Friday, 18 July 2014

Friday Analysis: Who’s turning up the heat in Hockenheim?

Wait, what's this?
Welcome to our first (and hopefully not last) Friday analysis. There are a few reasons behind us two F1 nuts trying this out; 

1) A lack of decent analysis out there for interested F1 folk like ourselves 
2) The better stuff is subscriber only (like Gary Anderson’s Autosport analysis, which itself still has a few errors)
3) We figured it would be fun. 

Although we could hardly call ourselves Formula One experts (though we will allow others to do so), we’re both long-standing fans of the sport, and we’ve been analysing Friday practice all year – not least because we’re both betting men...

We’ve focused largely on Free Practice 2, as this is where all teams do both a qualifying simulation and a race simulation. Free Practice 1 is harder to draw conclusions from, as the programmes and fuel loads the teams run are more inconsistent. As well as looking at pure lap times, we’ve taken into consideration issues like traffic, tyre degradation, media snippets from the drivers, and also the patterns we tend to see from Friday across to the rest of the weekend in previous races. So that’s the context, now let’s get stuck in!

Jubilant Germany welcomes the return of Formula One

An eventful Friday at the Hockenheimring saw Formula one return to Germany; a country still wrapped in the throes of celebration, having recently proved themselves to be more capable at kicking an inflatable ball around than any other nation on the planet. This may explain the rare sight in 2014 of Sebastian Vettel in a cheery mood, although as we’ll see below, his less experienced teammate is giving him more headaches in front of his home fans.

Today yielded some particularly interesting questions, such as how the banning of FRIC (front and rear interconnected systems suspension) would affect the pecking order, whether Susie Wolff could show that female drivers have the pace to succeed in F1, and which of the two big Championship rivals has the edge in what could be a decisive weekend.  So let’s take a look at what the FRIC (sorry, but we couldn’t miss out on the pun bandwagon) the story from Friday at Hockenheim looks like.

Analysis: Who looks good?

The first thing to say is that it was a challenging day to analyse, due to a combination of traffic and the F1 timing app once again failing to tell us who was on what tyre at what time in the session – come on Bernie! We had to rely on what we saw on the TV screen, and this meant that we didn’t see much of the smaller teams. Nonetheless, there are some clear patterns emerging.

One lap pace

The headline lap times (Figure 1) appear to show a familiar story, with Mercedes 1-2 out in front. However, a confident Ricciardo was nipping (wolfishly?) at their heels, suggesting qualifying could see a repeat of Austria with the Mercs being pushed very hard – although this time by Red Bull rather than Williams. McLaren continue to look pretty handy over one lap, and Ferrari also look decent – Alonso made an error in sector three and will surely find more pace compared to Raikkonen. Williams appear to be struggling, although we would guard against reading too much in to that, as they tend to hide their true pace on a Friday more than most teams. Ferrari on the other hand tend to flatter on a Friday, so don’t be surprised if they find themselves fourth best come qualifying. Behind them Sutil was a surprise in 11th, and the Force Indias continue to struggle to show their full pace in qualifying trim. Lotus continue to flounder.

In terms of teammate battles, it was mega tight between the two Mercedes boys. Neither nailed their lap with Hamilton getting traffic in Sector 3, and Rosberg making an error on his first flying lap, meaning his tyres were past their best when he did set his lap time. Ricciardo once again appears to have the edge on Vettel.

Figure 1: Fastest theoretical lap times, consisting of the driver’s best sectors. Thanks to the McLaren fan site for this!

Race pace

We’ve looked separately at runs on the soft and the supersoft tyre, as each had a different story to tell.

Figure 2: Long run lap times on supersoft tyre – we’ve taken the drivers with the most representative stints for each team, and both of the Mercedes drivers

The Mercedes again look to have the edge here by at least a couple of tenths, with Rosberg looking particularly strong, although Hamilton became stronger throughout his stint. Ricciardo stands out as best of the rest with a very positive Sergio Perez next. Williams were struggling, but again they tend to gain with respect to other teams after a Friday. McLaren were unable to match their qualifying pace with long run pace, which has been the case a few times this year. Jenson Button was quick to point out the cars difficulty with the supersoft tyre after the practice session.

What also stands out here is the severe tyre degredation on the supersoft, with times dropping off dramatically after as little as six laps. Ricciardo and the Mercedes managed them better, with Ricciardo making them last for around twenty laps (across several stints). Vettel had good pace compared to Ricciardo, but saw a more severe drop off. Expect to see the top teams pitting early in the race and having to make their way past cars running longer on the prime tyre. 

Figure 3: Long run lap times on the soft tyre

Again there are three drivers here who stand out for both pace and consistency – Rosberg, Hamilton and Ricciardo. Vettel started quickly, but again seemed to be hurting his tyres – after his first six laps or so he was around a second a lap slower than Ricciardo. Alonso doesn’t look to have the pace to keep up with the Red Bulls and the Mercedes, especially given the tendency of the Ferrari to overperform on a Friday.

As we said, we have stayed away from the smaller teams due to the difficulty in determining tyres, but it was pretty clear that the Caterham still has its canine properties, and the only way that car could look more freakish is if it turned up to the circuit dressed in a lederhosen.


It looks like another great battle between the two Mercedes drivers for pole and the win, with Rosberg appearing to have a slight edge at this stage of the weekend. Ricciardo looks comfortably best of the rest, and is hot favourite for the final podium spot. Behind him Vettel looks strong, but then the picture is a bit murkier. Williams will definitely improve, but they were chewing through their tyres faster than a hungry mouse through cheddar, so could have a tough race. Alonso will once again be up there challenging for 5th to 7th, and expect to see Force India coming through strongly later in the race due to their tyre whispering car, whilst McLaren (who also tend to flatter on Fridays) will probably drop backwards.

One of the biggest factors today and potentially for the rest of the weekend is the extreme heat, which made the supersoft tyres fall away like a tasty soft French cheese, particularly for some teams (Williams, Sauber). This could be a challenge in the race, pushing out the tyre strategy to perhaps even three stops for some teams. It may also create reliability issues, and Rosberg’s steaming hot brakes in Practice 2 brought to mind memories of Canada. 

Other potential threats to Merc is the removal of FRIC which caused set-up issues. 

The threat of rain still hangs over the circuit for race day, with rain forecast at 60% likely, and mostly focused around race time. Not since Brazil 2012 have we had a proper wet race, and it would something incredible to watch with the 2014 cars with their high torque and lower downforce. Wet weather would create a big unknown, but based on wet qualifying sessions we would expect the gap between Mercedes and Red Bull to lessen, and those two cars to pull away even further from the rest.

Quick tips

Ricciardo to qualify top 3 @ 2.5 with Bwin
Qualifying winning margin under 0.15 seconds @ 2.25 with Ladbrokes

Spotted: A Wolff in the Formula One pack

It was terrific to see Susie Wolff complete a full Practice session, after the howler that she had in Silverstone with her car grinding to a miserable halt on her second timed lap. She put in some impressive times, consistently staying within half a second of Massa. 

It was clear to us that Susie was enjoying herself, as she was in such a hurry to get back on track that she even set the fastest time through the pitlane speed trap – twice! A $2,000 speeding fine would probably put a spoiler on our day, but we’re sure that the Williams F1 team can afford it. We hope to see Susie back in a Formula One car, not least because of the sheer multitude of pun opportunities that her surname presents. Still, our favourite this year has to be, “Ok Lewis, it’s hammertime.”

And with that we bid you auf wiedersehen. Enjoy the weekend!

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