Alonso looks strongest whatever the weather does

2012 British Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Silverstone, 2012The first thing we all want to know about tomorrow’s race is whether Silverstone is finally going to get some respite from the rain, or if it’s going to be another near-flooded session.

There’s certainly going to be rain in the region tomorrow, but when it falls is critical. During the course of writing this article the hour-by-hour forecast for the area has changed from showing no rain in the two-hour period following the race’s 1pm start time to persistent rain throughout.

The start

Last year’s race was the first at the new starting location leading into Abbey. The track was wet from earlier rain but quite dry near the starting area, so a standing start was used.

Pole sitter Mark Webber’s lead lasted only as far as the first corner as team mate Sebastian Vettel passed him from second on the grid.

F1’s starting policy in wet races has been the subject of some debate as race control increasingly prefer to use the safety car because of the danger of poor visibility.

Given a normal start, don’t expect anyone to get ahead of Fernando Alonso: he hasn’t lost a place on the first lap all year. Row three is one to watch: Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen have gained 3.25 and 1.5 places on average on lap one this year.

If there’s too much water on the track the race will start behind the Safety Car. That happened in today’s GP2 race, though not before eight laps had been wasted behind the Safety Car.

I despair at this continued practice: If the track is not safe enough to race on why waste such a large portion of the laps? Either start it properly or red flag it so potential racing laps are not ticked off under Safety Car conditions.

Strategy

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Silverstone, 2012Whatever the conditions, teams will have to play it by ear when it comes to strategy, observing tyre wear rates as they go and making plans accordingly. This is usually the case in wet conditions and they have only had a single hour of practice on a dry track.

Whether it’s wet or dry, Alonso holds the strongest hand. His Ferrari was quickest in the dry conditions in final practice. Should it rain, he will likely be the leading from the front with the best visibility in a Safety Car start.

Practice and qualifying has given them some opportunity to assess their relative strengths and weaknesses on the intermediate and wet weather tyres in case it rains. In Lewis Hamilton’s case, he was clearly quicker on the latter. He said: “The full wets had been working really well.

“But, as the track gradually became less wet, I sought better grip and switched to the intermediates ?ǣ but we struggled to get enough temperature into them and just couldn?t switch them on.”

The other McLaren driver looks set to start from 16th following the penalties incurred by different drivers. Jenson Button reflected after his elimination in Q1 that at least he has plenty of fresh wet weather tyres left.

This could be a significant advantage for him if tomorrow’s race is wet: those who went on to compete in Q2 and Q3 covered quite a lot of laps.

Note that the length of the pit lane covered by the speed limit has been slightly extended, so pit stops won’t be as quick as they were last year. The position of the DRS zone remains unchanged.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’46.515 1’56.921 (+10.406) 1’51.746 (-5.175)
2 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’47.276 1’55.898 (+8.622) 1’51.793 (-4.105)
3 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1’46.571 1’55.799 (+9.228) 1’52.020 (-3.779)
4 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’46.279 1’56.931 (+10.652) 1’52.199 (-4.732)
5 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’47.401 1’56.388 (+8.987) 1’53.065 (-3.323)
6 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’47.309 1’56.469 (+9.160) 1’53.290 (-3.179)
7 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’46.449 1’56.802 (+10.353) 1’53.539 (-3.263)
8 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1’47.433 1’54.897 (+7.464) 1’53.543 (-1.354)
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’47.043 1’56.388 (+9.345)
10 Paul di Resta Force India 1’47.582 1’57.009 (+9.427)
11 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’47.724 1’57.108 (+9.384)
12 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’47.266 1’57.132 (+9.866)
13 Bruno Senna Williams 1’47.105 1’57.426 (+10.321)
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’46.334 1’55.556 (+9.222) 1’54.382 (-1.174)
15 Sergio Perez Sauber 1’46.494 1’57.895 (+11.401)
16 Jenson Button McLaren 1’48.044
17 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1’46.649 1’57.071 (+10.422)
18 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1’49.027
19 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1’49.477
20 Timo Glock Marussia 1’51.618
21 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1’52.742
22 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1’53.040
23 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’47.705 1’57.719 (+10.014)
24 Charles Pic Marussia 1’54.143

Webber said he’d been held up by a Force India after qualifying. But team principal Christian Horner thought there was another reason why Webber was unfortunate not to take a second consecutive pole position at Silverstone:

“Mark was so close to getting the pole, the rain just started to increase as he was completing his lap and he dropped a couple of tenths due to the rain.”

Also ruing lost time was Kimi Raikkonen, whose KERS failed during the session. Lotus technical director James Allison estimated the time lost:

“In the wet conditions we experienced, the lack of KERS would have cost him a couple of tenths. With the KERS functioning it could have been possible to be a position further forwards on the grid.

“That said, being on the correct tyres and crossing the line to be the last driver on a flying lap would have yielded far more time.”

Curiously, Nico Hulkenberg had the same problem as Hamilton in Q3: neither of them could find the same time improvement after switching to the intermediate, missing out on 1.8-4s of lap time gain between Q2 and Q3.

“I don?t understand where the pace went in Q3 when I was on the intermediates because the car felt more tricky to drive and the lap time didn?t come so easy,” said Hulkenberg.

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Fernando Alonso 33.166 (7) 44.665 (12) 28.227 (16)
Mark Webber 33.092 (4) 45.399 (21) 28.163 (15)
Michael Schumacher 33.283 (9) 45.022 (19) 28.137 (14)
Sebastian Vettel 32.938 (2) 44.341 (8) 28.259 (17)
Felipe Massa 33.465 (15) 44.646 (11) 27.905 (6)
Kimi Raikkonen 33.835 (18) 43.384 (3) 28.025 (10)
Pastor Maldonado 33.333 (12) 44.338 (7) 27.844 (5)
Lewis Hamilton 33.430 (13) 43.151 (1) 27.808 (4)
Romain Grosjean 33.144 (5) 44.516 (10) 28.089 (12)
Paul di Resta 33.488 (16) 44.916 (18) 28.015 (9)
Nico Rosberg 33.275 (8) 44.713 (14) 28.757 (21)
Daniel Ricciardo 32.993 (3) 43.405 (4) 27.745 (3)
Bruno Senna 33.306 (10) 44.805 (16) 28.083 (11)
Nico Hulkenberg 33.308 (11) 44.689 (13) 27.971 (8)
Sergio Perez 33.626 (17) 43.575 (5) 27.499 (2)
Jenson Button 33.154 (6) 43.330 (2) 28.405 (18)
Kamui Kobayashi 33.441 (14) 45.193 (20) 27.958 (7)
Vitaly Petrov 34.146 (20) 44.817 (17) 28.471 (20)
Heikki Kovalainen 34.259 (21) 44.416 (9) 28.405 (18)
Timo Glock 33.976 (19) 44.767 (15) 28.116 (13)
Pedro de la Rosa 34.831 (23) 46.025 (23) 29.560 (24)
Narain Karthikeyan 34.979 (24) 47.667 (24) 29.273 (22)
Jean-Eric Vergne 32.887 (1) 43.625 (6) 27.341 (1)
Charles Pic 34.265 (22) 45.694 (22) 29.485 (23)

The varying levels of water on the track make the sector times data rather hard to follow.

Some drivers were caught out at the end of Q1 by rain falling in the final sector. They included Timo Glock, who spun: “The last lap of my second run was very strong and I thought ‘Wow, we have a chance at Q2 here’.

“Then I came up to the Hangar Straight and I just saw this massive rain front ahead of me. The last sector was massively wet, whereas before it was very dry, and I thought ‘I can?t believe it. We?re going to lose everything.’

“In the last two corners there was no grip and I just couldn?t continue the pace to keep on pulling out the gap, so in the end we ended up where we normally are position-wise.”

The yellow flag following Romain Grosjean’s spin at the end of turn two appears to have had no repercussions for any of the drivers.

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 301.9 (187.6)
2 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 299.8 (186.3) -2.1
3 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 298.7 (185.6) -3.2
4 Paul di Resta Force India 298.7 (185.6) -3.2
5 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 297.1 (184.6) -4.8
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus 296.3 (184.1) -5.6
7 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 296.2 (184.1) -5.7
8 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 296.2 (184.1) -5.7
9 Bruno Senna Williams 294.9 (183.2) -7.0
10 Timo Glock Marussia 294.7 (183.1) -7.2
11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 294.6 (183.1) -7.3
12 Charles Pic Marussia 294.6 (183.1) -7.3
13 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 294.5 (183.0) -7.4
14 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 293.8 (182.6) -8.1
15 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 293.7 (182.5) -8.2
16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 293.7 (182.5) -8.2
17 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 293.6 (182.4) -8.3
18 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 293.4 (182.3) -8.5
19 Jenson Button McLaren 293.1 (182.1) -8.8
20 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 293.1 (182.1) -8.8
21 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 291.1 (180.9) -10.8
22 Sergio Perez Sauber 289.3 (179.8) -12.6
23 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 289.1 (179.6) -12.8
24 Mark Webber Red Bull 288.6 (179.3) -13.3

As always when the teams anticipate a wet race the set-ups they are using is a significant unknown quanity.

Paul di Resta said: “We actually took a bit of gamble on the qualifying session being dry and that?s the direction we took with the set-up, but it made driving very difficult in today?s wet conditions.

“I think some other cars went more aggressive with a full wet set-up so hopefully my gamble will come back to me tomorrow in the race.”

It’s easy to exaggerate the importance of the different between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ set-ups. There is less of a difference between the two these days, particularly since the change in the aerodynamic rules in 2009.

Steeper wing angels for more downforce in wet conditions would be reflected in slower maximum speeds. Red Bull are at the foot of the speed trap figures although they’re usually found near the bottom at fully dry race weekends too.

Over to you

Who do you think will win at Silverstone? Where can Button recover to having been eliminated in Q1?

Have your say in the comments

2012 British Grand Prix

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36 comments on Alonso looks strongest whatever the weather does

  1. Hatebreeder (@hatebreeder) said on 8th July 2012, 5:58

    If it was red bull, they wouldve given him Massa’s front wing and said, go race your a** off. Probably in spanish or italian. :P

  2. Aditya Banerjee (@) said on 8th July 2012, 8:32

    I despair at this continued practice: If the track is not safe enough to race on why waste such a large portion of the laps? Either start it properly or red flag it so potential racing laps are not ticked off under Safety Car conditions.
    +1..
    Oh dammit, @dvc has done it already.

    • Aled Davies (@aledinho) said on 8th July 2012, 11:37

      +1 again to that! well said keith!

      I was at the 2008 Biritish GP and it chucked it down all morning and they had a normal start! hope they do the same today!

      Hoping for hamilton to come through the field! changeable conditions will help!

  3. Rahim.RG (@rahim-rg) said on 8th July 2012, 8:57

    Raikkonen for Victory!!!! :)

  4. Himmat said on 8th July 2012, 9:02

    It looks like Kovalainen and Glock could have made it through. Their sector times are imperious. Shame they didn’t string it all together.

  5. Yoshitsune (@yobo01) said on 8th July 2012, 10:46

    I’m afraid that Alonso is going to win it. He’s had quite a lot of luck recently and he exploited every single bit of it.

    Webber won’t be a serious contender for the race: he usually doesn’t start really well, and I don’t see him risking a battle with Alonso. I hope that Schumacher and Vettel can put pressure on Fernando and I hope that Lewis, Kimi and Romain can gain places at the start and maybe fight for victory.
    And then I expect a good comeback drive from Button. He usually does good in these mixed weather conditions.

    I don’t know, it could be a thrilling race. I just hope that Alonso doesn’t go away with it.

    • Lets hope theres standing water then. The Ferraris ride height couldnt handle that in Qualifying yesterday (while everyone else could), lets hope he hits a patch :]

      That would be justice for what happend yesterday.

    • Ha, Webber won’t stand a chance?

  6. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 8th July 2012, 11:24

    I’m really looking forward to this! I reckon Alonso has the experience to take him through to the end if it rains before the race but I suspect he will be a victim of McLaren and Red Bull if it’s dry throughout. I can’t see a Vettel-type start from Alonso but he will start well but perhaps fall victim to DRS.

    Hope Button recovers well, he clearly has the pace but also the tyres.

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