Skip to content

Why couldn’t Lotus catch Vettel? Look to the tires

Jul 8, 2013, 7:30 AM EST

AUTO-PRIX-F1-GER Getty Images

Saturday’s qualifying showed it was clear certain teams had decided to play a tactical game this weekend, over going all out for the highest possible grid slot.

It’s not something the purists like to see, but a Formula One team will analyze every situation and do what they think is best for them, not what’s best for those watching.

With teams opting to either sit out the final qualifying session, or set a time on the slower, more durable race tire, it provided something of an anticlimactic Saturday afternoon, but set the scene for a fantastic strategic battle Sunday.

This weekend Pirelli not only brought a new rear tire construction as part of measures to ensure no repeat of the Silverstone fiasco, but brought two compounds which, at this track, gave a significant performance difference between the two. Typically, when this situation occurs between two tire types, we’re served up a Grand Prix with a mixture of different strategies and it’s rarely clear until the last few laps, how things might pan out. Today was no different.

Before the race began we all tried to calculate how the front six cars, starting on the soft compound, might fare against those starting farther back. The soft was only likely to last a handful of laps with cars full of fuel from the start, while the rest would potentially come into play in the last 10 laps when they too, fitted the considerably faster, soft-option tire.

Questions surfaces whether Mercedes had come up with fixes for their, now traditional, heavy race tire degradation. The answers came early. A poor start from Lewis Hamilton on pole position gave up track position to both Red Bulls, but more telling was his pace and early lap 6 pitstop to switch to the primes. Mercedes’ race with both cars was severely compromised by excessive thermal degradation of the rears, something today’s high track and ambient temperatures made much worse than earlier in the weekend.

The team desperately need track time to work on this area, but while everyone else we be learning at the upcoming Young Driver Test, Mercedes will miss out due to their penalty from the International Tribunal a few weeks back.

The predicted time difference between a two and three stop race was minimal here and the race finish proved it so.

Out front it looked like a three car battle, with both Lotus’ chasing down Sebastian Vettel on similar race plans. With Lotus unable to find enough pace to get past the Red Bull, they were forced to try something a little different to get past.

Romain Grosjean, running second, tried to undercut the leader and dived into the pits on lap 40 for new mediums, but couldn’t find enough on his out lap to jump Vettel, who responded a lap later. Kimi Raikkonen, now leading, but with one less stop, was faced with a tough call and a number of options to see the race out.

He could follow the other two and pit for mediums and race them to the flag, but the status quo would’ve likely resumed.

He could stay out and try and get to the end without another stop, hoping to hold off Vettel and co when they inevitably caught up by the last couple of laps, but the stint length would’ve been 36 laps on his medium tires. After Friday’s running this looked possible, but the higher temperatures today meant it was a long shot.

In the end, with Vettel and Grosjean held up slightly in traffic, Kimi opted to stay out. This gave him the option of gauging tire life a bit longer and deciding wether to try and get to the end, or attempt to open up a gap big enough to stop again and come out in front.

Clearing the traffic quickly meant the chasers just stopped Kimi from edging out the required gap and his choices were limited again. His big push had taken valuable life from his medium compound tires and the decision was taken to get to lap 50 and switch to softs.

The hope was that the faster soft tire would enable him to take the challenge to the Red Bull in the last couple of laps, despite the pitstop bringing him out at the back of the three car train.

Fernando Alonso, who’d remained largely anonymous during most of the race, did the same and came out behind Kimi.

Where the Lotus plan failed to a certain degree, was that the soft tires that went onto Kimi’s car were used ones from qualifying, they had no fresh ones left. This meant the expected gain in laptime wasn’t quite there in the first couple of laps and he didn’t close up quickly enough. Coupled with a delay in issuing team orders to let Kimi past Grosjean, it meant Vettel had just enough in the bag to hold on for his first win on home soil.

Teams all look to a variety of reasons why their races weren’t quite perfect in the end. Backmarkers, safety cars at the wrong time, temperatures or bad starts, but in the end perhaps using the extra set of soft tires in qualifying was the difference. Alonso, who did save soft tires on Saturday and pitted at the same time as Kimi, put in some blistering lap times at the end to bring himself right back into contention, challenging for third place.

You can follow Marc Priestley on Twitter @f1elvis.

Latest Posts
  1. Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Sunday

    Mar 1, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Four Getty Images

    Here’s the final recap from the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya as pre-season testing comes to a close.

  2. Ferrari staying grounded despite strong pre-season display

    Mar 1, 2015, 3:30 PM EST

    Maurizio Arrivabene AP

    Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene calls for “concentration and discipline” at Maranello in the lead-up to the start of the 2015 season.

  3. Happy Birthday to reigning IndyCar champion Will Power

    Mar 1, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    Power a champion at long last. Photo: Getty Images Getty Images

    The Team Penske pilot turns 34 years old today.

  4. Maldonado ends testing in the wall after brake problem

    Mar 1, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    Maldoando 13a Getty Images

    Maldonado is still able to find the positives out of his final test run before the beginning of the 2015 season in Australia on March 15.

  5. Bottas: Reliability a key strength for Williams in 2015

    Mar 1, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Four Getty Images

    Should Mercedes drop the ball in 2015, Williams could be the team to pick up the pieces and snatch a race win.

  6. Verstappen ready for F1 debut after “best pre-season ever”

    Mar 1, 2015, 1:30 PM EST

    Verstappen 13 Getty Images

    17-year-old will become the youngest driver in the history of F1 to start a race in Australia.

  7. James Courtney wins season-opening V8 Supercars feature in Adelaide; ex-NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose 12th

    Mar 1, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    V8 Supercars Clipsal 500 - Race 3 Getty Images

    Ambrose cracks Top 10 on feature grid, but fuel strategy hinders an otherwise decent run for him.

  8. Rosberg: Beating Hamilton in testing a “useful” edge

    Mar 1, 2015, 12:45 PM EST

    Rosberg 13 Getty Images

    German driver posted the fastest time of winter testing in Barcelona on Friday.

  9. Simona de Silvestro completes Formula E show run in Geneva

    Mar 1, 2015, 12:30 PM EST

    © FIA Formula E © FIA Formula E

    With the ban on motorsport in Switzerland being lifted, the door has been opened to an ePrix in Geneva.

  10. F1 pre-season testing ends with Bottas fastest for Williams

    Mar 1, 2015, 12:00 PM EST

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Four Getty Images

    Attention now turns to the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne on March 15.

  11. Allison pleased with Ferrari race pace in testing

    Mar 1, 2015, 11:00 AM EST

    Raikkonen 13 Getty Images

    Ferrari technical director says that the SF15-T is working as expected.

  12. Maldonado hoping to fight with Red Bull and Ferrari in 2015

    Mar 1, 2015, 10:00 AM EST

    Maldonado 13 Getty Images

    Maldonado confident Lotus has made a big improvement after miserable 2014.

  13. Boullier expects McLaren to be up to speed by Spanish GP

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-ESP-TEST-MCLAREN Getty Images

    Team racing director admits that it is behind schedule after a difficult winter.

  14. Lewis Hamilton explains decision to reject #1 for 2015

    Mar 1, 2015, 8:00 AM EST

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Three Getty Images

    British driver says that sticking with #44 means far more to him than having the number designated for the world champion.

  15. FR3.5: Facu Regalia signs with Zeta Corse for 2015

    Feb 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    © GP2 Media Service © GP2 Media Service

    Argentinian driver confirms his plans for the new season after a difficult 2014 with Hilmer Motorsport.

  16. Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Saturday

    Feb 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    Sainz 282a Getty Images

    A full round-up from the penultimate day of F1 pre-season testing in Barcelona.

  17. Vergne enjoys first Ferrari run-out in Adelaide show run

    Feb 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EST

    V8 Supercars Clipsal 500 - Race 1 & 2 Getty Images

    Frenchman joined the team as a test driver for the 2015 season.

  18. More birthdays: Aldo Andretti, Bourdais, Hawksworth, Bachelart, Minassian, Leitzinger, Liddell

    Feb 28, 2015, 3:11 PM EST

    BourdaisTOR12 AP

    Bourdais, Hawksworth, Aldo Andretti and more all have birthdays today, February 28.

  19. Hamilton: “It wasn’t a particularly spectacular day”

    Feb 28, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    Hamilton 282a Getty Images

    Despite posting a time that, when adjusted to account for tire compounds, could be 1.4 seconds quicker than the rest of the field, the Briton was unenthused about his performance.

  20. UPDATED: #AirJosef: Newgarden dunks with Pacers Power Pack (VIDEO)

    Feb 28, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    AirNewgy AP

    How well does Josef Newgarden dunk? Find out in video he does with Indiana Pacers “Power Pack.”