So, there’s a race on this weekend…:Spanish GP quali

Posted: May 21, 2011 in F1 qualifying, Formula 1
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Gah.  Sorry.  A couple of points worth noting before I get going:

1) I’m currently quite busy with my job, which I get paid for, which means that my writing, which is a hobby, might suffer a bit over these next few weeks
2) Due to an unfortunate double booking, I’m off to Durham with some work colleagues tomorrow and am unlikely to see the Spanish Grand Prix in full until Monday night at the earliest.  Consequently, there’s not much point checking back here again until Tuesday.

Now that’s dealt with, what did we make of qualifying?

Circuit de Catalunya is full of medium and high speed corners, which makes it a big test of aerodynamic efficiency.  It is now safe to conclude, if it wasn’t already, that the Red Bull RB7 is very, very big on aero efficiency.  This weekend’s race has had only two horses in it since first practice on Friday, with Webber and Vettel way ahead of the pack and, interestingly, in that order.  Mark has generally been the faster of the two this weekend, but it should be noted that in qualifying, his KERS worked and Sebastian’s did not.

That’ll make no great difference to Sebastian’s weekend, because there doesn’t look to be anybody behind Red Bull with anything like the pace to challenge.  As is rapidly becoming standard, Lewis Hamilton came to the fore when it counted, leading a closely-bunched group of three which also contained Alonso and Button.  The trio were separated by 0.035 seconds – let’s do the old Grandstand videprinter trick of spelling out the more unbelievable numbers, just to reiterate that positions 3 to 5 on the grid were covered by thirty-five thousandths of a second.  Alonso in particular can be pleased with his day’s work, since the Ferrari looks like an understeering mess with no business being quite that far up the field.

It’s tricky to get a read on Mercedes, but at least one of their drivers should be in reasonable shape.  Rosberg starts P7, claiming to have concentrated on race setup after struggling with heavy tyre wear during the Turkish race.  The effects of that decision upon his Q3 laptime are impossible to quantify, particularly given the erratic form shown by the Silver Arrows this year, but on longer runs Nico has so far looked to have a slight edge over the McLarens, Alonso and Vitaly Petrov, all of whom start directly ahead.

Michael Schumacher starts 3 places behind, not because of some brilliant tactical decision to save tyres for the race (I’m looking at you, Eddie Jordan) but because his KERS wouldn’t work in Q3.  Schumi did a single lap on hard tyres, just in case anyone followed him out on the same type of rubber for a direct competition, then bailed out when everyone else used the soft tyres, which appeared to bring a gain of around 2 seconds per lap.  Michael therefore has an extra set of softs for tomorrow, along with the advantage of being able to start on any tyres he likes and the bonus of showing good pace all weekend.  Ally that to his fondness for rapid starts and the Red Baron becomes one to keep an eye on tomorrow.

Further back, it was a shame to see Force India completely give up on Q2, even if you can understand the decision to run hard tyres when everyone else had softs.  The soft is faster and less durable so it pays to save as many as possible, with Q2 being a good opportunity to do so if you don’t have any real hope of making it through to the top 10 shootout.  One of the unfortunate and presumably unintended side-effects of these Pirelli tyres is that the qualifying hour, previously so full of drama and tension, is now as much an exercise in tyre management as going quickly.  There’s none of the old excitement as the clock ticks to the end of sessions 2 and 3, with so many drivers doing a single run early in the session and settling for whatever that run gives them.

The trade-off, of course, is that the racing is now much more exciting.  Given the choice, I’d always have it that way – the race is the part that counts for something, after all – but why have to make the choice?  Martin Brundle made an interesting suggestion in commentary today, which was to allocate an extra set of tyres to the top 10 runners for use in the last 5 minutes of Q3, thus guaranteeing that the session builds to a crescendo just as it used to.  It seems a simple, effective solution which wouldn’t significantly increase costs but would do a lot to improve what we’re contractually obliged to call The Show.  Why not go for something like that?

Tomorrow’s race is something of an acid test for this year’s rules package.  It’s traditional for the Spanish Grand Prix to be something of a snoozer, to the extent that in 1999 only one overtaking move was recorded during the entire Grand Prix (that move, fact fans, was Damon Hill passing Rubens Barrichello for 7th on the inside of turn 5, which I recall not because it was a brilliant pass but because I’d waited about 40 laps for something, anything to happen).  Because the Barcelona track is so aero-dependent and the cars are so aero-reliant, it’s incredibly difficult to follow another car closely while contending with the trail of turbulent air left in its wake.  The only recognised overtaking spot for Formula 1 cars is the first chicane, which this year marks the end of the DRS zone, but that section has a high entry speed and a short braking distance so it’s by no means an easy move.  This year, with Pirelli having now built in a significant performance gap between the soft and hard tyres on a circuit that’s abrasive at the best of times, might we see more?

You don’t have to stick your neck out and venture an opinion, though if you’d like to, this post has a comments section and I’d love to hear from you.  I’m quite prepared to look like a lemon on your behalf, though, so here goes: as the tyres go off, or during phases where the lead car has hard tyres and the pursuer has softs, I think this year’s race might see some overtaking done through turns 4, 5 and 10.  The best bit?  Given my plans for tomorrow, you’ve got the chance to come back and laugh at me before I even know how wrong I was…

The Grid

1: Mark Webber (Red Bull), 1:20.981
2: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), +0.200 seconds
3: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), +0.980 seconds
4: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), +0.983 seconds
5. Jenson Button (McLaren), +1.015 seconds
6: Vitaly Petrov (Renault), +1.490 seconds
7: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), +1.618 seconds
8. Felipe Massa (Ferrari), +1.907 seconds
9. Pastor Maldonado (Williams), +1.971 seconds
10: Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), no time

Eliminated in Q2:

11: Sebastien Buemi (Scuderia Toro Rosso)
12: Sergio Perez (Sauber)
13: Jaime Alguersuari (Scuderia Toro Rosso)
14: Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber)
15: Hekki Kovalainen (Lotus)
16: Paul di Resta (Force India)
17: Adrian Sutil (Force India)

Eliminated in Q1:

18: Jarno Trulli (Lotus)
19: Rubens Barrichello (Williams)
20: Timo Glock (Virgin)
21: Vitantonio Liuzzi (HRT)
22: Narain Karthikeyan (HRT)
23: Jerome d’Ambrosio (Virgin)
24: Nick Heidfeld (Renault), no time due to fire in morning practice

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