Skip to content

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

Jul 8, 2013, 7:30 AM EDT

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. Joys of travel: Most of IndyCar community has to take red eyes back after Long Beach

    Apr 20, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    LAXredeye Getty Images

    The joys of return flights home from the West Coast for the IndyCar community..

  2. IndyCar notes: Andretti leads Honda contingent; Coletti quick but unlucky and more from Long Beach

    Apr 20, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    MA27lb Getty Images

    Another tough day at office for Honda, Newgarden comes up short of top-five and other tidbits from Long Beach.

  3. IndyCar: Saavedra cracks top-10 on debut with Ganassi at Long Beach

    Apr 20, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    LBw2w4 Getty Images

    Sebastian Saavedra has a clean, quiet, consistent weekend and ended P10 on debut for Ganassi.

  4. The saga of Coyne’s No. 18 at Long Beach: Moran’s lost debut leads to Daly’s long overdue chance

    Apr 20, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    It was a bizarre weekend for Dale Coyne’s No. 18, which saw one driver replaced before the weekend began, one injured before getting the chance to debut, and one finally getting a long overdue shot.

  5. Sir Patrick Stewart gave an awesome start command at Long Beach (VIDEO)

    Apr 20, 2015, 11:38 AM EDT

    Sir Patrick Stewart command AP

    Long Beach got off to a great start, courtesy of Patrick Stewart’s enthusiastic command to start engines.

  6. Hamilton may have won again, but it was Raikkonen and Rosberg who stood out in Bahrain

    Apr 20, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

    Mideast Bahrain F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    It may have been a routine victory for Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain, but both Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen showed some of the fight that has been lacking in recent months.

  7. Arrivabene: Vettel cost Ferrari double podium in Bahrain

    Apr 20, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain - Qualifying Getty Images

    Ferrari team principal believes two mistakes from the four-time world champion cost him a place on the podium in Bahrain.

  8. Bottas pleased to hang on for fourth place in Bahrain

    Apr 20, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain Getty Images

    A mistake by Sebastian Vettel allows Bottas to take fourth place on Sunday in Bahrain.

  9. Montoya, Castroneves riff on Penske quartet’s nationalities post-race at Long Beach

    Apr 19, 2015, 9:53 PM EDT

    JPMhelioLB Getty Images

    JPM, Helio laugh about the four nationalities represented at Team Penske.

  10. Dixon passes Bobby Unser for fifth on all-time list with 36th IndyCar win

    Apr 19, 2015, 7:41 PM EDT

    DixonBobby36 Getty Images

    Bobby Unser praises Scott Dixon, while Dixon himself downplays the accomplishment.

  11. MotoGP: Rossi wins in Argentina after Marquez clash

    Apr 19, 2015, 6:00 PM EDT

    MotoGp of Argentina - Qualifying Getty Images

    The nine-time world champion extends his lead at the top of the riders’ championship in MotoGP.

  12. Engine issue costs Maldonado shot at points finish

    Apr 19, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-BHR-F1 Getty Images

    Romain Grosjean manages to salvage some points for Lotus in Bahrain, finishing seventh.

  13. Jones makes it an Indy Lights hat trick with win in Long Beach

    Apr 19, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Photo: Carlin Media Photo: Carlin Media

    Ed Jones survives streets of Long Beach to win Round 3 for Indy Lights.

  14. Ricciardo finishes sixth in Bahrain despite suffering engine failure at the final turn

    Apr 19, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain Getty Images

    Ricciardo finishes the race in a blaze of glory, but holds on to sixth place for Red Bull.

  15. WATCH LIVE: Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Live Extra

    Apr 19, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    LBwatchlive Getty Images

    Watch the third round of the IndyCar season, from the streets of Long Beach, at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

  16. Vettel takes blame for causing front wing damage

    Apr 19, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain Getty Images

    German driver was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop towards the end of the race in Bahrain after running over the kerbs at the final corner.

  17. Button fails to start Bahrain GP, live tweets the race instead

    Apr 19, 2015, 2:45 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-BHR-F1 Getty Images

    Another electrical problem for McLaren meant that Button was unable to line up on the grid for the race in Bahrain.

  18. WATCH: Indy Lights at Long Beach, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

    Apr 19, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    IndyLights

    Watch the third round of the Indy Lights season today at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.