German Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

Friday practice was overshadowed by the initial threats of a driver boycott if tyre failures recurred this weekend. Fortunately, Pirelli have emerged from Friday unscathed with FP1 and FP2 free of dramas. Sebastian Vettel ended the day fastest, yet it was Mark Webber who appeared to have the best race pace of anyone during the long runs. While fuel loads are unknown, Webber appears to have maintained his impressive form at the Nurburgring circuit; The track where he enjoyed the first win of his career in 2009. Meanwhile, Mercedes seem to have lost the significant advantage they had during recent short runs. The ingredients for captivating Qualifying session are all accounted for.

FP1

Amid fears of a driver boycott on Sunday, all eyes were on the new construction tyres in FP1. With lower lateral loads on the front limited Nurburgring circuit, teams were confident that the issues faced in Silverstone would not recur. The session was consequently a very busy one, as drivers looked to collect data and establish their pace on the new tyres. It was a highly uncharacteristic start to FP1.
However, the session failed to explode into life for Fernando Alonso, as his car mysteriously stopped on the straight between turns four and five whilst the Spaniard was on his outlap. His car was swiftly recovered to the pits, as initial reports suggested that the issue was stimulated by an electrical glitch. Following examination, his car was sent back out with 40 minutes of the session remaining, yet he soon experienced a similar problem. On this occasion, he had not lost drive completely and was a able to limp back to the pitlane. Initial diagnosis hinted at a possible ECU problem, yet Ferrari were tight lipped when questioned, (possibly to avoid blaming McLaren Electronics before they are 100% certain of the cause). Following his second predicament, Ferrari called time on the Spaniard’s session before he was able to complete a single lap. The Scuderia are on the back foot already this weekend; compounding the issues they looked to investigate following a disappointing Silverstone.
Meanwhile, Mercedes controlled the top of the timesheet for the majority of the session. While Jenson Button briefly held P1 with a 1:33.641, the Mercedes then posted their first competitive times of the day with Hamilton leading Rosberg on top. The Silver Arrows then spent the remainder of the session looking to improve on their personal best times, which they frequently managed. Rosberg in particular stunned the paddock after setting his session best time of 1:31.973 on his 25 lap on the medium compound. Of course, many of these laps would have been slow due to traffic avoidance, however, this is still and impressive benchmark which shows that Mercedes are now able to maintain tyre life through a longer stint. Many cynics may suggest that a certain test in Barcelona assisted this development. 
At the checkered flag, it was a Mercedes 1-2 at the top of the timesheet, with Mark Webber over a second behind Hamilton’s benchmark time. Adrian Sutil finished in a promising P4, with Kimi Raikkonen in P5 for Lotus, suggesting that the Kevlar construction rear tyres may not hamper them to the extent that was originally anticipated. Sebastian Vettel finished in P8, yet it still looks to be Mercedes and Red Bull that are clear of the pack. The former seem to have the advantage over the latter at the moment. It will be interesting to gauge long run performance in FP2, as well as evaluating Mercedes’ advantage on the soft compound tyre.
FP1 Timesheet   
1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.754s 25
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m31.973s + 0.219s 25
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m32.789s + 1.035s 22
4. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m32.822s + 1.068s 16
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m32.956s + 1.202s 22
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m33.065s + 1.311s 18
7. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.139s + 1.385s 24
8. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m33.213s + 1.459s 20
9. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m33.260s + 1.506s 27
10. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m33.456s + 1.702s 18
11. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m33.493s + 1.739s 18
12. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.810s + 2.056s 20
13. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.901s + 2.147s 23
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m33.976s + 2.222s 26
15. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m34.025s + 2.271s 20
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m34.200s + 2.446s 22
17. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m34.437s + 2.683s 24
18. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m35.674s + 3.920s 23
19. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m35.987s + 4.233s 19
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m36.078s + 4.324s 23
21. Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia-Cosworth 1m37.459s + 5.705s 21
22. Fernando Alonso Ferrari no time 2

FP2

While Mercedes threatened to dominate the weekend in FP1, Red Bull have made an emphatic response in FP2 with excellent long and short runs. Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheet yet it was Mark Webber who displayed the most impressive race pace, proving that his previous form at the Nurburgring has been maintained. Mercedes were good during the long runs, but not spectacular.
Similarly to FP2, the session began with a flourish as drivers quickly took to the track to rack up the essential mileage on the new tyres. It was not long before Mark Webber topped the timesheet with a 1:31.790, already improving on Hamilton’s FP1 benchmark. Soon after, teammate Vettel took P2. These times were set on the medium compound tyre and would tumble when the soft compound was introduced. 
Max Chilton was the first man to set a time on the option tyres, yet it was not long before others followed suit. The Qualifying simulation runs followed a similar trend to the medium compound performance. Webber improved his personal best to 1:30.683, displaying around a one second difference between prime and option compounds. However, Sebastian Vettel demonstrated why he is a three time world champion, posting a 1:30.416, demoting Webber to P2, before Rosberg jumped above the Aussie. Judging the one lap pace advantage of the Red Bull, it appears that they are benefiting from the Kevlar belted tyres. This would make sense considering that they controlled Qualifying last season on similar Kevlar construction tyres.
With around 25 minutes remaining, team’s began the high fuel performance evaluation. What became immediately evident was that the medium compound tyre is the preferable race compound. Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were running alternate schedules, with the latter struggling on the soft tyres. The graining was extreme, with a clear drop in performance noticeable five laps within the stint. Nico Rosberg was experiencing similar issues on the soft compound, as he and Vettel quickly dropped into the 1:39’s, while Webber maintained pace well within the 1:36’s. The green track may have contributed to the severe drop off, yet it is still concerning for strategists who need to evaluate when the soft tyres should be used in the race to minimize the time loss. 
Aside from the ongoing battle at the top of the timesheet, Jules Bianchi’s FP2 was curtailed by illness after just under one hour of running. The Frenchman, who was replaced by development driver Rodolfo Gonzalez during FP1, is suffering with a stomach virus. Marussia have maintained that Rodolfo’s FP1 outing was not linked to Bianchi’s health. The team now hope that Jules makes a swift recovery in time for FP3 and Qualifying tomorrow.
In general, Red Bull will be extremely pleased with today’s performance, as they appear to have a 0.3 second advantage over nearest rivals Mercedes in long run pace. In terms of short run performance, they have also gained significant ground on the Silver Arrows and now look capable of challenging for pole position on Saturday afternoon.
FP2 Timesheet
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1m30.416s 39
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m30.651s + 0.235s 38
3. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m30.683s + 0.267s 41
4. Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1m30.843s + 0.427s 32
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1m30.848s + 0.432s 27
6. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m31.056s + 0.640s 39
7. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m31.059s + 0.643s 41
8. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.304s + 0.888s 35
9. Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1m31.568s + 1.152s 37
10. Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1m31.797s + 1.381s 40
11. Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1m31.824s + 1.408s 34
12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m31.855s + 1.439s 42
13. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m32.055s + 1.639s 39
14. Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1m32.086s + 1.670s 36
15. Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1m32.495s + 2.079s 39
16. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1m32.762s + 2.346s 44
17. Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1m32.879s + 2.463s 35
18. Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1m32.880s + 2.464s 36
19. Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1m33.695s + 3.279s 38
20. Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1m33.804s + 3.388s 40
21. Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1m34.017s + 3.601s 10
22. Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1m34.667s + 4.251s 39   
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