Strategy likely to hold key to many battles in Australian GP
We are in for some fascinating battles in tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix, with strategy the key to Nico Rosberg's chances of getting ahead of Lew...
We are in for some fascinating battles in tomorrow's Australian Grand Prix, with strategy the key to Nico Rosberg's chances of getting ahead of Lewis Hamilton and also in the battle for the podium between the closely matched Williams and Ferrari cars.
Mercedes showed last season that letting the drivers race extends to offering the second placed driver an alternative strategy to bring him into play later in the race. The Spanish GP was a good example of that.
Williams and Ferrari have been very close on pace all through winter testing and again this weekend. There was little to choose on single lap pace, their race pace is comparable with possibly a slight edge to Williams and straight line speeds are similar now that the Ferrari engine is more powerful: Massa and Vettel had the same top speed at 327 km/h, with Bottas on 329km/h.
According to Pirelli, a new soft tyre is 1.4 seconds per lap faster than a new medium. On longer runs that comes down with the degradation of the soft relative to the medium and eventually reaches a crossover point. We saw the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen doing back to back comparisons on Friday FP2 practice, with Raikkonen 0.6s per lap faster on average than Vettel on mediums at the same time.
Pirelli believes that the performance difference will lead to a lopsided two stopper to cover the 58 laps of the race with a short final stint on mediums, "starting on the soft tyre, changing onto soft on lap 27, then medium on lap 52. A one stop is also possible, with the quickest option in this case being to start on the medium and then change to soft on lap 24," they say.
There is a high probability of a safety car, almost 50%, which would make a one stop more competitive if it fell at the right moment. We are also likely to see the first live activation of the new Virtual Safety Car. This is designed to neutralise the race while a damaged car or debris is cleared from the track. On Friday FP2 was stopped to clear Magnussen's McLaren from the gravel trap at Turn 6. If that happened in the race, the Virtual Safety Car would be used.
This is different from the Safety Car in one key respect; it does not close the cars up. Instead the cars drive to a set time delta and they therefore hold their gaps to each other.
However strategists have worked out that making a pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car is a real winner, especially if you are many laps into a set of tyres at the time. It costs around 6-8 seconds to stop, instead of the 23 secs it takes at racing speeds and the pace advantage of the new tyres is a real bonus, especially in the closing stages of a race on low fuel.
It should be a historic race from the point of view of the VSC being used for the first time, but also a strategically very interesting one in the battle between the two Mercedes and the battle between Ferrari and Williams for the podium.
Temperatures are likely to be cooler tomorrow, which could lead to graining on the soft compound tyre, especially as the track has been washed overnight by significant rainfall. Also some drivers could experience warm up problems on the medium tyres for some cars.
Managing these two challenges will probably be one of the deciding factors in who comes out on top in these intriguing battles.
Massa qualified third and Bottas sixth for tomorrow’s Australian GP
No surprises for McLaren-Honda on qualifying for the Australian GP