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. NASCAR: Dale Jr. expects even more performance in 2015

    Dec 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EST

    Ford EcoBoost 400 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Junior speaks highly, already, of new crew chief Greg Ives.

  2. Sutil rips F1’s pay driver situation

    Dec 21, 2014, 6:30 PM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-BRA-F1-PRESSER-SUTIL Getty Images

    Ex-Sauber driver Adrian Sutil calls out F1 pay-driver situation, although it could just be a case of sour grapes.

  3. WEC: 2015 sporting regulations for series released by FIA

    Dec 21, 2014, 5:30 PM EST

    AUTO-FRA-ENDURANCE-LE MANS Getty Images

    A number of tweaks are coming for the global sports car racing series.

  4. Late wreck ends hope of top-5 finish for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in dirt track race

    Dec 21, 2014, 4:58 PM EST

    (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Going back to his dirt track roots, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished eighth in the fifth annual Great Clips Battle at the Center in DuQuoin, Ill., on Saturday.

  5. Another week, another driver wedding; this time, it’s Ty Dillon’s turn (PHOTOS)

    Dec 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    Lilly Diabetes 250 Getty Images

    The XFINITY Series driver for Richard Childress Racing marries girlfriend Haley Carey.

  6. UPDATED — Highway to Hell(cat): Owner wrecks 707-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat one hour after buying it

    Dec 21, 2014, 2:54 PM EST

    (Photo courtesy Facebook via MotorAuthority.com) (Photo courtesy Facebook via MotorAuthority.com)

    With just 40 less horsepower than a 2015 Sprint Cup car, the new Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat is VERY powerful. One new Hellcat owner, who bought it just one hour earlier, found out the hard way about all that power.

  7. Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 10 – Kurt Busch and “The Double”

    Dec 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EST

    Kurt Busch AP

    The Outlaw takes on the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day.

  8. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 22 Brian Vickers

    Dec 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks - Practice Getty Images

    Vickers made his full-time return to Sprint Cup action in 2014, which in itself was a victory.

  9. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 21 Paul Menard

    Dec 21, 2014, 12:26 PM EST

    (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Paul Menard had a decent season at times in 2014, but fell short of making the Chase in the final qualifying race.

  10. Empire Racing grabs 3 fastest spots in Daytona ARCA test

    Dec 20, 2014, 11:42 PM EST

    Sean Corr was the fastest driver in the two-day ARCA test at Daytona International Speedway. (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

    New York State’s Empire Racing took the three fastest spots as ARCA completed a two-day open test at Daytona International Speedway.

  11. John Force like you’ve never seen him: ‘Papa John’ the grandfather (video)

    Dec 20, 2014, 9:11 PM EST

    John force with grandsons 2014

    See NHRA great John Force like you’ve never seen him in this video, shot mainly through the eyes of his grandsons Jacob and Noah.

  12. Dick Berggren to be inducted into Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame

    Dec 20, 2014, 8:16 PM EST

    (Photo courtesy Fox Sports) (Photo courtesy Fox Sports)

    Dr. Dick Berggren will receive yet another prestigious honor in his career. He’ll be inducted into the Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame in April 2015.

  13. New Hampshire Motor Speedway staff gives great holiday gift: NASCAR-themed carols

    Dec 20, 2014, 7:00 PM EST

    (Robert Laberge/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The staff at New Hampshire Motor Speedway got into the holiday spirit, caroling with a unique NASCAR twist in a newly-released video.

  14. NASCAR late model driver helps brighten holiday for needy Wisconsin family

    Dec 20, 2014, 6:29 PM EST

    nascar logo 2014 Getty Images

    Matt Henderson, Henderson Motorsports, and local businesses deliver presents and gifts to family in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

  15. IndyCar that will be ‘dropped’ to usher in New Year in Indianapolis to be unveiled Monday

    Dec 20, 2014, 5:29 PM EST

    verizon indycar series logo 2014

    Times Square’s ‘ball drop’ will have nothing on Indianapolis as it lowers an Indy Car as the final seconds of 2014 tick off.

  16. Dover International Speedway names new track president

    Dec 20, 2014, 4:30 PM EST

    Credit: Dover Motorsports Credit: Dover Motorsports

    Michael Tatoian has been able to help bring additional events to the Monster Mile beyond its two NASCAR weekends.

  17. Top NASCAR Stories of 2014: No. 11 – Carl Edwards leaves Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing

    Dec 20, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    Carl Edwards (left) and Matt Kenseth, former teammates at Roush Fenway Racing, will be reunited in 2015 at Joe Gibbs Racing. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Carl Edwards was the most sought-after Sprint Cup free agent in 2014. After more than a decade with Roush Fenway Racing, Edwards announced he will be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2015.

  18. WATCH: James Stewart, Travis Pastrana compete at Red Bull Straight Rhythm (NBC, 4 p.m. ET)

    Dec 20, 2014, 3:35 PM EST

    Photo credit: Shawn Smith Photo credit: Shawn Smith

    Red Bull Straight Rhythm is a one-of-a-kind event, featuring an “unwound” supercross track and head-to-head racing. Tune in to NBC to see how it all played out.

  19. Report: Bernie Ecclestone, German bank sue each other over sale of F1 stake

    Dec 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

    Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone arrives at the High Court in central London in this file photo Reuters

    BayernLB sues Ecclestone and his family holding for 345 million Euros.

  20. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 20 Austin Dillon

    Dec 20, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    NASCAR Sprint Cup Sylvania 300 At NH Motor Speedway Getty Images

    Dillon made a big first impression and then quietly learned the ropes in Sprint Cup.

Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. B. Vickers (2075)
  2. K. Busch (2057)
  3. C. Coughlin (1963)
  4. D. Armstrong (1714)
  5. L. Cassill (1548)
  1. R. Black Jr. (1453)
  2. A. Self (1429)
  3. B. Kennedy (1311)
  4. D. Suarez (1167)
  5. M. Tifft (1114)