It’s always difficult to interpret lap times from free practise. Only the teams know what fuel loads are in the cars, what the drivers are doing and why, and what the engineers are working on, so the order on Friday can mean nothing at all.
In Brazil, the Friday times mean even less. The track is very short, so the cars will appear closer together than they are in reality. There is also always the possibility of rain, which has the potential to upset the order. Rain is predicted on Saturday and Sunday.
Judging from the Friday times, McLaren and Red Bull seem to have the edge on everyone else. Ferrari are a little off the pace, and Mercedes appear to be reasonably close to Ferrari.
The track is an interesting one for set-up work. The first and third sectors are very fast, with quite a tight, twisty middle sector. The middle sector is generally not conducive to overtaking. The major overtaking places on the track are at the end of the start/finish straight into turn 1, and at the end of the next straight into turn 4.
The Mercedes pair of Rosberg and Schumacher were quickest in the third sector in FP2. This suggests that they are running a set-up that is more in favour of top speed than cornering speed. If either Schumacher or Rosberg were to get among the front-runners at the start, they would be very difficult to pass with such a set-up. This is a set-up that Schumacher has used very effectively earlier in the season, at Monza in particular.
Another team to watch for a similar strategy is Force India. They have historically been strong at high-speed tracks such as Spa and Monza, so expect them to be competitive in Sectors 1 and 3.
The back of the field will also be interesting to watch. Team Lotus have a new rear wing, which is designed for more efficient DRS. This should help them significantly in qualifying, where they can use DRS as much as they like. The practice times suggest that they have quite a margin over Virgin and HRT (about 1.7 seconds), and that they are reasonably close to the mid-field (about 0.6s slower than the fastest Williams). They could possibly make it into Q3 this afternoon.
It’s shaping up for a very interesting qualifying session. The close times at the front, improvements at the back, and possibility of rain all promise to yield some surprises.
Michael Schumacher returned to Formula 1 racing in 2010 after a “retirement” of 3 years. Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix will be the 38th of his second Formula 1 career, which thus far has not quite lived up to expectations. Yet it has still been a fantastic story for Formula 1, and still has the potential for success.
It was hoped when he returned that Schumacher would immediately be back at the top of Formula 1. He was expected to out-pace team-mate Nico Rosberg, to fight for victories, and to be a championship contender. None of those things happened in 2010. He was soundly beaten by Rosberg throughout the season, did not appear on the podium at all, and finished 9th in the championship (his worst ever result in a full season of racing).
2011 has seen a quicker, better-adapted Michael Schumacher. The car is still off the pace, as it was in 2010, but this year he has used it to much greater effect. In the races, that is. Qualifying remains an area that needs improvement. This year he has fought well against the likes of Hamilton (who is driving a much faster car), beaten team-mate Rosberg a few times, and currently lies 8th in the championship, only 7 points behind his team-mate.
Though 2011 has clearly been a better year, Schumacher still has not stood on the podium (although he came heart-breakingly close in Canada, where the old Schumacher showed himself briefly), has not taken a pole position, and has not been seen by the front of the field as a serious contender for race victories or the championship.
Yet, despite the apparent lack of success since his comeback, Schumacher is still enthusiastic, still working hard with and for his team, and still racing for all he’s worth. He is demonstrating one of the keys to his enormous success, and that is his professionalism. He committed to the task of winning with Mercedes, and he will not rest until that is achieved. As an avid Schumacher fan, I sincerely hope it works out for him. It would be wonderful for Formula 1 to have Schumacher back on the top step of the podium. Sport needs great stories, and Schumacher has the potential to create one. Here’s looking forward to 2012.