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:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:44.173||15|
|4||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:44.906||0.733||14|
|11||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:46.084||1.911||15|
|14||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:46.358||2.185||16|
|16||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:46.879||2.706||16|
|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|
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:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:44.249||34|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:44.853||0.604||30|
|9||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1:46.002||1.753||27|
|13||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:46.606||2.357||33|
|19||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1:49.434||5.185||34|
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.
|1||1||Vettel||Red Bull Racing||1:29.517||19|
|3||2||Webber||Red Bull Racing||1:30.211||0.694||18|
|13||14||Di Resta||Force India||1:31.733||2.216||21|
|21||21||van der Garde||Caterham||1:33.964||4.447||21|
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.