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Webber, Vettel among those with interesting strategies for soft tires

Apr 15, 2013, 6:30 AM EDT

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Trying to fit a round up of today’s thrilling Chinese GP into a few hundred words is not easy. The race weekend, as with the previous two before it, was always likely to be dominated by tires, but the relative difference in laptime between the two compounds here, surprised even Pirelli.

That speed differential between the two, offered the possibility of varying strategies in the race. We saw the majority of the top runners opting to qualify on the faster, yellow ringed soft tire, giving a faster ultimate single lap time, World Champion Sebastian Vettel was the most prominent driver to try something a little different.

Red Bull Racing’s strategy, initially with both cars, was to save the soft, short-life compound until the end of the race when the cars were lighter and would grip the track more. The compromise is that while running on the medium, durable tire, you’re in the middle of the pack at the start of the race when everyone else is faster and excitable and prone to accidents and traffic.

For Sebastian Vettel, you could say the plan worked. Starting 9th and finishing 4th is a good return and given a couple more corners at the end, he could have stolen 2nd.

One of the most interesting strategies, which we unfortunately didn’t get to see fully play out, was the one that Vettel’s teammate, Mark Webber. He was somewhat forced into by the team’s failure to fuel his car correctly in qualifying. Having been sent to the back of the grid for failing to provide a fuel sample to the FIA on Saturday, the team opted to pull the car out of parc ferme overnight and make changes otherwise forbidden under normal conditions…you can’t be sent any further back!

Red Bull were able to set the car up for the race, as apposed to the normal compromise set up to accommodate single lap pace in qualifying. This means they changed gear ratios and aero settings to enable Webber to overtake easier down Shanghai’s long straights, as well as having free choice on their starting tires. Having not completed the full qualifying session, he also had more new tires for the race than everyone else too.

Interestingly, starting last, they opted to start on the soft tire, which everyone knew wouldn’t last more than about 5 laps in the Grand Prix, but rather than run for the 5 laps, he pitted immediately and changed straight onto the preferred medium compound.
This enabled him to get the mandated soft tire phase out of the way without actually losing any track position. He rejoined after his stop, still last, but able to complete the whole race on the better tire and it looked to be a good move. At the point where the front runners were being forced to pit after lap 5 or 6, Webber moved up through the field and was looking like a real contender. The midfield runners who started on the medium tire would have to fit the soft tire at some point, so Webber may have rescued a good opportunity from a dire situation.

Unfortunately a questionable decision on Webber’s part to lunge past a Toro Rosso ended in collision and a forced pitstop for a front wing change. That in itself wasn’t the end of the world, as they were only a couple of laps short of their intended pitstop window, but the pit crew who broke world records last time out in Malaysia, went from hero to zero one race later.

Webber rejoined the race, but half way round his out lap, the right rear wheel detached from the car and his Grand Prix was over. It would have been really interesting to see the result, but that’s Formula One.

There’s been a lot of complaining about tires recently, some of it perhaps justified, but no one can say that today’s race wasn’t fascinating and had an incredible finish, and the Pirellis played a big part in that.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

  1. apexassassin - Apr 14, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    So glad RBR were off the podium. Even in a crappy, chaotic, lottery season I hate seeing a team make that many mistakes and still get results.

  2. purplesectornet - Apr 15, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    It’s not a crappy chaotic lottery season. The only thing crappy is your pathetic attitude. The rest of us are fans so go away. Seriously.

    • apexassassin - Apr 16, 2013 at 11:27 PM

      Yeah your a fan, and it shows with your remarkable commentary. Real F1 fans see things for how they and don’t believe all the PR and spin… but I won’t argue with you, I can see it would be a waste of my time. Go back to your PS3.

      • purplesectornet - Apr 19, 2013 at 1:37 PM

        That’s right we are here because we are fans of the sport. This is not a place for your personal vendetta against F1. This is where viewers of NBCsports come to share views on the sport we love. That’s the point. No one appointed you the thought police. If you want to be jaded and surly and post nothing but negative things about F1, that is your choide, but you better believe that every time you do I’m going to offer up a more lucid and realistic perspective to your constant need to degrade the sport and anyone that shows enthusiasm for it. Basically you are nothing but a giant gadfly who’s agenda is to ruin an otherwise fantastic place for the fans to share ideas and enjoy our sport. So yes, expect bitter opposition from me every time you do it, because it’s complete BS and you really need to stop wasting our time with your diatribe. Half the grid of F1 is not untalented as you claim, the season has been fantastic up to now, not crappy as you claim.

        It would be best if you just GO AWAY.

  3. techmeister1 - Apr 18, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    Actually the F1 racing has been quite enjoyable this season with the wider performance difference in the tires as the FIA requested of Pirelli. It’s nice to see Mercedes finally bring a competitive car. McLaren needs to get their new car up to speed however. Without Adrian Newey Red Bull would be a backmarker. If Vettel had to drive a Sauber or Force Indian car, he’d be mid-pack at best. Webber routinely out performs Vettel as he did handily in Malaysia. Ferrari and Lotus seem to understand the tire situation pretty well this year.

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