After third (and final) practice for the Italian Grand Prix, it’s still all about Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel. The World Champion topped the times again, this time by just over a quarter of a second, and this time the man in second place was Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Mark Webber followed in third place for Red Bull, ahead of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.
Vettel knows just how important this weekend could be for him and his team. Monza is not normally a circuit that suits Red Bull, as it is all about top speed and that has been one of the few weaknesses of Red Bull’s cars over the past few seasons. After the Italian Grand Prix, most of the remaining circuits in the season will suit the Red Bull, which means Monza is Alonso’s best chance to take points off Vettel and move the momentum in the championship back towards Ferrari.
If Vettel can win at Monza, Ferrari’s home race and traditionally Red Bull’s weakest venue, it will be morale-shattering for Ferrari and Alonso. It would also make things mathematically very difficult for Alonso. A Vettel win this weekend with Alonso second would increase the gap at the top of the championship to 53 points with 7 races remaining. That would be enough of a gap for Vettel to win the title by finishing second in each remaining race, even if Alonso were to win every time.
Mercedes have seemed a little at sea this weekend. Hamilton topped the times in FP1, but has not been in the top three since. He set the fourth fastest time in FP3, 0.352 seconds off the pace. Nico Rosberg was hardly in the session at all, as what appeared to be a gearbox issue sidelined him after he had completed just five timed laps, none of which were indicative of his true pace. He registered the slowest time in the session.
Force India had a troubled FP3 session. Paul di Resta went straight on at the final corner, Parabolica, and went nose-first into the barrier, knocking off his front wing. There was no major damage to the car, however, and he should have no trouble taking part in qualifying. Shortly after Di Resta’s crash, Adrian Sutil spun in the Ascari chicane in the other Force india.
It’s looking good for Williams this weekend, with Pastor Maldonado squeaking into the top ten in final practice, just three quarters of a second off the pace. He will be looking to qualify in the top ten if possible, and then the target will be points on Sunday.
Daniel Ricciardo is having a strong weekend for Toro Rosso, celebrating his recent signing for Red Bull by going sixth fastest in FP3, just over half a second off the pace of his 2014 team-mate Sebastian Vettel. Monza is Toro Rosso’s home race, the team being based in Italy, and it would be a welcome parting gift if Ricciardo could deliver a strong points finish this weekend.
Full results from FP3:
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||1:24.360||18|
|3||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull||1:24.677||0.317||22|
|6||19||Daniel Ricciardo||Toro Rosso||1:24.865||0.505||19|
|11||18||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso||1:25.136||0.776||16|
|16||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India||1:25.702||1.342||19|
|17||14||Paul di Resta||Force India||1:26.120||1.760||11|
|19||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham||1:27.172||2.812||20|
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|
What has been generally accepted for weeks is now official: Daniel Ricciardo will drive for Red Bull alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2014. The 24-year old Australian will take the place of Mark Webber, who leaves Formula One at the end of 2013 after a 12-year career including seven seasons at Red Bull.
Ricciardo is the recipient of what is truly the chance of a lifetime. He will race alongside arguably the top current F1 driver at the current top F1 team. He will have the opportunity to win races and compete for the world championship. On the other side of the coin, he will have no valid excuses should he fail to perform.
Ricciardo is the second product of the Toro Rosso team to be signed for Red Bull – Sebastian Vettel himself was the first. Toro Rosso exists partly as a training ground for Red Bull drivers, and so far the system has worked well, albeit briefly. Vettel won a race for Toro Rosso in 2008, to-date the only Toro Rosso victory, before replacing the retiring David Coulthard at Red Bull in 2009 and taking that team’s maiden victory at the 2009 Chinese Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo has not had the same level of success as Vettel did at Toro Rosso, but that is understandable considering that the team is not as competitive as it was back in 2008. Nonetheless, Ricciardo is highly rated and expected to excel in his new team next season.
Red Bull’s new driver is understandably thrilled at being signed to drive for the world champion team. Ricciardo said after the announcement:
“I feel very, very good at the moment and obviously there’s a lot of excitement running through me. Since joining F1 in 2011, I hoped this would happen and over time the belief in me has grown; I had some good results and Red Bull has decided that this is it, so it’s a good time.”
Ricciardo made it clear that he knows what is expected of him as a Red Bull driver, saying, “Next year I’ll be with a Championship-winning team, arguably the best team, and will be expected to deliver. I’m ready for that. I’m not here to run around in tenth place, I want to get the best results for myself and the team.”
Despite his excitement, Ricciardo remains focused on the task of securing results for his current team, Toro Rosso, in 2013: “My aim is to finish this season as strong as possible, for myself and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Then, once the off-season is here, I’ll be fully focused on next year and the next stage of my career.”
Kimi Raikkonen will not be moving to Red Bull at the end of this season, Turun Sanomat reported today. For some months, Raikkonen has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Mark Webber, after the Australian announced he will be leaving Formula One at the end of the 2013 season. But this report confirms that Raikkonen is out of the running for the second Red Bull seat.
Raikkonen’s manager, Steve Robertson, told Tarun Sanomat, “The negotiations with Red Bull were not successful and ended some time ago.”
Robertson did not, however, provide any further indication of Raikkonen’s plans for 2014. His contract with Lotus expires at the end of 2013, but Lotus team principal Eric Boullier has made no secret of the fact that he is making every attempt to retain Raikkonen’s services past the end of the season.
It seems likely that Raikkonen will remain with Lotus. The 2013 car is competitive – Raikkonen is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship – and Raikkonen is by all accounts very happy in the team, where he enjoys a relaxed atmosphere and a fair amount of freedom to do as he pleases as long as he delivers on the track.
With Red Bull out of the picture, Raikkonen’s only remaining alternative to Lotus is Ferrari, the team with which he won the 2007 World Championship, but also the team that effectively kicked him out when Fernando Alonso came knocking at the door at the end of 2009. Ferrari would no doubt be able to offer Raikkonen a very tempting salary and a competitive car.
From the viewers’ point of view, the prospect of Raikkonen partnering Alonso at Ferrari is extremely appealing. They are regarded as two of the top drivers in Formula One at present, perhaps ever, and would (assuming Nico Rosberg does not win the 2013 title) make up the only driver line-up consisting exclusively of World Champions next season.
For Red Bull, it now appears that their 2014 driver line-up has been decided for them. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted some time ago that only two drivers were in contention for the second Red Bull race seat – Raikkonen and Toro Rosso driver Daniel Ricciardo. The way now seems clear for Ricciardo to be announced as Sebastian Vettel’s team-mate for 2014. That announcement could come as soon as this weekend, when Formula One returns to action in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa.
With just over an hour to go to qualifying at the Hungaroring, there is no clear favourite for pole position. That’s quite unusual for 2013, a season in which all of the 9 pole positions so far have been taken by Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton (evenly shared with 3 each).
Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber set the pace on Friday for Red Bull, but did not feature at the front in FP3 this morning. That in itself is not an indication of a lack of pace – they could simply have been running more fuel than their rivals – but it does raise the question: have they sacrificed qualifying pace in favour of race pace, perhaps assuming qualifying supremacy beyond what is realistic?
In FP3, Romain Grosjean topped the times with the fastest lap of the weekend so far, 1:20.730, half a second quicker than Vettel went yesterday. Grosjean is looking perhaps a little bit quicker than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen this weekend, at least on short runs. Raikkonen’s strength this season has been his race pace, which is quite difficult to gauge in practice. Lotus are, nonetheless, in the hunt for pole position. Grosjean has never had a pole position in F1, and Raikkonen has yet to top qualifying since he returned to the sport at the start of 2012. Can they break those two ducks today?
Ferrari are also looking quick. Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have both been within a few tenths of the front-runners throughout the weekend. Massa did not appear to get the maximum out of his Ferrari in FP3, but Alonso was on top of his car as ever. He set the second fastest time in FP3, just 0.168 seconds behind Grosjean, and will be looking to carry that speed into this afternoon’s qualifying session.
The big question mark for qualifying is over Mercedes. Both drivers struggled in Friday practice, but Lewis Hamilton seemed to have rediscovered his confidence this morning after some overnight setup changes. He set the quickest time in FP3 on medium tyres, but could not hold onto the top spot when the soft tyres went on. Could Mercedes have been hiding more pace in Hamilton’s car? He went just 8 tenths quicker on the soft tyres, while those around him improved by over a second in many cases. It could be that Mercedes know they have found some speed in Hamilton’s car, but they are choosing to hide it until it counts in this afternoon’s qualifying session.
A pole-sitter from any team other than Red Bull, Lotus, Ferrari and Mercedes would be a massive surprise. The top four teams are sufficiently far ahead of the rest to be quite sure of front-row dominance. But it is close at the front. Any one of the 8 drivers from the top four teams could be on pole in Hungary.
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:21.264||34|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:21.308||0.044||42|
|10||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:22.304||1.040||41|
|11||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:22.526||1.262||39|
|20||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:25.065||3.801||36|
|1||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:22.723||19|
|2||2||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing-Renault||1:22.982||0.259||24|
|7||15||Adrian Sutil||Force India-Mercedes||1:23.390||0.667||20|
|18||14||Paul di Resta||Force India-Mercedes||1:24.608||1.885||21|
|20||21||Giedo van der Garde||Caterham-Renault||1:26.808||4.085||25|