One of the biggest surprises in Saturday’s qualifying session for the Bahrain Grand Prix was the performance of the Lotus cars, with Kimi Raikkonen 9th fastest and Romain Grosjean 11th.
They were the pace setters on Friday, set the fourth fastest time in Saturday morning practice and Raikkonen set a competitive Q2 time in 1m 33.146, the third fastest time in that session.
So what happened?
According to Lotus’ Trackside Operations Director, Alan Permane, the result is something of a mystery. They believed – and many other teams agreed with the view – that Raikkonen could win this race, based on the single lap and long run performances the showed on Friday.
“Kimi’s session was a bit more of a mystery. His second run in Q2 was pretty respectable but it just didn’t come together for him in Q3. He’s been strong all weekend up until that point, so we’ll need to trawl through the data this evening to understand what happened.”
Raikkonen himself says that the car balance wasn’t right, “We were not fast enough. This was our maximum,” he said. “Maybe we could’ve been a few places better, but like I said yesterday, it didn’t feel exactly like we want. It’s just one of the places where we don’t seem to have the speed. Hopefully tomorrow it will turn out different.”
Analysis of Raikkonen’s qualifying tells a story in itself.
First there is the Q2 time, which was competitive, in 1m 33.146s. The problem was that he didn’t move forward from there in Q3. Whereas Rosberg found 0.5s from Q2 to Q3, Vettel 0.2s, Alonso 0.7s and Hamilton 0.6s, Raikkonen actually went slower in Q3 by 2/10th of a second, recording a 1m 33.327s lap.
Had he simply repeated his Q2 time he would have split Webber and Massa in 6th, which would have become 4th with the penalties for Hamilton and Webber. From the second row of the grid, alongside Alonso, we would have had the thrilling battle, which had looked to be on the cards between the two all weekend.
So was the Lotus too slow? Well, not if you add together all of Raikkonen’s best sector times. Had he been able to put them all together in the same lap, as others did, then he would have done a 1m 32.983s instead of the 1m 33.327s.
And that would have put him next to Alonso on Row 2. So it’s not that the car wasn’t fast enough; it was capable of doing fast sector times. The problem was that he wasn’t able to put them all together in one lap.
This is an example of the very fine margins which divide success and failure in F1 at the moment. From 8th on the grid with two Force Indias ahead of him which will be hard to overtake, as they are the two fastest cars in the speed trap and Raikkonen is giving away 6km/h which is half the DRS effect.
On top of that, Massa will run a long first stint on hard tyres and then there is also Mark Webber to get past; it’s going to require a blistering start and some clever strategy to get Raikkonen into contention for a podium.
The Lotus has the best tyre life and a very strong race pace, so it’s possible. Only Raikkonen knows where that pace went when it mattered in Q3, but tomorrow he has a chance to redeem himself.
Last year Lotus qualified 7th with Grosjean and 11th with Raikkonen and finished second and third. But Raikkonen had the advantage of saving enough sets of tyres to do the whole race on new sets. He will have to work harder tomorrow, as he did in the Australian race this year, which he started in seventh place.