Chinese GP: thoughts on the start

The Brawns start fourth and fifth but will they steal the race?

The Brawns start fourth and fifth but will they steal the race?

The top six drivers on the grid for tomorrow’s Chinese Grand Prix are taking radically different approaches on strategy.

The lead trio of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber are light on fuel and will probably start on the super-soft tyre. Behind them Rubens Barrichello, Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli are fuelled to go longer.

The start and opening stint will be all-important, and once again there’s a threat of rain. Here’s a look at how the race could pan out.

The start

The drivers who start the race on the super-soft tyre should have a significant advantage at the start. This is likely to be the leading trio, plus perhaps Nico Rosberg in seventh. He made an excellent start at Sepang and could give the Brawns and Jarno Trulli some grief in the opening laps.

Further back, keep an eye on Robert Kubica and Timo Glock, who are starting low down the field on light fuel loads.

At Shanghai, like Sepang, the racing line crosses the start/finish straight. However it is not unusual to see the drivers on the pole sitters’ side of the grid get a better start. This could be crucial for Jenson Button, who above all needs to get past team mate Rubens Barrichello who out-qualified him with a better fuel load.

Starting 17th, Kubica may be ruing ditching KERS ahead of qualifying as it might have been very useful for making up places. Only the McLarens and Nick Heidfeld will be running it, the highest-starting of which is Hamilton in ninth.

Chinese Grand Prix grid

The strategy

The lead trio have got to try to build up enough of a lead over the next three that they can make their first pit stop without losing track position. The pit stop time loss at Shanghai is 23 seconds, plus the time taken to deliver fuel.

But if the drop-off in performance on the super-soft tyre is anything like as bad as we saw at Melbourne, they will have to pit as soon as they start to lose grip.

It’s easy to glance at Fernando Alonso’s astonishingly light fuel load and write off his qualifying performance as being entirely down to a light car. It certainly helped – but the new diffuser added to his R29 this morning has contributed too.

He is likely to have three laps’ less fuel than Vettel, so it is especially important for him to make a good start. A repeat of his phenomenal Sepang getaway is what he really needs, but he’ll have to do it without KERS this time.

Chinese GP fuel weights and strategies

The weather

Of course, all this goes out of the window if we get rain, which sources predict there is a 60% chance of.

In which case we have a very exciting race in prospect with two of the sport’s stand-out wet weather performers on the front row of the grid ready to duke it out.

Join us for the Chinese Grand Prix live blog tomorrow to see how the race unfolds.

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33 comments on Chinese GP: thoughts on the start

  1. I’m not very sure on the KERS in F Alonso’s car. I’ve read somewere (don’t remember, but not in Spanish press) he’s running with KERS.

    Keith, are you sure about Fernando Alonso’s KERS strategy?

    Thanks in advance.

    • From the Fia press release:

      “Q: You had the KERS system on the engine for the first two races but not here. Talk a little about that change as well.
      FA: Well, I think we did some more analysis to see how the device works in some circuits and we saw that it was time to do a real test and also we had some concerns. We had problems in Malaysia with maybe the rain, there was some water in the system, and we know that is not ideal in terms of safety. For safety reasons and just to do a test we don’t have KERS this race.”

      He is not going to use kers.

  2. martinb said on 18th April 2009, 21:59

    I think Hamilton might be able to overtake Raikkonen, who has much the same fuel load, with the help of KERS.

    Expect a demon start from Alonso, maybe even a jump start. When last did we have one of those?

  3. Sush Meerkat said on 18th April 2009, 22:03

    but the new diffuser added to his R28 this morning has contributed too.

    Its an R29, but what do I know? I am but a mere mortal.

  4. Polak said on 18th April 2009, 22:14

    I am surprised that more drivers didn’t opt for a super low amount of fuel for Q3. With all the talks about the softs being worth ~6 laps it would make sense to start on them and allow for a low fuel load for Q3. Rosberg should have been a front runner.

  5. John Beamer said on 18th April 2009, 22:44

    Despite the poor form of McLaren and Ferrari surely disappointing team of year must go to BMW. Having ditched its 2008 car after Canada to focus on 2009 they’ve got it badly wrong. A lucky second in Malaysia and in Oz Kubica got a few lucky breaks with the safety car. Suddenly Mr. Theissen not looking the genius he once did.

    • glamourBob said on 19th April 2009, 2:42

      John, I’m interested to see some proof BMW stopped developing their car from Canada last year. As far as I know, this whole story started when Kubica made some grumbles about BMW falling behind the development rates of ‘the big two’ at around Canada last year. And then as BMW fell further behind during the year, this myth gathered pace. But Theissen and everybody else in the team have always denied this. Yes, they certainly allocated a large portion of their resources to developing the 2009 car, but to say they stopped developing the 2008 car from Canada onwards is one of those things that has been repeated a million times until it has become has been accepted as fact, which, as far as I’m aware, it isn’t.

      But regardless, I do agree, BMW have been shocking considering how early they started work on the 2009 car. Its starting to look embarrassing.

  6. TommyB said on 18th April 2009, 23:24

    Even worse is that Kubica could have had a good chance with a more competitive car at the end of the 2008 season. He could of sneeked in there whilst Hamilton and Massa were tripping over eachother

  7. Paige Michael-Shetley said on 18th April 2009, 23:57

    I’m sorry, but if a Brawn driver wins this race, it will not be a “steal.” The Red Bulls are running extremely light on fuel, so much so that their rationality should be questioned. There’s simply no way they’ll be able to get around the five lap window in which Button and Barrichello will unleash the full onslaught of which the Brawn is capable.

    The only way their strategy will work is if the Red Bull is able to build a big enough margin on the first stint to make a three-stop strategy work. I don’t think the Red Bull can do it.

    • Patrickl said on 19th April 2009, 0:16

      Red Bulls strategy makes sense though. Their first stint seems the appropriate length for a super soft stint.

      They don’t need a 3 stop strategy since everyone will be doing a shorter stint on those super softs. So 2 long stints and one short one for all teams.

      Besides, the Red Bulls were 4 tenths quicker than the BrawnGPs in Q2. Makes sense that they will carry this advantage into the race.

  8. Mike G said on 18th April 2009, 23:59

    How did vettel get away without a penalty for blocking kovalainen… ???

    • Patrickl said on 19th April 2009, 0:10

      Indeed. I’d guess that Kovalainen was told to be really quiet about this. Not a peep from him during post quali interviews. Just that he “couldn’t do better than 12th”.

      Seriously odd since the stewards have been handing out penalties for this even without drivers complaining that they were being held up. This was so blatantly obvious and nothing happens?

      Maybe Kovalainen was on a slow lap anyway? Otherwise this would be really sad favouratism of the FIA again.

    • Tom M said on 19th April 2009, 0:51

      I agree, I’m a big fan of Vettel but that was horrible driving on his part. If Alonso “blocked” Massa at monza then Vettel needs a new word inventing for what he did to Kovy. Weaving on an in-lap??!!

  9. Patrickl said on 19th April 2009, 0:05

    In essence it doesn’t matter if you start on softs first or do the softs last. It also doesn’t matter how long pit stops take. If a driver would be driving the only car on track with no interruptions, a 2 stop race gives the same end result in whatever order you use the tyres.

    The difference comes when you need to overtake other cars, when you are gambling on a safety car situation or when you are following a prediction for rain during a specific part of the race.

    There are both risks and advantages to having a short first or last stint.

    An advantage of a short stint would be being able to start from the front of the grid and thus less risk of being involved in an incident. A danger would be getting stuck in midfield traffic after your first early stop.

    An advantage might be being able to benefit from a safety car after you pitted and the competition still didn’t. Alonso has probably a 24 lap window (or rather two 12 lap windows as he would do both stops earlier than the others) where he made his stop and most other cars still didn’t. Ask Piquet to park his car somewhere (again) and Alonso could make up the lost time for his stop and pull into the lead during the final stint.

    So basically during 50% of the race a safety car situation would benefit Alonso. You could then call it luck if a safety car comes out and he does benefit, but that is calculated luck so it then should really be called “strategy”. Just like Hamilton, Raikkonen and Kubica benefitted from safety car situations at Melbourne. That was simply a result of their strategy.

  10. m0tion said on 19th April 2009, 0:42

    With a light fuel load starting at the front and the softs they get the clearer air & less traffic advantage & the possible advantage of holding up to those trying to get past you as your tyres go off and you slip back through the field before the change to the hards.

    Trap times might suggest some have carried a little more wing than normal in anticipation of the wet. Raikkonen and Webber could be among them. There is too little reporting on the use or other wise of the one time variable front wing which could see a car getting good main straight speeds but lesser back straight trap speeds due to a higher downforce choice from the menu available to the individual car.

  11. Peter Boyle said on 19th April 2009, 1:21

    Patrick,

    the other and big difference comes that if
    you wear the softs first you get to pit whenever
    they go off, but if you wear the softs last you
    absolutely must not put them on until you know
    you can make them last to race end. Miscalculate and
    your are stuffed.

    Peter

  12. dmw said on 19th April 2009, 2:25

    Hamilton, as the highest qualifying KERS car, and full of fuel, could really prosper by taking care of his tires early on, and then picking people off coming down the back straight as others’ tires struggle around turn 13. Since the Brawns will be jammed up behind the Redbulls and Alonso for laps 6-12, he may find many prizes in his clutches early on. I expect to see a really tight scrum among the top 10 after a few laps.

  13. Alex Bkk said on 19th April 2009, 2:42

    I’m impressed with Fred, he’s only 7 kg lighter than Vettel. I think the changes Renault have made have turned what looked like a pig of a car into something that is looking competitive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump Vettel at the start which might slow up the front runners allowing the pack to tighten up. The guys with the heavier fuel and primes may be in better shape.

  14. I think that if Alonso gets a start like he did at Malaysia, then it might just be game on for Nando.

    He’s won before in a car that was not the fastest.

    • Damo said on 19th April 2009, 6:36

      Completely agree on Alonso’s talent; but, the start in Malaysia was aided by KERS, which he’s not running this weekend…

  15. 70% chances of rain.NOT 60%

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