Hippo’s View From The Waterhole: Ferrari, thou art back to thyne old self

hippo-mouth_1440541cHaving been dominated by his team mate all weekend, Lewis Hamilton knew he would need to get ahead of Rosberg before the first corner to have any hope of wining the 2015 Spanish GP.

Whilst the TV commentators droned through their pre-prepared material for the minutes before the red lights went out, something bizarre was happening on track. In one of the slowest formation laps in recent history, Lewis backed up the field by driving extremely slowly, causing Vettel more than once to find himself ahead of the Mercedes whilst hardly pressing the red pedal on the right.

Modern Formula One cars do not like trundling around or standing still. The engine, clutches and brakes become badly affected and we frequently see pit lane mechanics with dry ice hairdryers rush to the cars to prevent the systems overheating.

Presumbaly Lewis thought this would all get inside Nico’s head and cause him to be distracted from the task in hand when the drivers got the ‘get-go’ command.

In the end, it was to no avail. It was Lewis himself, who bungled the start and ended up being overtaken by Vettel’s Ferrari. Hamilton was forced into a desperate defence from the charging Bottas too, and his poor get away saw him pay the heavy price of thirty laps staring at the Maranello crafted exhaust pipe of the quadruple world champions car.

Lewis’ inability to pass Vettel on track rather force-fed humble pie to those who decried Rosberg’s ‘whinging’ and apparent inability to attack Hamilton in China. By comparison, Lewis’ task should have been relatively simple as Nico showed in Bahrain when the Ferrari was easy pickings for a man on a mission.

Lewis thinking prior to the start of the race, gives some credence to the theory that Hamilton is capable of a strategy which would back Rosberg into Vettel in Shanghai. After all, for Lewis – its all about the race win.

Adrian Sutil was co-commentator at Sky Germany, and he confirmed that given the current aero regulations and tyre structures, a driver has two laps at most to follow another car closely and get the pass done.

Otherwise the front tyres which are not as durable is the 2015 Pirelli rear tyres, are toast.

It was plain for all to see, that not even the great lewis Hamilton can battle the laws of aerodynamics and win.

In a reversal of the Vettel tactic on Rosberg in China, Mercedes went for an early first stop for Lewis as he tried the undercut. However, the mechanic on the air gun at the left rear corner of the car wasn’t sure the wheel was secure, so he took time to unfastened and re-fastened the wheel nut.

Given the latest reported FIA clampdown on loose wheels that TJ13 reported prior to the Barcelona weekend, this faceless individual did Lewis a huge favour – because a score of ‘Nil point’ would not have pleased the Englishmen one jot.

Yet Hamilton fresh from his hero’s battle with himself, decided to criticise the team for a poor pit stop. Who know’s when faced with a similar situation in future, the rear left wheel man with the air gun will respond.

The stop was 2.8 seconds slower than Vettel’s covering move one lap later, and for the current champ – it was now ground hog day.

But with pace aplenty, Mercedes decided to switch to “plan B”, putting Lewis on a three-stopper. Lap 32 saw the Brit came in again, for a stop that was still rather catholic by comparison to the 2.3 seconds efforts those clad in scarlet appeared to be pumping out all day.

Again, this is Mercedes just being smart and taking no pit stop risks to jeopardise the entire race for one of their drivers. And with the pace in hand, this is but a by-line from the Spanish GP.

James Vowles call for Lewis to switch to a three stop strategy worked well, though this was all because Ferrari inexplicably decided not to pre-empt this or cover the Hamilton undercut at the second stop.

Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel were the only drivers with an additional set of fresh options, having negotiated Q1 by just using the Pirelli prime hard tyre. Yet the Italian’s chose not to split their race strategy between the two drivers.

Vettel had proven track position was king and he could hold off the red misted Hamilton with relative ease, as the window opened around lap 30 to make the second of three stops, the tifosi were surely screaming for Vettel to pit before Hamilton, thus ensuring track position were the Brit to continue with plan ‘B’ too.

By now Rosberg was a country mile up the road, and had Hamilton returned to a two stop strategy, he would have chased his German team mate’s shadows in vain on worn tyres, giving Vettel a shout of passing Lewis towards the end of the race.

Instead, Vettel slogged on with his second set of wearing medium tyres, losing as much as two seconds per lap to Lewis now on fresh primes. In that moment, it was game over so far as second place was concerned.

Possibly with fond memories of Bahrain, Ferrari also set Kimi off on a two stop strategy, but they delivered poor track position for the Fin and the hard tyre as tools for battle. The Iceman was never in with a chance of the podium.

However, Vettel’s strategy was unravelling and for a a lap or two with ten to go, it looked like the German would be swallowed up by Bottas and then Räikkönen. They were closing on Sebastian at over a second per lap. But the ensuing fight between the two Finns was enough to wear out their tyres and slow their progress, allowing Vettel to limp home third on his knackered primes.

A third on the podium is hardly a source for celebration in Ferrari-land these days, as the de facto order of things in 2015 invariably sees the champagne sprayed by various permutations of Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel, with a Raikkonen once for good measure.

Not only does the Gestione Sportiva have some catching up to do on track,  if they bask in the glory of their quick thinking in Malaysia 2015 for much longer – the ship will have sailed – once and for all.

Vettel can comfort himself with the thought that he and Ferrari will not be close enough to a title by the time the circus arrives at its final destination this a year. Which means the Maranello mentalists will be unable to screw him over like they did to Alonso back in 2010, during the desert finale.

28 responses to “Hippo’s View From The Waterhole: Ferrari, thou art back to thyne old self

  1. Listen Hippo, track position is king on this track and bringing Vettel in before Hamilton would have meant releasing hamilton into clear air and most likely a 2 stop. Vettel would not have been able to get back past lewis towards the end of the race even if he was faster as track position is king and it would have needed lewis’ tyres to fall off the cliff. 3rd was the position Vettel was consigned to and Ferrari could have done nothing more to keep him in front of Hamilton.

    The rest of this comment was objectionable and so removed

    • I disagree… Hamilton was too far behind to catch Rosberg on a two stop after lap 30. He would have trundled on to no avail.

      At least by three stopping Vettel this would have created some doubt in Mercedes mind. AND By lap 30 Lewis’ mediums had gone off significantly, Vettel could have easily delivered a 1:28 on a new set of mediums thus jumping a possible 3 stopping Hamilton.

      Further Vettel would have been a lot closer to Hamilton towards the end of the race – there to take advantage of any mishaps – and reduce the degree of redness in the faces of the Maranello team – when considering the gigantic gap to Mercedes, paricularly following their massive upgrade aero effort.

      • But Seb’s fastest lap on a fresh set of mediums was somewhere in the the mid 1:30/1:31s. Actually if I’m not mistaken, neither Ferrari’s got below a 90 seconds lap.

        • Kimi did a 1:29.931 on lap 47, with 6 lap old tyres.

          Of course the Ferrari’s didn’t roll out sub 90s laps when the fuel limits would have allowed – they were two stopping and in tyre conservation mode.

          Rosberg only bothered to venture into the 1:29’s for 5 laps after Lewis made his final stop – because he too was 2 stopping.

      • Ummm… ROS came out behind Lewis after his 2nd stop. Suspect they would have pitted Nico before HAM cleared his pit window were Lewis to have converted. Still, had Vettel driven to form and exited pits in front of HAM on 3 stop presumably would have put same pressure on Merc to put ROS out early leaving VET on options to chase after 3rd stop. And they might well have left him out on the Hard tyre and gone 2 stop just because he would have been P1 and Merc not much luck getting by Ferrari at Barcelona.

      • Agreed. Plus, the only way for Merc to secure a 1-2 finish was to employ a 3-stop strategy.

        As for Hamilton’s pit stops, if I’m reading you correctly, Hippo, you’re saying the extra time was his crew being smart about securing his tires. If true, how do we account for Nico’s 2.8 sec stop?

        • ~ three seconds give or take a tenth or two is a safety stop. Everything below 2.5 seconds is an all-out stop that relies on everything going right. Remember the fastest stops of Ferrari and Red Bull have been faster than 2 seconds.

          • Hippo- The empire’s pit crew reps did get Seb out in a blazing 2.1. But here’s why (perhaps it would behoove Daimler to copy?)


            Another, in retrospect, observation: I notice that, of all the top drivers, Hamilton appears to miss hit marks more than anyone else (yes, The Seal of Hamfosi has been appropriately bestowed upon me, but honesty remains the best trump card ;-)…)

          • Hamilton’s inaccuracy was the reason for many sluggish pitstops at McLaren. They often had to realign and that can cost a second or two

          • 😉 And thou truly art an example to all fanbouys of whatever driver!!!

            A little vicarious self deprecation on behalf of the apple of one’s eye – never goes amiss 😉

    • Other drivers were completing passes and we have heard over and over that Hamilton is the gold standard for passing ability. As I recall Rosberg’s reason for not passing Vettel was the same as Hamilton’s, too much turbulence in the wake of the leading car. I didn’t read Hippo’s comment as a anything but a reality check for those claiming Rosberg is useless at passing and those that claim Hamilton is supreme.
      Not being a Hamilton fan I thought his race showed a number of weak moments. The blown start, giving up on and whining about passing Vettel on track, bitching at the team when it was suggested he couldn’t catch Rosberg and should save his equipment for another day and then chastising the team publicly over the poor stop. It looked like jet setting, celebrity Hamilton showed up this weekend, rather then Hamilton the racer and the former won’t beat Rosberg.

  2. After Hamilton’s pitstop, seeing it gone bad. I think they could have gotten Vettel in and out before him. Mirroring him and keeping track position, with both cars on fresh rubber. Would have been a great battle on track 🙂 .

    • But they did get Vettel out before hamilton after his pitstop went wrong. And if they had mirrored Lewis in the second stop, Vettel would have come out behind him as Lewis’ outlap was too quick, thereby meaning Lewis would have pulled a gap on vettel anyway on the following laps – so no battle either way.

  3. “something bizarre was happening on track. In one of the slowest formation laps in recent history, Lewis backed up the field by driving extremely slowly”

    Yeah, you’ll gonna have to review and rephrase that. Hamilton was merely following Rosberg’s lead. At no point did Rosberg find himself too far off in front of Hamilton, which means it was Robserg (hint, NOT Hamilton) who was responsible for this bizarre bunching up of the field.

    And if I had to guess it was Merc management ultimately responsible for instructing their drivers to do this. It’s not the first time Merc has done this, and not last I gather.

    • No I don’t have to rephrase that. At one point in the third sector Lewis almost came to a full stop with Vettel nearly overtaking him, and the same happened several times on the start-finish straight. At each occasion Rosberg was several car lengths ahead or even already in his starting position.
      I’m afraid you’re the one who needs to rephrase.

      • Hippo it’s the warm up lap, there’s no set protocol as to how fast or slow each driver has to go. Seb had the choice as well to drop back just like any other driver.

      • During the formation lap I asked Hamilton “WTF are you doing” when he practically brake checked Vettel. I was surprised to see there was no comment from Whiting on the matter. Watching the last part of the lap again, on my PVR, there are a few times I would have thought Whiting would question Hamilton’s behavior.

        • Could be, but from what I’ve seen (unfortunately no recording), Rosberg was barely 2-3 car lengths in front of Hamilton, and ALL the field bunched into each other behind Hamilton. The way I see it, Rosberg bunched up the whole field (including Hamilton), and Hamilton was adamant to keep a safety distance between him and the car in front (he was by no means too far behind Rosberg), which those behind clearly had no interest in. If it were Hamilton doing the bunching, Rosberg could simply have gone ahead and leave Hamilton to take a penalty. Instead it was Rosberg who was seemingly controlling the speed of the formation lap, with Hamilton not far behind and all the others positively hating the experience…

          It has been suggested on several occasions in the past that Merc seems happier with a slow formation lap, and they’ve done it in the past. Could have been another one of these instances.

          • Hamilton braking quickly forces Vettel to dodge Hamilton and run up beside him.

          • @McMaster

            Sure, but they ALL brake quickly on warm-up laps. If Vettel was close enough to need to “dodge Hamilton and run up beside him”, this means Vettel wasn’t keeping a sufficient safety distance between him and the car in front…

          • Have you even seen the warm-up lap? By the way you’re embarrassing yourself, I would hazard a guess you haven’t.

          • No@, just McMaster. I am not where I’m at.
            I have the HD PVR with super slow motion, so come on over I’ll show you what I’m seeing. My call would be, Hamilton at fault and Vettel having to react. You obviously believe Hamilton could not possibly have been at fault and if it wasn’t Vettel…must have been that trouble maker Alonso!

  4. comments in these last 4 few posts from HAM fanbois makes me miss guys like still I surprise. He used to keep this place clear of fanboi vermin BS or at least under control. HAM came second thats all!

  5. 1) Bottas in the Williams was close enough that it prevented Ferrari from gambling with a 3 stop strategy.

    2) Overall, Vettels pace was 0.7 secs slower, which left them vulnerable at each pit-stop, and to compound switch (VET on hards against HAM on mediums).

    3) FH wrote, “…the Maranello mentalists will be unable to screw him over like they did to Alonso back in 2010…”
    – It’s important to note that Ferrari fired their strategy guy after Melbourne, and hired Iñaki Rueda, who had previously worked at Lotus. They realized immediate improvements in strategy.

    I highly recommend Giroveloce’s excellent article on this same subject published today. They not only do the math and in depth analysis, but also have excellent graphs and illustrations which show why the Williams of Bottas prevented Ferrari from gambling on the (slower) strategy of 3 stops.

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