Indian Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

Predictably, Sebastian Vettel topped the time-sheets in both FP1 and FP2 today yet it was tyres which were top of the agenda – and it was not all about degradation. Yes, the soft tyres are proving to be a poor race tyre but Williams are making headlines following Friday once again, as Pastor Maldonado suffered a frightening recurrence of the wheel connection issues which curtailed his progress in FP2 in Japan. The team escaped the incident with another fine while the consequences could have been far more severe.

FP1

FP1 was a session with few talking points really – the final timesheet reflected the anticipated pecking order and drivers on the whole, were very well behaved. Sebastian Vettel got his weekend off to a typically clinical start, as he topped the timesheet’s once again, posting a 1:26.683. Mark Webber followed to make it a Red Bull 1-2 at the head of the table. 
One of the more intriguing moments in an otherwise uneventful session was a gearbox gremlin for Fernando Alonso, which saw his programme suffer unscheduled alterations. His running was restricted due to the gearbox that struck during his sixth lap as he was changing up the gears coming out of a corner. The car was pulled into the garage so that the gearbox could be changed. What has saved Fernando from picking up a penalty was that the gearbox in question was not the race unit, hence the team can switch it in and out freely over the course of any given weekend. 
James Calado stood in for Paul Di Resta once again in FP1, as the Brit recorded another 22 laps. However, it was not a faultless run, as Calado suffered a spin at Turn 15. Following the session, and excitable Calado stated; “I had driven this track before on the simulator, but my first proper experience was impressive. It’s a fantastic venue and one of the most enjoyable tracks I’ve driven. The session was straightforward with tuning of the car and data collection. The grip levels were low to begin with, but I slowly built up my speed. I had a small spin on what probably would have been my fastest lap, but other than that it went very well.”
FP1 Timesheet
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:26.683 24 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:26.871 +0.188 17 laps
03 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.899 +0.216 23 laps
04 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:26.990 +0.307 20 laps
05 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.227 +0.544 21 laps
06 Jenson Button McLaren 1:27.335 +0.652 22 laps
07 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:27.416 +0.733 23 laps
08 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:27.692 +1.009 21 laps
09 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:27.770 +1.087 19 laps
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.800 +1.117 23 laps
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:28.035 +1.352 25 laps
12 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:28.214 +1.531 6 laps
13 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:28.336 +1.653 18 laps
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:28.342 +1.659 21 laps
15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:28.468 +1.785 20 laps
16 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:28.538 +1.855 18 laps
17 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:28.730 +2.047 18 laps
18 James Calado Force India 1:29.197 +2.514 22 laps
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:29.413 +2.730 23 laps
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:29.560 +2.877 20 laps
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:30.026 +3.343 23 laps
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:30.471 +3.788 17 laps

FP2

FP2 was a story of more of the same from Red Bull, as Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber headed the timesheet once again. However, it was not a perfect session for the team, who experienced disconcertingly high degradation on the soft compound tyre. While the circuit was undoubtedly very green, the poor performance on the option tyres brought concerned looks to the faces of all Red Bull personnel. While other teams experienced graining and blistering on the surface of the tyres, wear was seemingly significant on Vettel and Webber’s cars. This could make for an interesting strategic dilemma for Red Bull on Sunday. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel was reasonably unconcerned by the issue; “The soft tyre is not lasting so long here, but it’s Friday and the track is still rubbering in; it’s normally improving for Saturday, plus we haven’t used this compound for a long time, so tomorrow it should be better.”
Romain Grosjean consolidated on his FP1 performance in the second session, proving to be Red Bull’s closest challenger once again. The Frenchman is looking forward to what could be another strong Sunday, judging by his impressive long run performance today. He stated, “That was a good start to the weekend. The car feels good and we made progress through the day to make it better. It’s still a struggle to find grip here which can make things interesting as you find the limits, but the pace of our car relative to our rivals looks quite good. I’m hopeful of another solid day tomorrow which should give us another strong qualifying position if the evidence of today is anything to go by. We’ll do everything we can to take the fight to Red Bull.”
Meanwhile, Williams’ day was turned upside down by another wheel nut irregularity, similar to that of Japan. However, this time, rather than the wheel falling off, the wheel nut parted company with Maldonado’s FW35. This event was far more significant than the last, as the team supposedly promised the FIA that they would solve the issues which curtailed Pastor’s progress last weekend. Rather fortunately for Williams, the FIA handed out another fine for the incident as oppose to a more severe punishment. “We had a good first session this morning completing all planned runs,” Maldonado evaluated. “FP2 was also quite good as we were working on the car, trying to help the balance and improve the speed. We are not expecting things to be much different to the previous few races. In the race simulation laps, the front-right felt a bit loose, so I stopped the car. The team will now investigate this issue further.”
FP2 Timesheet
01 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:25.722 35 laps
02 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:26.011 +0.289 38 laps
03 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:26.220 +0.498 36 laps
04 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:26.399 +0.677 36 laps
05 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:26.430 +0.708 39 laps
06 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:26.582 +0.860 40 laps
07 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:26.601 +0.879 41 laps
08 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:26.632 +0.910 32 laps
09 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:26.857 +1.135 40 laps
10 Jenson Button McLaren 1:26.972 +1.250 39 laps
11 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:27.304 +1.582 17 laps
12 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:27.375 +1.653 36 laps
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.429 +1.707 31 laps
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:27.491 +1.769 40 laps
15 Paul di Resta Force India 1:27.608 +1.886 38 laps
16 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:27.720 +1.998 23 laps
17 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:27.949 +2.227 34 laps
18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:28.431 +2.709 30 laps
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:28.692 +2.970 39 laps
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:28.799 +3.077 32 laps
21 Charles Pic Caterham 1:29.366 +3.644 37 laps
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:30.164 +4.442 27 laps  
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