Sunday, 18 March 2012

Australia: post-race analysis

A traditional start to the season, with my tip on Schumacher failing. However, I do take some consolation from the fact he was third, and his failure to finish was due to a gearbox failure. Luck swings both ways during a season, and the failed tip this time was due to misfortune rather than bad judgement. (I suspect the safety car would’ve made or broken the bet later on, had he remained).

I slept in, again, but caught the latter half of the race and have a decent picture of the first half.

Button passed Hamilton pronto, and then retained the lead for almost the entire race. This was highly impressive. He built a gap over his team mate and later did the same thing over Vettel. This follows the unusually competitive qualifying performance Button put in. He may be the man to beat this year.

Hamilton never had the legs to beat Button, but was pretty unfortunate that the safety car emerged on his out-lap, allowing Vettel to leapfrog him by pitting immediately. On the plus side, he retained a podium spot and one race doesn’t make a season.

Grosjean had an encounter with Maldonado with meant the Frenchman’s brilliant qualifying was followed by a failure to finish, but he has showed promise for the future. Maldonado put in a stellar performance, until the final lap of the race when he crashed from an almost unbelievable 5th.

Mercedes had a day to forget. Schumacher jumped Grosjean off the line, and was running third until his gearbox decided to go on strike and ended his race. Rosberg made the mistake (or had the team make it for him) of remaining on the soft compound for two stints and only then shifting to the more durable mediums. He ended up a paltry 12th.

Red Bull had a much better race than qualifying, helped by a dollop of luck. Grosjean and Schumacher were both out, Rosberg’s strategy cost him and the safety car was perfectly timed for Vettel to pass Hamilton. Fortune notwithstanding, their race pace was relatively better than their qualifying performance and they’ll be delighted with 2nd and 4th for Vettel and Webber.

Ferrari had a mixed performance. Alonso somehow got the car, which was far better in the race than I’d expected, all the way up to 5th. Massa decided to crash into someone else this year, and hit his compatriot Senna (although, in fairness, this may have been due to suspension damage that had occurred prior to the crash).

Sauber were the most improved team from qualifying. Perez adopted his signature approach of not bothering to stop more than the single mandatory time, and made it work well. He achieved a good 8th, although it could’ve been a little higher (Raikkonen passed him on the final corner). Kobayashi did a little better and got a great 6th.

Raikkonen recovered from dire qualifying to score 7th, which he should be happy with. The Lotus seems pretty good, but it’s hard to say whether it can fight in the race with the big boys. He also provided some comedy radio moments including this:

“Why do I keep getting blue flags?!”

Engineer: “Kimi, they’re for the cars behind you.”

The points were rounded out by Ricciardo in 9th and di Resta in 10th. The Scot’s team mate, Hulkenberg, had to retire after picking up damage.

So, what did we learn?

Firstly, make no mistake. McLaren is top dog. They dominated qualifying and only failed to get a 1-2 in the race because the safety car came out precisely when it did. I put a small sum on both drivers for the title pre-season, and won’t be laying right now. Vettel’s 3.3 or thereabouts, and that’s too short. The safety car won’t help him every race, and Mercedes and Lotus will be stronger elsewhere too.

Secondly, the soft compound may’ve been marginally faster but the medium compound was king in the race. Superior durability overcame the small speed disadvantage. In the next race we keep the mediums but have the hard compound as well (which was last year’s medium). In China we revert to softs and mediums.

Thirdly, some teams have a great variance between qualifying and race pace. This might just be because it’s a new season and they haven’t quite got the setup sorted yet, so we’ll have to wait and see if it’s repeated. So far, Ferrari have been rubbish in qualifying and good in the race (well, Alonso was) and Red Bull have behaved similarly. And Sauber, now I come to think of it. Hard to comment on the Lotus and Mercedes because the latter had an early retirement and one chap made a mistake in qualifying and the latter also had an early retirement and then made a strategic mistake.

It was a bit disappointing that my solitary tip didn’t come off, but at least it had a reasonable chance.

We’re off to Malaysia next, in just a week’s time. The circuit has many straights, which may make the Mercedes a potential pole-sitter. Very early forecasts show rain is a marginal possibility. Let’s hope the race weekend is even more exciting, and profitable too.

Morris Dancer


Morris Dancer said...

Read a bit more, and slightly changed my mind.

Mercedes seemed to suffer tyre degradation. However, this was probably mostly on softs, which won't be a feature at Malaysia. It's also contrary to what seemed to be the case from testing.

In the race Red Bull are close to McLaren, but if qualifying remains as it was this time then the Red Bulls will start with a handicap as they may well be behind Mercedes and Lotus, giving McLaren time to scamper away.

Things are well poised.

Anonymous said...

Just how utterly abysmal was the BBC's R5 coverage of the Oz GP. Having abandoned TV coverage, one had hoped that they would make a real effort but frankly Jaime Alguersuari ..... oh dearie me!
In particular didn't why didn't they make more use of Eddie Jordan, who is both knowledgable and entertaining - I thought it was truly awful ...... you won't find yours truly setting the alarm again for 5.30am to listen to that drivel.

Peter from Putney

Morris Dancer said...

Alas, it was certainly not a rival to the coverage of last year. I like those fancy moving pictures that are so fashionable these days.

Also, the BBC's highlights coverage (just checked the website) is not helped by having the bloody race winner plastered all around it. So, if you deliberately avoid news to watch the highlights (online) unsure of the result then you'll have that air of tension immediately removed.

Nigel said...

Interesting how sensitive the tires still are, even if they are a bit more durable.
Hamilton lost a good few seconds, I think, staying out a lap longer than Button at the end of the first stint (and they'd both already lost time on the previous lap). That's a pretty steep cliff.

Of course, if teams get a dry practice at the next race, they won't make the same mistake again. Lack of long run practice might also explain why Button nearly ran out of fuel.

Ferrari must have a bit more hope after the race. Probably not for next weekend, though.

Morris Dancer said...

Bugger. Wrote a long(ish) reply and then the internet ate it.

Tyres = I agree with you. Could be springtime for Button all season long.

Ferrari = the car's still a dog, but perhaps a crossbreed rather than a mongrel. They also need to axe Massa, alas.

Malaysia = with those straights I do wonder if McLaren and Mercedes will dominate qualifying, and how well Mercedes and Red Bull will do in the race. Interesting to see Schumacher outpaced Rosberg in qualifying this time round.

Nigel said...

>>Tyres = I agree with you. Could be springtime for Button all season long.<<

OTOH, had Hamilton not muffed his start, it could well have gone the other way - it's a lot easier to preserve your tyres at the front.
Also, I'm not sure that Hamilton is that hard on his tyres per se. His biggest fault - and I can't work out why his engineers/the team haven't made him change - is pushing too hard early in a stint.

Seems as though McLaren have mastered the bendy front wing:

As for Malaysia, could be quite a bit different from Australia. Teams will have learned a lot about setup - something they had no chance to do in Melbourne practice - so big changes in relative performance are possible.

Morris Dancer said...

Hopefully Malaysia will be dry, and then we'll get a better picture of whether Button will be relatively better on his tyres throughout the season.

I agree with you regarding changes. I suspect McLaren will still be top, but it'll be interesting to see whether Mercedes and Lotus can retain the pace to beat Red Bull, in qualifying at least, and how Alonso manages to do.

Current forecasts suggest rain is possible, and I'll definitely be checking the forecasts before making any bets.

Nigel said...

The tyre strategy model on James Allen's website is quite interesting for Malaysia.

Running a two stop with new primes, or a three stop with two sets of new primes and one set of used options looks more or less equivalent.
That means the leading teams will have two good alternatives to manage traffic (and DRS overtaking ought to be pretty easy for the fastest cars).

If someone can save a set of new options through qualifying, they could gain a good 8 seconds in the race with a three stopper.

McLaren are already making optimistic noises - they reckon the circuit suits them better than Australia.

Morris Dancer said...

Ah, I'd forgotten that calculator thingummyjig. When I get the time I might try checking how Perez's one-stopper stacks on the calculator and compare that to the reality.

Morris Dancer said...

Went to try and do Perez's approach to Australia but only Malaysia can be selected. Oh well.