got a great Q2 lap time but then his engine died on track and the result was that he’s 10th and 11 drivers were on track all at once to try and qualify for Q3. In Renault’s favour is their ultra-brilliant start and their very good raw pace, so the race may not be an utter disaster.

Schumacher continues his rather lacklustre qualifying performance in 14th, but his young gun team mate got an excellent 4th. I’m sure Rosberg will be keen to leapfrog his elder colleague, who has 2 points to Rosberg’s 0.

The Toro Rossos and di Resta did very well. I must say I’m tremendously impressed with the rookie Scot, who has outqualified Sutil at every race so far and matched him for points. However, I suspect they may prove easy prey to Petrov off the line.

During Q2 I thought it might be a close three way battle for pole, and was quietly hopeful of my 5.4 tip on Hamilton. Then I saw Vettel mercilessly crush his rivals, yet again, and felt a bit moronic. I think I’ll revert to only offering pole tips post-P3. Vettel’s 0.7s margin of victory is enormous. It also shows what a disaster Webber had. 1st and 18th for Red Bull. I think the key is the combination of Vettel and the car. It is a very good car, but he’s the best driver on the grid and together, they’re seemingly unstoppable.

One important factor that the commentary team highlighted was the possibility that lower temperatures, as well as decreasing tyre degradation generally, help Red Bull especially. This may be related to the car generally and also the specific heating problems with KERS. Vettel was fast enough to easily get pole, even without KERS (worth around 0.3s per lap), but if it fails during the race he’ll have all the weight with none of the performance, and the McLarens just might be able to make it a contest.

Race Summary:

Betting-wise, a disaster. This was mostly because I wholly misjudged the start and didn’t realise Webber could have KERS mended. Neither Renault got a great start, Petrov made up only a single place and rarely looked like getting in the top 6. Webber was poor for the first half of the race but then raced through the field to get a fantastic 3rd. Vettel had his worse start yet, dropping to 3rd from the line but recovering well to get a 2nd. My supposition in backing 10 plus seconds for the victory margin was Vettel staying first and steaming into a big lead.

I also, rather less than brilliantly, forgot to try hedging the bets, though I suspect only the Webber one may’ve been hedgeable at probably poor odds, so it probably didn’t make much difference.

The start was very exciting and at odds with my predictions. At the sharp end, both McLarens zoomed past Vettel, who had a dire start. He was also, briefly, passed by Rosberg but regained the place swiftly. A little further back, Massa overtook Alonso, and Schumacher had another staggeringly good start. Neither Renault made up much ground, and nor did Webber.

We then entered a very complicated race as teams went for differing strategies, with most opting for 3 stops but a few (including Vettel) trying just 2. This was further complicated by the fact that a few drivers (Hamilton, Petrov and Webber) had 2 sets of new soft tyres (Hamilton had deliberately only used 1 set in qualifying for this reason, Petrov and Webber did not participate in Q3, hence saving their tyres).

At various points of the race numerous drivers and teams looked like possible contenders for the win or a podium spot. Massa’s early pass on Alonso, backed up by some good driving thereafter, saw him return to some better form after his crash two seasons ago. He briefly led, and in the end got a good 6th. Alonso never really looked in contention, but did have quite a few entertaining jousts with Schumacher, the pair ending up 7th and 8th. Schumacher made up 6 places from his starting position, and Rosberg got 5th to secure Mercedes best race result this season.

Renault had a poor race. Petrov did make up a place, but Heidfeld did not get into the points. Disappointing from a team that previously had a pair of podiums. Toro Rosso also had a rough ride, with neither driver staying in the top 10 after an excellent qualifying.

So, what about the big boys? For a time a 1-2 for McLaren seemed possible, but Webber’s fresh tyres and raw pace enabled him to overhaul Button and nab 3rd, a stunning result from 18th on a grid, especially given his KERS didn’t work for part of the race. McLaren got their first win with Hamilton surviving a pre-formation lap scare when his car wouldn’t start, and 1st and 4th is a decent result. Vettel was compromised by a combination of a start slower than a Super Aguri in quicksand and the wrong strategy (2 stops rather than 3). Ironically, Webber’s higher tyre degradation and extra softs probably made certain his 3-stop strategy which paid huge dividends.

Something for both McLaren and Red Bull to feel thrilled about, and for Vettel and Button to rue.


Turkey is next, but there’s a three week hiatus, so I’ll probably write an interim article about how the season’s shaping up and how the various rule changes are working out and affecting things.

The qualifying failure was mostly me being daft and betting pre-P3, which I shall not do again. Racing failure was just a huge misjudgement and a little bit of bad luck (namely Vettel choosing now to finally have a bad start).

Forget qualifying. Strategy is now the king of F1. Hamilton really did learn a trick from his Malaysian misadventure, and his cunning plan to save a set of softs and slightly sacrifice grid position was inspired. But, this can also work, accidentally, for a chap out of person such as Webber. We ought to watch out for this in the future.

I am a bit displeased with a 0 from 4 for this race. However, it is early days, we’re just 3 races into a probably 19 race season (still no word for certain on Bahrain). The next set of races are European, so P3 should be at a decent time, enabling, hopefully, some green qualifying sessions.

Morris Dancer


Nigel said...

Sorry about your disaster.

It was a pretty good race for me, as for once I didn't bet at all on it at all, as the Vettel odds were too short, and the rest looked too uncertain.

Interesting that Button stayed out a lap longer than he was supposed to on the first stint, which seriously compromised both him and Hamilton. Had that not happened a 1-2 might just have been possible.
In any event, it's done wonders for my (McLaren) championship bets.

Great run by Webber showed that the Red Bull, even without KERS, is still the class of the field.

And I have to disagree with your assessment of Vettel. Right now there are at least three drivers with the claim to be the best on the grid, maybe more.

Morris Dancer said...

I don't claim Vettel's head and shoulders above everyone else, but I do think him, Hamilton and Alonso (in that order) are the best three.

Congrats on your sage McLaren bet :)

Nigel said...

Until we see them racing in equal machinery, I don't think you can really judge between Hamilton and Vettel. And on the evidence of their time at McLaren, there isn't all that much separating Alonso and Hamilton (though I would also give the nod to Hamilton, just).

(Incidentally, di Resta beat his teammate Vettel back in F3.)

Morris Dancer said...

Di Resta's impressed greatly during his brief stint in F1.

I know he beat Vettel some time ago, but F1 is a different kettle of fish to lower formulae. I'd love to see di Resta get a top car to see what he's really capable of.

Nigel said...

Very interesting analysis of lap times (the bottom chart) available here:

The most interesting comparison is that between Webber and Hamilton. We know that Webber had three fresh sets of softs, and Hamilton one set.
I'm not sure which stint Hamilton used his fresh set on (I'm guessing his third stint), but for either the second or third stint, you can make a direct comparison between the two.
As you can see, Webber was able to run more or less the same pace, but for at least two (and possibly five) more laps before the tire performance dropped off a cliff. His second stint when the car was still relatively heavy with fuel is just amazing.

No question for me that the Red Bull race pace is superior to the McLaren, and that Vettel could have won had he three stopped.

Morris Dancer said...

Aye, in raw pace the Red Bull is top dog (as it were).

It does go to show just how important strategy now is, and (from Hamilton's drive) how qualifying is now subordinate to tyre preservation.

Omnium said...

A very interesting race I felt. We're certainly now seeing that with the new systems in the car an advantage such as new tyres means that you really can blast through the field.

So I agree with your strategy is king theme. Perhaps we could see some really radical thinking in Turkey.

My betting has followed roughly the same pattern as last year - good pre-season and poor in the races.