2011 Spanish GP – Qualifying Analysis
Mark Webber finally derailed the Vettel express today, ending the reigning world champion’s stranglehold on qualifying and putting himself in the best possible position to win the race tomorrow. The Red Bulls went on a rampage in the qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix, with a massive one second advantage to the McLarens, and a two second gap to the other teams. They were comfortably through into Q2 despite using only the harder tyres, and flexed their muscle in Q3 taking away what little hope their rivals had of beating them this weekend.
Red Bull have topped all the practice sessions for this race, and one got the feeling that the team were going only as fast as they felt they needed to – in other words, they seemed to have a lot of speed in reserve. And that’s what we saw in qualifying – the fight for pole position was between the two Red Bull drivers and not anyone else. The team actually did have KERS problems again, with the system not activated on Sebastian’s car in Q2 and Q3. Vettel was 8 tenths ahead of the McLarens in Q3 with that problem, which is why the teams are aiming for a podium slot this weekend. Anything above would be a good bonus.
Lewis Hamilton tried hard, as he always does, but his McLaren wasn’t really in the same league as the RB7 and ended up a whole second behind Mark Webber’s pole time. It is interesting to note, however, that Lewis locked up his wheel heavily on his Q3 lap and flat-spotted it. Maybe without that mistake he could’ve closed the gap to the Red Bulls, maybe not. The ’08 champion seems unperturbed about it, and says it wont pose any problems at the start. That may be so, but lets not forget, Hamilton’s driving style does tend to wear out the tyres more than Button’s or Alonso’s. With the circuit notorious for destroying tyres, this may become a major factor in the race, similar to what happened to Lewis in Malaysia. Button is a discrete fifth, but it’s the clean side of the grid, and he’s famously gentle on the tyres, being able to consistently run one pitstop less than his team mate. He is s real threat, no doubt.
One of the best laps of the day was put in by Fernando Alonso, fourth fastest in Q3 in a Ferrari that had no right to be anywhere in the top 6. Having spent a set of soft tyres in Q1, the pressure was on the Ferrari drivers to get a good Q3 lap in one run. And Fernando delivered, as he usually does. A flawless lap at the end of the session put him in the middle of the two McLarens and just 0.003 seconds separated him from Lewis Hamilton. It was a tremendous performance under the circumstances and really does show what the Spaniard brings to the team. In contrast, Massa struggled in Q1, scraped through in Q2, and emerged 8th fastest in the final shootout, barely a tenth ahead of Williams rookie Pastor Maldonado. That is hardly the kind of performance the team needs when it is busy chasing a huge lead in both championships.With both drivers on the dirty side of the track at the start, the Ferrari drivers have a real fight on their hands tomorrow.
Another highly impressive lap in qualifying came from Vitaly Petrov in the Renault, the Russian pushing the car every inch of the way en route to sixth on the grid, ahead of the Mercedes duo, Massa and Maldonado. Hearing him whooping into the radio would have lead you to believe he had won pole position, he was one happy man after qualifying. For the Renault team, it was a well deserved boost after all their practice troubles. The mechanics worked frantically to get Heidfeld’s car ready for Q1, but it wasn’t enough. But maybe those fresh sets of tyres can help him make a Webber-esque comeback. It will not be easy, but Kobayashi showed it was possible in Turkey, so Nick is still in with a chance of scoring points.
Mercedes were only 7th and 10th, with Rosberg ahead, and the reason for Rosberg not being able to make the top 5 was that the team had decided to concentrate upon race pace rather than qualifying. As usual, Nico was flawless, and 7th fastest is probably the maximum that car could’ve done. Schumacher showed considerable improvement in his qualifying form, making it easily into Q3 this time, but elected not to set a time for strategical reasons. His KERS problems and the fact he went out on the hard tyres whilst everyone else did otherwise, gave him no chance to fight for a decent grid slot, so his team has sensibly decided to preserve a set of options for the race.
Willams had something to be happy about, as rookie driver Maldonado finally made it into Q3 for the first time, and did well to claim 8th on the grid. His veteran team mate Rubens Barrichello was a lot less pleased with this afternoon, when gearbox reliability issues prevented him from setting a fast lap and was knocked out of Q1 by the Lotuses of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen. With Heidfeld unable to set a laptime, and Barrichello in trouble, there was a great chance for one of the Lotus drivers to get their car into Q2 for the first time in the team’s history. Though Trulli had a sorted out car, he was outpaced comprehensively by the Finn, who has been threatening to do this for some time now. And when the Force Indias elected to make a run on hard tyres to conserve the softs, Heikki was able to leapfrog both into 15th place. A proud moment for the Norfolk based team.
Toro Rosso and Sauber were evenly matched, and were at the top of the Q2 elimination pile. Kobayashi was on course for a laptime that would have got him out of the relegation zone, but he was baulked by a Force India and had to abort the lap. Timo Glock managed to outqualify the HRT cars, but the home team did well to beat the 107% rule with ease. Jerome d’Ambrosio narrowly scraped through, and will start 23rd ahead of Heidfeld. If the Red Bulls had used soft tyres in Q1 though, the Belgian rookie would’ve had to face the ignominy of not being allowed to start the race.
Barcelona was always going to be Red Bull territory – the fast sweeping turns with no real heavy braking points reward the cars that have high aerodynamic grip and the RB7 is in a class of its own in that respect. There is a very good reason why the Circuit de Catalunya has become the most popular test venue in Formula 1. The circuit characteristics are such that it provides an accurate assessment of the car’s performance and design aspects, both aerodynamic and mechanical. There is no place to hide on this track – if there’s weakness in your car, it will be brutally exposed. On the other hand, that does tend to make this race a procession, since the cars circulate at their optimum pace taking away the element of driver skill, and consequently racing action, from the proceedings. Fans, teams, drivers, and circuit organisers are all praying this time it will be different, thanks to the DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres.
I have no doubt in my mind that these new additions to Formula 1 will work in Spain, and that the race will be a lot more exciting than any other Spanish GP in recent memory. But it also seems inevitable that Red Bull will walk away with a 1-2, without any competition – such is the performance advantage they have right now. And however thrilling the racing action is behind them, at the end of the day, it is the battle for the lead which gets us more excited than anything else. And in that aspect, the Spanish GP maybe just as predictable as it’s predecessors. But never say never in Formula 1 – remember the start of the Japanese GP in 1990? After what happened in Turkey last year, that is not so likely now, but you never know – it could happen, and we could then have a Spanish GP more enthralling than all the 20 previous editions put together.
This entry was posted on May 22, 2011 at 00:55 and is filed under Qualifying Analysis with tags 2011, Analysis, F1, Qualifying, Santander, Spanish GP. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.