Sunday, 15 April 2012

China: post-race analysis

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I didn’t expect that to happen. Everybody, including me, was concerned about Mercedes shredding their tyres and losing a significant edge due to lack of DRS. Of course, Brawn had said that the team had focused on race pace, and how true that was.

I offered three tips, of which one came off. There was no hint of rain, and fortunately the few retirements that did occur did not bring the safety car out.

Irritatingly, whilst I don’t think Raikkonen was truly on for a podium he ran in second for quite some time before providing a perfect example of what happens when tyres ‘fall off the cliff’ [lose enormous quantities of grip due to being run too long]. If I’d suggested a hedge then it might well have got matched, but I didn’t and that was a mistake on my part.

Hamilton did not run nearly as well as I’d imagined he would, and this was due to two factors, in my view. Firstly, McLaren buggered up its strategy and put him out in traffic. Secondly, and this is related to the first point, the DRS zone, which I think has been shortened substantially, was nowhere near as effective as last year. Many cars (McLarens, Lotuses and Saubers especially) seemed hard to pass on the straight. Vettel couldn’t get near the Sauber ahead of him and it was only when Raikkonen’s tyres let go that he managed to pass the Finn (similarly, Hamilton did not make the progress many had imagined he would).

The biggest shock of the day was the performance of the Mercedes car and Nico Rosberg. I think the enormous margin of victory was due to both car and driver. Schumacher, who sadly had to retire after a pit stop failure meant one of his wheels wasn’t attached properly, was running in a comfortable second, far behind Rosberg but a moderate margin ahead of Button. If he’d finished a 1-2 could’ve been on.

The Mercedes was well-known for shredding its tyres but in China their car was perhaps the very best at managing them, and this was coupled with the best outright pace in both qualifying and the race. If Mercedes can repeat this form throughout the next 17 races, we might be seeing Schumacher race wins and possibly a Rosberg/Schumacher title challenge. However, this is just one race, and we’ll have more information (presumably) about how the Mercedes can manage in hot temperatures when we visit Bahrain next week (I just checked the official site and apparently temperatures are usually around 29C, so let’s hope it’s nice and hot).

Although Rosberg was a run-away winner the battle for second place was tremendously tight, with about six cars as close as train carriages for the last 20 laps or so. Vettel will be pissed off that he got into second, after a very ropey start, only to be passed by Button and then Hamilton and then Webber [who must’ve been cackling with glee]. I’m beginning to wonder whether Webber might be a top 3 bet, but if Mercedes can conserve their tyres then I think he’ll struggle to achieve a top 3 title finish.

Meanwhile, Kobayashi, after a stellar qualifying, had a dog of a start and ended up just 10th. I’m glad Mr. Putney hedged that bet. Perez only got 11th and Grosjean impressed (and proved me wrong, again) by getting a very decent 6th and surviving another tussle with Maldonado. The Lotus definitely has the pace, but going soft at the end cost Raikkonen dearly (interestingly, there seemed to be little speed difference between the compounds in the race, similarly to Australia which used the same soft/medium combination).

Williams also enjoyed more good results after their 2011 annus horribilis, with Senna 7th and Maldonado 8th and Alonso, after making a mistake and going off track, could manage only 9th.

I am a bit disappointed with myself for not suggesting a low odds hedge on Raikkonen for the podium, but it is nice to at least get one of the tips right. Not a great start to the season, but there is some room for optimism. For a start, we got an entirely dry race and this gives us a better idea of the pecking order. Secondly, all my tips came off or not based on judgement, not blind chance (such as gearbox failure).

I never would’ve predicted a Rosberg win, but great credit is due the German driver. He absolutely deserved it, and if and the team can reproduce this pace then the title may be something he can aspire to this year.

Bahrain is at a more pleasing time, I think, so qualifying tips (well, probably one) will probably be offered, assuming it goes ahead.

Morris Dancer


Anonymous said...

An exciting and enjoyable race but hopeless for me from a betting perspective. Why can't I simply accept that Jenson Button is an exceptionally good driver and cease betting against him?
The race itself aside, the big disappointment for me was the BBC TV commentary. Not content with handing over half the F1 programmme to Sky, they then go and replace the excellent Martin Brundle with someone not fit to tie his shoelaces. Even David Coulthard, his previous colleague (for whom I understand MB continues to act as business manager) didn't seem to have the same spark as previously. Whoever at the Beeb was responsible for such mismanagement should be shot at dawn.
Thanks again to Morris the Dancer for his interesting and enjoyable pieces and for his betting insight - hopefully more PBers will join in with their comments as the season progresses.

Peter from Putney

Morris Dancer said...

Mr. Putney, you're not the only one who thought Button would struggle. I was really surprised that Button did so well (he clearly deserved second), but that may've partly been because Hamilton got bad traffic. McLaren need to work on their strategy. They were unlucky in Australia and Malaysia (safety car and Button then tangling with a cucumber) but here it was just bad calls from the pits.

Thanks again, although I hope you'll be able to add the word 'profitable' to the next race's articles!

nigel said...

Thoroughly enjoyable race, and I'm glad (having failed on my qualifying bets) that I resisted the temptation to bet on the result, realising I didn't have a clue who was going to win.

Actually, I don't think Mercedes were particularly far in front of McLaren on race pace.
The tyres have a very narrow performance window indeed this season. Despite being caught in traffic, dealing with which takes a big bite out of tyre life, and despite not having a new set of softs (which Rosberg did), Button would still almost have been in contention for the win had his third stop not been ballsed up. I was even more impressed at Hamilton's result, given how much longer he spent in traffic than Button, and just how early his first and second stops were.

The Mercedes itself appears to have an even narrower performance window than the tyres (as Ross Brawn himself has indicated). They found a perfect set up for this race, and raceday temperature was perfect for them, but they were nowhere for the previous two. McLaren have been fast at all three tracks, and should be fast again at the much hotter Bahrain race.

Fun though it might be, and delighted though I am that the win will keep the parent company committed to F1 for a while, I don't see Mercedes competing for the championship.
If the odds on Button or Hamilton for the championship lengthen a bit, as I think they might, I'll be unhedging a bit of the hedging I've already done on them.

Nigel said...

The other interesting point is that the new prime tyre was faster throughout the race than the used option.

I hope that Pirelli tries to make their tyres a bit more durable, so even if they don't last longer, they performance doesn't drop off so quickly with use. As it is a couple of laps during qualifying, or four or five laps in traffic, make the current tyres hopelessly uncompetitive with someone running on a new set in clear air.

Morris Dancer said...

Bahrain will be fascinating to watch. If McLaren dominates or is competitive there then I think they'll be hard to beat, as they'll have been on the pace at a street circuit, a monsoon-stricken circuit, and a cool (temperature-wise) modern circuit, as well as a hot track.

However, even though McLaren have been good everywhere so far they're still just leaders of the pack rather than breaking away comprehensively. The field's very competitive this year.

Nigel said...

One last thought - fair enough Lotus trying the two stop strategy, as it was definitely workable, but stopping Raikkonen on lap 10 ??

That's a bit too early even for a three stopper.

Nigel said...

I don't think McLaren will be runaway winners at many races, it's just that they're going to be battling different teams at the front from race to race.
I think that will add up to a championship.

Morris Dancer said...

I'd forgotten they did a two-stopper. That makes it even crazier to go soft at the end.

I think McLaren will win a number of races and rack up many podiums. They're tasty in qualifying and competitive in all conditions to date. Red Bull are hamstrung by poor qualifying, the Mercedes sometimes eats its tyre after qualifying very well and Ferrari is only scoring points because Alonso's very skilled.

Bahrain's a pretty good track for Ferrari. I had a quick look at the circuit diagram and there are quite a few straights, so qualifying may well be another McLaren-Mercedes contest.

Morris Dancer said...

Just read ESPN's driver run down and they reckon Raikkonen was on medium tyres at the end, but a used set for 28 laps:

Nigel said...

Bahrain is very hot.
If Mercedes are competitive there, then they really will have sorted their tyre management issues, and the fight will be on for the championship. As we saw today, the car is seriously fast when everything comes together.

If not, then McLaren ought to be nailed on favourites. Another four weeks or so, and they should have their own version of the DRS activated blown front wing going, given how uninterested they were in protesting the Mercedes innovation. For whatever reason, the other serious competition - Red Bull - don't seem as prepared to copy it.

Morris Dancer said...


Mr. Nigel, I read somewhere or other that the problem for some teams trying to copy the DRS F-duct is that it's not especially expensive if conceived as part of the initial racecar, but that it's a bugger to put onto an existing one.

I think it has to do with whether the moving part is activated in the middle or the sides, or something like that, and that the Red Bull does it differently to the Mercedes, which is unusual (maybe unique) amongst the teams.

Even if other teams could put it on, it would alter the way that tyres are worked, and the gain in time may not outweigh tyre wear or the difficulty of setting up a car that can compete in DRS-heavy qualifying and DRS-light racing. Plus, a bolted-on version may not be as useful as the Mercedes' anyway.

Nigel said...

I'm not sure how difficult it will be to retrofit.

The toughest thing will be to route the ducting from the rear to the front of the car, and the difficulty will vary from team to team. Red Bull probably have the tightest packaging at the back of the car - which could well explain why they have made such a fuss - it could be quite difficult for them to implement.

Altering the nose and rear wing is not trivial, and will take development time away from other stuff, but the qualifying gains are probably worth the effort. I'm pretty sure McLaren, for instance, will have sketched up some solutions already.

As far as car balance is concerned, I don't see why this is a huge issue, if it's an issue at all.

The tyres do most of their work around corners (during the race) when DRS is not activated, so the setup is based on this. Having the front F-duct actually helps, as it maintains the balance between front and rear which is otherwise disturbed when DRS is activated. A lot of the qualifying benefit comes from being able to use DRS round fast corners, where there is sufficient overall downforce with DRS open, but without this system, the rear end would let go, as too much of the downforce is at the front.

With this system, setting up the car (ceteris paribus) ought to be easier, I think. Mercedes' tyre management problems earlier in the year probably had other origins.

Morris Dancer said...

I think that, as having the super DRS increases the difference between the car in qualifying and the race, it may make a compromise setup hard to achieve.

On the other hand, it's clearly not impossible, as we saw in the most recent race.

Incidentally, regardless of how badly or well I do in Bahrain (if it goes ahead) I'm going to write an article looking back at the first four races. The first three have been tremendously entertaining but also very hard to predict partly due to an intensely competitive field.

Nigel said...

"I think that, as having the super DRS increases the difference between the car in qualifying and the race, it may make a compromise setup hard to achieve."

Again, with respect, I think that's wrong.

Conventional DRS alters the balance of the car by stalling the rear wing. The front end retains downforce, so if you try to take a corner with DRS activated, the rear end will let go long before the front (ie massive oversteer). If you're going to try using DRS around some of the faster corners during qualifying, it will require serious compromises between qualifying and race setups.

The Mercedes version stalls the front wing as well, so if it's implemented carefully, it ought to maintain the balance between front and rear downforce by reducing both by equal amounts. The car setup (balance between front and rear grip) ought to require fewer compromises between quali and race setups.
Of course stalling the front wing ought also to reduce drag a bit, benefitting straight line speed too, but the biggest effect is through the corners.
The other benefit of the Mercedes system is that it's easier for the driver to manage the car into corners where you have to close DRS just before the corner, as the balance of the car doesn't change - we've seen drivers lose control into corners during qualifying when they've closed DRS a fraction too late.

Morris Dancer said...

Hmm, you might be right.

Annoyingly, this means I'm not.

One thing we haven't mentioned is the W-duct. I don't know how significant that is, but I believe it's meant to optimise the front wing (more grip in corners but less drag on the straights) and that might help the Mercedes DRS as well.