Bottas & Grosjean add intrigue as Mercedes dominate

2014 Spanish Grand Prix pre-race analysis

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014Despite Mercedes’ dominant start to the season, Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix will only be the second time Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have shared the front row of the grid.

The other occasion they did so – in Bahrain – it produced the most scintillating contest of the season so far. Hopefully the Circuit de Catalunya will serve up more of the same, though you’d have to say it doesn’t exactly have the track record.

The start

In Bahrain it was the second-placed Mercedes driver on the grid who got to the first corner first. Hamilton immediately erased Rosberg’s pole position advantage and went on to claim a narrow win.

Rosberg will be eager to avenge that – especially as he is almost certain to lose the championship lead to him team mate if he doesn’t.

This circuit has one of the longest drags to the first corner on the calendar – around 700 metres. That means an even slightly better start can be well-rewarded – and a poor getaway punished with the loss of several places.

Felipe Massa made exceptional starts in the last two races, though in China the benefit he gained was spoiled by contact with Fernando Alonso. He needs another good start to make up for a poor lap in Q3 which left him ninth on the grid. He would have been three places higher if he’d just replicated his best time from Q2.

Whereas if Valtteri Bottas can fire his Williams away from the fourth place on the grid as well as his team mate has been able to, he could find himself up among the Mercedes drivers. Temporarily, at least.

Perhaps the most interesting outcome of qualifying was Romain Grosjean’s excellent fifth place for Lotus. This is by far the most promise the E22 has shown so far, and having out-qualified both the Ferraris it will be a major result for Lotus if he can stay there until the chequered flag.

Strategy

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2014The surprising characteristic of the Circuit de Catalunya this year has been the general lack of grip at the track. The high temperatures in qualifying were partly responsible but the track is also visibly dustier than usual.

That combined with Pirelli’s harder tyre compounds means the four-stop strategies seen last year are unlikely to be repeated. Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery reckons teams will be choosing between two or three pits stops: “The simulation data suggests almost identical race times between the two approaches.”

The Circuit de Catalunya has enjoyed two sunny days so far but it is expected to cloud over at the circuit around late morning tomorrow. That will bring down the air temperatures slightly and – more importantly – shield the tarmac from the full glare of the sun, which should have a significant effect on track temperatures.

Drivers may therefore find grip levels are improved in the race. But Jenson Button isn’t expecting them to be any better.

“There’s going to be lots of sliding in the race tomorrow,” he said. “We’ve done a pretty good job in that we’ve saved a set of [medium tyres] for the race – I’m not yet sure what strategy we’ll adopt, but it’s good to have some leeway on strategy.”

One driver who will have to take an aggressive approach with his strategy is Sebastian Vettel. A gearbox change penalty caps a miserable weekend for him so far, and as he lines up 15th on the grid tomorrow he will need all of Red Bull’s strategic nous to salvage a strong points finish.

Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1 Q2 (vs Q1) Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’27.238 1’26.210 (-1.028) 1’25.232 (-0.978)
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’26.764 1’26.088 (-0.676) 1’25.400 (-0.688)
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1’28.053 1’26.613 (-1.440) 1’26.285 (-0.328)
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1’28.198 1’27.563 (-0.635) 1’26.632 (-0.931)
5 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1’28.472 1’27.258 (-1.214) 1’26.960 (-0.298)
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1’28.308 1’27.335 (-0.973) 1’27.104 (-0.231)
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’28.329 1’27.602 (-0.727) 1’27.140 (-0.462)
8 Jenson Button McLaren 1’28.279 1’27.570 (-0.709) 1’27.335 (-0.235)
9 Felipe Massa Williams 1’28.061 1’27.016 (-1.045) 1’27.402 (+0.386)
10 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1’27.958 1’27.052 (-0.906)
11 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1’28.155 1’27.685 (-0.470)
12 Sergio Perez Force India 1’28.469 1’28.002 (-0.467)
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’28.074 1’28.039 (-0.035)
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1’28.374 1’28.280 (-0.094)
15 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1’28.389
16 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1’28.194
17 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1’28.563
18 Max Chilton Marussia 1’29.586
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1’30.177
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1’30.312
21 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1’30.375
22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton 23.156 (1) 32.152 (1) 29.924 (2)
Nico Rosberg 23.299 (2) 32.306 (2) 29.783 (1)
Daniel Ricciardo 23.694 (9) 32.602 (3) 29.989 (3)
Valtteri Bottas 23.564 (4) 32.776 (6) 30.292 (4)
Romain Grosjean 23.732 (10) 32.676 (4) 30.525 (8)
Kimi Raikkonen 23.672 (6) 33.026 (10) 30.359 (5)
Fernando Alonso 23.677 (7) 32.896 (8) 30.542 (9)
Jenson Button 23.917 (14) 32.900 (9) 30.514 (7)
Felipe Massa 23.438 (3) 32.878 (7) 30.445 (6)
Sebastian Vettel 23.693 (8) 32.754 (5) 30.605 (10)
Nico Hulkenberg 23.817 (12) 33.210 (12) 30.658 (12)
Sergio Perez 23.919 (15) 33.263 (14) 30.820 (13)
Daniil Kvyat 23.652 (5) 33.189 (11) 31.062 (16)
Esteban Gutierrez 23.906 (13) 33.297 (15) 30.941 (14)
Kevin Magnussen 24.271 (17) 33.451 (17) 30.641 (11)
Jean-Eric Vergne 23.751 (11) 33.238 (13) 31.161 (17)
Adrian Sutil 24.179 (16) 33.329 (16) 31.029 (15)
Max Chilton 24.326 (19) 33.878 (19) 31.382 (18)
Jules Bianchi 24.309 (18) 33.735 (18) 31.427 (20)
Marcus Ericsson 24.569 (20) 34.338 (21) 31.405 (19)
Kamui Kobayashi 24.636 (21) 34.162 (20) 31.577 (21)
Pastor Maldonado 36.132 (22) 32.080 (22)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Renault 337.7 (209.8)
2 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Renault 335.8 (208.7) -1.9
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 334.4 (207.8) -3.3
4 Sergio Perez Force India Mercedes 334.0 (207.5) -3.7
5 Felipe Massa Williams Mercedes 332.4 (206.5) -5.3
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 331.3 (205.9) -6.4
7 Valtteri Bottas Williams Mercedes 329.9 (205.0) -7.8
8 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham Renault 328.7 (204.2) -9.0
9 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 328.5 (204.1) -9.2
10 Marcus Ericsson Caterham Renault 328.3 (204.0) -9.4
11 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 328.0 (203.8) -9.7
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India Mercedes 327.7 (203.6) -10.0
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 326.1 (202.6) -11.6
14 Adrian Sutil Sauber Ferrari 325.3 (202.1) -12.4
15 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Ferrari 325.3 (202.1) -12.4
16 Jules Bianchi Marussia Ferrari 324.4 (201.6) -13.3
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari 324.0 (201.3) -13.7
18 Max Chilton Marussia Ferrari 322.6 (200.5) -15.1
19 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Renault 320.9 (199.4) -16.8
20 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 320.4 (199.1) -17.3
21 Kevin Magnussen McLaren Mercedes 317.5 (197.3) -20.2
22 Pastor Maldonado Lotus Renault 315.6 (196.1) -22.1

Over to you

Which of the Mercedes drivers do you think will come out on top? And what can Bottas and Grosjean do from their strong qualifying positions?

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

2014 Spanish Grand Prix

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Images © Williams/LAT, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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34 comments on Bottas & Grosjean add intrigue as Mercedes dominate

  1. Ivan Vinitskyy (@ivan-vinitskyy) said on 10th May 2014, 19:35

    Maldonado has the best middle sector time? yeh right )

  2. Dan said on 10th May 2014, 20:41

    That Ren power unit is so slow…

    • Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 10th May 2014, 21:46

      Coming to the Spanish GP Renault has modified the lubrication circuits and the Turbo under permission from the FIA, Lotus progress shows that

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 10th May 2014, 23:12

      Seems Torro Rosso didn’t get memo to remind them that Barcelona is a downforce circuit.

      • HoHum (@hohum) said on 10th May 2014, 23:19

        2nd. thoughts; Perhaps Torro Rosso have only one goal this year and that goal is beating the other local team in their home race.

      • DaveD (@daved) said on 11th May 2014, 3:35

        @hohum I was thinking the same thing. But I wonder if a lot of the teams are leaving off the downforce because of the huge fuel requirements at Catalunya? I think that more than a few cars will be saving fuel during the race and they decided that simply going with low downforce and saving fuel would balance the loss of time in the corners over the race???

        The cars are about 30% more efficient this year, but they’ll need to save over 39% over last year for this circuit…cutting down from an average of 165kg of fuel to 100kg. It looked to me like Force India was going with a relatively low downforce setup too. Of course, Force India ALWAYS has a low downforce setup LOL

        • Mr win or lose said on 11th May 2014, 12:10

          A low-downforce setup certainly has some advantages in the race, like improved fuel efficiency and possibly better opportunities to overtake. The sector times and the speed traps show how amazing the Mercedes is: they are fastest in every sector and their top speed is impressive. McLaren is clearly struggling for grip, as Magnussen’s poor straight-line speed indicates.

      • DaveD (@daved) said on 12th May 2014, 23:55

        @hohum Wow, was I wrong on that one! Not a single team or driver even mentioned fuel levels during the entire race. How did they go from complaining that the fuel limits were a huge challenge to running the worst race on the calendar for fuel usage and not even notice it?

        I must say, I’m impressed with the engineering abilities of F1 engineers even more than before.

    • Iestyn Davies (@fastiesty) said on 11th May 2014, 9:00

      If anything the Ferrari is behind, with a top speed 20 kph less than the other engines (that’ll hurt at Monza in particular.. more Bahrain being passed left, right and centre..).

      Toro Rosso have gone for lower downforce to be able to pass cars (track position) and then cruise home in the points if possible (like Force India), which is the opposite of Williams (try and Q well then cruise home ahead), which makes Massa’s mistake more glaring. Looks like they are 3rd on pace as a team; I can only think he nailed his Q2 lap instead.

      Nico is set for the higher downforce parts.. he’ll be on Lewis out of S3, but Lewis has the straight line speed to defend like at Bahrain. Red Bull are running the most wing again, not sure about Magnussen and Maldonado as well.

  3. Tifoso1989 (@tifoso1989) said on 10th May 2014, 22:03

    It’s interesting reading into Ferrari’s sector times, in the first sector where the PU make the difference Kimi and Fernando are eventually matched 0,005s in favor of kimi, the second sector which is a mix of high speed corners and counter corners where the aerodynamic grip make the difference Fernando is slightly faster than kimi (0,130s), the final sector which is the slowest part of the circuit with the chicane taken at 110/120 kph Kimi is slightly faster than Fernando (0,183s) thanks to his rallying skills. In the final sector the mechanical grip counts the most, the traction of the car is fundamental, the turbo must deliver gently the power without excess so that the rear tyres won’t slide
    Unfortunately it seems that the updates on the engine mapping and the electronic systems that manages both the MGU-H/MGU-k are not enough for Ferrari

  4. Nick (@npf1) said on 10th May 2014, 22:54

    I think we’ll see the battle for the lead sorted pretty quickly, but I think P3 will be a real battle, especially if the Ferrari’s can keep up. I’ll be looking out for Grosjean and Vettel mostly, as one is in a much better position than expected and the other in much worse. I think it’d help Seb a great deal if he manages a podium tomorrow, but he hasn’t been comfortable this weekend as well.

  5. matt90 (@matt90) said on 10th May 2014, 23:53

    I’d love to know how much fuel each car uses on their best qualifying lap.

    • DaveD (@daved) said on 11th May 2014, 3:40

      @matt90 That’s what I’m wondering too! This race could be fuel limited so that will be worth watching out for tomorrow. But it doesn’t seem to be getting much press coverage…am I missing something or are they missing it?

    • dragoll (@dragoll) said on 11th May 2014, 7:55

      my guess is that they’d be using maximum fuel that they can, hence why no reason to show the viewers what the fuel usage is, as they should all be the same.

      • matt90 (@matt90) said on 11th May 2014, 10:55

        You’re almost certainly right about them using as much as possible (I heard some people speculating that Merc’s advantage might be so great that they don’t even use the top setting in qualifying, but that seems unlikely). But I don’t think that would make them all the same at all. Even teams with the same engines have different ways of getting around the circuit which would result in different fuel consumption, even if (say) a McLaren and Williams got the same lap time.

        You might have reason to think that the best car would use the most over a single lap (even if they prove over a race distance to be the most efficient), thanks to being able to use the throttle earlier or having it more open during some corners. But the faster the car get around, the less time it might be spending on the throttle. The efficiency of the specific engine and the aerodynamic efficiency are other factors, so there are many things in balance. That’s why it would interesting to know- they wouldn’t be the same, and as we haven’t seen Mercedes have to push an entire race distance it would be nice to know if doing so would be likely to give them better/worse/similar fuel consumption to other teams.

    • 100kg/h fuel flow, for the amount of time which is their lap, I guess.

  6. carlos said on 11th May 2014, 2:25

    why is Williams trying to run just one hot lap on Q3. The gamble did not pay off with Massa today. Bottas did Ok but it is a big chance when the driver HAS to do good in that ONE lap.

    • DaveD (@daved) said on 11th May 2014, 3:48

      That is a great question. I often get puzzled watching teams who spend tens of millions of dollars every year on all this tech then make the most bizarre and obvious tactical mistakes such as this.

      McLaren used to do this all the time and leave Lewis and Jenson only enough time for one attempt…or even forget to watch the clock and leave them NO time for an outlap followed by a flying lap in Q3!

      Kind of staggers the mind to think that you can spend upwards of $100Million putting a team together and then mess up something that obvious.

    • DaveD (@daved) said on 11th May 2014, 3:49

      Oh, and as much as I’m a Silver Arrow fan, I thought it would be fun to watch Massa with his great flying starts get in the mix from the front rows and make Lewis and Nico earn it.

  7. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 11th May 2014, 2:28

    Hopefully someone can make a better start and rob the Mercedes of those first and second places, at least temporarily. I’d nice for a change.

    Honestly, can’t see Rosberg getting away with it this time either. Hamilton’s gonna destroy him again, and that’ll be it for the season, I suspect. A massive blow in the stomach… quite hard to recover.

    • dragoll (@dragoll) said on 11th May 2014, 7:57

      @fer-no65 I really want you to be wrong, but I suspect you are right… Nico has 1 shot at this, and right now momentum is with Lewis. If HAM gets ahead on points, I really don’t know how Nico can come back

    • Fun (@functor) said on 11th May 2014, 8:24

      I expect Daniel & Bottas to have a role to play for the start… Which may create a lot of drama. Let’s see…

      BTW, I expect Rosberg to get a good start – I’ve seen him practicing starts twice in P3 [with no wheel-spin] + Doing extra out laps + Pit-Stop practice [all are something Lewis didn't do yesterday]

      It’d be interesting to watch who comes on top for starting 2-4 laps.

      • Iestyn Davies (@fastiesty) said on 11th May 2014, 9:01

        Seconded.. imagine if Massa jumped from 4th or 5th to 1st! That would add some interest, we’d see the Mercs trying to clear him ASAP, like at Bahrain, suddenly turning on the pace for the first few laps.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 11th May 2014, 12:26

      Honestly, I fear that if whatever car gets a Mercedes off the line it will be Hamilton streaking ahead unchallenged and Rosberg dangling in the top 5 somewhere just to end up back in 2nd towards the end, so I’d rather no one does that and we can have a good battle between these 2 guys for the win.

      Because I am sure that neither Bottas, Ricciardo or whoever else would be able to do more than space out the 2 mercedes cars by getting in between. Only an accident that damages the front running car and gets 2 cars ahead would change that.

  8. BasCB (@bascb) said on 11th May 2014, 12:28

    I must say that I am looking forward to see how long Grosjean will last, and to see what Vettel will be able to do with a top speed lacking car from 15th. As for the win, lets hope Rosberg gets ahead at the start and make it a fight for the win.
    Alternatively the 2 mercedes cars could clash and give us something different altogether, but I am not sure that would be great either

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