Spanish Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

While Mercedes are known as the Silver Arrows, they are fast becoming a stealth squad, after Nico Rosberg stole another unexpected Pole Position in Barcelona, with teammate Lewis Hamilton locking out the front row. Following a highly underwhelming Friday, Mercedes justified their lack of short runs in yesterday’s sessions. Undoubtedly  they are strong on Saturday’s, however, their long run performance suggests that success tomorrow may be unlikely.

FP3

Continuing on from their promising pace in FP1 and FP2 yesterday, Ferrari were certainly confident heading into Qualifying. An impressive lap from Felipe Massa saw him top the FP3 timesheet, from Kimi Raikkonen in second. Lotus looked to be growing in confidence throughout the session, with Romain Grosjean also performing well on the hard compound tyre. 
Mercedes were the first of the top teams to hit the track early on. Evidently, the team were focusing on their long run performance, (which was less than impressive yesterday) as oppose to their short run pace. A smart move, from a team who have dominated Qualifying in recent weeks. Consequently, their personal best times are academic from a session where they had alternative motives. 
Meanwhile, their were problems next door for McLaren. After a sluggish start to the session for both drivers, Sergio Perez reported problems with the front suspension and immediately returned to the pit lane. Replays showed a piece of debris being fired off of the front of the car moments before an issue was reported. Nothing has yet been confirmed, yet it is anticipated that this suspect piece of debris may have been the root cause of the issue. Both Button and Perez were running McLaren’s new front wing, which features a more dynamic in-board element. However, they had not been running this new wing yesterday and so track time for both drivers was essential. 
Sauber were another team who were struggling, as Nico Hulkenberg suffered significant degradation on the rear tyres. Tyre wear was less of an issue today for the majority of teams, as the track begins to rubber in. It has to be noted that yesterday’s sessions followed a heavy downpour on Thursday night which will have washed any surface rubber off of the circuit.
As teams made the switch to the medium compound tyres late on, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen all hit the front. The Finn was toppled in the closing stages by Felipe Massa’s flying Ferrari, who went just 0.006s faster. Ferrari proving that their short run performance is equal to that of Red Bull and Lotus following its latest raft of updates. 
FP3 Timesheet   
1 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:21.901 13 laps
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:21.907 0.006 14 laps
3 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:22.044 0.143 17 laps
4 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:22.069 0.168 13 laps
5 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:22.229 0.328 17 laps
6 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:22.254 0.353 15 laps
7 Paul di Resta Force India 1:22.574 0.673 11 laps
8 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:22.729 0.828 17 laps
9 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:22.740 0.839 24 laps
10 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:22.759 0.858 15 laps
11 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:22.839 0.938 26 laps
12 Jenson Button McLaren 1:23.151 1.250 13 laps
13 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:23.371 1.470 21 laps
14 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:23.373 1.472 13 laps
15 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:23.385 1.484 17 laps
16 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:23.388 1.487 18 laps
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:23.660 1.759 16 laps
18 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:23.767 1.86 17 laps
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:24.775 2.874 18 laps
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:24.793 2.892 16 laps
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:25.135 3.234 17 laps
22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:25.250 3.349 18 laps 

Qualifying Analysis

While many people predicted a Ferrari, Red Bull battle for Pole Position, the moral of this story is never underestimate the power of the Merc… especially on a Saturday afternoon. Nico Rosberg posted two incredible lap times, good enough for his second Pole Position in succession. A spectacular performance from Mercedes, which saw Lewis Hamilton round off a Mercedes 1-2. Statistics show that one of them should win tomorrow, but Sebastian Vettel will hope to disprove the record books, from a dangerous P3 on the grid.
Rosberg’s exuberance was slightly quelled by the harsh reality. His Pole Position in Bahrain resulted in disaster, as the German simply slipped down the field to a dismal P8. Nico will hope to avoid a similar scenario this weekend and announces that he will approach tomorrow’s race with caution. “It all went perfectly,” he reflected, “but of course I have to be a bit cautious after what happened in Bahrain. It’s nice, but it should be enjoyed with caution.” Tyre degradation is unlikely to have such a seismic effect tomorrow as it did in the searing heat of Bahrain, which could play into Mercedes hands. Added to this, their updates have been focused towards reducing the levels of rear tyre wear. Consequently, Mercedes should not be entirely discounted tomorrow. Either Rosberg or Hamilton could challenge for the top step of the podium.
In regards to the tyre degradation issues, Nico stated, “Everybody has been working very hard back in the factory to understand our problems. It’s an ongoing issue which is very complex and we were just a bit behind on that in Bahrain, but I’m sure we’ve caught up now. But here there are different issues – it’s the graining on the tyres which is the main issue and so we’re trying to catch up on that situation. I think we’ve improved things, so I’m a little bit more confident for tomorrow but the race is going to be a whole different thing because the tyres are a big challenge.”
While Red Bull were hotly tipped for Pole Position, Sebastian Vettel is in a strong position ahead of tomorrow. Qualifying in P3 is one thing, but Red Bull seem to be in the best position in terms of tyres. The team opted to run the medium compound throughout Qualifying, saving the fresh hard compound for the race. Considering the degradation of the options, Red Bull have the freedom on the hard compound, which is the better race tyre. Meanwhile, Mark Webber has work to do, after qualifying in a disappointing P8. 
However, the Aussie will start one position further forward as Felipe Massa has received a three place grid drop, after blocking Webber in Q2. It was a clumsy move from the Brazilian, who qualified in P6. His penalty demotes him to P9. Meanwhile, Esteban Gutierrez has received an identical penalty for blocking a fast charging Kimi Raikkonen in the final chicane. The Mexican will now start in P19.
Despite a heavy upgrade package, Williams experienced one of their worst qualifying sessions in recent memory, with both Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas being eliminated in Q1. The team are experiencing a similar downturn in fortunes to that of 2012. Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams, stated, “This isn’t quite 2012 is it, it is really disappointing. We are still trying to get on top of the situation and a lot of work is going on back at the factory. It takes a long time to turn things around in Formula 1. I don’t think it is an inherently bad race car, it is just that the field is so tight at the minute and we were just a tenth away from getting both drivers into Q2. I am not sure it is necessarily a correlation issue. We just really need to look at the aerodynamics of the car and it is a work in progress.”
Williams have work to do tomorrow. Mercedes are in prime position to convert their third successive Pole Position into a victory, yet will have to fend off the rage bull and prancing horse, who line up right behind them. 
Qualifying Results
01 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.718
02 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:20.972s + 0.254
03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:21.054s + 0.336
04 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:21.177s + 0.459
05 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:21.218s + 0.500
06 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:21.219s + 0.501
07 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:21.308s + 0.590
08 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:21.570s + 0.852
09 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:22.069s + 1.351
10 Paul di Resta Force India 1:22.233s + 1.515
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:22.127s
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:22.166s
13 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:22.346s
14 Jenson Button McLaren 1:23.166s
15 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:22.389s
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:22.793s
17 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:23.260s
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:23.318s
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:24.661s
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:24.713s
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:4.996s
22 Charles Pic Caterham 1:25.070s          
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