Inside the Race – Round 11: German 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 Inside the Race features are the official timing tables supplied by the FIA’s official timing and scoring reports. Typically, 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.

QUALIFYING

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  • The table above represents the top 10 drivers on the starting grid from left-to-right, with the best sector times, fastest optimal lap, and fastest actual lap going from top to bottom for each entry. Bold numbers indicate fastest sector, fastest optimal lap, and fastest actual lap.
  • Another qualifying session and another Red Bull Racing pole position. Same old story right? Not quite. Sebastian Vettel bested a resurgent Ferrari pairing of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa; in the case of Alonso, the margin was a scant .03 of a second. Because of a driver error on his last lap in Q3, Mark Webber was only able to manage 4th place on the grid for Sunday’s race. So how did Ferrari do it? Alonso posted the fastest times in Sectors 1 and 2, with Vettel making the Red Bull RB6 work well enough in Sector 3 to barely beat Alonso to pole-position. While Webber’s error may have made Ferrari’s single lap progress look that much more impressive, Ferrari were as close as anyone has been to matching Red Bull’s pace in Germany since Lewis Hamilton’s pole position for McLaren back at the Canadian Grand Prix.
  • Before taking a closer look at the numbers, it’s important as always to scrutinize the layout and characteristics of the Hockenheim circuit. The circuit map is provided below:

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  • Hockenheim’s layout is the closest Formula 1 will get to the kind of short track racing North Americans are used to seeing on NASCAR’s schedule; an ironic twist considering the extensive layout of the original Hockenheim before the circuit’s revision several years ago. While Hockenheim is short and tight, it’s layout is fairly straight-forward with only a handful of demanding corners connected by one long, and several medium length straights. Sector 1 is the shortest sector on the Formula 1 calendar at just over 16 seconds in qualifying, and consists of a high-speed right-hander in Turn 1, and a straight-forward low speed right-hander in Turn 2. Sector 2 is all about top speed and mechanical grip, with the long curved straight into the hairpin Turn 6, followed by a flat-out Turn 7 and a slow to medium combination of Turns 8-11. The also-short Sector 3 is the most challenging on the circuit, with the high-downforce Turn 12, a difficult banked entry into Turn 13, and balance/downforce-dependent right-handers in Turns 16 and 17.
  • It’s no secret by now that the strength of the Red Bull RB6 is its performance in medium to high speed corners, of which there aren’t many at Hockenheim. Although certainly not an Achilles Heel, the RB6 is weakest by comparison to its competition in reaching top speed. Modest performance from the Renault engine coupled with the high downforce and accompanying drag produced by the RB6 result in the Red Bull machine being one of the slowest in the speed traps race in and race out. It comes as no surprise then that Red Bull was bested by Alonso and Ferrari in Sectors 1 & 2, and that Vettel was able make up the difference and grab pole position by setting a blistering Sector 3 split.
  • One of the story-lines from the German Grand Prix weekend was the pace, or lack thereof, of dual championship leaders McLaren. Qualifying their drivers 5th and 6th is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but the pace from McLaren was not what we have come to expect over the first half of the 2010 season. The explanation for McLaren’s comparative lack of performance was that McLaren have fallen behind Ferrari and Red Bull in the mid-season development race since the European Grand Prix. McLaren was able to ride the wave of having introduced a fully-optimized F-duct from the beginning of the season, but recent rounds have seen Red Bull and Ferrari add F-ducts of their own, as well as downforce producing bits such as flexible front wings and optimized exhaust-blown diffusers.

LINE PLOTS

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  • Per the usual, the top 5 finishers of the German Grand Prix are represented in the 1st line plot. Immediately noticeable is the fact that neither McLaren pilot could compete with pace-setters Massa, Alonso, and Vettel for the duration of the race. The only bright spot in an otherwise dull race for the boys from Woking was Jenson Button running long on the option tires and leap-frogging Webber during the pit stop period. Was McLaren’s performance in Germany a track-specific anomaly, or a sign of further struggles ahead in Hungary?
  • Before evaluating the Ferrari drivers in light of the team orders controversy that erupted on Sunday afternoon, lets quickly take a look at the Ferrari/Red Bull race development. On the super-soft option tires both Ferrari drivers were clearly quicker than Vettel, and the same could be said for the first 20 laps on the hard prime tires as well. However, beginning on Lap 41, Vettel was able to turn up the wick and reel off laps that were on pace or faster than those of Massa and Alonso ahead.
  • In regards to the duel of teammates at the Prancing Horse, the main question to come out of Sunday’s controversial result which saw Massa move over to allow Alonso by, was whether or not Alonso was truly quicker than Massa? On the option tires, the line plot reveals that Alonso was convincingly faster than Massa beginning on Lap 5 and extending to the round of pit stops; a fact which Massa readily admitted after the race. Following the pit stops and a switch to prime tires, Massa started off quicker again before it became clear that he was struggling with the harder tires as has often been the case for the Brazilian in 2010. From this point on Alonso was able to slowly eat into Massa’s lead and by Lap 40, the evidence suggests that Massa was indeed holding Alonso up. Whether or not Alonso was fast enough to rightfully take his teammate’s position is up to the reader to decide. However, based on the pit-to-car radio communication between Ferrari race engineer Rob Smedley and Felipe Massa, it’s clear that there was at least some pre-race planning at Ferrari that made a 3-second gap significant in terms of triggering team orders. Alonso was able to get well within this 3 -second window by Lap 40, and as they say, the rest is history.

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  • The second line plot shows finishers 6-10. Like teammate Sebastian Vettel in the British Grand Prix, an out-of-place Mark Webber struggling with an auxiliary oil tank issue was still much faster than the others in this group. His presence amongst the Renaults and Mercedes did provide a valuable marker from which to evaluate the pace of the aforementioned teams against the front-runners on Sunday.
  • In-season car development is one of the more entertaining facets of Formula 1 racing. To illustrate, in the space of one race weekend’s time Mercedes and Renault went from running a driver in the top 3 at the British Grand Prix, to being completely off the pace of the leaders in Germany. Mercedes and Renault don’t have the same amount of resources to develop their cars as Ferrari or McLaren, and it would appear that this fact is beginning to show itself in earnest on the track.

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  • The third line plot represents the chase for the final points-paying position captured by Renault’s Vitaly Petrov. The lap times for this group indicate that the mid-field was largely decided on the first lap as no driver differentiated himself from the rest in terms of pace.
  • Note the subtle differences between each driver’s line plot despite the wide array of tire strategies employed in this group. Petrov and Barrichello ran the conventional short option stint followed by a long run to the finish on prime tires. Hulkenberg ran much longer on the options with surprising consistency, until his times deteriorated rapidly as his tires went away before his stop. Pedro de la Rosa did the opposite, starting on primes and running long before changing to the options; a strategy which was scuppered by a coming-together with lapped traffic late in the race. With all of that in mind, the largely homogeneous line plot shows that the two-step tire allocation issued by Bridgestone didn’t produce the kinds of strategy wild-cards we hoped to see in Germany.

BOX PLOTS

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  • The first box plot displaying the top 5 finishers only confirms the general conclusions drawn from the line plots. However, one particularly interesting piece of analysis to come from the box plot is the relative consistency of Felipe Massa’s times for the duration of the race despite his struggles with the prime tires.

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  • The second line plot confirms just how much faster an ailing Red Bull RB6 is at this point in the season than a fully-healthy Renault or Mercedes. Outside of Webber, the bottom half of the top 10 finishers were remarkably even on pace and consistency.

posted by Trey Blincoe

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