Friday, 5 September 2014

Friday Analysis: Bottas speeds his way to best of the rest


Our first-ever Friday analysis at Hockenheim was so ground-breaking that it’s taken two races and seven weeks for us (and probably you guys too) to suitably recover. In it we boldly predicted that Red Bull, and particularly that of the smiling Australian Daniel Ricciardo, would be the ones putting the heat on Mercedes. We even recommended bets based on that – which hopefully you had the wisdom not to follow. So shocked were we by Williams’ pace come Saturday that the Formula One Analysis team called a crisis meeting to understand how it happened – a bit like the one at Mercedes last Friday but probably more important. The not inconsiderable magnitude of this meeting partly explains the delay in putting our next analysis together.

It came to our attention that rather a few analysts (including us, of course) had noted the tendency of Ferrari to look particularly strong on a Friday, only to fall back over the rest of the weekend. But what about the relative change in performance of the other teams? Do Williams always hide their pace on a Friday? Was it this that caught us out?

What does Friday show?

Such questions are like red flags to a bull here at Formula One Analysis (and we are very much like bulls), so of course we felt compelled to go and investigate. What we found was, it would be fair to say, rather illuminating. The investigation spawned the creation of what has since been christened ‘The Super-duper Friday Form Adjuster’, which is somewhat comparable to a Doctor Who gadget, but more mysterious. Note that the Adjuster (oh yes, the ‘a’ requires capitalization) may need some re-calibration over the next few races as it gets put through its paces.

If you look below, the table below shows the relative performance change from Free Practice 2 through to the rest of the weekend (qualifying and race) between all the teams, with Red Bull as the barometer i.e. net zero change. We believe that the variation in performance is due to:
a) Fuel levels
b) Engine settings
c) Ease of finding optimum set up
d) Jacques Villenueve’s mood/The drivers’ dinner plans

Now such calculations, which some may consider a form of black arts, are by no means exact. The margin will be affected by the factors mentioned above and the effectiveness of overnight setup changes. So we suggest leaving a margin of 1-2 tenths when using the Adjuster. Also we’ve only taken into account the quickest car for the timings to suggest optimum performance, but it’s highly unlikely that both drivers will achieve this on any given weekend.

In terms of the top teams, what’s clear is that Williams gain significantly from a Friday through to Saturday and Sunday, whilst Ferrari fall back rather a lot relative to the competition. We’ve lost track of the number of occasions Williams have been discounted on a Friday, whilst Ferrari have been deemed to look the best of the rest behind the monstrous Mercs (like this current article on the Official Formula One site, for example).

So enough of the preamble – it’s time to put this Adjuster to use and see what bombshells it comes out with. We know the question that is on your minds; who looks to have mastered the mighty Autodromo di Monza?

One lap pace analysis

Thanks again to Macofan for their headline lap chart showing best sector times for each driver (if only the McLaren MP4-29 was as effective as their chart), which we’ve kindly borrowed. This shows the times by drivers on the qualifying simulation runs around halfway through FP2.

This is fairly self-explanatory, although it is worth pointing out that a few drivers struggled to get a clean lap time in, such as the McLaren drivers and Hamilton – owing to difficulties heating the tyres up and traffic. Hamilton was held up on both of his flying laps in sector 3 and, having been very strong there in FP1 this morning, would likely have matched or beaten Rosberg, giving him the edge overall over one lap.

Now it’s time to unholster the Adjuster and see what it can do. Buckle in and, when you feel ready, look at the chart below.

We’ve taken the quickest time for each car, and Adjusted it based on previous FP2 form change to give us new lap times. You’ll notice there are a few immediate changes – Williams move comfortably into second place and Ferrari fall back quite a bit from their FP2 times. More on that later.

Race pace analysis

Here we’ve put together a couple of graphs, showing the lap times done by drivers on their long runs later on in FP2 (excluding outliers). There’s typically been quite a big difference between the medium and hard tyres, and so we’ve done the first graph showing the times on the medium tyre, and the second graph shows times on the hard tyre. Teams have struggled to switch the hard tyre on this season (which is one step harder than last year’s compound), and with Monza likely to be a one-stop race, getting the hard tyre to work well could be key to the race.

What we’ve then done is calculated average lap time across a stint. We’ve done this for the whole stint and also for the first 8 laps only – due to the stint lengths this is often a more representative comparison. These average lap times have then felt the full force of the Adjuster, to provide what we feel is a more accurate picture of Sunday race pace. Again we’ve separated the medium and hard tyre runs.

Looking at Adjusted average lap time, it’s Valtteri Bottas who really catches the eye. Adjusted or unadjusted, he has a distinct advantage over the rest. Massa’s lap times on the hard tyre weren’t too shabby either. What to conclude from this? Are Williams genuine contenders for the win this weekend? We’re on the fence. We know from Rosberg’s post-practice comments that he was struggling over the long runs, and seemed to be suffering with degradation a lot more so than the Williams drivers. It’s been a pattern of the season that Rosberg has appeared underwhelming though in FP2 and sorted it out overnight, and we daresay he’ll do the same here. In addition, Hamilton’s long run times (which were in short supply) looked very strong. That all said, Williams really took it to Mercedes in Austria, and this could be the closest Mercedes are pushed in genuine pace since then or perhaps Monaco.

McLaren once again appear to be struggling to maintain their strong qualifying pace in race trim, whilst the smooth Force India is the opposite. They could be a force (a pun!) in the race, with a top 6 not impossible. Red Bull’s long run pace looked similar to Force India, and a little better than Ferrari, but not a match for Williams. It’s quite a big step back from the top 6 teams to Toro Rosso, followed by the closely matched Sauber and Lotus teams.


Friday practice suggests that the Mercedes W05 once again is the class of the field, although their margin over the best of the rest (Williams in this case) is too close for comfort. Indeed this is the first FP2 session we can remember this year where they’ve not had a clear edge in race pace, and it’s Williams who could give us a genuine 2 horse race this weekend. That’s not even taking into account the Mercedes team’s recent tendency to find new and colourful ways to sabotage their weekend. Indeed we’ve been speculating over the possible methods Mercedes might employ Monza, ranging from changing their driver line-up mid race, to Lewis leaving a potent stink bomb in Nico’s car. We all wait with baited breath.

Behind these two it looks pretty tight between Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Fore Incida. McLaren tend to go well in qualifying, but aren’t as strong in the race – as borne out by our long run analysis. The opposite is the case for Force India. In Ferrari’s favour compared to the Bulls is that their power unit is supposedly a little better than the Renault one, and according to one senior engineer (we obviously know several) the rumours that Luca Di Montezemolo may be departing Ferrari has given them an extra two tenths of a second per lap. Nonetheless Red Bull lead Ferrari an astonishing 11-1 in qualifying and appear to have a slight edge in race pace. It should be a great

Behind these big boys it’s a bit of a gap back to Toro Rosso, who aren’t quite as strong as previous weekends, with Sauber then leading the Lotus, which appeared unable to brake today without creating a huge lock-up. Unsurprisingly Marrussia continue to have the edge on pay-as-you-drive Caterham.

So what does all this mean for the title race, and what, we hear you whisper excitedly, of the surprise winner of the last two races – Daniel Ricciardo? Well, D-Ric as he may be known by some of his friends (us) looks in for a tougher weekend this time out. Red Bull pulled a masterstroke in strategy and setup in Spa, allowing them to grab a win which probably should have belonged to Williams. We also heard unconfirmed rumours that they sacrificed one of Seb’s troubled power units to the rain Gods that weekend. A repeat of that performance looks incredibly unlikely this weekend though, and Dan should come away happy with a top 5 result.

It’s hard to call between the two Mercedes title rivals, as Lewis’ troubled FP2 session makes comparisons nearly impossible. He looked mighty quick though in FP1, and was hindered significantly in FP2 by traffic on his quick lap, so adding this to the troubles Nico was having on his long runs, we give Lewis the edge this weekend. Let battle commence.

Top 3 surprises which shocked us to our core

1) Lewis Hamilton having car issues
2) Felipe Massa getting shown up by his teammate
3) The Lotus car handling like a lawnmower

Best of the bets

Bottas best without Mercedes @ 3.25 with Skybet, Betvictor and Ladbrokes
Best classified Force India to beat Toro Rosso in qualifying @ 1.6 with Bwin
Best classified Williams to beat Red Bull in qualifying @ 1.7 with Bwin
Perez to finish top 6 @ 5.5 with Bwin

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