The action finally begins! After all the drama, talk and hype of the off-season, we finally got to see the cars turn a wheel in anger today … and while we saw some things we expected, by golly we got some surprises too!
Firstly, an apology for the lateness of the post, but I did not get to see qualifying until this afternoon due to other commitments. As you may be aware, there is a ban on refuelling this year, which means that I cannot do a fuel-corrected analysis because all of the cars qualify on low fuel in all three sessions. However, there still will not be a ‘straight fight’ for pole, because the drivers that make it into Q3 will have to start the race on the tyres they qualified on.
We will see later if this makes a difference, but let’s start with a graph showing the qualifying times for all of the sessions:
Let’s have a look at the individual session times separately:
From the graphs, we can see that the field spread is much wider than last year because of the new teams. However, the midfield is going to be much tighter than last year and I think it is safe to say that McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes will be the top teams this year.
If you want a full roundup of qualifying, you should listen to the Sidepodcast F1 Digest first. My highlights of qualifying were that the new teams were very slow in comparison to the other teams – with HRT almost as slow as a GP2 car. This is partly because they did not do any testing before turning up in Bahrain. Virgin can claim first blood in the battle of the new teams thanks to Timo Glock.
The midfield provided some interesting results. Going back to my testing summary post, I expected Williams and Sauber to qualify a lot better than they did today, which is a shame if you are a fan of these teams.
Rosberg also managed to beat Schumacher (which surprise me), Button struggled today in qualifying (blaming the car) and Hamilton also could only reach fourth. With the Super Stall Snorkel Thingy McLaren are supposed to be running, the team was expected to be much faster. However, there are stories floating around the internet that McLaren compromised their qualifying by raising the ride height so that the car will run better with a heavy fuel load tomorrow. I can’t verify it, but I would not be surprised if McLaren and other teams were in fact doing this…
Sutil did a great job getting the Force India into the top 10 – and the same can be said for Kubica, especially after the apparently poor pace of the Renault in testing.
Sebastian Vettel surprised all but David Coulthard by getting pole position today with the Ferraris not far behind. Christian Horner admitted that they had not run an honest low-fuel lap in testing and so the first time they had done so was in fact in qualifying today. Has Adrian Newey produced another rocket ship?
One thing worth noting is that the Q3 times are generally slower than Q2 – implying that the drivers would not or could not drive to the limits of the cars.
Let us now look at the amount of laps run in each session to see how the drivers approached the different sessions:
Note: The drivers are listed in order of qualifying classification.
The first observation worth making is that the number of laps decreases in each session run – in fact, only half the amount of laps were run in Q3 than Q1. This must be due to the drivers trying to use the tyres as little as possible because they have to start the race on them. Also, it does not seem to matter if your car is at the front or the back of the field – all the drivers do about the same amount of laps in a particular session.
So even though we are supposed to have low fuel qualifying, the rule makers have effectively ruined it with the parc fermé rules and the tyre rules – as the drivers are not able to push the cars as fast as they could do. A shame that this situation has arisen as there is nothing better than a full on battle to see who can get the absolute fastest lap time. Still, at least this means there is some uncertainty over who is fastest and who will make the best of it in tomorrow’s race.
But questions remain. Is what we saw in Q3 a true measure of the pace of the teams, or will things be different after the race tomorrow? Will a car like the Red Bull be fast and consistent enough to recreate this pace over the whole race distance or did McLaren make the right moves? Are Ferrari ready to pounce, or will Schumi surprise us all?
I know there are some that think that the changes to the circuit may make for a dull race tomorrow, but I am still optimistic and excited for a good race tomorrow. I am hopeful that the rule changes, driver changes, new teams and the new circuit will throw up a good race. I have a feeling that although the Red Bull is fast and that Vettel is great when leading from the front that they will fade away and the McLarens will come good. I think that although Button struggled today that his smoothness and consistency will pay off for him in the long run. Also I think that Ferrari look very strong and that Schumacher will surprise us.
The HRT will probably not finish, maybe the Virgins won’t either, but the Lotus have a better chance (I am relying on testing form again though). Hopefully Force India and Williams will score points too…
Let me know your predictions and your comments on the post – as I’m always keen to hear from you. Enjoy the race tomorrow and I’ll see you in my blog posts afterwards