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Why the close field means sometimes a gamble will not do
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Darren Heath
Posted By: James Allen  |  23 Jun 2012   |  7:45 pm GMT  |  52 comments

Today in qualifying we saw an intense moment in Q2 which is worth taking a moment to consider.

So close was the front end of the field, with 1st to 11th separated by just over 2/10ths of a second, that several leading drivers, including Sebastian Vettel were forced to use an extra set of soft tyres to make sure they made it through into the Top Ten shootout. Ferrari didn’t do that and Fernando Alonso starts 11th, five rows back from his two main championship rivals. Felipe Massa lines up 13th.

All season long we have been hearing the message that this year it’s about consistency and as things get every tighter, this consistency has to be there at every crucial step. This weekend, Q2 was one such vital step.

After qualifying Alonso’s comment was telling, “It’s easy to say now that with two runs on Softs in Q2 we would have made the cut, but maybe now we would be here lamenting the fact that we did not have two for Q3,” he said. “It’s always easy to judge things after the fact. However, we were not quick enough to be in the top ten in the second part of qualifying and now the race will naturally be tougher. The podium is out of reach and clearly, with Hamilton on the front row, it’s easy to expect that we will lose ground to him.”

It’s all the more interesting as Alonso had spelled out quite clearly on Thursday that his mindset was that he was man-to-man marking Hamilton, aiming to finish ahead of him this weekend, but feeling that Vettel was likely to leave Valencia in the championship lead, so he would be targeting him at Silverstone.

Massa had a similar sentiment, “With hindsight, it’s easy to say that if we had used two sets of Soft in Q2, we could have made the cut, but we wanted to be in the best possible shape for Q3 and Q1 had shown that we were even quick on the Medium tyre.”

It’s a situation other title protagonists have found themselves in; Vettel has been forced to use up sets of qualifying tyres in Q2 a couple of times, failed to make the cut too and he recovered to score points, but not podiums. But it’s not been as close as today before.

Alonso and Ferrari gambled that 2/10ths would be close enough to get through, but with the Lotus and Force India cars in there as well as Maldonado and Kobayashi, it didn’t work out. And it was awkward that this happened on a day when Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had come to praise his team on their renaissance.

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52 Comments
  1. gudien says:

    One of the better articles I’ve read lately on what in the hell is going on out there.

    1. the pimp's main prophet says:

      +1
      Thank you James.

      1. the pimp's main prophet says:

        Same for the comments so far, some raising some interesting questions!!!

      2. Jan De Boer says:

        +2

        JA, what’s your view on the new Red Bull ‘blown diffuser’ theory? Surely, blowing the exhaust isn’t allowed anymore? Confusing stuff…

    2. Erik says:

      Yes more of this, James.
      Thanks.

  2. Rob Newman says:

    I still can’t understand why in Q2 the Ferrari’s were going round and round on the harder compound when it is obvious there is no advantage. Looks like they underestimated the opposition (as usual).

    In the end, the cream rose to the top.

    1. Robin says:

      With 100% hindsight, Ferrari were lucky to be left with the extra set of tyres as Fernando Aloonse commented pre-race. And certainly, with his sensational drive and good fortune with Vettel’s retiremen, the cream did rise to the top!

  3. Mike84 says:

    Ferrari should have stayed in damage-limitation mode, it was working. They threw away the lead in Canada, and after this race it will already be time to start thinking about next year’s car.

    Hamilton or Vettel will win this year.

    1. Jose says:

      How wrong you were, pal

      1. Mike84 says:

        Yes, because the 3 guys who would have taken the podium all retired. Well, Ferrari have another chance now but they better get it right quick.

  4. AlexD says:

    Mistakes last races cost points and also mistake today will cost points as well. I think we now really see the trend for the rest of the season – it will be Hamilton vs Vettel with other drivers in the mix.

  5. madmax says:

    “it was awkward that this happened on a day when Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo had come to praise his team on their renaissance.”

    haha

  6. blackmamba says:

    Well, the Ferraris couldn’t rely on luck all through the season. Surely they must have known that at some point they were gonna have to use some strategic guile. Canada and now this, it seems competitiveness frightens them!

  7. Kevin Irwin says:

    Are McLaren gambling by not bringing updates and instead trying to sort out Jenson’s performance before they move the design on, I personally hope they have a ‘B’ spec car coming in Silverstone otherwise they will slip behind trying to sort out Button’s woes.

    1. tharris19 says:

      Not to say that they would, but isn’t it sad for a fan of McLaren to think that such a thing could happen under Whitmarsh’s supervision.

    2. Jeff says:

      I read elsewhere that McLaren’s next major update was planned for Siverstone.

    3. Kidza says:

      I heard they should have an upgrade at Silverstone. I still think they have managed to bring extra performance to every race, even after Barcelona, through optimising the car set up and getting a better handle on the tyres, not to mention improving the pit stops.

      If the Silverstone upgrade gives them the expected performance, they should be in good shape!

    4. Darren says:

      I think they would bring any updates they have as fast as they can. There’s no way they would hold back Hamilton who is in the championship lead.

      They have significant updates for Silverstone. I doubt it is a B spec car though.

    5. Mohan says:

      McLaren should sort out their ‘B’ spec pit crew first!

  8. David says:

    Sometimes things like this happen – I only hope that Ferrari can learn from this error and make up some lost ground, but being Valencia I expect this to be highly unlikely and difficult as this course does not offer easy overtaking spots. Hopefully Ferrari uses a different strategy to bring both cars up into decent points scoring positions.

  9. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    Vettel and Hamilton should try to do a podium, no matter who in the front, and take advantage that the other contenders (Alonso, Webber, Button) are struggling.

    1. Hendo says:

      meanwhile Alonso, Webber & Button are hoping that they take each other out at the first corner!

      1. D@X says:

        Thats a powerful prediction! LOL!

      2. Jose says:

        A powercul prediction…
        LOL!!!!
        You’ve got a talent!!

  10. [MISTER] says:

    James,
    Your last paragraph suggest that Ferrari have chosen not to send Alonso out again to save a set of softs, but that’s not the case. I believe that because he did an earlier run on the medium, he got out on the soft quite late. This didn’t left him with enough time to go back out on another set of softs.
    If I’m wrong then please accept my apologies.

    1. James Enocre says:

      You are correct.
      It seemss someone at Ferrari took their eye off the ball.
      In the last couple of minutes of Q1 DIR improved by 0.8, ROS by 0.9, HUL bu 0.9, MAL by 1.2, PER by 0.9 SEN by 1.0. [Can’t 100% sure ALL had changed tyres)
      1.26 seconds covered first to 17th and people were finding most of that by putting the softer tyre on. No-one was going to get through Q2 on the harder tyres.

      Both Ferraris left the pits as soon as Q2 started using the haarder tyres. What they were doing is anybody’s guess (putting a heat cycle through those tyres ready for the race ?) but they weren’t expecting to do a time to get into Q3 on those tyres.

      With 5 1/2 Minutes left Alonoso was leaving the pits on softs for the first time, and Massa was returning on Hards for a quick turn round. For whatever reason they committed to one run on those tyres.

      Maybe they had a false confidence in getting into the top 10 in one run, in which case two sets for Q3 was a good place to be. Fernando missed that by .004

      By the way for the race my money’s on Hamilton. They do most running on the hard tyre and he looks better on those, and worse on the softer relative to the people around him. Without the DRS advantage Red Bull have in quali, I suspect the McLaren is the faster car.
      But Maldonado in with a shout of being the first driver to Win 2 races this reason. What odds would you have got that after the first couple of races ?

  11. andrew says:

    Maybe Ferrari were trying to qualify on a heavier fuel-load scenario for the race? Valencia is the highest fuel consumption circut on the calendar. Indeed, the cars are built to accomodate the Valencia extra fuel volume requirement.

    1. LT says:

      errrr….this makes no sense. Why would they qualify on a heavier load than necessary?? All cars start the race on whatever fuel they require for the whole race. With no refuelling, qualifying fuel load has no impact on race fuel load.

    2. James Clayton says:

      Why would they try and qualify with a heavier fuel load? That makes no sense at all.

      1. D@X says:

        I mean, why? honestly why? I bet the response was to improve downforce….LOL!

  12. Vinola says:

    The Q3 times were strangely retrogressive; 6 of the top 10 had worse times than their Q2 times: 2 of the 4 that improved had very marginal improvements (1000th/sec). Only Vettel (4 tenths) and Hamilton (2 tenths) had significant improvements. Any reason for this JA?

    1. Vinola says:

      I mean for a green track one would expect all round times improvement in Q3- track temp, wind speed seemed stable> Was it available tires (used v.s new sets)?

    2. Dave C says:

      The reason is probably they were driving within themselves and also had the engine turned down so they didn’t show their hands too early, also Vettel made a successful tweak to the front wing and it worked well, I can’t see the Redbull looking after it’s tyres in the race though, watch out for Grosjean and Maldonado, the struggle Vettel and Hamilton will be having with eachother might just let a Lotus or Williams claim victory.

    3. Rich C says:

      It is normal for Q3 to be slower than Q2 since everyone has to have their starting fuel load aboard. The odd bit is that those few *did go faster in Q3.

      1. James Allen says:

        No that rule does not apply any more

      2. D@X says:

        Rich C must be watching re runs of races past. James why not add the F1 regulation rule book to this site,(for reference). would make it more interesting and informative. It can only add more ammunition to the debates that take place on this site. Other than that keep up the good work and this article has been refreshing…Ahhhh!

  13. A.B.Normal says:

    I think you have to question Alonso’s lack of motivation. As absurd as that sounds, other drivers have been accused of just that in similar circumstances. One question I had watching qualifying was why Raikkonen was sent out early in Q3 with his extra set of softs? The track was not at its quickest, and assuming a two stop race, why not save a set of stickers? Otherwise, send him out for two runs in the last half of Q3. Did Rosberg use both sets of new softs in Q3? I lost track.

  14. ArJay says:

    Falls on knees…
    Beseeches almighty (no, Bernie, not you) for many successful overtaking moves during race.

    Sound of distant thunder…
    Heavenly laugh?

  15. William Wilgus says:

    Oh well, another Pirelli Lottery coming up tomorrow. Wake me when it’s over.

    1. Andrew says:

      Well why bother making a comment then? You could be watching DVD’s of past processions instead.

      1. William Wilgus says:

        Good idea. I hadn’t thought of that. Thanks! :^)

  16. Lynn says:

    Maybe Monty should just stay away from the garage!

  17. Lawrence says:

    I think Ferrari’s thinking re qualifying was sound i.e. it was an understandable mistake. It was hard to predict how Q3 was going to go. RBR got lucky to some extent (SV’s pole lap was outstanding) and Ferrari were just unlucky. It is getting a bit frustrating not being able to predict form AND understand it. The teams seem to be too often left scratching their heads as to what went right/wrong. This current state of affairs may be great for the casual F1 fan but I can’t help but think the passionate and knowledgeable fans have grown weary of it. I admire Pirelli’s courage but surely Paul Hembery is starting to wonder “Is this worth the hassle?”, I don’t remember Goodyear, Bridgestone or Michelin being criticised so openly.

    1. Oly says:

      “It is getting a bit frustrating not being able to predict form AND understand it. The teams seem to be too often left scratching their heads as to what went right/wrong. This current state of affairs may be great for the casual F1 fan but I can’t help but think the passionate and knowledgeable fans have grown weary of it”

      totally agree.
      The name of the game in F1 today is entertainment, and imho while younger viewers may find these races entertaining, for those of us who watched Prost and Senna over-the-limit battles these are sad times..

    2. Cbush says:

      Agree whole hartedly…….

  18. Elie says:

    Agree its easier to say in hindsight . But even before qualifying surely teams would have been considering the mediums the ones best to run in the race- which means there was no advantage of running them in the later part of q2 .Especially given the faster guys – maclaren, RBR, and lotus all used them in q2.

    I think Ferrari need to attack and on the contrary to Mike84 I think it’s damage limitation mentality needed to expire a few races ago. They are clearly very quick especially in race trim, they just need to attack Quali the same way Lotus decided to this time and there would be no stopping Fernando in the race.. Either way they all have work cut out for them cause RBR are in front “by a nose”terms of development.

  19. Freddofrog42 says:

    Alonso being 11th has free choice of tyrs to start on and will be on the stickier side of the grid. Given the amount of running Ferrari did on the harder tyres, perhaps he’ll start on those and run longer and perhaps manage with a stop less than the front runners.

    Possibly better to be 11th than say 8th/10th in many ways assuming you don’t get caught at a first corner incident…

    Eitherway, it was all so close and that’s far better than having a team walk away with all races as so often happened in the past.

    1. Martin says:

      It will be interesting to see. Having harder tyres on the good side of the grid on the inside of a turn with your team mate to defend might be worth a gamble.

      However, Alonso can start on fresh softs, and the benefit could be significant in terms of the chance of getting past the Force Indias and possibly Button at the start and then running longer with undamaged tyres.

    2. Malcolm says:

      Of course Alonson might get caught up in someone else’s accident, always a lottery in the midfield

  20. Crusty says:

    I’m pretty sure I posted last night and this morning its disappeared. True, i’d had a couple of drinks, but…….

    1. Daveyop says:

      snap, only sober

  21. andrew says:

    Clarification. Not meaning carrying fuel load during qualification, but experimenting with a very heavy fuel load tyre and chassis set-up.

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