Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korea, 2011

Red Bull eye alternative strategy to fight McLaren

2011 Korean GP pre-race analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korea, 2011
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Korea, 2011

Red Bull sprang a surprise in qualifying which indicated they’re considering an alternative strategy for the Korean Grand Prix.

Practice form so far has suggested McLaren can out-gun them on the track regardless of their tactics.

But after little dry running this track could throw up another unpredictable race.

The start

We didn’t see a standing start at Korea last year but we can make some educated guesswork about how it will pan out.

With only one other race taking place this weekend and little other activity at the circuit the rest of the year, the grip level is low all round. But the passage of the F1 cars in dry conditions today will have made the racing line side more favourable.

That’s good news for pole sitter Lewis Hamilton and team mate Jenson Button, and bad news for the two Red Bulls.

However the short distance between the grid and the first corner (at 150m, it’s even shorter than Spa) should limit the pain suffered by those starting on the left-hand side of the grid. From there, two lengthy straights and a pair of hairpins give plenty of opportunities for swapping positions.

The strategy

Red Bull’s qualifying strategy has provided a fascinating talking point for strategy fans, and one it’s worth exploring the possibilities of.

They began the session on super soft tyres, which is highly unusual. Vettel used two further new sets of super softs in Q3, leaving him with three unused sets of soft tyres for the race.

Vettel said he thinks that will be “crucial” for the race. This could just be the world champion trying to dupe his rivals.

Or perhaps not, for Fernando Alonso admitted Ferrari had also considered starting qualifying on the super soft tyres as well: “When tyre degradation is very high, usually we are in good shape, but here the situation is not very clear, as the behaviour of the super softs over a long run and on full tanks is still an unknown quantity.”

That suggests Ferrari stuck with the usual approach of using the super soft tyre as little as possible in qualifying because they know their car is kid on its tyres and they expect to be able to get decent life out of them in the race.

But Red Bull expect the super soft tyre won’t last long enough on their car – and won’t offer enough of a performance gain over the super-soft – to make up for the time lost in the pits. Adding weight to this theory, note that in final practice neither of the Red Bulls were faster on super softs than the McLarens had been on soft tyres.

We’ll know this is the case if Red Bull switch to soft tyres early in the race.

They had problems with tyre wear in Japan, but in the first press conference of the weekend Vettel was quick to point out that Hamilton had as well.

Hamilton’s problems in Japan were exacerbated after his first stint by set-up changes following a misdiagnosed puncture. After qualifying today the McLaren driver said: “I think we have made a big change to the set-up compared to the last race and that made a big difference.”

Whether they’ve done enough to alleviate his tyre wear problems will be crucial to the outcome of this race.

Other drivers have reported that tyre wear in Korea hasn’t been as bad as they initially feared.”Going into this Grand Prix there was a lot of concern about tyre degradation,” said Felipe Massa. “But, at least from what we have seen today, it seems to be less severe than expected.”

Jaime Alguersuari added: “I was encouraged by the long run I did, as there was not as much tyre degradation as we had expected, so this issue should not trouble us tomorrow.”

Over at Force India Paul di Resta urged his team to make bold calls on the pitwall in order to keep the likes of Michael Schumacher behind: “The important thing is to be aggressive with our strategy because there are some fast cars behind us, including a Mercedes, and we need to work hard to keep them at bay. That won?t be easy because I expect the DRS zone to be quite effective here.”

Longest stint analysis – Practice three

The graph below shows the lap times for each driver (in seconds) from their longest stints in the third practice session.

The Red Bull drivers did some high-fuel stints in third practice on soft tyres. They had already used the tyres earlier in the session, and comfortably did two further stint which took both drivers up to a total of 15 laps on the tyres without signs of the lap times dropping off.

The McLaren drivers’ stints shown below were from the end of the session on super-softs. On soft tyres early in the session they were in the region of a second fastest than the Red Bull were on the same rubber – but as we saw in Friday practice in Japan that is not necessarily significant because of differences in fuel loads.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery assessed the life of the two types of tyre: “The super soft tyre looks set to work effectively for about ten laps tomorrow while the soft tyre is good for up to 20 laps. We’d expect the time difference over a lap between the two compounds here to be in the region of 0.7s to 1.0s, based on what we have seen today.”

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Sebastian Vettel 104.995 104.482 104.036 104.105 104.212 107.526 103.407 103.283 103.035
Mark Webber 105.576 105.566 104.526 104.034 103.761 103.754 103.4 103.07 102.909 102.907
Lewis Hamilton 97.199 111.184 103.739 104.816
Jenson Button 97.696 124.724 97.297 122.262 96.91
Fernando Alonso 103.662 99.317 106.732 98.666 105.997
Felipe Massa 101.034 109.68 99.293 99.306
Michael Schumacher 106.515 106.462 106.739 106.842 106.665 107.171 110.337 106.181 105.904
Nico Rosberg 106.859 107.019 106.961 106.944 108.099 109.32 106.717 106.689 106.357 106.498
Bruno Senna 109.737 102.759 103.61 109.61 108.969
Vitaly Petrov 99.612 106.034 100.537 119.63 99.721 100.071
Rubens Barrichello 105.162 105.003 114.2 107.632 105.937 106.499
Pastor Maldonado 109.82 107.22 106.752 105.864 105.237 104.978 105.495
Adrian Sutil 106.113 105.228 104.884 105.078 105.937 105.041 106.361 105.129
Paul di Resta 105.648 105.497 105.656 105.941 105.771 105.383 104.917
Kamui Kobayashi 105.3 113.821 103.198 100.693
Sergio Perez 102.022 110.085 100.769 112.049 100.894
Sebastien Buemi 106.141 106.139 106.283 106.834 106.854 107.084 107.371 106.767 106.367 106.182 105.635
Jaime Alguersuari 106.241 106.579 112.622 106.406 106.055 105.832 105.666 106.531 105.358
Heikki Kovalainen 105.773 101.909 108.578 102.476
Jarno Trulli 105.235 105.218 102.878 105.529 101.945
Daniel Ricciardo 106.889 112.504 109.223 105.143 109.783 106.109
Vitantonio Liuzzi 109.069 106.741 106.337 106.144 107.832 120.968 105.39 113.123 105.32 123.357 104.421
Timo Glock 103.275 110.436 108.169 104.89 105.684
Jerome dAmbrosio 104.827 118.252 104.377 109.364

Who do you think is going to win the Korean Grand Prix? Will Hamilton bounce back from his recent setbacks? Have your say in the comments.

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images