Inside the Race – Round 4: Chinese Grand Prix

THE DATA SET

“Inside the Race” features performance-based analysis of selected races during the Formula 1 season. The data set utilized for the features are the lap charts supplied by the FIA’s official timing and scoring reports. Only representative race laps are included in the analysis as the focus is primarily on evaluating on-track performance; therefore, laps skewed by pit stops, safety car periods, or significant on-track incidents are not included.

DRIVER/ENTRIES ANALYZED

Race analysis for Round 4 of the 2010 FIA World Championship, the Chinese Grand Prix, was run for for the following entries:

  • Jenson Button : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 1st Place
  • Lewis Hamilton : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 2nd Place
  • Nico Rosberg : Mercedes GP Petronas : 3rd Place
  • Sebastian Vettel : Red Bull Racing : 5th Place
  • Fernando Alonso : Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro : 4th Place
  • Robert Kubica : Renault F1 Team : 6th Place

QUALIFYING SECTOR TIMES

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Notables:

  • The outcome of a modern Formula 1 grand prix is largely decided on Saturday, so I thought it would be worthwhile to analyze the fastest sector times set during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. This analysis seemed even more prescient due to the fact that the varied conditions on Sunday masked the true dry-weather pace of the F1 grid in Shanghai.
  • Along with active suspension, the ‘F-Duct’ introduced by McLaren on the MP4-25 has been the primary focus of technical discussions in the 2010 F1 paddock. The straight-line speed advantage afforded to McLaren by the F-Duct stalling the rear wing was supposed to provide  Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton with a particular advantage in Shanghai, as the back straight of the Chinese circuit is one of the longest on the F1 calendar. By some estimates, the straight-line speed advantage resulting from the F-Duct could account for as much as a 0.350 second gain in the final sector alone. With that in mind, the fastest sector times set by the two McLaren teammates paint a different picture than the aforementioned pre-race theories. In comparison to the sector times set by Sebastian Vettel in the pole-sitting Red Bull RB6-Renault, the McLaren pair were most competitive in the downforce-dependent first and second sectors; a fact that was especially true for Lewis Hamilton. With Vettel setting the fastest time in sector three, it would appear that McLaren opted to run a higher downforce setup that was equalized by the F-Duct stalling the rear wing, as opposed to utilizing the device to create an outright speed advantage down the kilometer-long back straight.
  • Note that the fastest times set in all three sectors were set by Red Bull drivers. Although it was nip-and-tuck across the board with only tenths separating drivers/entries, the RB6-Renault clearly differentiated itself from the pack in the second sector.

LINE PLOT

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Notables:

  • Varied and predominantly wet conditions on race day in Shanghai created a vastly different outcome than was originally in the offing after qualifying on Saturday.
  • Race-winner Jenson Button was able to repeat his Australian Grand Prix performance by employing intelligent strategy decisions and consistent driving in otherwise difficult conditions. Whereas Button’s Australia victory was owed largely to an early adoption of slick tires, the opposite decision paid off in China. Instead of following the likes of teammate Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, and Fernando Alonso who all stopped for intermediate tires as the rain began to fall in earnest on lap 2, Button, along with Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica, made the decision to continue on slick tires in the hope that the rain shower was only a temporary interlude. The latter group emerged as the strategy winners as shown by the line plot above. Despite employing two distinctly different types of tire, the times set by the group of intermediate runners was remarkably similar to those set by Button, Rosberg, and Kubica. Having not stopped to fit intermediate tires, Button was able to amass close to a full-minute advantage over his teammate in the early stages of the race. Although the time advantage afforded to the non-stoppers was eventually wiped out by the first safety car period, Button’s track position was key to maintaining his lead for the duration of the race.
  • Although not much can be gleaned from the muddled times set throughout the duration of the race, the clear implication of the line plot is that making efficient tire choices was the key to result differentiation amongst the leading contenders. This fact is especially evident in that the times set by Button and Hamilton were remarkably similar despite Button stopping twice and Hamilton four times.

BOX PLOT

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  • The box plot echoes the previous contention above, that in terms of on-track performance, there was little difference between the contenders in Shanghai; leaving the determination of the race to the amount and timing of pitstops.
  • While Sebastian Vettel shined in last year’s wet Chinese Grand Prix, the mixed conditions in this year’s edition proved especially difficult for the young Red Bull driver. Pit stops aside, Vettel was the least competitive of the front-runners; correspondingly, Vettel posted his least competitive performance of the season to-date.
  • In a mirror-image of the results of the Australian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was ultimately faster on-track than Jenson Button in Shanghai, posting a faster average lap time than his teammate; however, it was Button’s intelligent strategy calls and consistent pace that lead to a superior result. It would appear that the McLaren teammates are the classic embodiment of speed versus smarts.

posted by Trey Blincoe

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