Brazilian Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

It was echoes of qualifying back in March for the Australian Grand Prix, as rain delays caused chaos once again in Brazil. While Q3 was delayed due to heavy rain, the session did eventually resume and Sebastian Vettel once again rose to the top of the pile, claiming his 45th career Pole in sublime fashion. His massive margin of 0.7 seconds to Nico Rosberg in P2 was truly remarkable – His margin of 1.1 seconds to Mark Webber in P4, even more-so. A ninth consecutive victory is on the cards, yet rain at Interlagos can spring the biggest of surprises.

FP3

Rain clouds once again dictated the schedules in FP3, which was yet another disjointed session. The wet conditions meant that most drivers remained within the safety of their own garages for the first 30 minutes. However, as the rain relented, drivers emerged and Mark Webber managed to top the timesheet, after being the first man out onto the intermediate tyre. Great to see the Aussie on top of the timesheet in the final practice session of his F1 career. 
Due to the lack of running, there is not a great deal to report. Esteban Gutierrez completed the most mileage in the session, including an early seven lap run, when he was the only driver posting lap times. His 21 lap total dwarfed that of his competitors, however, Sauber appear to need the extended running. Both Gutierrez and Hulkenberg seemed to have some pace in the damp conditions, finishing P7 and P5 respectively, yet suffered several hair-raising moments as the balance of the car appeared to be inconsistent and unforgiving. It is somewhat miraculous that neither driver found themselves in the barrier. 
While the additional laps will benefit Sauber from a performance perspective, it could hamper their strategy for the remainder of the weekend. Gutierrez’s high mileage on the wet compound tyre could prove costly if the wet tyre is used heavily in the race, as these compounds will be carried through into the rest of the weekend. While heavy use of the wet tyre is unlikely, many teams decided to cover the possibility of a heavily soaked track come Sunday, with Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg all opting to sacrifice track time in order to increase the strategic options available to them in terms of tyre selection. Even when track conditions were suitable for intermediate tyres, these four stayed in the garage. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez both opted to save the intermediate tyres, despite completing some installation work on the wet compound early on. Those that feel they have a good setup for the wet conditions have made the correct choice in saving tyres.  
Meanwhile, tension is increasing at the tail end of the pit-lane as a wet race is becoming more likely. Caterham need to finish in P12 to snatch P10 away from Marussia in the constructors and at the moment, Caterham seem to have the better wet weather package, despite the final standing on the timesheet. Meanwhile, Marussia are praying for a dry race and these hopes have only increased following a difficult session for their drivers, where both Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi suffered notable excursions. Fingernails will be at a premium for the Marussia team for the remainder of the weekend.
FP3 Timesheet    

1 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:27.891 5 laps
2 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:28.195 +0.304 5 laps

3 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:28.595 +0.704 6 laps
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:28.600 +0.709 12 laps
5 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:28.830 +0.939 15 laps
6 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:28.921 +1.030 5 laps
7 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:29.215 +1.324 21 laps
8 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:29.686 +1.795 10 laps
9 Paul di Resta Force India 1:29.736 +1.845 6 laps
10 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:29.913 +2.022 8 laps
11 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.980 +2.089 8 laps
12 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:29.988 +2.097 9 laps
13 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:30.635 +2.744 9 laps
14 Charles Pic Caterham 1:30.837 +2.946 14 laps
15 Max Chilton Marussia 1:30.972 +3.081 10 laps
16 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:31.154 +3.263 14 laps
17 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:31.857 +3.966 4 laps
18 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:32.731 +4.840 4 laps
Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2 laps
Felipe Massa Ferrari 2 laps
Jenson Button McLaren 1 lap
Nico Rosberg Mercedes 4 laps

Qualifying Analysis 

Vettel’s 45th career Pole Position was one of his very best. The German has been under pressure all weekend, as the Mercedes have looked very strong in the wet conditions, however, Vettel produced an astounding middle sector to take P1 by 0.7 seconds – who said that inclement weather leveled the playing field.
“It was a big surprise,” Vettel said after the session. “There was a lot of rain after Q2, and once we got out, I was surprised at how much of the water had gone and I got straight onto the intermediates. I was able then to get a very, very good lap in straight away and then tried to beat that to beat that with the second one and was very close. So with both my laps I was very happy and surprised by the margin.” In securing Pole, Sebastian has taken a huge step towards equaling his fellow countryman Micheal Schumacher’s record for 13 wins in one season and equaling Alberto Ascari’s record of nine consecutive race wins. However, rivals will take hope from the fact that P1 on the grid is somewhat of a poison chalice in Brazil, as the last four races have been won from P2 on the grid.
Nico Rosberg will certainly hope that the sequence continues, as he starts from P2 tomorrow. Rosberg has performed excellently well in wet conditions all season and surly has the best chance of anyone tomorrow in stopping the Vettel landslide of victories. “That was a very demanding qualifying session today with really tricky conditions and a long break before the final session. I’m really pleased to have achieved second place on the grid and a big thank you to the team for their work; we did everything right today. My target was to give Sebastian a hard time so I was surprised that the gap was so big in these conditions.” A wet race tomorrow will undoubtedly provide Rosberg with his best chance of beating Sebastian. The Mercedes has an excellent balance in the wet conditions, despite Hamilton’s struggles to understand and adapt to the car after years of the McLaren rhythm. The Mercedes should seal P2 in the constructors by a comfortable margin tomorrow, yet with Fernando Alonso starting in P3, they will have to be on their toes throughout.
The Spaniard in P3 has to be driver of the day. Despite its typical characteristics suggesting that the Ferrari would be terrible in wet conditions, it is a trait of the team to find performance on a damp track. Alonso’s last Pole Position came at a rain soaked Silverstone in 2012 and today’s performance was nothing short of spectacular. “After the results of the last few Grands Prix, it’s really good news to be back in the top three,” he stated. “Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a perfect lap, because I went off the track at turn 4. I lost seven or eight tenths there and I think also second place on the timesheet, which I believe was within our grasp today.” It will undoubtedly be difficult for Fernando to jump Rosberg or Vettel off the line considering the short run down to Turn one, however, Alonso’s unquestionable race craft will surly pay dividend. Ferrari need Felipe Massa, (who starts from P9) to assist the Alonso effort, yet today has been a pleasing day for Ferrari – the best result they could have feasibly expected.
Toro Rosso experienced another fantastic qualifying session in which both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne progressed to Q3 – the third time this season. Vergne in particular was very fortunate to even progress from Q1 after a strategic mix-up meant that the team missed posting a time when the track was at its fastest. Fortunately for the Frenchman, a late halt in rainfall and fast track evolution meant that he managed to haul himself into Q2, sparing the blushes of his team in the process. Their Q3 credentials were undoubtedly abetted by a slip up from McLaren. Both Jenson Button and Sergio Perez dropped out of Qualifying at the Q2 stage – the latter in spectacular fashion, with a nasty crash on the exit of Turn 5 as the chequered flag dropped. Button evaluated the team’ issues; “We sat out most of FP3 in order to save tyres, which felt like the right thing to do at the time, but in retrospect maybe it wasn’t the right call. After all, we hadn’t run in wet conditions on the Intermediate tyres before qualifying, so we weren’t prepared for the problems we then encountered. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.” Another contributing problem was the team’s decision to run a low-downforce set-up, which will only be optimised in dry conditions. It is an ambitious gamble from McLaren which will only pay dividend if it is a totally dry race tomorrow.

Qualifying Result
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:26.4709
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:27.102 +0.623
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:27.539 +1.060
4 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:27.572 +1.093
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:27.677 +1.198
6 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:27.737 +1.258
7 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:28.052 +1.573
8 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:28.081 +1.602
9 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:28.109 +1.630
10 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber 1:29.582 +3.103
11 Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1:27.456
12 Paul di Resta Force India 1:27.798
13 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:27.954
14 Sergio Perez McLaren 1:28.269
15 Jenson Button McLaren 1:28.308
16 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:28.586
17 Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:27.367
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:27.445
19 Charles Pic Caterham 1:27.843
20 Giedo van der Garde Caterham 1:28.320
21 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:28.366
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:28.950

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