On Track Review: UBS China Grand Prix 2013

Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘on track correspondent’: James Parker

A Tale of Tyres…..
Well, well well, back after a 3 week hiatus and plenty of off-track controversy to keep the fans happy. A competitive qualifying session was exactly what the doctor ordered to get the emphasis back on the racing – Did we get it?

Not entirely but it was a fascinating qualifying session for a number of reasons. Tyres look once again to be the talk of the town as the soft compound tyre appears to be more fragile than a sheet of glass.

The Shanghai International Circuit, a track dominated by Mercedes engine cars (4 wins out of the last 5 races) was bathed in the hottest temperatures of the weekend for Qualifying 1. With an ambient temperature nudging just under 28 degrees, and a track temperature of 40+, it appeared to be the perfect conditions for the first “real” dry Qualifying session of this season.

heiki_sepangRumours were spreading around the paddock that Heikki Kovalainen maybe making a cameo appearance at Caterham in Bahrain. Plans are for him to run in all three practice sessions in order to test and optimise new development parts that have been pushed ahead of schedule. Opinions may be split on whether this is the right decision for the Caterham team but it is a major kick in the teeth for both Van Der Garde and Pic. But let’s get down to the juicy part…..

Qualifying 1
The session was very much a slow burner, 9 minutes passed after the green light before the first cars decided to take to the circuit. A number of teams opted to run once on the medium or softer compound in order to save tyres for the race with Nico Rosberg setting the early pace with a 1.35.9 on the soft compound tyre. Hamilton claimed a close second behind his team-mate with the Mercedes duo dominating the running – the W04 FRIC hydraulic suspension seems to be working nicely now.

The Mercedes pair were followed closely by both Webber and Massa. Lotus appeared to be struggling with balance issues as Kimi Raikkonen finished 1.2 seconds down in 12th, with Force India also finding it hard to make the softer compound tyres switch on. McLaren’s upgrades have not had the profound effect they hoped for with both Perez and Button finishing some 0.9 seconds off the ultimate pace, time to start scratching some heads?

Jules Bianchi China 2013The usual suspects dropped out of Q1, but one special mention has to go to Bianchi once again who finished 0.7 seconds clear of both Caterham’s and his team-mate. Will he be eyeing up a Ferrari drive for 2014?

To make the bottom 7, a struggling Gutierrez and Bottas joined the Marussias and Caterhams with the two rookies seemingly struggling to get to grips with their cars (no pun intended) – are Williams problems more than skin deep with the FW35?

Qualifying 2
For the start of Qualifying 2, Championship leader, Vettel was straight out with the aim of 1 timed run, posting up a respectable 1.36.2 – it narrowly being beaten by a racy Alonso in the Ferrari. But it was his team-mate Webber, who was to suffer such horrendous luck with 7 minutes left of the session.

Mark Webber Red Bull Racing China 2013 Q2Pulling up onto the support road on the inside of the hairpin, his RB9 had ran out of fuel due to a glitch with one of the fuel Bowsers back in the pitlane – 3kg down on fuel his car ground to a halt and he eventually finished 14th and out of qualifying.

Amongst the confusion caused by Webber pulling off, the Mercedes duo once again took charge at the head of qualifying with Rosberg once again leading Hamilton by 4 tenths of a second setting a laptime of 1.35.0 on the softer compound tyre. Raikkonen found some pace in his Lotus E21 to move up to 3rd, whilst his team-mate Grojsean was sitting pretty in 8th opting to just do 1 timed run through the entire session – 3 tenths above the drop zone.

As the chequered flag drew closer, cars were coming out thick and fast to do their second runs. Hamilton had a second bite of the cherry and leapfrogged Rosberg at the head of the time sheets. Alonso, Vettel and Massa also bettered the German’s time to claim 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Raikkonen held station behind Rosberg in 6th, ahead of a resurgent Jenson Button in 7th and his Grosjean in 8th.

But the star man of Q2 was Daniel Ricciardo. Pulling out a stunning lap for 9th, getting into Q3 for the first time since Bahrain 2012 and sneaking ahead of the Sauber of Hulkenberg in 10th.

The unlucky ones to go out were the struggling Force India duo of Sutil and Di Resta who finished 11th and 13th, sandwiching the McLaren of Perez in 12th who missed the cut by just a tenth of a second. 14th was the hugely unlucky Webber, followed by the Williams of Maldonado and Jean Eric Vergne who finished 9 tenths off his team-mate in 16th.

Qualifying 3
The last qualifying session was dominated by 1 aspect above all others and that was tyres. Vettel came out extremely early on a set of scrubbed soft tyres in order to cover anyone who potentially would not go out at all in Q3, cruising back into the pits after an out lap.

Jenson Button McLaren China 2013 Q3With the degradation so severe on the softer compound tyre, it looked set to be a battle of wits, as teams waited for some 7 minutes before setting cars off on competitive runs. Vettel and Button came out on the medium compound tyre, not to the surprise of many up and down the paddock, and they will be in a good position to make ground in the first stint of the race when others will have to pit due to the fragile softs.

Kimi Raikkonen set the early pace, with his Lotus managing a time of 1.34.7 – a fantastic effort all round. This was until the Mercedes of Hamilton eclipsed it with a near perfect lap of 1.34.4. The Brit had looked strong all session and the W04 was driving beautifully with a Hamilton trademark stiff set-up.

Alonso saved his blushes of getting out qualified for the first time of his career 5 times in a row. He finished 3rd, ahead of the Mercedes of Rosberg who made a small mistake exiting the last corner costing him a front row grid slot.

Massa was a solid 5th ahead of the Lotus of Grosjean who looked unspectacular and rather distant. 7th was the Torro Rosso of Ricciardo, benefitting from Vettel and Button’s strategy of not setting a competitive time with the medium compounds bolted on, with Hulkenberg set to try and make a similar strategy pay off from 10th.

Conclusion
It appears a 3 stop race is the best route to take in the Grand Prix tomorrow, with the soft compound tyre getting thrown away early on in exchange for the more durable (just) Medium tyre. However it will be fascinating to see how strong Vettel and Button become in the first stint of the race; how long can they make the medium compound tyres last?

The first stint will be the most crucial in my opinion as it will be also fascinating to see if Hulkenberg disrupts the leading 3-4 drivers after they have made their first pit stop.

For the soft runners, you would have to expect a stint no longer than 5-6 laps before the tyres turns to jelly, but it will be interesting to see how long Kimi can make them last on the E21. We know how well the car reacts to tyre conservation whilst still producing competitive lap times.

Webber will be the one to watch though. Post qualifying it was announced that he would start from 22nd on the grid for tomorrow. This was down to the RB9 not having enough fuel in the tank to produce a fuel sample and therefore had broken the regulations.

After his 2011 comeback to 3rd from 18th on the grid, solid points could be possible. However with the RedBull 11km/h slower on the back straight than some of its rivals, two DRS zones may still not be enough to aid Webber in making his way through the pack.

Feel free to post your race predictions below, is it Hamilton’s to lose, or will the medium compound runners be an extreme thorn in the side of all the softer runners ahead of them? Additionally, is qualifying getting affected too much by tyre issues?

Q3 China 2013 - Results Top 3

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13 responses to “On Track Review: UBS China Grand Prix 2013

  1. Hi James, great write up as always. I have a couple of questions. this is not the first time an RB has been short fuelled (leaving aside whether on purpose) and it has happened to Mclaren as well. At what point are they going to start weighing the cars after fuelling to make sure they have a proper load? I know they have scales and weigh the cars for other reasons, seems like a bit of a no brainer to double check. Or are there other reasons to not do so.

    Also, do you think it likely that Webber will start from pit lane ala Vettel in Abu Dhabi, and reconfigure his car to maximize race pace/ tire use? I can’t think of a reason why they wouldn’t, but I have yet to see anything in print about it.

    Predictions, have to go with Hamilton/Rosberg FTW, but I do wonder about what kind of a fuel penalty they might pay since they seem to be thirstier than the Ferrari or Renault engines. They had the smallest delta between soft and medium tires and the best race pace in practice, so they seem like the best bet. Vettel could be interesting as could Button, if they don’t get stalled in traffic during the first stint. If either one makes it to 6th or so place by the end of the 1st lap it could be quite interesting.

  2. I would have thought that the fuel flow meter would be far more accurate than weighing the whole car. With the fuel weight being somewhat less than 1Kg per litre then the missing 1Kg represents roughly 0.16% of the weight of the car. (actually a bit less) Under fuelling is down to either finger or brain trouble. One would have thought that fuel rig flow metering would be calibrated before use at each event, (definitely before quali and the race) obviously on site, since the temperature affects the specific gravity (or density) and hence volume.

  3. Hi Matt,

    Many thanks, apologies that it was delayed a little, it was a fascinating session in many respects that more than made up for the relative lack of running over the course of the entire Qualifying period.

    Firstly, I am as surprised as you are that teams do not weigh the cars post refuelling to make sure the correct amount has been delivered into the tank. For such a trivial and simple task you would think it would be second nature for a team like RedBull and avoid future embarrassments like today – they would be in good company with McLaren also in the same boat.

    I am unaware of any regulation to stipulate that a weigh check cannot be carried out after a refuel has been completed – Judge could you shed any more light on this for the both of us if possible?

    I think it is highly likely that Webber might start from the pitlane. As I stated in my report, the RedBull has been on average 11km/h slower than almost every other car on the grid. With a 1km long straight and two DRS zones I think it would be sensible to do so. Gearing can be adjusted, softer roll bars etc to cater for the reduced wing settings (ala Vettel in Abu Dhabi as you stated) and it would give him the best hope of maximising the DRS opportunities – his only worry will be tyre wear in traffic as we have seen the dirty air can drastically increase it.

    Interesting thoughts regarding predictions, I would add that, if Kimi was to pass Hamilton going into turn 1 I can see the Finn taking victory with superior tyre conservation. Button I think can hope for 4th or 5th and the highest – think the Ferrari’s, Lotus and Mercedes cars are too fast to climb to a podium. Vettel will be the guinea pig and teams will be watching his laptimes like a hawk on the opening stint – could be stretch to a 2 stopper? That would put the cat amongst the pigeons….

    • Thanks for the reply James, great stuff. I think this race has the potential to be the best of all outcomes for Pirelli, who must be desperate to recreate the kind of finish Hamilton gave us in Canada last year, storming back from a late pitstop with lots of overtakes in the last laps. A proper show.

      As far as the weighing, I’m assuming that if I can think of it and they haven’t done it, then there must be some other reason it’s not feasible (besides laziness, which would be my reason, but not likely in an F1 team) because it seems so obvious a solution. Curious indeed.

  4. Excellent report.
    Are we seeing the renaissance of Ross Brawn ?

    Race prediction: Hamilton; Rosberg; Vettel – with Alonso, Raikkonen, Massa, Webber, Button and the Force Indias squabbling over the minor places.

    • Thankyou Nigel,

      I think everyone has underestimated just how good the W04 is – I certainly have done at the start of the season – The FRIC hydraulic suspension has been invaluable to them. Whilst not the most aerodynamically efficient car on the grid – the suspension enables them to maximise 100% the full downforce capability of the W04. As always with a fast car Brawn is showing his class and authority in maintaining a fantastic relationship between two exceptionally quick drivers.

      • “As always with a fast car Brawn is showing his class and authority in maintaining a fantastic relationship between two exceptionally quick drivers.”

        As always? Other than this year when has Brawn ever had two exceptionally quick drivers? Schumacher from 2010 -2012 was finished. At Benneton and Ferrari he had one quick driver never two.

        • Hi Cavallino,

          I was probably a bit vague with that statement (blaming the tiredness here) I was not referring to him so much with two quick drivers in one team but more with how he shows his class and authority within a team once a quick car has been established…

          Of course at both Benetton and Ferrari there was only ever Schumacher, but throughout those years his authoritative nature in strategic decisions was almost invaluable (remember Hungary 98!) in the success Schumacher had…. A trend he is now looking to secure now that the W04 has the pace to match the top 3. Like Schumacher his relationship (whilst strained in Malaysia) with both Nico and Lewis is fantastic – showing Horner how to run a team….

    • “Are we seeing the renaissance of Ross Brawn ?”

      After three years of producing duds he gets one pole and he’s a genius again. Maybe the real genius was Rory Byrne.

  5. Great reading again James…. This certainly has all the potential for a great season…… Also, I’m finding everyone’s comments and views equally as interesting as the daily blogs…. Great stuff! Good work everyone involved! Predictions for the morning….
    HAM, VET, ROS….. Webber making 7th or 8th…… Hoping Daniel can keep up the good work too!

    • Thanks RBR,

      I am continuing to try and improve my reports every week for you guys to enjoy. It’s great to hear such positive feedback… Thankyou.

      Very interesting predictions, I am surprised you have not included one Ferrari on the podium, their race simulations have looked very competitive – Vettel I agree will be a dark horse but his race all depends on progress in his first stint – if he can stay on the tail of the top 6 in the first 6-8 laps he stands a fantastic chance.

      • FWIW, Alonso was the last one I left out of my podium prediction.
        He could just as easily be in there rather than Vettel – who could quite well get stuck behind button for a while.

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