Month: June 2014

Issue 20: Canadian Grand Prix Review

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11 June 2014

Race Summary: Daniel Ricciardo won a dramatic race in Montreal, passing an ailing Nico Rosberg two laps from the flag. Both Mercedes suffered a loss of power forcing Lewis Hamilton to retire. Sebastian Vettel finished third narrowly avoiding a major accident on the final lap involving Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa. Jenson Button came home fourth with the Ferraris finishing a disappointing sixth and tenth.

Ricciardo’s reward

The Canadian Grand Prix lived up to its reputation and delivered a thriller of a race. That surprise results are still possible even in a season of total one-team domination is refreshing and very welcome. There were several twists as the race unfolded, but the Grand Prix and the duel for the drivers’ title turned on the unexpected formation failure of Mercedes’ Energy Recovery System-Kinetic (ERS-K) in both W05 Hybrids on Laps 36-37. This robbed Hamilton and Rosberg of 160bhp of power produced by their ERS and significant straight-line speed, which cost them around 2-3 seconds in laptime for 10 laps. This allowed the chasing pack to close down Rosberg after Hamilton’s ERS-K fault had induced a rear brake failure and ended the now-familiar lead battle between the Mercedes drivers, which has made for compulsive viewing this season.

But who would profit from the ailing Mercedes and claim an unlikely victory? Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel were all in with a shout. In the final sprint to the chequered flag, the Red Bulls toiled behind Perez’s Force India, unable to get by. However, Perez, who was driving beautifully on a one-stop strategy, was unable to pressurise Rosberg who was roughly a second up the road. The Mercedes driver masterfully managed his ERS-K failure, driving around the problem until a partial fix was implemented and he was able to lap in the 1.19s. Despite being very slow down the straight after Turn 10, Rosberg was able to put himself out of DRS range by putting in fast times in Sectors 1 and 2 where the Wo5 Hybrid’s loss of power counted for less. It looked increasingly likely that Rosberg would hold on for the win as the chequered flag approached. Ricciardo, however, saw an opportunity to dive inside Perez at Turn 1 grabbing second place. He then attacked Rosberg for the lead and executed the killer pass on Lap 68. This capped off a great drive by the Australian.

Ricciardo has responded superbly to Vettel emerging as a competitive force again following his average start to the season. In qualifying for Canada, Vettel produced a superior lap to start from third on the grid after Ricciardo had outperformed him by 0.3 seconds in Q1 and Q2 sessions. However, in the race, Ricciardo’s great in-lap on Lap 37, a second faster than his team-mate, ensured he overtook the German and gave him the chance of a first crack at Perez and then the leader.

Implications for the drivers’ title

Hamilton’s retirement and Rosberg’s second place finish in Canada meant that the momentum in the battle for the drivers’ title swung back in favour of the German. However, a 22-point lead is far from unassailable given that there are 12 rounds left and a maximum of 325 points still available. A DNF for Rosberg and/or another run of 3-4 wins for Hamilton would likely turn the championship round again. Despite Hamilton’s setback, the Canadian Grand Prix confirmed the importance of winning track position in the intra-Mercedes duel. Hamilton was much quicker than his team-mate on the soft tyre in the second stint of the Grand Prix, but still could not find a way past. This was effectively a repeat of Bahrain and Spain, albeit with the positions reversed. In this closely matched fight, track position is king and the best way of securing it is in qualifying. Here, it is usually advantage Hamilton. However, Rosberg has shown that when the Briton does not string his best sector times together or makes a mistake in Q3, he is more than good enough to capitalise. In the race, with passing on track difficult because both drivers have the same car and rarely make errors, pit-stop strategy is often the best chance for the chasing Mercedes to gain track position. Hamilton was able to leap ahead of Rosberg in the pits in Canada, but the pitstop fried what remained of his rear brakes.

Canada re-confirmed Hamilton’s other, season-long advantage over Rosberg: fuel consumption. Rosberg is still using more fuel in race conditions than his team-mate. This means that the Briton can either carry less fuel from the start or have 2-3kg left in the final stint to attack Rosberg if he’s behind him on track. With such fine margins, this might be the difference in a future race.

Relative performance in the chasing pack

Despite track layout not favouring Red Bull, they were able to race – and in the end  – beat the leading Mercedes customer teams. Massa was slightly faster on race pace and Perez more or less matched Ricciardo lap-by-lap, but stopped only once, so Red Bull were unlikely to beat them in a straight fight. However, operational errors at Williams (a slow first stop pit-stop for Massa) and rear brake problems for Perez meant Ricciardo and Vettel were able to finish ahead. So, even on a ‘weaker’ Red Bull track, the RB10 is close to the second fastest car. This will surely give Red Bull the advantage over the Mercedes customers in the ‘best of the rest’ battle in the constructors’ championship in 2014.

There was much fanfare around Ferrari’s significant aerodynamic and powertrain upgrade in the run-up to the Canadian Grand Prix. I expected the Scuderia to move up the order and fight the Mercedes customers in Montreal. However, sixth for Alonso and tenth for Raikkonen is a pretty meagre result for Ferrari. To be fair, the Scuderia did not race all the upgrades it brought, but the bodywork changes at the rear of the car and the powertrain software update only seemed to ensure that they did not lose ground to those in front.

Issue 19: Canadian Grand Prix Preview

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4 June 2014

If the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is a Red Bull Racing track then the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal is undoubtedly a Mercedes venue. The combination of slow-speed corners, heavy traction zones and fast straights suit the Mercedes powertrain very neatly. The circuit almost always produces great racing, due to the nature of track and changeable weather conditions in Montreal.

Take risks: ride the kerbs, attack the barriers

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is low grip and tough on brakes, tyres and fuel consumption, which helps promote overtaking and close, combative racing. Extracting the maximum lap requires a driver to ride the kerbs at the chicanes and play dare with the barriers. The track itself has a street circuit feel to it. Unlike the new breed of F1 circuits, it is unforgiving, punishing driver error most notably on the exit of the final chicane where the infamous ‘wall of champions’ lies in wait for anyone who has been greedy over the kerbs or understeered wide  in Turn 13. The need for straight-line speed in order to maintain track position or overtake means that teams remove downforce from the car. The drivers therefore rely heavily on mechanical grip from the tyres. Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is unusual in that the track surface varies in different places as sections have been resurfaced at different times over the years. Like other street circuits, the track is rarely used, so the drivers will seek to put down plenty of grip in the early sessions, which will mean the track evolves significantly throughout the weekend. The rear tyres in particular need to withstand not only the traction demands of constant deceleration and acceleration, but also the energy created as the drivers ride the kerbs, according to Pirelli. A car with compliant suspension will pay dividends. Less overall downforce means that sliding of the rear tyres, which leads to overheating, is a greater risk in the Grand Prix.

Powertrain performance is critical too, not only topline speed, but predictable torque delivery to minimise wheelspin. Good low-speed traction is especially important at the exit of Turn 10 to avoid being overtaken on the long straight or to stay within overtaking range of the car in front. This is undoubtedly the best overtaking zone on the circuit, however, the braking zones for Turns 1 & 10 also present good opportunities.

Challenging Hamilton in Montreal

Hamilton and Rosberg will once again duel in a race of their own. Only a wet race would give the others a glimmer of catching the Silver Arrows. Hamilton’s prowess around the streets of Gilles Villeneuve Circuit is reflected in his strong record of three wins and poles in Canada. I expect him to maintain a slight performance advantage over Rosberg given his ability to post marginally quicker laptimes while using less fuel in addition to his confidence under braking, which is vital given that 13% of the lap is spent braking hard, according to brake manufacturer Brembo. Crucially, Hamilton is also one of the best drivers at attacking the kerbs and the barriers. Mercedes proved to be the best at riding the kerbs in Monaco, a good indicator for Canada. Hamilton will surely be seeking to regain the momentum after Monaco, but will events in the principality have spurred him on or caused him to lose focus, increasing the chances of the Briton overdriving? To beat Hamilton, Rosberg will probably need to either attack the barriers and kerbs harder than Hamilton, which of course carries risks, or learnt to mirror his approach to fuel saving.

Will Ferrari move up the competitive order?

The Scuderia are bringing a major aerodynamic and powertrain upgrade to the Canadian Grand Prix. The question is what impact will this have on their performance and will it move them up the competitive order? Their limitations in 2014 have been topline speed and low-speed traction, at least compared to Mercedes. However, they’re now promising to run their powertrain in more aggressive settings following a software upgrade. Fernando Alonso was unsure about Ferrari’s planned upgrade claiming that the team’s updates in 2014 have produced inconsistent results. The difficulty for Ferrari in Canada is likely to be testing these upgrades as rain is forecast for Friday and Saturday, which will disrupt their testing programme. However, if successful, this update package is likely to be sufficient to edge them slightly ahead of the Mercedes customer teams. Alonso and Raikkonen will still have a big fight on their hands to finish ahead of the Williams, McLarens and Force Indias as Ferrari’s other weakness compared to the Mercedes is fuel consumption. Their Energy Recovery System is not as effective as Mercedes’, so they are forced to rely more on the Internal Combustion Engine, which means they need to carry more fuel. Even so, a strong points finish is surely Ferrari’s target.

McLaren is likely to be more competitive in Montreal as the MP4-29 is well-suited to fast straights and low-speed corners. What might blunt their performance, however, is colder track temperatures, as Button and Magnussen have struggled with graining and getting heat into the tyres in these conditions. Force India will probably be able to make hay around Circuit Gilles Villeneuve given their ability to better preserve their tyres. This advantage could be magnified if there are safety car periods outside of normal pit stop windows. Force India are likely better placed than Williams, for instance, to stretch out tyre stints or change to a one-stop strategy and gain places if others need to pit twice.

A tough weekend for Renault

The Renault-powered teams, including Red Bull, are in for a difficult race such is their deficit on topline speed and traction. The Renault runners will be vulnerable down the long straight after Turn 10. They are likely to need to rely on an unconventional strategy, weather conditions or safety car periods to pick off struggling Mercedes- or Ferrari-powered cars and move up the placings. Renault are bringing an upgrade, but not an increase in horsepower. Red Bull will not be able to minimise this disadvantage by deploying their superior aerodynamic grip to great effect either given the lack of high-speed corners.