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. Three-car teams must be a last resort for Formula 1

    Sep 20, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Previews Getty Images

    With the future of as many as four teams in the lurch, F1 could be forced to take drastic action in 2015. However, efforts must be made to resolve the current situation instead of finding a solution to a future problem.

  2. Fernando Alonso closes out practice in Singapore fastest

    Sep 20, 2014, 7:04 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Practice Getty Images

    Spaniard fastest ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Rosberg.

  3. WATCH LIVE: FP3 for the Singapore Grand Prix

    Sep 20, 2014, 5:45 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Practice Getty Images

    FP3 marks the final chance for the drivers and teams to get everything set for qualifying later today.

  4. Keselowski: Stewart/Ward case being sent to grand jury “feels like a little bit of a cop out”

    Sep 19, 2014, 9:13 PM EDT

    MyAfibStory.com 400 - Practice Getty Images

    Keselowski’s comments today at New Hampshire seem odd considering what he said just days after the Aug. 9 tragedy in upstate New York.

  5. NASCAR: RCR, Roush teams looking strong in NNS practice at Kentucky

    Sep 19, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Kentucky Speedway - Day 1 Getty Images

    Chris Buescher (RFR), Cale Conley (RCR) shine for these teams.

  6. NASCAR: Matt Crafton, Cole Custer top Truck Practice 2 and 3 at Loudon

    Sep 19, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT

    UNOH 175 - Practice Getty Images

    Crafton hopes to build up his slim lead in the Camping World Truck Series championship with a strong outing in tomorrow’s UNOH 175.

  7. Kenzie Ruston on right track to follow Danica Patrick’s road to racing success

    Sep 19, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

    Kenzie Ruston (Photo courtesy GoKenzie.com) Kenzie Ruston (Photo courtesy GoKenzie.com)

    Kenzie Ruston can relate so well to NASCAR star Danica Patrick. Just like when Patrick was working her way up through the racing ranks early on in her own career, Ruston has also had to outwork other male drivers for virtually everything she’s achieved up to now.

  8. Brad Keselowski wins pole for Sunday’s Chase race at New Hampshire

    Sep 19, 2014, 6:03 PM EDT

    NASCAR New Hampshire Auto Racing AP

    Keselowski sets a new track record at New Hampshire in earning his fifth Sprint Cup pole of 2014.

  9. Red Bull GRC: Checking in with Foust, Dyne leading into LA double (VIDEO)

    Sep 19, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT

    GRCLogo

    Pre-race videos with Austin Dyne and Tanner Foust before Red Bull GRC doubleheader in LA.

  10. Jeff Gordon: We can beat Keselowski this weekend

    Sep 19, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    Sylvania 300 - Practice Getty Images

    A win from Gordon on Sunday would give New Hampshire its record-setting 14th different winner in as many races.

  11. F1 Friday Analysis: Is Lewis the man to beat?

    Sep 19, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Practice Getty Images

    We crunch the numbers to see who is really ahead at Mercedes in Singapore after Friday practice.

  12. A name you’ll be hearing a lot more of in NASCAR: racing phenom Ben Rhodes

    Sep 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    Ben Rhodes (Photo: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Kyle Busch. Joey Logano. Kyle Larson. You may soon add Ben Rhodes to the list of young phenom drivers that have gone on to stardom in the Sprint Cup Series.

  13. Jimmie Johnson still looking for return to commanding form

    Sep 19, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    Sylvania 300 - Practice Getty Images

    “…We’re looking for just that little sliver of speed to get back to a dominant position.” – Johnson

  14. Hamilton: Friday a “work in progress” for Mercedes

    Sep 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Practice Getty Images

    Finishing P1 not enough for the Briton following his Friday running in Singapore.

  15. Kyle Larson: I’m “really close” to first Sprint Cup victory

    Sep 19, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    MyAfibStory.com 400 - Practice Getty Images

    “I hope it’s before the end of this year, but if not, we won’t be too disappointed. We’ve been running well all season long.” – Larson

  16. Vettel upbeat despite engine troubles in Singapore

    Sep 19, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT

    Singapore F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    German driver rallies to finish in the top five in both sessions despite an engine failure.

  17. Brad Keselowski tops Friday Sprint Cup practice at N.H.

    Sep 19, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    Sylvania 300 - Practice Getty Images

    Already in the Contender Round for the Chase, Keselowski gets his weekend at New Hampshire off to a good start.

  18. Red flag limits Rosberg to P13 in second Singapore practice

    Sep 19, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Nico Rosberg AP

    German driver feeling comfortable ahead of qualifying in Singapore tomorrow.

  19. Firestone IndyCar test next week to feature Castroneves, RHR, Carpenter, Pagenaud

    Sep 19, 2014, 12:43 PM EDT

    Ryan Hunter-Reay AP

    IndyCars get their first postseason running with Firestone tire test next week.

  20. VIDEO: Maldonado’s FP2 ends in the wall at Singapore

    Sep 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Pastor Maldonado AP

    Not what the Venezuelan would have planned heading into his Friday programme at Marina Bay.

Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. B. Keselowski (1781)
  2. J. Gordon (1420)
  3. K. Busch (1412)
  4. K. Harvick (1342)
  5. M. Crafton (1288)