It has been an incredible week of sport in Germany, but Nico Rosberg in particular. Nico has enjoyed his country’s World Cup triumph, married Vivian Sibold, signed a new multi-year deal at Mercedes and now begins his home Grand Prix weekend. However, Rosberg is not about to cruise to victory this weekend, as Lewis Hamilton has been in close proximity all day today, on both long run and short run pace. It was the Brit who topped the timesheet in FP2, and with Red Bull hot on the heals of the Silver Arrows, has FRIC made a serious dent in Mercedes’ advantage or are Lewis and Nico doing an excellent job of sandbagging?
The FRIC Effect
FRIC has been the paddock buzz word over the past ten days, yet the full effects of the loss of Front and Rear Interconnected suspension would only become evident this weekend. While the genuine pecking order is still unclear, (as it usually is until Saturday), a number of assumptions can be made based on today’s running.
One thing is for sure – all teams have been effected and all teams have been forced to modify set-ups in order to compensate for the balance deficiencies. Teams had to run the front suspension at a higher setting throughout today, as well as using a higher stiffness setting. This was always going to create more understeer in the cars and this was particularly evident in the final sector, as drivers were struggling to come to terms with the loss of grip. The new ‘sausage kerb’ on the exit of the penultimate corner did not help the issue and a number of drivers found themselves riding this particular bump throughout the day. If you are wondering which Mercedes man has been effected most by this, it is difficult to tell. In theory, Hamilton would be the more likely candidate to struggle on the basis that he prefers oversteer, but this did not appear to be an issue today.
Whether Mercedes as a team were sandbagging or not remains to be seen. The Silver Arrows have been targeted as having the most advanced FRIC system, and therefore stand to loose the most. On today’s performance, they still have an edge over the opposition, but Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull were much closer to the front-runners than they have been for a while. Whether Mercedes have been keeping their cards close to their chest will be revealed tomorrow. Somehow I expect they have some pace in hand.
One team who seem to have benefited are McLaren. Both Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen highlighted that they felt comfortable on their first competitive outing without FRIC, despite the team being down on race pace. However, the blow as a result of the loss of FRIC could have been negated by the effect of their new rear-wing, which is just one aspect of a rather hefty upgrade package.
It’s not just the United Kingdom facing a heatwave at the moment – Germany have been enjoying some summer sun today, and Red Bull in particular have been relishing the temperatures. With track temperatures of an incredible 56-58 Degrees, tyre temperatures were the biggest issue and thermal degradation could be a major factor determining Sunday’s result. Ultimately, Red Bull appear to be best suited to the conditions, with what seems to be a wide operating window.
Throughout their long-runs, both Vettel and Ricciardo looked impressive and consistent. Williams’ Felipe Massa highlighted this fact after the session – “They have a lot of downforce in the car so for sure they lose a little bit of speed but maybe they use the tyres a little bit better. Even on the supersoft at the end of the lap many teams were losing a bit of grip so maybe they use less.” Meanwhile, Massa and Bottas looked much more promising on the super-soft tyre, but struggled significantly on the soft compound. This could cause issues during the race, what with the longevity of the super-soft tyre. On this occasion, Pirelli have been rather ambitious on tyre selection, as oppose to their conservative approach so far this season.
Caterham’s Awful FP2
Caterham are certainly having a tough time at the moment and their fortunes don’t look as though they are about to improve this weekend. After a relatively useful FP1 session for the Leafield based team, where they opted to split the programme between the two drivers, both Kobayashi and Ericsson stated that overall balance was good. However, in FP2, the team suffered two breakdowns. First, Marcus Ericsson ground to a halt with an electrical issue in the first few minutes.
While this was resolved quickly, Kamui Kobayashi’s issue was much more significant. His Caterham burst into flames after a fuel leak. However, at the time, Kamui could not be sure that the electrical elements of the powertrain were not faulty, hence, a dramatic leap from the car and a subsequent sprint to the nearest marshal post in search of a fire extinguisher. A dramatic way for Kobayashi to end his day. At least his first run of the afternoon was productive.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m19.131s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m19.196s +0.065s
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m19.423s +0.292s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m19.697s +0.566s
5 Jenson Button McLaren 1m19.833s +0.702s
6 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m20.097s +0.966s
7 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m20.105s +0.974s
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m20.210s +1.079s
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m20.337s +1.206s
10 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m20.505s +1.374s
11 Felipe Massa Williams 1m20.542s +1.411s
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m20.586s +1.455s
13 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m20.592s +1.461s
14 Sergio Perez Force India 1m20.598s +1.467s
15 Susie Wolff Williams 1m20.769s +1.638s
16 Giedo van der Garde Sauber 1m20.782s +1.651s
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m21.603s +2.472s
18 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m21.854s +2.723s
19. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m22.572s +3.441s
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m22.982s +3.851s
21 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m23.256s +4.125s
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1m23.299s +4.168s
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:18.341
2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:18.365 +0.024
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:18.443 +0.102
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:18.887 +0.546
5 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:18.960 +0.619
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:19.024 +0.683
7 Jenson Button McLaren 1:19.221 +0.880
8 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:19.248 +0.907
9 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:19.329 +0.988
10 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:19.385 +1.044
11 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:19.417 +1.076
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:19.452 +1.111
13 Sergio Perez Force India 1:19.581 +1.240
14 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:19.593 +1.252
15 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:19.760 +1.419
16 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:20.158 +1.817
17 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:20.358 +2.017
18 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:20.504 +2.163
19 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:21.328 +2.987
20 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:21.870 +3.529
21 Max Chilton Marussia 1:21.898 +3.557
22 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:23.728 +5.387