Brazilian Grand Prix: Friday Analysis

Day one of the final race weekend of the season was a damp affair, as the infamous Interlagos rain restricted running throughout the field. Fortunately, teams did eventually venture out in both sessions, as fears of a wet Saturday or Sunday meant that track time with the wet and intermediate tyres could prove valuable. Nico Rosberg seemed to be the driver most at ease in the conditions, as he topped the timesheet in both FP1 and FP2. Mercedes look strong in the inclement conditions, but Red Bull are never far behind.

FP1

It was a fantastic start to the weekend for Mercedes, as Nico Rosberg topped the timesheet in FP1, closely followed by Lewis Hamilton. They were seemingly the team most in tune with the conditions and after some early excursions, the duo were very impressive.
Despite the early spins, it was evident that the W04 was well balanced however, it is difficult to judge their potential speed in dry conditions. “Later on Red Bull looked quicker than us in that second bit of running but our tyres were a bit more used and the intermediates do have a little bit of degradation,” Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn acknowledged. “So we were trying to be a bit circumspect because we only have the one set of tyres today.” With rain a strong possibility throughout the remainder of the weekend, Mercedes could play a huge part in spoiling the Red Bull party in Brazil.
The Milton Keynes squad took a very different approach to FP1 compared to their rivals. Rather than focus on this weekend, Red Bull opted to evaluate a number of areas of their 2014 programme. This led to a number of aerodynamic apparatus being fitted to the car, as well as the use of Pirelli’s prototype tyre for 2014. The mileage on this compound run by Vettel, was significantly limited by the weather and it is difficult to gauge what data Red Bull have gained from what was a pedestrian exercise. The rest of the field opted to neglect the prototype tyre, which suggests that either Red Bull have wasted valuable session time running a tyre out of its recommended working range, or they have managed to gain knowledge which other teams thought not possible.
Meanwhile, Daniil Kvyat once again received crucial experience as he prepares for 2014 with Toro Rosso, as he stood in for Daniel Ricciardo. The Russian once again impressed as he rose to P8, in treacherous conditions. He avoided any high profile mistakes and supplied more proof of his talent to his critics. Elsewhere, Kovalainen also provided excellent data for Lotus, while he finished P9 on the timesheet. Choosing the Finn as short-term replacement for Kimi Raikkonen has proved to be an excellent decision, as the team have been able to trust Heikki to gain mileage in difficult conditions, without the fear of him damaging the car. After his dramas in Austin, it would be great to see Kovalainen score his first points since 2009 this weekend.

FP1 Timesheet 
01 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:24.781 14 laps
02 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:25.230 +0.449 13 laps
03 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:25.387 +0.606 17 laps
04 Jenson Button McLaren 1:25.391 +0.610 24 laps
05 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:25.593 +0.812 13 laps
06 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:25.797 +1.016 17 laps
07 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:25.946 +1.165 15 laps
08 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:26.064 +1.283 17 laps
09 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:26.133 +1.352 30 laps
10 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:26.232 +1.451 17 laps
11 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:26.248 +1.467 15 laps
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:26.326 +1.545 28 laps
13 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:26.570 +1.789 28 laps
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:26.593 +1.812 22 laps
15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:27.115 +2.334 25 laps
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.269 +2.488 23 laps
17 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:27.358 +2.577 23 laps
18 James Calado Force India 1:27.436 +2.655 9 laps
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:28.107 +3.326 18 laps
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:28.199 +3.418 17 laps
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:30.004 +5.223 24 laps
22 Rodolfo Gonzalez Marussia 1:32.646 +7.865 19 laps

FP2

Just as everyone thought that Sebastian Vettel was about to top the timesheet in yet another session, Nico Rosberg maintained his control of top spot established in FP1, edging out Vettel by 0.2 seconds. With Mercedes topping both wet sessions, it is further proof that they might be able to challenge for victory this weekend. Vettel could finally have a fight on his hands.
FP2 in general was much the same as FP1 – drivers eventually ventured out on full wet tyre before making a switch to intermediate just after half-way through the session, (Fernando Alonso being the first man to brave the conditions on the intermediate tyre). However, the conditions were worse at the start of FP2 compared with the previous session, which led to many of the front runners opting to remain in the garage as oppose to using the full wet tyre. With further rain predicted later in the weekend, the top teams have covered the eventuality that both qualifying and the race are run in wet conditions, by saving their wet tyres. 
At the top of the timesheet, Nico Rosberg retained his position in P1 for much of the session until a late run from Sebastian Vettel saw him go fastest. However, Rosberg managed to snatch the top spot away from his fellow countryman with just seconds remaining. Vettel’s final lap was curtailed by an excision at Juncao, (otherwise known as Turn 12). Rosberg was pleased with his standing as well as the days running. “Today I had a good start into the weekend,” he said. “I was very quick in the rain even though we don’t really know about the fuel levels of the other teams. Therefore we need to read the time sheets with some caution. But generally I have higher hopes now that perhaps we can give Red Bull a hard time this weekend. We all know that the weather plays always a big role here at Interlagos and can catch you out. We were not able to run that much but the track feels really great and it was great fun to be out there and find the limit in these difficult conditions.”
Notably, Heikki Kovalainen finished in a highly respectable P4. The Finn once again impressed in the inclement conditions, while teammate Grosjean finished in P10. Romain tends to become faster as the weekend progresses, meaning that he is likely to maintain the edge over the Finn come qualifying – regardless, it is remarkable how Heikki has managed to integrate himself into the team with such ease. It is as though he has been a fixture all season long. 
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton could only manage P5 as he finished 0.8 seconds away from his teammate. However, the Brit was fortunate to make it to the end of the session, after a hair-raising spin at Turn 5 saw him pirouette a full 360 degrees, whilst avoiding the saturated grass and uninviting barriers. A lucky escape for Lewis, yet he was not the only driver to suffer excursions at Turn 5, as Pastor Maldonado, Charles Pic and Nico Rosberg were all thankful for the runoff area.
FP2 Timesheet       
01 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:27.306 12 laps
02 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:27.531 +0.225 10 laps
03 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:27.592 +0.286 18 laps
04 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:28.129 +0.823 13 laps
05 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:28.147 +0.841 9 laps
06 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:28.405 +1.099 11 laps
07 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:28.540 +1.234 9 laps
08 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:28.560 +1.254 20 laps
09 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:28.739 +1.433 20 laps
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:28.891 +1.585 12 laps
11 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:28.928 +1.622 10 laps
12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:29.049 +1.743 17 laps
13 Paul di Resta Force India 1:29.174 +1.868 11 laps
14 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:29.717 +2.411 13 laps
15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:29.783 +2.477 7 laps
16 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:30.425 +3.11 15 laps
17 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:30.748 +3.442 8 laps
18 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:31.061 +3.755 18 laps
19 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:31.118 +3.812 16 laps
20 Charles Pic Caterham 1:31.165 +3.859 15 laps
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:31.211 +3.905 19 laps
22 Jenson Button McLaren 1:31.770 +4.464 6 laps
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