Let’s now take a look at how consistent the drivers were in the Belgian Grand Prix. From looking at the drivers’ races through their average lap times and spread, we can see who punched above their weight and who was lucky to finish in the points…
By the way, if you need more info on my calculation methods then please refer to my post on Driver Consistency Explained. Here is a graph showing the average lap times and standard deviation for the Belgian Grand Prix:
Note: The safety car laps were removed as no actual racing was done on these laps and therefore no competitive lap times were set.
Vettel was actually faster on average than Raikkonen and Fisichella. He did get the fastest lap of the race too, so we will take a closer look at the top 3 drivers later. But first, here are the average lap times with pit stops and retirement laps removed:
Vettel is still a tiny bit faster than the two cars in front of him. With Webber’s penalty laps taken away, he was sixth fastest so he could have also scores points today. Kovalainen and Sutil (the one-stoppers) fall down the field as fat heavy cars don’t go too fast, either ;)
One final point – Badoer was not the slowest! OK, so the guy behind him retired with fuel problems early in the race and two of the rookies retired on the first lap, but hey, it’s an improvement on last time ;) If he gets another chance (which seems unlikely with all the reports of Fisi getting the drive) then he will have to get a lot closer to the pace of the other drivers…
The Battle at the Front
As mentioned earlier, I think the abnormality of having Vettel finishing in third place but being faster than the two drivers in front of him needs a closer look. Let’s have a look at a graph of all three drivers’ lap times:
…Here’s the same graph, but zoomed in on the racing laps (as it’s hard to distinguish the data sets as they were all so close!):
The first observation is that Fisichella and Raikkonen were neck and neck the whole race – indeed, some people (myself included) believed that Fisichella’s car was faster than Raikkonen, but the advantage of KERS meant that Fisichella could not get anywhere near Raikkonen from the run from La Source hairpin to the long straight after Eau Rouge (the best passing place on the track).
Therefore, with Fisichella following in the dirty air, all he could do was hold back and save his tyres. i believe this is why these two drivers are so close.
Mind the Gap
Vettel’s lap times are more interesting. He loses out in his first stint, then is consistently faster for his next two stints. If we look at the gap to the leaders we can see this clearer:
So Vettel loses six seconds to the leaders in his first stint, gains four back in his second, gains another four with a quicker pit stop and gains three more seconds on the lead pair before the end of the race. Also, note how once Raikkonen took the lead he never lost it on the track, and that Fisichella was more than capable of keeping up with him. Great stuff from both drivers – Kimi seems to be quite consistent these days and it’s great to see a ‘small team’ like Force India do well – and Fisi too! :D
Getting into Position
So where did Vettel lose all that time? Let us now take a look at a chart showing the driver positions over the course of the race:
Vettel started out in ninth place and if you go back to the qualifying analysis I did before the race, you can see that not only did Vettel start with a heavy fuel load, he would have been second on the fuel corrected grid. So he was disadvantaged twice by a bad strategy call. He worked his way up to seventh and only got into the lead after the other two pitted.
After his pit stop (which was longer than the other two) he dropped a position to eighth, but then he started to gain time on the leaders and managed to work his way up to third after those in front pitted. A short pit stop cemented his third position which he defended by gaining on the leading pair right until the end of the race.
So Vettel was faster than Raikkonen and Fisichella because the car suited the track quite well and he had lots of clear air running while trying to catch the leaders. Had he qualified better he may have been in a position to win the race…
Do you think Fisichella or Vettel could have won it? Was KERS the only difference today? And did Raikkonen gain an unfair advantage after running wide at the first corner? I’d love to hear what you think about it…