THE RUSSIAN ROULETTE
The Russian Grand Prix has been a very strange and difficult to interpret weekend, where really the small details made the difference. So let do some 'clarity on what we have seen on track.
In particular, it is important the recovery of energy that can be optimally exploited.
The first sector is very fast. There count the engine and the Cx with the exception of the long central bend. The second sector is instead more technical. In addition to the power required for the straight after curve 11, there is also need a lot of downforce and a good aerodynamic balance.
In the last sector is instead very important the traction and a good behavior of the car on the curbs.
A first interesting point to analyze is the comparison between the times recorded in qualifying in 2016 and those in 2017. The delta continues to be far away from the famous 5 seconds announced at the beginning of the year. But, given the characteristics of the track that I have just explained, there was still a significant increase in the delta. In the case of the reborn Ferrari the detachment it's even arrived to three seconds, against the skinny second recorded in a track where straight line efficiency count much as Sakir.
Turning therefore in the proper analysis, let's analyze for first the evolution of the percentage gap from the pole of the three teams that currently appear to be more competitive.
Let's say relatively competitive for Red Bull, that with his car still with a "low-drag" set up (there should be a big aero update for Barcelona), suffered equally in cornering and in straight line (don't forget Renault's PU).
We will keep an eye at Ferrari's and Mercedes' trend line, because it will be really interesting to see if they're going to ever meet up during the season!
Very significant is the graph with the comparison between the time marked in Q3 and the "ideal" time given by the sum of the best times in the three sectors.
It is clear that Bottas would have the speed to take the pole position (for almost two tenths by the way). But because of a car, and for the whole weekend had problems to get the tires in the right temperature range, he failed to put together its best sectors in the Q3. For the same reasons his teammate stayed so far away from third place.
Another element that emerges from this chart is the huge gap recorded by the top four drivers. compared to all others.
We are talking about more than a second between Hamilton and Ricciardo and almost two seconds between Hamilton and Ocon; a huge gap that has been repeated also in the race, with Verstappen (fifth) at 30 seconds from Hamilton and 60 from Bottas. It seams that Ferrari and Mercedes are basically running in an another championship!
A championship that is played on several factors including the reliability of the PU.
By analyzing the graph with the comparison between the times recorded in Q2 and in Q3, we can see how the Mercedes duo has not even improved the timing of the second qualifying round. An important fact that makes us understand how in Mercedes are now able to use the most aggressive engine and eletric mappings, for much longer and without any reliability problems. A very big advantage for the anglo-german car, that can enjoy an extra boost to use also for long periods in the most critical moments (of the race) : restarts after a SC, undercut versus an opponent, trying to overtake etc. ...
The Ferrari instead after the conservative strategy used in Bahrain's qualifying (and after bringing a new turbocharger specification), have been able to use the advantage of the more aggressive mapping from qualifying, but not so long as Mercedes can now do.
It will therefore be a key aspect to improve during the season to be more competitive, but also to avoid too many penalties.
Penalties that could arrive because Ferrari have already used the third turbo of the four allowed by the regulation (you can find the table with the PU components used by each driver in the bottom of the page).
Analyzing the chart that shows the maximum speeds at the speed trap, we can notice a slight differentiation of set up between the two Ferraris and between the two Red Bulls. With Raikkonen and Ricciardo who have chosen a less downforce set up, resulting faster in straight, but less effective in the mixed. Raikkonen is found to be even faster than the Mercedes, and this is a significant fact that confirms the excellent efficiency in the straight line that Ferrari manages to have when approaching at top speed, thanks to the lowering of the rear of the car.
The moment where the Mercedes instead continues to be better is the acceleration. Due to its smaller front section, offset by a bigger car body and a wider floor (ground effect produces no drag), it turns out to be much more smoothly in a straight line.
Confirmation of this can be found in the comparison between the times in the microsectors (presented in an video on the official F1's channel) of Hamilton and Vettel in Q3. (Vettel and Hamilton in red in blue)
Since this comparison was made with Hamilton, we must remember of his poor performance in Q3. It must be undermarked the error he made in curve 14 that has completely ruined his lap. This infographic points out how Mercedes gained on Ferrari in every straight and in the long bend (curve 3), and then remained behind in tight corners.
And that is also confirmed by the percentage of the gap in the various sectors.
Looking at the onboard during qualifications it can be seen that both Mercedes' drivers tended to close much more the curves than those of Ferrari, going to cope with a greater angle of steering.
When they did not, the car tended to understeer. This phenomenon, is really detrimental in terms of lap time, and sometimes, it tends to turn into oversteer when the front tyres re-gain grip, as the car's reaction to the change of grip.
Cutting more the curves forced the drivers to go more on the curbs and sometimes bouncing over it, decomposing so the car at the exit of the curve. I wrote "bouncing over it" because the car did not look as soft as usual on the curbs, perhaps because they choosed an harder mechanical set up at the front to make work more the front tyres, thad had problems to go in the right range of temperature.
Following the reasoning we can therefore understand why the Mercedes was so difficult to drive and so scant competitive than usual. We'll see if these difficulties in keeping the tires in the right temperature range (also front ones) will also be presented in the next races bearing in mind that Sochi was a fairly anomalous weekend,
Certainly worth is worth mentioning Force India's performance that managed to get into Q3 probably mainly for the Mercedes PU. The opposite situation instead for Renault that, having regard to the motor deficiencies, has instead chosen a very high downforce to be competitive in the most driven sectors.
For the moment is all, see you in Barcelona where we will see the first important evolutionary step of the various cars. Bye and always keepushing !!!!
GRAPHICS ON RACE