A lot of talk has been going on today about Lotus’ performance, both in terms of their race simulation that they did today as well as their single lap pace, as evidenced by the day’s fastest lap, recorded by Romain Grosjean at 01:22.614 which was done on a 2 timed-laps burst, on the soft tyres. But was Lotus’ performance today as impressive as some respectable journalists would have as believe? Fernando Alonso also embarked on a full race simulation for Ferrari, and it’s interesting to compare the results. I have taken the liberty of adding the known quantity of Rosberg’s race simulation in the comparison, to get a benchmark. The results are listed in the figure below, and make for very interesting reading:
Let’s first begin with some simple observations. Alonso did a 5-stints race (with 4 pit stops) and he used the following tyres: medium – medium – soft – soft – medium. Grosjean, on the contrary, prefered a 4-stints (3 pit stops) strategy, with the following tyre selection: soft – soft – soft – hard. Finally, Rosberg also went for 3 pitstops (4 stints) but we don’t have solid / reliable information on the tyres he used. We believe that he primarily used the hard tyre and at some point switched to the soft option (please use a pinch of salt on that). In any case, Ferrari’s approach gives faster average lap times for each stint, as you understand, because the tyres are refreshed more often and have to go through less number of laps. When we are taking into consideration the full race time however, we will have to factor in the time that it takes to stop and get going again. As we now from my previous posts, this amounts to about 20 seconds / pitstop of lost time, and this time has to be added to the overall race time, to get an accurate final result. It follows, therefore, that Alonso’s final race time must be increased by 1 minute and 20 seconds, whereas we only have to add 1 minute to the times of Rosberg and of Grosjean. This is all quite clear in the table below.
What interests us here are two things: (a) the final race time and (b) the tyre degradation, because significant tyre degradation can leave you exposed to attacks during the race from, theoretically, slower car / driver combinations. As we can see, Rosberg’s race time is (by far) the quicker one. He completes the (theoretical) race distance in 01:37:59.288, which is approximately a whole minute faster than what either Grosjean or Alonso can do. At this point we have to stress that this is the first race simulation that we are seeing from either Lotus or Ferrari, so we expect them to improve further over the last 2 days. However, Mercedes will be improving too, so it’s hard to tell what the end differences will be. From the looks of it, though, over a race distance Mercedes seem to have the upper hand, and quite comfortably so.
A very positive sign for Lotus is the tyre degradation. Grosjean’s last stint, in particular, is very impressive, suffering from a drop off of merely 2 seconds over a massive 25 laps stint, which gives an average degradation of 0.081 seconds / lap. Grosjean’s other stints are very good in that respect as well, with the average degradation hovering around the one tenth and a half mark. At the other end of the spectrum is Alonso’s Ferrari, who suffered a 0.361 seconds / lap and 0.284 seconds / lap average degradation over the 2nd and 3rd stint respectively. This is also apparent in the figures where you can see the increased slope. Mercedes sit somewhere in the middle – not as good as Lotus but not as bad as Ferrari. The important thing however is the overall race distance time, and Mercedes, as we said, are ahead.
What about Grosjean’s over fastest lap time, I hear you ask. Well, a 01:22.614 is not something to write home about really. If you recall, the fastest time has been recorded by Kobayashi, so far, with a 01:22.3, i.e. 3 tenths faster. As I have already explained, the top 2012 F1 cars should be able to lap Barcelona in the low 1:20’s bracket, at this time of year. During last year’s testing, Michael Schumacher lapped the track in 1:21.2 and we know from Jerez that the cars can already go about 1 second faster than they did during last year’s testing. I therefore have to (boringly) repeat the known mantra: single lap times in testing mean absolutely nothing… In all fairness, it looks like Lotus is about where we expected them to be (respectable upper midfield performance), but Ferrari seem to have a long, long way to reach Red Bull and McLaren, or even Mercedes from the looks of things. They are a very strong team however, and no one can rule out a change of fortunes come Melbourne.
What about the other teams? Well, what we saw today confirms my suspicions that Red Bull and McLaren are playing a very cautious game, trying not to reveal too much. They have realized that they don’t have to fear Ferrari (not at this stage, in any way), so they have been focusing on doing short runs, with varying fuel loads, and few timed laps. Hamilton, for instance, did merely 65 laps – 12 laps less than Schumacher who had two red flags in his name today. Of those 65 laps, only 35 laps were timed ones… And although Red Bull did more laps (85), they hardly reached the mileage that would be expected at this time of year. Of those 85 laps, only 43 were timed ones… So there you have it: a game of cat and mouse that it’s impossible to decipher.
And, from the looks of things, Mercedes have also joined the “party”, preferring to do short stints, with reasonable fuel onboard, having apparently satisfied themselves with the reliability of their car. A lot of discussion has been going on with regards to the tyre degradation that Mercedes suffered today in those runs, but I don’t believe it’s a cause for concern. In a race simulation scenario (or a real race, for that matter) a driver never pushes 100% from the very first lap, because he knows his tyres will be gone after 3-4 laps. It appears that this is what Michael has been doing today, i.e. pushing very hard from the first lap, hence the extreme degradation patterns that we noticed. I haven’t seen anything in Mercedes’ race simulations to suggest they have a real issue with tyres falling apart, at this moment.
Finally, as a brief final remark, I want to add that Caterham look to be behind the established midfield runners at the moment; I presume further back than they hoped they would be. This is apparent not only in their fastest laps but also their heavy-fueled stints that are slow and somewhat inconsistent.
Please stay tuned for tomorrow’s testing results and analysis. It will be the final weekend of testing, and hopefully we will have a lot of data and time in our hands to analyze the results and produce a summary. I am even going to stick my neck out and make some predictions. After all, you have to put your money where your mouth is… 😉