Malaysia, Sepang – Round 02 – Friday free practice

Posted: March 23, 2012 in 2012, Formula 1, Races and Results
Tags: , , , , ,

There is a big question for each team to be answered in this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, and provided that conditions remain dry (highly unlikely), we are seeking the answers to the following:

– McLaren: Will they be able to cement their superiority in a more “normal” race track?

– Red Bull: Is, ironically, qualifying their Achilles heel?

– Ferrari: Was 5th place in Australia a result that masked the car’s problems and how much will the new chassis help Massa?

– Mercedes: Will they be able to make the tyres work inside the optimum window and will this hurt their qualifying pace?

– Renault: Was Romain’s pace in Australia a fluke and can such pace be maintained in the race?

– Force India: Are they indeed at the bottom of the midfield?

– Williams: Will they continue to impress and is Senna really doing enough to justify his seat?

– Sauber: Can they repeat their Australian performance in much hotter temperatures?

– Toro Rosso: Will either driver start to gain the upper hand in a consistent basis?

– Caterham: Will they be able to finish the race in conditions much more difficult than Australia?

– Marussia: Can they come any closer to Caterham, seeing as the Hingham-based team hasn’t made the expected leap to the midfield?

– HRT: Yeah. Can they qualify?

Naturally, it’s unreasonable to assume that we can get any answers on Friday. However, we will be monitoring the teams’ performances over the weekend, and hopefully at the end of it we will be able to get at least some of the answers to the above questions. In the meantime, here’s a closer look at today’s running:

The 2011 Australia pole lap was 01:23.529 (by Sebastian Vettel). In 2012, Hamilton’s pole was 01:24.922, i.e. 1.4 seconds slower. That’s significant. In terms of raw pace, therefore, based solely on the Australian qualifying results, it seems that the F1 cars are about 1.68% slower than last year. Now, the pole lap in Malaysia 2011 was 01:34.870 (again by Vettel). If we apply this correction factor, we should expect pole for the 2012 Malaysian GP to be around 01:36.460 (provided, of course, it’s dry). The fastest laptime that we’ve seen in today’s Free Practice sessions was 01:38.021, recorder by Lewis Hamilton in the 1st Practice Session of the day. That’s about 1.6 seconds slower than the expected pole time.

Now, let’s go back to last weekend’s race. As we saw, pole was in the high 24’s, whereas the first laptimes at the beginning of the race were in the high 1:33s (to low 1:34s), which means a difference of (approximately) 9 seconds. Over 58 laps, this gives a fuel effect of, about, 0.150 seconds for every extra lap of fuel that a car has to carry. By accepting the same time penalty in Malaysia (which is not entirely accurate, but will do for the time being), we see that Lewis in his 01:38.021 lap must have been carrying fuel worth about 10 – 11 laps. At a consumption of about 2.6 kg / lap, that means about 26 – 29 kgs of fuel onboard.

It’s important to stress at this point the question of tyres, because although Lewis did his lap on the medium (softer) compound, Pirelli have changed compounds for 2012 and the Australian calculations and gaps are based on the soft (yellow marked) tyre. Biiiiiiiig disclaimer there… 😉

Red Bull’s long runs were very, very consistent. Webber’s 2 main stints in the 2nd session were:

01:45.312
01:45.248
01:44.893
01:44.310
01:44.444
01:44.568
01:44.407
01:44.369
01:44.505
01:44.681

And:

01:44.422
01:44.235
01:44.146
01:44.594
01:44.265
01:44.712

Vettel was also able to post similarly consistent laptimes. Button’s only long stint (below), on the other hand, was not that impressive, with the lap times experiencing a drop off towards the end of the stint, which seems to justify Vettel’s claim that, in terms of race pace, they are at the same level. I presume, however, that these 1:46 laps at the end have more to do with Button easing off than the tyres going off. From the (very) early look of things however, it seems as if Red Bull can post a challenge, provided they sort out their qualifying pace.

01:44.803
01:44.984
01:44.659
01:44.823
01:44.904
01:44.935
01:45.142
01:46.739
01:46.422

What about Mercedes? Well, their longer stints indicated that the problem of degradation is not entirely eliminated yet. Let’s look at the data carefully. I have eliminated the 1:46 laps from Button’s stint, for the reason I explained above. In the following table I am presenting to you the tyre degradation figures, i.e. the pure degradation effect (I have removed the fuel burn-off effect of 0.150 seconds per lap):

Degradation figures - Friday free practice

So, it’s way too early to make any predictions at the moment, but it looks as if Red Bull are nicely positioned for the race and need to sort out their qualifying pace, whereas I believe the exact opposite applies to Mercedes. Ferrari is difficult to judge because of the chaotic difference in performance between the two drivers… McLaren seem to be in the same good position that they were in Australia. I assume they are secretly hoping for Mercedes to do well in qualifying and create a buffer zone between themselves and Red Bull in the race.

In the meantime, I would like to share with you this amazing article. It’s the full verdict in the case of Force India Vs Team Lotus, on the issue of copyright infringement. I suggest you devote at least 3 hours, get a cup of coffee (or five), and read it through… the ENTIRE thing. It’s a mesmerizing, fascinating inside look into the process of designing a car, subcontracting companies, looking for performance, business relationships in F1, etc. It gives insight on several key people within F1, the way they work and the way they think. It’s completely myth-shattering at times, and it will help you understand a lot of the things that take place in the background of our sport. You will be amazed, trust me on this.

Take care dudes.

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Comments
  1. Roger says:

    Hi… your calculations suggesting that Lewis had 10-11 laps of fuel on board imply that (all else being equal) he was on qualifying pace during the Friday practice. But given how much we generally see lap-times improve from practice to Q1 then Q2 and Q3, is that really a safe assumption? What am I missing here?

    Thanks for efforts in building up these stats for us!

    • abu says:

      Yes, I agree. It’s possible that he was running lower fuel, but he wasn’t on quali pace… Or that he was running higher fuel and that our calculations were entirely incorrect… Who knows?! 🙂

      The only thing for sure is that every team knows exactly the fuel loads of the others, from their acoustic analysis. We are in the dark as always…

      • Roger says:

        Now that’s something I hadn’t heard before. How do they use acoustic analysis to determine fuel load? Do they estimate the car’s acceleration based on how fast the revs change, then with assumptions about the car’s dry weight / gearing / etc, deduce a fuel weight (or something like that)?

  2. juan mateo says:

    I agree with Roger in 90%, however i think there are drivers more propense to go “flat out” almost always, and Hamilton seems to me to be one of these. And in that sense, i think calculations made are accurate. We have to remember that we are in the uncertainty world.
    Good job Abu, as always. Thank you for your effort.

    • Roger says:

      But if drivers are always going flat out or nearly so, why do we see such dramatic drops in lap-time from Q1 to Q2 to Q3? Often this is 0.5s or more from session to session. Some is due to changing from Prime to Option (generally in Q3 I guess), but where does the rest come from? Are they making last-minute setup tweaks that almost always make an improvement? Or are they just trying harder from Q1-2-3? Or is the track rubbering-in making that much difference? Or…?

      A mystery (to me)! 🙂

      • juan mateo says:

        Roger: A combination of: new options tyres, track rubbering-in, some tweaks in the set up, minimum fuel on board and maximum concentration gives those 0,5 sec or even more. Fortunately, also talent and inspiration can make the difference.
        Respect to the acoustic analysis, i am not an expert in that area, but changes in frequency gives you the acceleration and then the comparative analysis with data base permits conclusions about load.

        Best regards

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