Red Bull surprised everyone by setting the fastest and second fastest times in the second Free Practice session for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix. If Red Bull’s cars have a weakness, it’s normally straight-line speed. At Monza, straight-line speed is normally everything. But somehow, Red Bull have managed to be quickest without featuring in the top six through the speed trap. Vettel led the way, six tenths faster than Webber in the second Red Bull, who was just a fraction ahead of the Lotus pair of Raikkonen and Grosjean who set identical lap times.
Friday practice times are almost always bad predictors of qualifying and race pace. But they are there, and some analysis is possible, however limited the usefulness of practice times may be. However, it is important to remember that fuel loads can and do vary across the field, which does skew the lap times. In addition, not all of the teams are always running as fast as possible. It is not necessarily in the interests of the top teams to show their pace early in the weekend. There is some incentive to keep a little bit of pace in reserve until qualifying.
The first feature of Friday’s practice worth examining is the massive gap between Vettel and Webber at the top of the times. It’s universally acknowledged that Vettel is the better driver, but no amount of extra talent will result in a lap time six tenths faster than an experienced driver in the same car. Vettel was 0.623 seconds faster than Webber on the option tyres at a similar time in the practice session. Red Bull must have been testing different setups on the two cars, even if the only difference was fuel load. Either that or Webber made a mistake on his first hot lap on the option tyres.
What is ominous, if it is representative of the relative performance of the cars, is the gap from Vettel to the other, non-Red Bull, drivers. Two thirds of a second is a lot of time. If the Red Bull really is that much faster than the rest of the field, then Sunday will be a walk in the park for Vettel, unless it rains of course (it very well might).
Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean performed a trick that doesn’t happen often in Formula One. They set identical lap times. Completely coincidentally of course. There’s no way they could have done that on purpose. Each did a lap in 1 minute 25.116 seconds. The fact that they did the same time driving for the same team might seem to make it more likely – you might assume that they each reached the limit of the car’s capabilities and therefore the same lap time was, more or less, inevitable.
The thing is, they didn’t actually do the time in the same machinery. To the casual observer, their cars look the same. They’re each driving a Lotus E21 with a Renault engine and Pirelli tyres. But Kimi Raikkonen’s E21 is a little bit longer than Romain Grosjean’s E21. That’s because Lotus brought a longer wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) version of their car to Monza and put Kimi Raikkonen in it for Friday practice.
A longer wheelbase car makes a few differences. Perhaps most importantly at Monza, where it’s all about high-speed and braking, a longer wheelbase car should provide improved braking stability. This is because there is weight transfer from the rear axle to the front axle under braking, but the amount of weight transferred is reduced in a longer wheelbase car. So, in theory, Raikkonen should be able to brake harder and later than Grosjean from the same speed for the same corner, and consequently should have some time in hand over his team-mate.
But that’s not the case. Perhaps there are some issues with the longer E21. Perhaps Raikkonen was running marginally more fuel than Grosjean. Perhaps there is some other reason why the two cars are delivering exactly the same level of performance.
Monza is known as the “Temple of Speed” for a reason. It’s the fastest track on the F1 calendar (and has been for quite some time). The fastest speed recorded so far this weekend is 339km/h by Daniel Ricciardo in a Toro Rosso. That’s also the top speed reached so far this season. So it would be expected that the cars with the most powerful engines should be very quick. The most powerful engine in Formula One, by reputation at least, is made by Mercedes. Next up is the Ferrari engine.
So Mercedes and Ferrari should be topping the times at Monza. They did just that in FP1, when Lewis Hamilton was quickest ahead of Fernando Alonso. But in FP2 the situation was the opposite of what was expected. Red Bull and Lotus filled the top four positions, all using Renault engines – reputedly the least powerful of those used by the top teams. Either Renault have found some extra power (which could only be down to the limited development allowed in fuels and oils, as engine development is forbidden), or the Mercedes and Ferrari-powered teams are hiding their pace. We shall find out tomorrow when the cars take to the track for qualifying.
Full results from FP2:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:24.453||39|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:25.076||0.623||39|
|11||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:25.830||1.377||40|
|13||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1:26.028||1.575||37|
|15||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:26.224||1.771||32|
|17||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:26.599||2.146||39|
|21||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1:27.771||3.318||38|