On Track Review: FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA 2013 – Qualifying

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

Under the warm Spanish sun of Catalunya, we were treated to an incredibly close qualifying session. The Silver Arrows proved their pace over 1 lap by locking out the front row. The last time the team managed this was in its former guise as Brawn GP. Nico Rosberg claimed a superb pole, his 2nd in a row, ahead of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Rosberg’s pole time of 1m20.718s on the medium compound was more than a second a half quicker than the 2012 pole position set by Williams driver Pastor Maldonado (1m22.285s) on last year’s soft, despite the fact that usage of the DRS was unlimited last season. Historically a strong qualifying performance is vital in Barcelona, as has the race been won from other than the front row of the grid only once.

The two main protagonists at the top of the championship fight lie 3rd and 4th for tomorrow’s Grand Prix. Vettel edged out Raikkonen by one tenth of a second, whilst home favourite Alonso could only muster 5th, after an unspectacular session.

Qualifying 1
Q1 was very slow to get going, with four minutes passing before we saw any cars on circuit. Track temperature was 36°C, but it was the 3.4 m/s headwind that was set to cause a few drivers problems through the fast turns three and nine.

The Lotus cars set the early pace, with Raikkonen on top, posting a lap of 1.23.087, which was after the two Torro Rossos, Maldonado, and Hulkenberg had effectively been “track cleaners” during the opening minutes. Alonso quickly made his intent known to the rest of the pack by toppling Raikkonen from the top of the field with a 1.22.264, much to delight of his home supporters.

There were a number of interesting developments, however: both McLarens, both Mercedes cars, and Vettel went straight on to the medium compound, to save the harder, more durable compound for the Grand Prix. Rosberg, on softer rubber, immediately went top, but was quickly eclipsed by his team-mate Hamilton, who posted a 1.21.7 to go 2 tenths clear.

Elsewhere, there was trouble in the final chicane, as the Sauber of Guttierez appeared to block Raikkonen, who was on his final hot lap of the session. Not seeing the Finn in his mirrors, Guttierez took his normal line through the chicane, much to the frustration of Raikkonen, who lost a bundle of time, but still managed 4th.

Giedo Van Der GardeDown at the bottom, it were the usual suspects. Gio Van Der Garde however had a fantastic session, which ended in him qualifying ahead of not only his team-mate Pic, but also both Marussias, all this with a Caterham that does not boast all the new goodies of Pic. Joining them in the bottom 6 was a rather deflated Williams team, with both Maldonado and Bottas not making the cut.

After what during FP2 and FP3 looked like they were making progress, both drivers appeared to be struggling hugely with the car’s balance, and it summed up a pretty torrid afternoon for them.

Qualifying 2
Two and a half minutes passed before we saw any cars on track for Q2. The session was dominated by a late resurgence from Lewis Hamilton, who produced, after sitting 13th and in the drop zone with seconds to spare, a stunning lap to top the field by six tenths of a second, with a 1.21 flat. It was the first sign of Mercedes’ raw pace over one lap, after having worked hard on longer runs, in FP3.

For the majority of the session, Vettel, Alonso, and Raikkonen squabbled at the front, each posting a lap within one tenth of each other’s time. McLaren however was really struggling. Having made earlier runs on scrubbed medium tyres, both Button and Perez went out with fresh rubber for their final attempts to try and break into Q3.

Martin WhitmarshPerez produced a stunning lap to go 7th, with a low 1.21. Button however was really struggling to find his rhythm and looked incredibly scruffy. The best he could manage was a 1.23.166 and 14th on the grid. This, I am sure, will be a bitter pill to swallow for Button, after having been beaten by Perez in Bahrain, and the media assault he’s had to face as a result of that and his cries over the radio.

Joining Button in the drop zone were the two Torro Rossos of Ricciardo and Vergne in 11th and 12th, showing signs that recent upgrades to the car have pushed them in the right direction. Sutil was 13th, whilst the two Saubers of Hulkenberg and Guttierez brought up the rear in 15th and 16th, both of them struggling with rear grip.

Qualifying 3
For Q3, the wind speed dropped to just 1.8 m/s, allowing more stable conditions through the fast turns 3 and 9, and track temperature dropped to 35°C.

Only five drivers opted to do two runs, the rest opting for only one. The session was, however, about only one man, Nico Rosberg. The German went to the top with his first run, posting a lap of 1.20.8 to go four tenths clear of Alonso, Massa, Grosjean, and Raikkonen, with the Finn making a mistake into T5.

Nico Rosberg Spanish GPWith the rest of the pack out for their only run of the session, the action became fast and frantic. Hamilton went 2nd, with a solid 1.20.9, showing that even if they don’t have a strong race car, the W04 is more than capable over 1 lap. Rosberg added insult to injury by going another tenth clear with a 1.21.7, whilst Vettel and Raikkonen had to settle for 3rd and 4th, posting times one tenth apart, 0.4 seconds behind.

Alonso could only manage 5th, narrowly beating team-mate Massa, who starts 6th. Grosjean, the unspectacular Webber, Perez, and Di Resta rounded out the top ten of what ended up being a complete Mercedes “silver wash”. Incidentally, the two Mercedes cars were the only pair to get into the 1.20’s, which showed Rosberg had almost 3 tenths in his pocket.

Tomorrow’s Grid

The grid is slightly adjusted, due to Massa and Gutierrez getting penalties for blocking during qualifying. The result is that Massa drops from 6th to 9th, and Gutierrez from 16th to 19th.

Position Driver Constructor

Final Thoughts
Tyre strategy will be interesting in tomorrow’s race.

Pirelli’s mystery strategy predictor suggests the fastest strategy for the 66-lap race is set to be a three-stopper, as was the case last year. It runs as follows: start on the medium tyre, a fresh set of mediums on lap 16 and on lap 33, and a final stop for hard tyres on lap 50.

Alternatively, there is another effective three-stop strategy. Start on the medium tyre, get fresh mediums on lap 17, then switch to the hard on lap 34 and with a final stint on fresh hard tyres from lap 50.

The new “prototype” harder compound tyre that  has been brought to Spain looks to be very durable indeed. The two Mercedes cars, which have a history of being very hard on their tyres, may opt to run on the harder compound rather that following Pirelli’s strategy. However, with track position being everything, and with the two main title contenders directly behind them, turn 1 will be interesting. Raikkonen will not want to see Vettel jump the two Mercedes men.

Kimi RaikkonenThe Lotus car has been finding almost a second per lap on the medium compound tyre compared to the hard, so it will be interesting to see if they take a gamble later on in the race. Placing Raikkonen on the medium compound for the final stint of the race, on lower fuel, may be an inspired choice. However, it all depends on how the E21 looks after its rubber during the Grand Prix – which typically is “very good”.

Vettel, like Mercedes, will be glad the harder compound tyre is more durable. The RB9 has been destroying its front tyres, and with many long-radius corners putting pressure on the front left, degradation should not be so much of a worry for the three-time WDC.

Alonso and Massa from the 3rd row of the grid may be the dark horses. We know how fast the Ferrari launches off the line, and we know how clinical Alonso is if he sniffs even half of a chance . Remember that the Ferrari and Lotus have both looked incredibly fast and consistent on longer runs.

Finally, it will be interesting to see what progress Perez makes from 9th on the grid. This season, the McLaren has looked much stronger as a race car than as a qualifying car, and although the updates have not had the pronounced effect McLaren had hoped for, good points for the Mexican can be achieved from there. However, what a boost in confidence this will be, compared to Button, who looks to be having a very ragged weekend by his standards – are mind games at play already?

Bring on tomorrow…..

15 responses to “On Track Review: FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA 2013 – Qualifying

  1. Mercedes have been chewing up their tyres at a faster rate than any of the front-runners for the last two seasons and the first four races of this year. There’s no indication from the practice sessions that any significant change has occurred. While it’s nice to get pole but largely irrelevant if you get three or four laps less than the other front-runners and your first stop puts you back in 11th or 12th place. I’ll bet after the first round of pit-stops both Mercedes cars are around 6th.

    • As much as conventional wisdom would indicate that Mercedes will ‘chew their tyres up’, I looked after qualifying at both of their cars tyres and they looked like they had come fresh out of the blankets! I know looks can be deceiving, but maybe all the work in the mini break and practices has brought the tyres more durability. Being a Hamilton fan, I guess this maybe wishful thinking, but I can’t think Brawn and co have not been looking at all possible solutions. I can’t wait to find out though.

      • So you are basing tyre race performance / durability with a one lap qualifying run?

        • No, I’m saying the car is fast enough to beat the other cars to pole, so has inherent pace, so the work Merc do to improve the tyre durability could bring them towards the main 3. It seems to have been all they were doing during practice and Ross said that it was interesting that they had been heavier during practice(than the rest). Who knows, I’m probably wrong, but this is an unpredictable sport!

        • From what I’ve seen, Mercedes did completely devote their FP runs to race simulation, high fuel runs.

          With such an effort, and considering the new competence that has resulted with the W04 car this year, it wouldn’t seem logical to assume they’ve made no improvement at all.

          Plus, the new hard tyre is a wildcard for this race. That alone may give Mercedes back enough longevity to finish it out.

  2. if Merc were chewing up their tyres faster then it would follow that they would be stopping more than the other front-runners. Rosberg had his own issues in the last race – like Button – so had to stop a 4th time. It’s not like they are matching the pace of Red Bull, Ferrari, or Lotus then dropping away as their tyres suffer greater deg. They are consistently slower throughout the race. We’re not talking about simply a continuation of their tyre problems from the last 2 seasons.

    • Well, I know what your saying, but if the car is ‘fast’ enough to get pole, the only factors that can cause them to consistently under perform in the race are the fuel load and tyres, aren’t they? It’s not like the car knows its the race, so decides it’ll go slower! I think we may be surprised at the performance tomorrow, hopefully.

    • In a way you are still seeing their tire problems though, because in races Merc are running at the fastest pace they can without destroying their tires. It’s just that RB Lotus and Ferrari can run faster and still keep their tires in the operating window. Clearly, given similar state tires Merc are as fast over one lap as anyone, it’s just that to keep up with the other runners, they would take at least one extra stop, due to the tires going off quicker. It’s still faster for them to slow and preserve tires, so that’s what they do.

      Merc did comment in Bahrain that Lewis’ last stint had given them some new clues, but there weren’t any signs of improvement in their long FP2 runs, so we’ll just have to see what the race brings.

  3. Unfortunately missed qualy. Why did Lewis run only once in q3? Saving tyres for race? Used them earlier? Is that the same reason for half of q3 runners?

    I know that Nico has been there for 3 years now and knows the car better but Lewis should be careful to not see his reputation as the fastest driver seriously harmed.

    • Lewis ran on options in all 3 sessions. He had to do 2 runs in Q2.

      And I would guess that all those who did just one run were thinking tires for the race.

      • Lewis’ first run in Q2 was on the used tyres from Q1 judging by the pace, and his further two laps in Q2/Q3. Mind you, I’d guess Rosberg’s was too as he did two laps in Q3

        Guess they’re racing the hards.

        • That would seem to be the case, thought I heard Vettel mention something about only running options in quay during the press conference. Unfortunately NBC not so great with the commercials today so I missed tons of the action. I did notice Kimi running the prime in Q1 so we might be in for a treat tomorrow, different tire strategy wise.

  4. Judging by Pirellis numbers, they are expecting the hard to be the same pace as the medium. Otherwise the hard tyre stint would be shorter, Looks like it is just a balance preference call from the teams on tyres.

    And I’d guess that the first stop will be earlier for a three stopper – especially given that most first stops were done by lap 13 last year.

    • I’m pretty sure that’s not the case for the Lotus at least.
      (And I think Rosberg missed a trick in running twice in Q3. A clean set of options was probably more than worth the risk of losing pole to Hamilton.)

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