Lotus threat to Vettel’s bid for third Valencia win

2012 European Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Valencia, 2012In Canada two weeks ago Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton shared the front row of the grid – but victory went to the McLaren driver.

Can Vettel stay ahead this time – and become the first driver to score two wins this season? Or might Lotus finally make good on the potential they’ve previously shown?

The start

On Valencia’s little-used track, starting on the racing line can be a distinct advantage. That was certainly the case in today’s GP2 race, where the drivers on the even-numbered grid positions got away poorly.

Vettel should have no difficulty getting to turn two (the first real corner) ahead of the chasing pack, who may well be led by third-placed Pastor Maldonado if Lewis Hamilton struggles on the slippery side.

The opening sequence of chicanes offers a precious chance to gain places before the cars settle in to their usual single-file pattern at Valencia.

Strategy

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Valencia, 2012Valencia has the shortest pit lane on the F1 calendar. Because drivers lose comparatively little time in the pits, teams are more likely to risk making an extra pit stop.

Given the tyre performance seen so far this weekend, that could edge them towards two pit stops instead of three.

Counter-balancing that is the potential risk involved in getting stuck behind a slower car. Yes, the DRS zone should help reduce that (see below), but until the race begins teams will be unsure just how straightforward overtaking may be.

A pit stop typically costs drivers around 22 seconds in Valencia. But the field is especially close this weekend – less than a second per lap covered the top 14 in final practice – so the leaders may find it takes a long time for a gap to appear which they can drop into.

The teams will also be concerned about the potential deployment of the safety car and the effect it could have on their strategies. Historically we’ve seen fairly few safety cars here, but we only have four (F1) races of data to go on.

The three safety car appearances in today’s GP2 race served as a reminder that the tight confines of this track can force a safety car appearance in circumstances where, at a different track, it might not be necessary.

It also illustrated the high risk in not pitting after your rivals do – as erstwhile runaway leader James Calado discovered to his cost, falling from first to ninth.

Hamilton and Vettel will be wary of the pace shown by the Lotus drivers – who start fourth and fifth. Lotus’s trackside operations directory Alan Permane said: “We?re very happy with today?s performance and both drivers have done an excellent job.”

“We?ve come from much further back on the grid than [fourth or fifth] and finished very well, so we have good confidence heading into tomorrow?s race.”

While the top ten will start with the soft tyres they qualified on, the likes of Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari drivers have a free choice, which should allow them to make progress.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’39.626 1’38.530 (-1.096) 1’38.086 (-0.444)
2 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’39.169 1’38.616 (-0.553) 1’38.410 (-0.206)
3 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’38.825 1’38.570 (-0.255) 1’38.475 (-0.095)
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’39.530 1’38.489 (-1.041) 1’38.505 (+0.016)
5 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’39.464 1’38.531 (-0.933) 1’38.513 (-0.018)
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’39.061 1’38.504 (-0.557) 1’38.623 (+0.119)
7 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’39.651 1’38.703 (-0.948) 1’38.741 (+0.038)
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’39.009 1’38.689 (-0.320) 1’38.752 (+0.063)
9 Jenson Button McLaren 1’39.622 1’38.563 (-1.059) 1’38.801 (+0.238)
10 Paul di Resta Force India 1’38.858 1’38.519 (-0.339) 1’38.992 (+0.473)
11 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’39.409 1’38.707 (-0.702)
12 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’39.447 1’38.770 (-0.677)
13 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’39.388 1’38.780 (-0.608)
14 Bruno Senna Williams 1’39.449 1’39.207 (-0.242)
15 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’39.353 1’39.358 (+0.005)
16 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’40.087 1’40.295 (+0.208)
17 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’39.924 1’40.358 (+0.434)
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’40.203
19 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’40.395
20 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’40.457
21 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’42.171
22 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’42.527
23 Charles Pic Marussia 1’42.675
24 Timo Glock Marussia

Unusually, most of the drivers who reached Q3 did not improve their times. One of them was Nico Rosberg, who blamed Lewis Hamilton:

“I can’t be happy with the outcome today. We were quick throughout but when I was just about to start my final lap, Lewis was slowing down in the last corner. I had to start my quick lap behind him which made it impossible to improve my time.”

The stewards investigated Hamilton but decided he had not driven unnecessarily slowly in the final sector.

Paul di Resta was especially disappointed at his failure to improve – had he matched his Q2 time he would have qualified on row three. “I locked a wheel and really screwed up the last sector,” he said.

Jenson Button had shown improved pace during practice and throughout most of qualifying – but hit trouble during the crunch time in Q3: “The team worked really hard overnight to improve the issues we?d had with front [wheel] locking during Friday practice ?ǣ and, this morning, I felt we?d improved the car a lot, which was really encouraging.

“Somehow, however, my car felt very different on fresh rubber at the end of Q3 than it had felt all day up to then. On my final run in Q3, the balance felt very different ?ǣ I had too much understeer ?ǣ and, every time I touched the brakes, I locked the fronts. I don?t know whether the circuit had changed, but I just couldn?t stop locking my fronts.”

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Sebastian Vettel 25.844 (2) 44.594 (1) 27.648 (3)
Lewis Hamilton 26.021 (8) 44.612 (2) 27.634 (2)
Pastor Maldonado 26.051 (10) 44.771 (10) 27.517 (1)
Romain Grosjean 25.827 (1) 44.860 (13) 27.670 (4)
Kimi Raikkonen 25.973 (3) 44.775 (12) 27.705 (7)
Nico Rosberg 26.027 (9) 44.731 (6) 27.745 (8)
Kamui Kobayashi 25.980 (6) 44.759 (7) 27.889 (14)
Nico Hulkenberg 25.978 (5) 44.657 (5) 27.848 (12)
Jenson Button 25.997 (7) 44.767 (9) 27.695 (5)
Paul di Resta 26.098 (12) 44.654 (4) 27.700 (6)
Fernando Alonso 26.075 (11) 44.772 (11) 27.805 (10)
Michael Schumacher 25.977 (4) 44.766 (8) 27.795 (9)
Felipe Massa 26.219 (14) 44.622 (3) 27.900 (15)
Bruno Senna 26.229 (15) 45.038 (14) 27.854 (13)
Sergio Perez 26.108 (13) 45.055 (15) 27.828 (11)
Heikki Kovalainen 26.457 (16) 45.311 (17) 28.318 (19)
Daniel Ricciardo 26.535 (18) 45.296 (16) 28.024 (16)
Jean-Eric Vergne 26.485 (17) 45.466 (18) 28.095 (17)
Mark Webber 26.586 (20) 45.521 (19) 28.193 (18)
Vitaly Petrov 26.565 (19) 45.567 (20) 28.325 (20)
Pedro de la Rosa 26.930 (21) 46.237 (21) 29.004 (23)
Narain Karthikeyan 27.166 (23) 46.657 (23) 28.704 (21)
Charles Pic 27.126 (22) 46.522 (22) 28.893 (22)
Timo Glock

The times were remarkably close in qualifying. A superb final sector from Pastor Maldonado – a tenth of a second quicker than anyone else’s – put him in the hunt for pole position.

Both Lotus drivers lost time in the middle sector which prevented them from qualifying higher. But Sebastian Vettel had the measure of all his rivals.

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 321.4 (199.7)
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 320.4 (199.1) -1.0
3 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 320.0 (198.8) -1.4
4 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 319.4 (198.5) -2.0
5 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 318.1 (197.7) -3.3
6 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 318.0 (197.6) -3.4
7 Sergio Perez Sauber 317.9 (197.5) -3.5
8 Paul di Resta Force India 317.9 (197.5) -3.5
9 Jenson Button McLaren 317.9 (197.5) -3.5
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 317.8 (197.5) -3.6
11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 316.0 (196.4) -5.4
12 Bruno Senna Williams 314.6 (195.5) -6.8
13 Pastor Maldonado Williams 314.4 (195.4) -7.0
14 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 313.5 (194.8) -7.9
15 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 313.1 (194.6) -8.3
16 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 312.6 (194.2) -8.8
17 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 312.2 (194.0) -9.2
18 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 312.0 (193.9) -9.4
19 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 311.4 (193.5) -10.0
20 Mark Webber Red Bull 311.3 (193.4) -10.1
21 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 310.2 (192.7) -11.2
22 Romain Grosjean Lotus 310.2 (192.7) -11.2
23 Charles Pic Marussia 307.6 (191.1) -13.8

Overtaking has tended to be very difficult in Valencia. The DRS zones for this year have been reconfigured, with one instead of two, albeit a slightly longer zone.

Sebastian Vettel is giving away almost 6kph to Lewis Hamilton in a straight line – not much, but it could prove decisive if Hamilton can get within DRS range.

2012 European Grand Prix

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Image ?? Red Bull/Getty images, Lotus F1 Team

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46 comments on Lotus threat to Vettel’s bid for third Valencia win

  1. sumedh said on 24th June 2012, 7:39

    That’s a surprising pre-race report. You don’t seem to think Hamilton and Maldonado are strong enough for win??

    I would think that RBR is the weakest of all the victory contenders. They have got their qualifying pace back, no doubt. But their race pace has not been good of late.
    Maldonado is an unknown. In spite of his race win, the inconsistency in his driving is still there. He could be a hero, or a zero. This track is hard to overtake, like Barcelona, so if he does come out in lead and he keeps his cool, he could take the win.

    Between the Lotuses, Romain out-qualified Kimi. But, he starts on the dirty side. Given that opening laps are anyways a problem for him, I will put my money on Kimi to be the Lotus Contender for the victory.

    For the sake of the championship, I want either Maldonado or Kimi to take the win, an 8th winner would be amazing. If not, who would have thought that Maldonado would be the first two-time winner!!

  2. Rahim.RG (@rahim-rg) said on 24th June 2012, 13:03

    Raikkonen for Victory :)

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