Red Bull’s preferred method of winning races is to do the damage to the opposition at the start, create a margin and then manage the race from there. But the lap time traces from the German Grand Prix show that Lotus got a bit too close for comfort, according to JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan.
“Vettel tends not to push too hard in the second half of the race,” says Gillan. “But in Germany he had to push because Raikkonen was catching. If you study the traces you can see that Raikkonen took a bit too much out of the soft tyres in the final stint, so he didn’t have the pace in the last few laps. In my view it is not the case that if he had had a few more laps he might have won. Raikkonen’s tyres were not in good shape.”
The later stages of the race are to the right in the graph. You can see the curve rises as the lap times drop off. Despite falling just short in Germany, these fuel corrected traces show that the Lotus was as fast, if not a shade faster than the Red Bull. They are likely to contend for victory with Red Bull again in Hungary, although Mercedes looks a shoe-in for pole position in Budapest.
Lotus may be coming good at the right time. After the summer shutdown – a compulsory two week factory closure in August following the Hungarian Grand Prix, most teams will focus attention on the 2014 cars. So the state of play may not change as much during the second half of the season as in previous seasons.
So arguably the opportunity for Lotus is on the 2013 car; there is a very real possibility of finishing second in the Constructors’ Championship, which carries a significant financial benefit. It is likely that Romain Grosjean will have a stronger second half of the season as he went better on last year’s tyres than he has on this year’s and the new specification Pirellis, from Hungary onwards, will be similar to the 2012 models.
At the team’s factories there will be two design groups, battling for time in the wind tunnel and CFD departments. After the shutdown the 2013 group will lose the initiative to the 2014 group, as the rate of development on the 2014 project is very rapid and the management will be nervous about losing ground to rivals on 2014 development. There are quite a few areas of carry-over for 2013 to 2014 and these will continue.
Mercedes clearly has to keep working on its thermal management of tyres in races as this will be a carry-over weakness in 2014 if it does not address it. Force India will want to stay ahead of McLaren, but will be torn on splitting their limited resources.
It is a huge job to master the new 2014 hybrid powertrains and incorporate them into a new chassis design with significant aerodynamic changes. Lotus team principal Eric Boullier told this website last week that he is “very optimistic” about the 2014 car because Lotus started work on it a long time ago.