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Grosjean challenges Vettel in Singapore FP3

Romain Grosjean finished FP3 in second place (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team)

Romain Grosjean finished FP3 in second place (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus F1 Team)

Sebastian Vettel seems determined to clinch his fourth Drivers’ Championship at the earliest possible opportunity in the 2013 season. He’s won the last two races to take his victory tally to six this season, and he’s setting the pace in Singapore ahead of Saturday’s qualfiying session.

The only driver who’s managed to come anywhere close to Vettel on the supersoft tyres this weekend is Lotus’s Romain Grosjean. The Frenchman finished FP3 just 0.191 seconds slower than Vettel, an impressive performance in a Lotus that looked off the pace on Friday.

For Mercedes and Ferrari, things are not going quite so well. Nico Rosberg put his Silver Arrow third in the final practice session, but he was over half a second off the pace, which is a long way to catch up if he is to challenge for pole position.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who desperately needs a win this weekend to keep Vettel in his sights in the title race, was sixth fastest, a full second off the pace of Vettel. It’s possible that Ferrari were hiding their pace in order to lull Red Bull into complacency, but even so a second is a lot of pace to hide.

The only drama of the session was provided by Paul Di Resta, who spun under braking for turn 5. He managed to keep his Force India out of the barriers and carried on, but will have done his tyres no favours in the process. He finished the session all the way down in 16th place.

Full results from FP3:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:44.173 15
2 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:44.364 0.191 16
3 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:44.741 0.568 18
4 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:44.906 0.733 14
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.921 0.748 14
6 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.257 1.084 13
7 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:45.500 1.327 12
8 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:45.876 1.703 19
9 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.890 1.717 13
10 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:45.935 1.762 13
11 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:46.084 1.911 15
12 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:46.147 1.974 13
13 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:46.338 2.165 17
14 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:46.358 2.185 16
15 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:46.660 2.487 17
16 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.879 2.706 16
17 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:46.893 2.720 13
18 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:47.249 3.076 19
19 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:48.931 4.758 17
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:49.037 4.864 18
21 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:49.182 5.009 21
22 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:49.982 5.809 20

Vettel takes charge in Singapore FP2

Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) at Nissan Global H...

Sebastian Vettel is going to be a tough man to beat in Singapore this weekend after he dominated Friday practice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull emerged from second practice in Singapore well on top, as the triple World Champion topped the FP2 times, six tenths ahead of his team-mate, Mark Webber, and a full second faster than the rest of the field. It’s hard to see a way back from here for Vettel’s title rivals this weekend, which will be a situation that well pleases Vettel and Red Bull.

Early in the FP2 session, it looked like Webber might have an edge on Vettel around the streets of Singapore, but Vettel soon put paid to that idea when he bolted on a set of the supersoft option tyres and blasted around the Marina Bay circuit six tenths of a second faster than Webber could manage. In Webber’s defence, he did brush the wall on the exit of turn 21 quite hard on his hot lap, which would have cost him some time, if only as a result of the inevitable small hesitation during the incident.

Ahead of the weekend, Mercedes were optimistic about their chances of challenging for victory, particularly as the high-downforce setup required for Singapore is similar to that used in Hungary, where Lewis Hamilton dominated qualifying and the race. Hamilton started this weekend by setting the fastest time in FP1, but could not maintain his advantage in FP2 and fell to fourth in the times, over a second slower than Sebastian Vettel. Nico Rosberg was a fraction quicker than Hamilton and set the third fastest time for Mercedes.

Fernando Alonso, who is Vettel’s major title rival this season, struggled for pace and could only manage sixth fastest in FP2, 1.442 seconds off Vettel’s time. While the pace of the Ferrari might not be quite as poor as that comparison suggests, it looks like Ferrari may at least be struggling for pace over a single lap, which will hurt their qualifying performance on Saturday evening. And qualifying is so crucial in Singapore, where passing is difficult due to the tight and twisty nature of the street circuit.

Kimi Raikkonen, who by now is probably out of the title chase, could only manage the eighth fastest time, just over a third of his team-mate, Romain Grosjean, who was fifth fastest, and a 1.529 seconds slower than pace-setter Vettel. The lack of pace of the Lotus is a surprise, as they were expected to be quick in high-downforce configuration, but it’s still early in the weekend and there could still be more pace available from the Lotus E21.

At the back of the field, the order normalised in FP2, with Caterham drivers Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic setting times marginally quicker than the Marussia pair of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi. In FP1, the Marussia drivers had both been quicker than the Caterhams, which is unusual given the recent form of the two teams. Max Chilton will be pleased with his performance in FP2, as he was quicker than Bianchi, something that hasn’t happened very often this season.

Williams appear to be continuing their difficult season, and look to be well off the pace of the top ten, suggesting that they will struggle to score points on Sunday. Valtteri Bottas was 17th fastest, 3.185 seconds off the pace, with Pastor Maldonado a further third of a second back in 18th place. Maldonado damaged his front wing against the wall after misjudging his braking during the session. That was the most eventful incident of the day, highlighting just how accurate Formula One drivers are around a tight street circuit.

Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg has so far not managed to repeat the miracles he performed two weeks ago at Monza, where he qualified third and finished fifth in the Italian Grand Prix. He could do no better than 14th fastest in FP2, well over 2 seconds off the pace. In the other Sauber, Esteban Gutierrez was 16th, a further half second behind his team-mate.

Full results from FP2:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:44.249 34
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:44.853 0.604 30
3 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:45.258 1.009 34
4 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:45.368 1.119 33
5 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:45.411 1.162 18
6 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:45.691 1.442 32
7 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.754 1.505 30
8 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus 1:45.778 1.529 32
9 15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:46.002 1.753 27
10 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:46.025 1.776 31
11 19 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:46.406 2.157 34
12 18 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:46.429 2.180 33
13 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:46.606 2.357 33
14 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:46.808 2.559 36
15 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:46.870 2.621 33
16 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:47.287 3.038 29
17 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:47.434 3.185 33
18 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:47.761 3.512 25
19 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:49.434 5.185 34
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:49.526 5.277 34
21 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:49.619 5.370 33
22 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:49.731 5.482 30

Hamilton tops FP1 at Monza

Lewis Hamilton set the pace in FP1 at Monza (Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton set the pace in FP1 at Monza (Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton picked up at Monza where he left off after last year’s Italian Grand Prix: right at the front. He’s driving for a different team – Mercedes instead of McLaren – but it’s clear that he has as much sped as ever. Not that he has it all his own way, of course. Fernando Alonso was second fastest, just 35 hundredths of a second slower than Hamilton.

Ferrari have seldom needed a win as much as they do this weekend. Fernando Alonso is 46 points behind Sebastian Vettel in the Constructors’ Championship and cannot afford to allow the gap to widen any further at this stage of the season. Fortunately for Alonso, Monza is a circuit that suits the Ferrari but highlights the weaknesses of the Red Bull. Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull, told the BBC commentary team during FP1 that he would be happy with a podium finish, suggesting that he expects his cars to lack the pace required to challenge for victory.

Based on the FP1 results – which are generally not very useful for predicting race or qualifying results – Mercedes and Ferrari are looking strong, with Red Bull and Lotus trailing slightly behind. Whether or not that trend will continue through FP2 and into Saturday’s sessions remains to be seen.

Monza is a low downforce track, which means those teams who have struggled earlier in the season as a result of their aerodynamic packages can hope for improved results this weekend. McLaren will be hoping to deliver a strong result, making use of their powerful Mercedes engines on the long straights. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez have yet to stand on the podium this season, but Monza provides perhaps their best opportunity yet to break into the top three on Sunday.

Williams will also be hoping for a points finish. They showed good top speed at the Belgian Grand Prix two weeks ago, but suffered in the twisty parts of the track. At Monza, there are no twisty parts to the track. It’s all long straights and chicanes, which should suit the Williams FW35.

Read my FP1 session report at F1Plus.com.

Results from FP1:

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.565 24
2 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.600 0.035 25
3 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:25.704 0.139 25
4 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:25.753 0.188 26
5 7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:25.941 0.376 22
6 6 Sergio Perez Mclaren 1:26.007 0.442 24
7 5 Jenson Button Mclaren 1:26.035 0.470 23
8 2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:26.103 0.538 27
9 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:26.149 0.584 21
10 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.155 0.590 25
11 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:26.194 0.629 25
12 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:26.295 0.730 23
13 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:26.387 0.822 21
14 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:26.449 0.884 16
15 14 Paul di Resta Force India 1:26.594 1.029 13
16 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:26.802 1.237 21
17 15 James Calado Force India 1:27.041 1.476 24
18 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:27.224 1.659 16
19 20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.818 2.253 24
20 23 Max Chilton Marussia 1:27.869 2.304 20
21 21 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:28.192 2.627 21
22 22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia 1:29.526 3.961 26

Have Mercedes fixed their tyre problems?

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Hungarian Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton celebrates his Hungarian Grand Prix victory (Image: Mercedes)

Lewis Hamilton’s win in Hungary is extremely significant. Not because Hamilton finally has a win for Mercedes, or because Mercedes won another race (their third victory of the season). Hamilton’s win is significant because the race took place on a very hot day with a very hot track surface.

Mercedes have had issues with tyre management ever since Pirelli arrived on the scene in 2011. For the last two seasons, it was Schumacher and Rosberg who found themselves diving into the pits too many times on Sunday afternoons. This season, we’ve seen Hamilton and Rosberg struggle for race pace, particularly on heavy fuel, as their rear tyres overheat and wear out.

Typically, these problems have happened on warm days. The connection is logical – higher air temperatures lead to higher track temperatures, which lead to higher tyre temperatures. When a tyre overheats, it no longer provides anything close to the amount of grip it is designed to yield. On a car like the Mercedes W04 that has struggled to keep its tyre temperatures in check, hot days are therefore quite problematic.

The Hungarian Grand Prix took place in unusually (for Formula One) hot conditions. Air temperature was 35 degrees Celsius and track temperature was 50 degrees at the start of the race. It was so hot that Sebastian Vettel admitted Red Bull were using the maximum available cooling on his Red Bull. During the race, Vettel was frequently told by his engineer to cool his car as he was in danger of overheating the engine. The conditions dictated that, based on their early season form, Mercedes should have struggled. But they did exactly the opposite.

Lewis Hamilton won the race fairly comfortably. Yes, he was helped by Jenson Button, who held up Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen for some time after the first round of pitstops, but it looked like Hamilton would have won the race anyway. He was fast when he needed to be and made it to the end of the race on a 3-stop strategy, just like most of the field.

Nico Rosberg also made three stops, and had none of the tyre management issues seen earlier in the season. Although he did not finish the race, that was due to an engine failure, which was unusual in modern Formula One but not entirely surprising given the heat and that he spent time in traffic, where cooling is inevitably compromised.

Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery expressed the view that Mercedes might have turned the corner when it comes to tyre management. GPupdate.net quoted Hembery as saying. “We saw a dominant race from start to finish from Lewis Hamilton. The big difference here was that they didn’t have the overheating problems that we’ve seen throughout the last 18 months on the rear tyres. Maybe they’ve overcome those problems; if they have then Mercedes are going to be strong going into the end of this season.”

Mercedes are currently second in the Constructors’ Championship, 69 points behind Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton is fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, 48 points behind leader Sebastian Vettel. With nine races left in the season, it’s still very much possible for Mercedes to compete for both titles.

German GP – Vettel on top ahead of qualifying

Formula One 2010 Rd.16 Japanese GP: Sebastian ...

Sebastian Vettel is the favourite to take pole position at the German Grand Prix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Normally it’s difficult to predict who will take pole position for a Grand Prix. Typically this season, there have been at least four drivers in with a chance of the top spot in qualifying. But at the German Grand Prix, it seems quite clear that Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have a clear advantage.

In final practice, Vettel finished up three quarters of a second clear of second-placed Nico Rosberg. While it’s possible that fuel loads had something to do with the gap, it seems unlikely that it would explain the entire difference. Vettel has found performance the rest of the field does not have, and he will be hoping that his car continues to perform at its current high level.

But Vettel will have his challengers. Mark Webber in the other Red Bull has yet to outqualify his team-mate this season, which is not a record he will want to keep going. He has the same car as Vettel, so it is all about setup and driver performance to make up the gap to Vettel.

Mercedes will also be going all-out for pole position. Nico Rosberg has been second quickest in all three Free Practice sessions this weekend, and is well-placed for a strong challenge for victory tomorrow if he can keep up his pace into qualifying. But to challenge Vettel, he will have to find some more speed in his Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes has had a tough weekend, battling for rear-end grip in his Mercedes. He finished FP3 over a second down on Vettel’s pace, which will be extremely concerning for Mercedes. They will be working flat out in the break between FP3 and qualifying to try to extract some more performance from Hamilton’s car.

Behind Red Bull and Mercedes, it’s a battle between Ferrari and Lotus for the third and fourth rows of the grid. There could be some surprises – McLaren, Force India and Toro Rosso are all looking reasonable and could make a challenge reasonably high up on the grid. They are, however, unlikely to challenge for pole position.

Further back, it’s all about saving face. Williams will be hoping to get both cars into Q2, something they haven’t managed very often this season. Tomorrow’s German Grand Prix will be the Williams team’s 600th Formula One race, and they would dearly love to celebrate it with strong qualifying and points in the race.

German Grand Prix – FP3 results

Pos No Driver Team Time Gap Laps
1 1 Vettel Red Bull Racing 1:29.517 19
2 9 Rosberg Mercedes 1:30.193 0.676 19
3 2 Webber Red Bull Racing 1:30.211 0.694 18
4 3 Alonso Ferrari 1:30.621 1.104 16
5 4 Massa Ferrari 1:30.639 1.122 17
6 7 Räikkönen Lotus 1:30.671 1.154 19
7 10 Hamilton Mercedes 1:30.744 1.227 20
8 8 Grosjean Lotus 1:30.781 1.264 18
9 11 Hulkenberg Sauber 1:30.966 1.449 20
10 15 Sutil Force India 1:31.009 1.492 18
11 5 Button McLaren 1:31.326 1.809 22
12 12 Gutierrez Sauber 1:31.405 1.888 20
13 14 Di Resta Force India 1:31.733 2.216 21
14 18 Vergne STR 1:31.855 2.338 18
15 6 Perez McLaren 1:31.855 2.338 23
16 19 Ricciardo STR 1:31.898 2.381 19
17 16 Maldonado Williams 1:31.969 2.452 20
18 17 Bottas Williams 1:32.036 2.519 23
19 20 Pic Caterham 1:33.230 3.713 19
20 22 Bianchi Marussia 1:33.470 3.953 22
21 21 van der Garde Caterham 1:33.964 4.447 21
22 23 Chilton Marussia 1:34.683 5.166 20

German Grand Prix – Friday review

2013-7-5_Hamilton Rosberg Germany Friday_L1

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are likely to be in the fight for victory on Sunday (Daimler AG)

First and second practice for the 2013 German Grand Prix are over, and yielded few surprises. Red Bull and Mercedes are clear favourites for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race. Behind them are Lotus and Ferrari, neither team quite quick enough to make a strong challenge but strong enough to pick up the pieces if anything goes wrong with the leading two teams. And then there are the midfield teams – McLaren, Force India, Toro Rosso – who will compete for the final points positions. Last, the teams that have been struggling all season – Sauber, Williams, Caterham and Marussia.

The days leading up to the German Grand Prix weekend have been full of tyre talk. Pirelli have come under intense fire for the multiple tyre failures that occurred during last weekend’s British Grand Prix. The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (that represents most, but not all, of the current F1 drivers) got together on Thursday and issued a statement to the effect that the drivers would withdraw from the German Grand Prix if it became apparent that similar tyre failures were present this weekend.

But, thankfully, tyre concerns seem unnecessary. Two 90-minute practice sessions on Friday proceeded without even a hint of a tyre problem. In fact, the opposite was true. The tyres lasted well, and produced consistent lap times over long runs. It looks like Pirelli have hit the nail on the head with the changes they made to the rear tyres leading up to this race.

Those changes concerned the material used for the belt that runs around the tyre under the tread. The 2013 Pirelli tyres were designed with a steel belt that made the surface of the tyres very stiff and flat. The idea behind the steel belt was to make sure that as much of the tyre surface as possible would be in contact with the track surface, which would make it easier to warm up the rear tyres.

But unfortunately, the tyre construction has proven to be problematic, with failures occurring at various races in the early part of the season. And so, after last weekend’s fiasco at the British Grand Prix, the steel belt has been ditched and replaced with a kevlar belt. And so far it seems to be working well.

Pirelli have brought their medium and soft compound tyres to the German Grand Prix. Friday practice showed that there is a difference in performance between the compounds of between eight tenths and a second per lap on low fuel. The soft tyre is, as expected, the quicker of the two compounds, but it is also wearing quite a bit faster than the medium compound. That could make for an interesting first half of the race, as there are likely to be markedly different tyre strategies through the field.

The top ten drivers on the grid are required to start the race on their qualifying tyres, which means they will almost certainly all be on the soft tyres while running heavy fuel tanks in the early part of the race. Those who qualify 11th to 22nd have a choice of tyres for the start of the race, which gives them the option of running the more durable medium tyres while their cars are heavy with fuel.

We could, therefore, see a situation where one of the midfield cars spends some time leading in the middle phase of the race. That would be the result of the front-runners pitting early when their soft tyres wear out, but the midfield runners still having life in their medium tyres. The order should even out by the end of the race, as the difference in performance between the front-runners and the midfield is large enough that tyre strategy will make very little difference to the outcome of the race.

Red Bull were on top in the second practice session of the day, but Mercedes are not far behind. The Silver Arrows drivers both complained of understeer after Friday practice, which is something the engineers will work to cure before third practice tomorrow morning. It does suggest that Mercedes have not yet shown their full pace, which is ominous for the rest of the field.

The broad conclusions that can be drawn from Friday practice are: 1. Red Bull and Mercedes are likely to fight for pole position and victory; and 2. Tyres are not likely to play a significant part in determining the outcome of the race.

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