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:
|4||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:25.753||0.188||26|
|8||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:26.103||0.538||27|
|10||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:26.155||0.590||25|
|13||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:26.387||0.822||21|
|15||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:26.594||1.029||13|
|17||15||James Calado||Force India||1:27.041||1.476||24|
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.
Romain Grosjean’s Hungarian Grand Prix was effectively ruined by a drive-through penalty for “exceeding track limits” when he passed Felipe Massa around the outside of turn 4. It was a superb move, displaying the level of skill worthy of a top F1 driver. But the stewards deemed it illegal and Grosjean had to drive through the pits at 80km/h as a result.
Grosjean got a good run on Massa on the outside leading up to turn 4, held his nerve to attack round the outside, made the pass and ran a couple of centimetres off the track on the exit of the corner. The pass was done by that point. He certainly did not need to run off the track to make the move stick. If anything, he needed to give Massa a little bit of space, as the Ferrari was always going to drift towards him.
The rules are that the white lines mark the limits of the track and the drivers are required to keep at least one wheel within those lines at all times. So from that perspective, Grosjean could be penalised. But then the stewards should have been looking at all of the other instances of drivers running wide at a number of corners on the race track. It wasn’t just Grosjean. It was all of the drivers.
The penalty showed a total lack of consistency from the stewards. It was unnecessary and unjustified and cost him a potential podium finish. Such a shame, as he was having a brilliant race.
Of course, Grosjean was involved in another incident, when he drove into Jenson Button, where a penalty was absolutely justified. The stewards decided that one had to be investigated after the race, and when they got around to it they added 20 seconds to his race time. He was more than 20 seconds ahead of Jenson Button at the end of the race, and therefore the penalty had no effect whatsoever.
Here’s a video analysing the two incidents (Apologies for the poor sound):
It’s official. The McLaren team has given up on trying to win the 2013 World Championship and shifted focus to 2014. And who can blame them? They haven’t had a podium this season, let alone a victory, and after seven races, neither driver is in with a prayer of fighting for the Drivers’ Championship. There is also no hope of a challenge for this year’s Constructors’ Championship.
Wise move, McLaren. Very smart, although their 2013 sponsors might not be too pleased by the news that this year’s results are unlikely to improve. It’s a wise move because it means McLaren will almost certainly be right at the front in 2014.
Consider two examples. The first is the monumental success of the Brawn team in 2009. In 2008, Honda realised they had a terrible car and that it was pointless to waste resources developing it. So they started work on the 2009 car very early in the 2008 season. At the end of the year, Honda’s board pulled the plug on their F1 team. Team principal Ross Brawn led a management buy-out, renamed the team to “Brawn GP”, and then led the squad to an historic Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship victory in 2009. The team’s leading driver (and 2009 World Champion) was Jenson Button, who currently drives for McLaren.
The second example is this year’s Mercedes team. Last season it became clear that Mercedes did not have a car capable of fighting for the World Championship and so the team switched focus to 2013 mid-way through the season. The change in focus has clearly paid off, as Mercedes have now secured five pole positions from eight races in 2013, Nico Rosberg won the Monaco Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton is currently fourth in the Drivers’ Championship and Mercedes are third in the Constructor’s Championship, within striking distance of second-placed Ferrari.
The success of Brawn in 2009 is perhaps the more relevant of the two examples above, as 2009 was a significant year in terms of technical regulations. There were sweeping changes to the design of the cars in 2009, partly to clean up the appearance of the cars and partly to promote overtaking. Brawn’s engineers were able to exploit the new regulations very successfully due to the amount of time they spent developing their 2009 car.
2014 sees the next major set of technical regulation changes. Turbocharged engines, a proper ban on use of exhaust gases to create downforce, and a raft of other regulation changes provide a great opportunity for a team with the resources of McLaren to gain an early advantage by sacrificing this season in favour of starting 2014 on a competitive note.
Watch out for McLaren in 2014. It is highly likely they will be devastatingly quick.
For four long months, Formula One fans have been sitting idle on Sunday afternoons, not quite knowing how to fill the two hour gap left by Grand Prix racing in the off-season. But now, at long last, the wait for a return to F1 action is over. The season gets underway this weekend in Melbourne, Australia.
The first race of the season is always an exciting prospect. It’s impossible to know for sure who will be competitive based on pre-season testing, as the teams never give away exactly what their testing programme entails. Until qualifying on Saturday, any predictions of form are largely guess-work. By the end of Sunday, however, there will be a clearer picture of the pecking order.
Pirelli are bringing their P Zero White medium and P Zero Red supersoft tyres to Melbourne. It is the first time this particular combination of tyres is being used in Australia and it should make for interesting pit strategies. In particular, the supersoft tyre is likely to wear quickly on the abrasive surface of the temporary Albert Park circuit. There is a strong emphasis on traction out of the slower corners, which puts great strain on the rear tyres and can lead to severe degradation.
For qualifying, the supersoft tyre will be the tyre of choice if the session is dry. But while the supersoft tyre will be quicker than the medium tyre, it will also wear much faster on heavy fuel at the start of the race, which will necessitate early pitstops for drivers who elect to run on the supersoft in Q3. There is therefore the distinct possibility that drivers who progress to Q3 in qualifying but do not expect to challenge for pole position might use the medium tyre to set their grid time or perhaps not run in Q3 at all.
Pirelli are expecting two to three pitstops per car in the race. The number of stops will largely be determined by the behaviour of the two compounds in the race. If the supersoft tyre wears too quickly, the teams are likely to use the medium tyre for most of the race, which would suit a two-stop strategy. If the supersoft tyre lasts longer than expected, a three-stop strategy could be worthwhile, particularly as there is expected to be a significant performance advantage on the supersoft tyre over the medium compound.
Circuit Length: 5.303 km
Race laps: 58
Race length: 307.574 km
Lap Record: 1:24.125 – Michael Schumacher / Ferrari (2004)
Race winner: Jenson Button / McLaren
Pole position: Lewis Hamilton / McLaren – 1:24.922
Fastest lap: Jenson Button / McLaren – 1:29.187
- For six of the last ten seasons, the winner in Australia has gone on to win the World Championship.
- 2012 Australian Grand Prix winner Jenson Button has won the race three times and will equal Michael Schumacher’s record of four wins if he triumphs on Sunday.
- McLaren is the most successful constructor in Australian Grand Prix history, with twelve wins including the 1970 non-championship race. Their nearest competitor is Ferrari with 10 wins including three non-championship races in the 1950s.
Friday practice is expected to be dry, with the sun shining down on Albert Park and temperatures in the mid-twenties centigrade forecast. Saturday brings the possibility of rain for third practice and qualifying, with a 20% chance of precipitation in the afternoon and early evening. The race on Sunday is expected to be dry.
The impact of a potentially wet qualifying session is significant. A dry race requires a dry setup for qualifying, which will compromise wet weather performance. The chance of a wet session is not high, but if it does rain there could be 22 cars slipping and sliding around in conditions that do not suit the dry weather setups.
McLaren and Jenson Button have a very strong record in Melbourne. Button has won two out of the three races he has contested at Albert Park for McLaren and also won the race in 2009 for the Brawn team in his championship-winning season.
McLaren have had a strong pre-season and look like they should be competitive in 2013. Their car is generally suited to circuits like Albert Park, made up mostly of slow to medium-speed corners with an emphasis on traction off the corners. The Mercedes engine in the McLaren is ideal for blasting from corner to corner and, if McLaren’s form from last year is anything to go by, the MP4-28 should be strong aerodynamically, which is important in the middle sector of the Melbourne circuit.
With the departure of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes, Button is now the team leader at McLaren. He will be well aware that a win in the first race of the season would further emphasise that position and establish him as the team’s primary title contender.
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