Can Mercedes convert front row into victory?

2013 Spanish Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Cataunya, Barcelona, 2013So far the Spanish Grand Prix has had the hallmarks of recent race weekends in 2013.

The Mercedes pair are quick over a single lap and have annexed the front row of the grid. But in Bahrain and China they lacked the race pace to rebuff the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus.

Will the same be the case again on Sunday? Or will the harder tyres Pirelli have brought this weekend and Mercedes’ concentration on getting the most out of them pay off?

The start

Fernando Alonso has taken the lead at the start of the last two Spanish Grands Prix. In 2011 that involved propelling himself into first place from fourth on the grid.

It’s going to be tricky for him to pull off the same from fifth on the grid this weekend but the Ferrari is particularly fleet at the start and the straight run to turn one is the longest of the year.

In front of him are several drivers he needs to take some points off. First among which is Sebastian Vettel, who Alonso cannot afford to get separated from as they try to work their way past the Mercedes.

Alonso would have been able to rely on having team mate Felipe Massa alongside him not trying anything risky at the start. But Massa’s penalty means he now has the far less predictable and worryingly quick Romain Grosjean next to him at the start.

Strategy

“I think this race will be mainly dominated by tyre wear,” said Paul di Resta after qualifying, “and our car is normally very good at that.”

“Certainly when I see the tyres in parc ferme at the end of qualifying ours look quite healthy.”

Pierlli have toughened up their hard tyre compound for this race to extend the life of their product and expect to see the drivers making three pit stops tomorrow. Today’s running passed without a repeat of the tyre failure suffered by Di Resta during practice yesterday, and hopefully that will remain the case during the grand prix.

The harder tyres should help Mercedes in what has previously been their key weakness. But having taken pole position Rosberg wasn’t getting carried away with his prospects for the race:

“I?m not going to sit here and say I?m very confident that I can go for the win tomorrow,” he said in the press conference after qualifying.

“No, the target needs to be a little bit less than that I think ?ǣ maybe a podium ?ǣ but there are so many unknowns for tomorrow because the situation is completely different again, with graining. ”

Here’s the data from qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix:

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’21.913 1’21.776 (-0.137) 1’20.718 (-1.058)
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’21.728 1’21.001 (-0.727) 1’20.972 (-0.029)
3 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’22.158 1’21.602 (-0.556) 1’21.054 (-0.548)
4 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1’22.210 1’21.676 (-0.534) 1’21.177 (-0.499)
5 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’22.264 1’21.646 (-0.618) 1’21.218 (-0.428)
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’22.492 1’21.978 (-0.514) 1’21.219 (-0.759)
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’22.613 1’21.998 (-0.615) 1’21.308 (-0.690)
8 Mark Webber Red Bull 1’22.342 1’21.718 (-0.624) 1’21.570 (-0.148)
9 Sergio Perez McLaren 1’23.116 1’21.790 (-1.326) 1’22.069 (+0.279)
10 Paul di Resta Force India 1’22.663 1’22.019 (-0.644) 1’22.233 (+0.214)
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1’22.905 1’22.127 (-0.778)
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’22.775 1’22.166 (-0.609)
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 1’22.952 1’22.346 (-0.606)
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1’23.166 1’22.355 (-0.811)
15 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1’23.058 1’22.389 (-0.669)
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’23.218 1’22.793 (-0.425)
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’23.260
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1’23.318
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1’24.661
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’24.713
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1’24.996
22 Charles Pic Caterham 1’25.070

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Nico Rosberg 22.625 (5) 30.262 (2) 27.738 (1)
Lewis Hamilton 22.758 (8) 30.329 (5) 27.795 (2)
Sebastian Vettel 22.644 (6) 30.313 (3) 28.097 (3)
Kimi Raikkonen 22.512 (1) 30.365 (7) 28.283 (7)
Fernando Alonso 22.536 (3) 30.314 (4) 28.249 (6)
Felipe Massa 22.556 (4) 30.224 (1) 28.328 (8)
Romain Grosjean 22.530 (2) 30.367 (8) 28.411 (12)
Mark Webber 22.841 (9) 30.345 (6) 28.216 (5)
Sergio Perez 22.756 (7) 30.732 (10) 28.100 (4)
Paul di Resta 22.877 (11) 30.692 (9) 28.378 (10)
Daniel Ricciardo 22.864 (10) 30.833 (12) 28.430 (13)
Jean-Eric Vergne 22.877 (11) 30.879 (13) 28.410 (11)
Adrian Sutil 23.027 (14) 30.971 (16) 28.348 (9)
Jenson Button 22.880 (13) 30.931 (15) 28.544 (15)
Nico Hulkenberg 23.053 (15) 30.803 (11) 28.533 (14)
Esteban Gutierrez 23.185 (17) 30.909 (14) 28.598 (16)
Valtteri Bottas 23.227 (18) 31.083 (17) 28.812 (17)
Pastor Maldonado 23.057 (16) 31.329 (18) 28.932 (18)
Giedo van der Garde 23.314 (19) 31.758 (19) 29.589 (20)
Jules Bianchi 23.446 (21) 31.776 (22) 29.491 (19)
Max Chilton 23.503 (22) 31.772 (21) 29.721 (21)
Charles Pic 23.388 (20) 31.765 (20) 29.846 (22)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 318.5 (197.9)
2 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 317.3 (197.2) -1.2
3 Sergio Perez McLaren 317.0 (197.0) -1.5
4 Jenson Button McLaren 316.9 (196.9) -1.6
5 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 316.3 (196.5) -2.2
6 Paul di Resta Force India 315.2 (195.9) -3.3
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 314.1 (195.2) -4.4
8 Romain Grosjean Lotus 313.6 (194.9) -4.9
9 Jules Bianchi Marussia 313.6 (194.9) -4.9
10 Max Chilton Marussia 313.4 (194.7) -5.1
11 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 313.1 (194.6) -5.4
12 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 312.6 (194.2) -5.9
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 312.2 (194.0) -6.3
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 312.2 (194.0) -6.3
15 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 312.1 (193.9) -6.4
16 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 310.8 (193.1) -7.7
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 310.7 (193.1) -7.8
18 Charles Pic Caterham 310.7 (193.1) -7.8
19 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 306.9 (190.7) -11.6
20 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 306.2 (190.3) -12.3
21 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 306.1 (190.2) -12.4
22 Mark Webber Red Bull 305.7 (190.0) -12.8

Over to you

Do you think Mercedes will finally score their first win of 2013 this weekend? If not, which of their rivals will take it from them?

Share your views on the Spanish Grand Prix in the comments.

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31 comments on Can Mercedes convert front row into victory?

  1. JCost (@jcost) said on 11th May 2013, 19:12

    I really hope Mercedes has improved their race pace and score their first win, otherwise Nico and Lewis will be happy to be in top 5 after 10 laps.

    • RagingInferno (@raginginferno) said on 11th May 2013, 20:32

      Looking at how they did in practice I would guess that they have improved their race pace over the three week break. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised to see either of them finish above third.

  2. Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 11th May 2013, 19:15

    Vettel is 12km/h down on the straights: that could be key. I did notice he was hitting the limiter very early on the main straight in qualifying!

    • plutoniumhunter (@plutoniumhunter) said on 11th May 2013, 19:31

      That explains things. I was thinking “The engine note hasn’t changed for a good 5 seconds…”

      • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 11th May 2013, 22:45

        @plutoniumhunter I noticed it in FP3 also and I thought it must’ve been costing them laptime even despite the fact they will have consequently been faster through the corners because of the amount of time he was hitting the limiter for. I’m pretty sure a higher 7th gear wouldn’t have gone amiss.

    • karter22 (@karter22) said on 11th May 2013, 23:56

      @vettel1

      I did notice he was hitting the limiter very early on the main straight in qualifying!

      You have to take into consideration that he was light on fuel Max!! With a heavy load, he won´t be hitting the limiter for quite a while and yes, it might come back to bite him in the bum at the end when the fuel goes down.
      It´ll be interesting to say the least. Grosjean really makes me uncomfortable alongside ALO.

      • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 12th May 2013, 0:02

        @karter22 of course, but he was hitting it about 5 seconds before the end of the straight – that is alarmingly soon even with factoring it this is on quali set-up!

        Grosjean had been behaving himself recently so I wouldn’t be too worried but they don’t have the greatest of histories do Alonso and Grosjean when near each other into turn 1!

        • karter22 (@karter22) said on 12th May 2013, 0:10

          @vettel1

          but he was hitting it about 5 seconds before the end of the straight

          I wouldn´t worry about it Max. With a full load, he´ll probably hit the limiter as he turns in for turn 1. What I would worry about is at the end of the race when the fuel is almost spent, he might get in trouble then but not at the start.

          • Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 12th May 2013, 0:12

            @karter22 my concern is only if a DRS-equipped Fernando Alonso comes up behind him, as he’s been mightily fast on the straights. I reckon he’ll clear the Merc’s though and give himself some breathing space, but we shall see!

    • AdrianMorse (@adrianmorse) said on 12th May 2013, 6:02

      @vettel1, I don’t think too much should be read into Vettel’s low top speeds (or any speed trap figures after qualifying) if the cause is short gear ratios rather than a big rear wing.

      As @karter22 pointed out, with a high fuel load they are not going to reach top speeds. More importantly, the top speeds are reached using DRS, and if an Alonso would come up behind him, he wouldn’t have DRS himself anyway, and he would be better served accelerating quickly out of the final corner. It will be interesting to see any onboards during the race, and I doubt any car will go much quicker than 306 without DRS, during any part of the race.

      The only downside to Vettel’s short gear ratio is that, when he’s trying to pass someone himself (and then especially later in the race), he might not have enough speed surplus to get by easily.

  3. Nick.UK (@) said on 11th May 2013, 19:17

    A few days ago I said that if I were Vettel, Alonso or Kimi and I qualified 3rd behind a Mercedes front row; I’d be thinking 3rd was more-o-less pole position. I hope I’m wrong as I would like to see a Mercedes win come sooner rather than later, but their tyre management just isn’t even remotely good enough based on the last few races. Maybe they have improved, we won’t know until tomorrow. Failing a Mercedes win, I hope Ferando or Kimi will win it (basically anyone but Vettel!). The last thing we need is for Vettel to win too many races too quickly.

  4. JamieFranklinF1 (@jamiefranklinf1) said on 11th May 2013, 19:18

    Still don’t think Mercedes can win this one, but it will be very interesting between the top 5. My bet would be on Raikkonen if he can pull one stop less than the others. The only way I see one of the Mercs having a good shot at the win is if one of them is quite a bit quicker than the other and can capitalise on the lead, whilst the other slows Vettel, Raikkonen and Alonso.

    • Nick.UK (@) said on 11th May 2013, 19:22

      I think Mercedes best bet is early pits stops to keep the lead. Then defend like hell at the end and hope the field is spread out enough that they don’t lose too many places in the last 5 laps when the tyres start dropping off.

    • WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 11th May 2013, 19:24

      Raikkonen is a good call, and is certainly who I’m putting my pound on.

  5. Bobby (@f1bobby) said on 11th May 2013, 19:19

    The fact that they have the front row might give one of them a chance. If they can stay in first and second through the first few laps it could be on but if they are split at the start it’ll be ALO, VET or RAI.

  6. WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 11th May 2013, 19:20

    Its much too easy to look at Bahrain and assume that that’s the form-book. Remember Australia? Red Bull were destroying their tyres, and that continued into Malaysian practice. Vettel got pole in Malaysia, but we all snorted thinking that Raikkonen and Ferrari would waltz past in the race, and what happened? A Red Bull 1-2. Now whilst I’m not necessarily saying that’ll happen to Mercedes, I think it is important to remember that nothing is static in F1, just look at the difference in Vettel’s race pace between Australia and Bahrain. From where I’ve been sat, Mercedes have definitely made progress regarding tyre consumption, so whilst I won’t be putting any money on Rosberg or Hamilton, I think it’s wrong to rule them out. Saying that, I certainly will be putting money on Hamilton in a couple of weeks!

    • Toto said on 12th May 2013, 0:56

      I don’t think so. To me it is easier for a team who is fast on race trim like Ferrari to be fast on qualifying (and that hasn’t happened yet to Ferrari yet in quite a few years) and to me it is quite the opposite o harder for a team to be able to find solutions so that their car doesn’t eat the tyres. And yet in the three weeks since the last race Ferrari wasn’t able to fix its speed for qualifying and I don’t think Mercedes have fix their problems with their car and the tyres and it has been that way for quite a few years now. So what does it makes you think that have found the solution in the last three weeks?

  7. Tom (@newdecade) said on 11th May 2013, 19:29

    The Mercs are fantastic in sector 3… This could be the ace up their sleeve if they can keep themselves out of the DRS range. It won’t be easy to pass them anywhere else.

    • Traverse (@) said on 11th May 2013, 19:40

      +1
      Much like Vettel vs Hamilton at the Spanish GP 2011. Hamilton coasted up to Vettel but couldn’t pass him due to the RBR’s better traction out of the last corner.

  8. KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 11th May 2013, 19:38

    Before qualifying, Boullier was predicting a three or four stop race. Will be interesting to see which one it is, or if Lotus are once again able to do one stop less than their competitors.

    I think the podium will be Alonso, Vettel and Räikkönen, but not necessarily in that order. If Alonso gets a good start, and manages to get ahead of Vettel or even split the Mercedes duo, I can’t see anyone beating him. Kimi will probably struggle to start from the dirty side of the grid, and P3 might be the best he can eventually manage. Nico should lead the race for the first stint, but then he’ll probably fade. Hamilton might pit earlier, if he is forced to run in the dirty air left by his teammate.

    Also, will be interesting to see how Webber and Massa fare. Webber has been traditionally fast here, and Felipe has been on it for the whole weekend.

    • dkpioe said on 11th May 2013, 20:11

      Massa, even though he hasnt performed well the past few years, he is also the guy that gets bad luck more then others. fastest in p3, and now will only start 9th! i think he will get a pole position or race win this year, but i doubt his return to form will form into a consistency.

  9. carbon_fibre (@carbon_fibre) said on 11th May 2013, 19:46

    Watch the Mercs fall behind ,like they did in Bahrain, tomorrow. You have to compromise qualifying speed for race pace and that’s something Mercedes haven’t resolved yet.The race will be decided between Vettel, Kimi and Fernando. Vettel wil lose time between the two slow Mercs so Fernando and Kimi can catch up! Should be exciting.

  10. venom (@venom) said on 11th May 2013, 19:48

    cant wait for the race, think we might have a real battle on our hands, could be any of the top 6 cars, lotus probably will try there conservative approach and come into play during the last part of the race, alonso looking mighty with his race pace from the ferrari, hamilton rosberg big question mark here can they pull it off, Seb will have to fight hard to keep alonso and kimi behind. vettel, alonso battle tmrw I tihnk, and kimi as usual will be in it,

    looking at race pace its got to be the ferraris,

  11. vishy (@vishy) said on 11th May 2013, 20:26

    Mercs seem to have made a bigger step than other teams. It is very likely one of them will win.

  12. andae23 (@andae23) said on 11th May 2013, 20:56

    [...] the far less predictable and worryingly quick Romain Grosjean [...]

    read: “the quick but worryingly less predictable Romain Grosjean” :P

  13. tmax (@tmax) said on 11th May 2013, 22:14

    Hope So….. Hope they can turn this one around and prove the doubters of Ross Brawn wrong …. I hope Lewis can win this one…. Nico is a nice guy too… Just supporting Lewis a tad more. He also has a point to Prove to some old friends :)

  14. clay (@clay) said on 11th May 2013, 22:32

    Interesting to see that unlike most other races the Mercedes are relatively slow in a straight line. Think they might be taking a line out of the RBR play book and running high downforce? Could explain their pace in sector three. I tipped Lewis for pole (I was half right and a Merc was on pole, just the wrong one) and Kimi ftw but given their pace I think Mercedes are a big chance.

    Now I’ve said that Vettel will probably walk away with the win…

  15. karter22 (@karter22) said on 11th May 2013, 23:59

    Everybody is writing the MERCs off but to be honest, I think they might pull a big upset! I for one hope that I´m wrong because that would mean SV, RAI and ALO fighting for the win and given ALO´s starts, he might just pull it off but it all depends on the mercs.
    It´s gonna be a cracker of a race!!!

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