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Here we are folks, this weeks lap time graph, covering the top 5 drivers.
Noticeably absent of course is Lewis Hamilton, who even without the mechanical retirement, would not have been in the running for the top of the podium.
This week I have included lap time differences between VET and RIC, VET and ROS, & VET and RAI.
Vettel’s first lap was reminiscent of his days at Red Bull, where from pole position he would quickly pull away and out of DRS range, before the end of the second lap.
This regularly saw Vettel never look back and take the chequered flag ahead of the field.
In Singapore 2015, Vettel pulled an astonishing 3 Second gap on Daniel Ricciardo on lap 1, and was a full 6.8 seconds up the road from Nico Rosberg as he started lap 2. Vettel then settled down, averaging 0.3 sec a lap quicker than Ricciardo over the first stint (laps 1-12).
As we all saw, the 2 VSC/Safety Car periods, which by the way came at the perfect times for Sebastian, nicely split the race up into 3 Stints for us to analyze. The teams we are looking at dutifully obliged by running the same tyre compounds in those stints, so we have a nice comparison.
The second stint (laps 19-36) Vettel was only 0.1 sec a lap quicker than Ricciardo.
The final stint (laps 41-61) Vettel dropped to 0.022 sec a lap quicker than Ricciardo.
Of note was lap 27 in the second stint. Vettel dropped from a 1:53.193, to a 150.520 in a single lap without traffic. Ricciardo responded 2 laps later, dropping his times from a 1:53.595 on lap 28, to 1:51.345 on lap 29, and then a 1:50.861 on lap 30.
From hereon, the Honey Badger was able to hang on to the back of Speedy Seb, getting ever closer to matching his lap times in each stint. Following the final pit stop, there was nothing between the German driver and the Aussie Ace – a mere 0.022 sec a lap.
So where was Mercedes during all this?
Well, Nico Rosberg did finish the race, but he was unable to match Seb’s lap times. This is partially due to the fact he was running in the pack, and Sebastian was out front in clean air. But Rosberg too was able to gain ground over the course of the race – at keast lose ground less quickly.
He was 1.5 seconds a lap down in the first stint (both he and Vettel on used Super Softs), 1.2 seconds a lap down in the second (with SEB on the SS, and ROS on the Soft), and only 1 second a lap down in the third stint (both on Soft).
Finally, lets compare the two Ferrari drivers.
In the first stint, Vettel was 0.551 sec a lap faster than Kimi Raikkonen (both on SS Tyre) .
In the second stint, he was 0.730 sec a lap faster (both on SS Tyre), and in the third stint he was 0.681 Sec a lap faster, (both on Soft Tyre).
So what happened on lap 26?
the SKY F1 commentary team speculated Vettel was driving slowly to back his Red Bull Aussie rival into Kimi, thus providing the Fin with an opportunity to pass Ricciardo.
There is another theory, that Sebastian Vettel had gone out too hard in stint one and was suffering towards the end, so he was being more cautious at the start of stint 2.
Vettel began his second stint running high 1:52’s. On Lap 26, he dropped into the 1:53’s, pushing Riccardo into the 1:53’s as well, and then on lap 27 Seb exploded into the 1:50.5’s putting a good distance between himself and Ricciardo.
This gave Raikkonen 8 laps following the exit of the first Safety Car to get the move done, but he couldn’t pull off the pass on Ricciardo.
Vettel left them both for dust on lap 27.
There has been a huge amount of speculation as to why the Mercedes was so far behind the Ferrari pace almost all weekend, whilst Red Bull were almost up there with the Maranello cars.
The answer is that the Mercedes cars were running at a similar pace to their 2014 car, whilst 2015 Ferrari and the Red Bull cars were about 2 seconds a lap quicker than last year.
Will this form continue in Japan?
Just two days before we find out.
Probably never has an FP1 been as anticipated as much the one about to get underway this Friday in Suzuka.
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