Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Sepang, 2012

High tyre degradation makes three-stop strategies likely

2012 Malaysian Grand Prix Friday practice analysisPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Sepang, 2012Malaysia’s high temperatures combined with Pirelli’s softer 2012 tyres will make life difficult for the drivers this weekend.

As track temperatures hit 47C in Friday practice, drivers saw their lap times drop off quickly.

“Managing tyre degradation is going to be critical to performance on Sunday,” said Heikki Kovalainen.

Longest stint comparison

Drivers saw their lap times drop off within the first half-dozen laps in second practice. This is in marked contrast to what we saw in Melbourne one week ago.

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint in second practice:

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2012drivercolours.csv

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Sebastian Vettel 104.516 104.564 104.278 104.133 103.84 103.861
Mark Webber 105.312 105.248 104.893 104.31 104.444 104.568 104.407 104.369 104.505 104.681
Jenson Button 104.803 104.984 104.659 104.823 104.904 104.935 105.142 106.739 106.422
Lewis Hamilton 109.841 105.39 104.79 107.751 104.849 105.022
Fernando Alonso 104.907 104.872 103.686 104.479 104.623 104.116
Felipe Massa 105.315 105.49 105.638 105.58 105.857
Michael Schumacher 105.422 105.73 107.097 105.194 105.473 105.347 105.439 106.675 105.692 106.314 106.139
Nico Rosberg 105.349 105.421 105.369 105.589 105.409 105.855 105.521 105.764 105.406 106.457 109.792 106.513
Kimi Raikkonen 104.307 103.846 104.218 104.429 104.437 104.599 104.628 104.646 104.992 108.017 105.713 106.854 108.324
Romain Grosjean 104.359 104.999 105.552 105.002 108.496 104.952 104.92 105.662 105.387 105.218 105.73 106.176
Paul di Resta 104.601 104.825 105.079 105.42 105.494 105.454 105.657 106.236 107.364 108.787
Nico Hulkenberg 105.607 105.235 115.272 104.422 104.818 104.952 104.013 104.492 111.298 104.349 105.084 107.892 107.807
Kamui Kobayashi 103.72 100.747 106.042
Sergio Perez 105.584 105.226 105.288 105.529 106.276 106.653 106.797 108.111
Daniel Ricciardo 106.793 106.339 105.961 105.8 106.088 106.032 106.102 106.839 106.866 107.277
Jean-Eric Vergne 107.523 108.072 106.425 106.396 106.211 106.469 106.53 106.752 111.15 106.766
Pastor Maldonado 105.701 105.243 105.207 105.342 104.921 104.872 104.944 105.184 109.259 105.328 107.319
Bruno Senna 104.544 104.394 104.427 104.354 104.644 104.823 105.224 106.067
Heikki Kovalainen 106.504 106.786 106.147 106.446 106.788 106.418 106.163 106.555 107.966 107.266
Vitaly Petrov 106.359 106.147 106.475 106.785 105.772 105.548 105.575 106.555 107.033 107.967 108.04
Pedro de la Rosa 106.182 106.174 105.701
Narain Karthikeyan 105.622 108.566 113.754
Timo Glock 101.681 114.864 103.112
Charles Pic 103.52 112.871 103.419 109.898 103.293

On the face of it this may seem a surprise – Pirelli have brought their medium and hard tyre to this year’s race, whereas last year the soft and hard tyres were used.

But Pirelli have produced softer compounds for their three hardest tyres this year. According to the tyre manufacturer the 2012 hard tyre is 31% harder than the super-soft – last year the same tyre was 70% harder.

Even so, we are not necessarily going to see a repeat of last year’s race, where some drivers used four-stop strategies.

According to Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery: “Our first impression is that a three-stop strategy seems likely and so far there is a difference of around 0.5 seconds between the two compounds, but the track will still evolve considerably before the race.”

How many pit stops we end up seeing will be strongly influenced by the weather. If it stays dry and the surface rubber builds up, this will help protect the tyres. Rainfall will wash away the rubber and make the circuit more abrasive, leading to more pit stops.

Added to that, the difference between the two compounds is smaller than last year. Jenson Button said: “It?s going to be tough on both compounds around here with all the humidity and the heat.

“I think the race will be tough for all of us ?ǣ unless the circuit improves a great deal, there?s going to be quite a few stops on Sunday.”

This sounds like bad news for Mercedes, who struggled with tyre degradation even in the cooler temperatures at Melbourne.

But Michael Schumacher believes they’ve made progress on that front: “I am very happy about the work that has been done since Australia,” he said.

“This has enabled us to achieve reasonably consistent long runs which is obviously important in these conditions.”

It was clear from his message to the pits during practice that Sebastian Vettel is not happy with his new car yet.

“The tyres drop off quite quickly here, which is the same for all the drivers,” he said. “But I think we are sliding quite a bit and I would like the car to be a bit more stable.”

Sector times and ultimate lap times – second practice

Car Driver Car Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3 Ultimate lap Gap Deficit to best
1 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 25.152 (2) 33.075 (1) 39.781 (1) 1’38.008 0.164
2 3 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 25.353 (5) 33.235 (2) 39.838 (2) 1’38.426 0.418 0.109
3 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 25.055 (1) 33.506 (6) 39.972 (6) 1’38.533 0.525 0.000
4 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 25.440 (9) 33.300 (3) 39.956 (3) 1’38.696 0.688 0.000
5 16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 25.394 (7) 33.492 (5) 39.967 (5) 1’38.853 0.845 0.000
6 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 25.477 (12) 33.456 (4) 39.958 (4) 1’38.891 0.883 0.000
7 2 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 25.444 (10) 33.714 (13) 39.975 (7) 1’39.133 1.125 0.000
8 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 25.409 (8) 33.672 (11) 40.114 (8) 1’39.195 1.187 0.207
9 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 25.285 (4) 33.627 (8) 40.291 (13) 1’39.203 1.195 0.261
10 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 25.516 (14) 33.537 (7) 40.151 (10) 1’39.204 1.196 0.240
11 17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 25.510 (13) 33.660 (10) 40.127 (9) 1’39.297 1.289 0.000
12 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 25.372 (6) 33.694 (12) 40.245 (11) 1’39.311 1.303 0.000
13 11 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 25.455 (11) 33.904 (14) 40.266 (12) 1’39.625 1.617 0.000
14 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 25.649 (17) 33.631 (9) 40.407 (15) 1’39.687 1.679 0.000
15 9 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 25.226 (3) 34.010 (16) 40.460 (16) 1’39.696 1.688 0.000
16 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 25.637 (15) 34.221 (18) 40.359 (14) 1’40.217 2.209 0.054
17 19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 25.644 (16) 34.030 (17) 40.696 (17) 1’40.370 2.362 0.308
18 15 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 26.001 (21) 33.932 (15) 40.730 (18) 1’40.663 2.655 0.284
19 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 25.666 (18) 34.672 (20) 41.126 (19) 1’41.464 3.456 0.000
20 24 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 25.845 (19) 34.519 (19) 41.317 (21) 1’41.681 3.673 0.000
21 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 25.958 (20) 35.401 (22) 41.158 (20) 1’42.517 4.509 0.077
22 25 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 26.204 (24) 34.683 (21) 41.784 (22) 1’42.671 4.663 0.203
23 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 26.121 (23) 35.499 (23) 42.038 (23) 1’43.658 5.650 0.000
24 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 26.110 (22) 35.523 (24) 42.190 (24) 1’43.823 5.815 0.000

Button had a slow first sector on his quickest lap. He and Lewis Hamilton have the fastest combined fastest sector times, which underlines McLaren’s performance advantage.

Fernando Alonso may have been sixth-quickest in second practice but the team remain pessimistic about their prospects. Technical director Pat Fry said “it will not be easy” for them to get into Q3

But there was good news for HRT. Their drivers benefitted from having working Drag Reduction Systems and improved steering, and lapped with 7% of the fastest time, indicating they’re quick enough to be able to qualify.

Narain Karthikeyan said: “In the morning session we suffered some reliability issues, the same as in Melbourne but not as bad and we?ve also got some cooling issues too.

“In the afternoon these issues persisted on turns 13 and 14 where I wasn?t able to select the gears properly but the important thing is that we?re within the 107% time and can continue to improve and be in better conditions.”

Combined practice times

Pos Driver Car FP1 FP2 Total laps
1 Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1’38.021 1’38.172 47
2 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’38.826 1’38.533 53
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1’38.535 1’39.402 46
4 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1’39.323 1’38.535 45
5 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’38.813 1’38.696 55
6 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’40.469 1’38.853 56
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’39.980 1’38.891 50
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1’38.919 1’39.311 39
9 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1’39.092 1’39.133 49
10 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1’39.128 1’39.696 51
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’40.099 1’39.297 56
12 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1’39.298 1’39.625 43
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes 1’39.440 1’39.464 45
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1’39.783 1’39.444 58
15 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1’39.910 1’39.687 37
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1’39.724 23
17 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’39.896 1’40.271 44
18 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham-Renault 1’40.247 1’42.594 37
19 Bruno Senna Williams-Renault 1’40.678 34
20 Vitaly Petrov Caterham-Renault 1’40.857 1’41.464 50
21 Sergio Perez Sauber-Ferrari 1’41.085 1’40.947 56
22 Timo Glock Marussia-Cosworth 1’43.170 1’41.681 38
23 Charles Pic Marussia-Cosworth 1’44.580 1’42.874 38
24 Narain Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth 1’45.360 1’43.658 26
25 Pedro de la Rosa HRT-Cosworth 1’45.528 1’43.823 40

The second session saw the highest temperatures and several drivers failed to improve their lap times. Vitaly Petrov said: “The grip levels this morning were not good, but I think that was the same for most of the teams, but this afternoon we had found some improvements, even though the track itself had lost some of the grip from this morning.”

Kimi Raikkonen had a KERS problem in second practice and is still not fully happy with his car’s steering: “It was an okay day but we still have work to do on the set-up. The steering was a small improvement but we are still working in this area.”

Speed trap

The highest straight-line speeds recorded in second practice:

# Driver Car Engine Max speed (kph) Gap
1 17 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Ferrari 313.4
2 8 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 312.5 0.9
3 16 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso Ferrari 309.9 3.5
4 10 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 309.4 4
5 12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 309.2 4.2
6 20 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham Renault 309.1 4.3
7 7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes Mercedes 309.1 4.3
8 3 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 309 4.4
9 11 Paul di Resta Force India Mercedes 308.9 4.5
10 4 Lewis Hamilton McLaren Mercedes 307.3 6.1
11 9 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus Renault 307.3 6.1
12 15 Sergio Perez Sauber Ferrari 305.6 7.8
13 21 Vitaly Petrov Caterham Renault 305.5 7.9
14 18 Pastor Maldonado Williams Renault 305.3 8.1
15 19 Bruno Senna Williams Renault 304.9 8.5
16 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Renault 304.9 8.5
17 6 Felipe Massa Ferrari Ferrari 303.8 9.6
18 14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber Ferrari 302.4 11
19 24 Timo Glock Marussia Cosworth 301.9 11.5
20 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 301.8 11.6
21 23 Narain Karthikeyan HRT Cosworth 301.3 12.1
22 22 Pedro de la Rosa HRT Cosworth 301.2 12.2
23 25 Charles Pic Marussia Cosworth 300.4 13
24 5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 300.4 13

Much has been made of Mercedes’ special DRS arrangement which allows them to shed drag more effectively and attain higher top speeds. They weren’t quickest of all in the second session, but they among the fastest through the speed trap.

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