3rd race of the 2013 Formula One season showed once again that the tyre strategy plays a very important role in the sport. The tyre game started already on the qualifying at Saturday, when teams tried to save tyres and didn’t run many laps on the qualifying. Risks were taken too: Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Nico Hülkenberg went through the Q3 with the prime compound, trying to gain an advantage on the race by starting with the longer lasting tyre.
“It’s clear that tyre strategy is going to play a key role tomorrow and we saw that in qualifying today. With a difference of around 1.5 seconds between the medium and the soft tyre, qualifying on the softer compound was the natural choice in terms of outright time. However, the soft tyre delivers its best in qualifying over just one lap – a little bit like a qualifying tyre – which is why the drivers left it until late in many of the sessions to go out and set a time. Although tyre degradation will improve when fuel loads go down and more rubber is laid down on the track tomorrow, the medium tyre seems to be the tyre to race on, so this really opens up a number of different possibilities in terms of strategy.” - Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director
Lewis Hamilton took the pole position with his Mercedes, having Kimi Räikkönen behind him on the 2nd place. The Finn had his best qualifying after making his comeback to F1. Fernando Alonso filled the top 3 with his Ferrari. Daniel Ricciardo did surprisingly well on the qualifying and put his Toro Rosso up to 7th on the grid, having all the 3 prime compound drivers behind him. Red Bull’s Mark Webber had a short qualifying, as his car ran out of fuel on Q2. He was later disqualified from the session, as there wasn’t enough fuel for FIA to make scrutineering checks. The Australian started the race from the pitlane.
“This was due to an error with the fuel bowser that meant it under delivered 3kg of fuel. Therefore on Mark’s in-lap we saw large drop outs in the fuel tank collector and the car unfortunately ran dry of fuel, which is obviously frustrating. The fuel bowser has been immediately quarantined for further investigation. It’s a shame as he would obviously have made Q3 today and the tactic with both drivers was to adopt the same strategy” - Christian Horner
Hamilton took the lead on the start from pole position. Räikkönen was struggling with his start from the 2nd place, and the Ferrari double Alonso and Felipe Massa got past. There was no big drama in the first lap, but the Force India drivers had a touch without major damage. Webber started with prime tyre, and came in after the first lap to take primes. Hamilton was pulling away on the lead, when all sudden he lost the grip from his tyres. Ferrari drivers attacked and soon the Britt found himself from 3rd place. On the next lap he went to the pits for a tyre change.
“A very disappointing day for me. Things were going well in the opening laps and then under braking for the final hairpin I got hit from behind as I turned into the corner. I guess Gutierrez missed his braking point and had nowhere to go but into the back of my car. My rear wing was broken and there was no option but to stop. It’s always a shame not to finish a race and I had a good chance of scoring more points today. I was on the soft tyre and the strategy looked to be shaping up well.” - Adrian Sutil
“First of all, I had a good start, and a good first lap. At that point in the race when the accident happened, we had a reasonable speed and were able to keep the pace in order to stay with the group in front. Right before going into the long straight I had Checo (Perez) fighting behind me, and I approached the corner too fast. I was braking at the same place where I usually brake, however, didn’t anticipate the loss of downforce and the amount of speed I had. I tried my best to stop, but didn’t succeed. It was definitely my fault, and I apologise to Adrian (Sutil) and to his team. It’s not a good feeling to finish a race like this, but we have something to encourage us to keep going and to keep pushing. We had a good pace, and let’s keep moving forward.” - Esteban Gutierrez
Adrian Sutil arrived to the pitlane with broken rear, and there also was a small fire on the car. Replays showed how Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez crashed heavily into Sutil’s rear. The Mexican was later punished with a 5 position grid penalty for the next race at Bahrain.
Drivers who started with prime compound made their stops early, which let Hülkenberg, Vettel and Button take the top 3 of the race for a while with their primes. Soon drama started: Mark Webber had a contact with Jean-Eric Vergne, and it caused damage for both drivers. Webber came in for a pitstop, and soon after the stop he was going slowly on the track. His right rear tyre wasn’t attached during the tyre change, and when he was trying to make his way to the pits again, he lost the non attached tyre and had to retire from the race. Webber was penalised by a grid penalty of 3 positions, and Red Bull team suffered a fine because of their unsafe release.
“Regarding the incident with Jean-Eric, I was coming from a reasonable distance behind, Jean-Eric was really wide, but when we came close to the apex he wanted to hit it, which he is entitled to do, but by then I was committed to the inside and the incident happened. It was a couple of laps before our pit stop window, so I had to come in early. The guys thought the tyre was fixed when we left the stop, but it came off on the out lap. We have had a few problems this weekend; I think we could have done something from our start position today, but it wasn’t meant to be..” - Mark Webber
“With Mark, having taken the opportunity to change the car significantly overnight and starting from the pit lame, we elected to stop on the first lap, change his soft tyres for the hard ones, and put him into clear air. His pace thereafter was excellent, he was coming back through the field extremely well, but unfortunately an incident with Jean-Eric Vergne caused front wing damage and a puncture. After changing the nose and all four tyres, Mark reported a problem with the right rear on the out lap, which had certainly left the pit lane fully torqued up. The right rear then came detached from the car and caused Mark to retire. Until we get the car back, it’s not possible to yet conclude the exact cause.” - Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal
Meanwhile, Räikkönen was struggling with McLaren’s Sergio Perez. The Finn tried to get past the McLaren driver, but had a contact as it seemed Perez didn’t notice Räikkönen on his mirrors. The contact caused a hole to the front of Räikkönen’s car, but it didn’t seem to hurt his race form. The wing wasn’t changed during his pitstop as he could have lost time. The situation was under investigation by stewards, but there was no action made.
“Kimi lost quite a bit of downforce with his front wing damage, otherwise he should have been able to challenge Fernando [Alonso] for the lead. We lost around 0.25 seconds per lap due to the damage to Kimi’s car” - Alan Permane, Lotus trackside operations director
Jenson Button was leading the race after driving 20 laps with his prime tyres without a pitstop. It was clear the Britt was trying to survive with only 2 pitstops. He was an easy target for Fernando Alonso who had newer option tyres, and the Spaniard put himself into the lead. Nico Rosberg had to retire from the race because of suspension problems.
“Unfortunately Nico had to retire from the race on lap 21 with a broken anti-roll bar and we will analyse the reason for this. We will work hard to make sure that technical problems like the ones Nico experienced do not happen again so that both drivers can score points in the Bahrain Grand Prix next weekend” - Toto Wolff, Mercedes team executive director
When the race went forward, it was clear that strategy was going to be very important and payed a huge role in the final standings. Fernando Alonso’s strategy seemed to be the best, and the Ferrari driver was clearly on the best form. In the end he had no challengers. It wasn’t quite the same for his team mate Felipe Massa who started the race well, but lost too many positions after his first pitstop which was possibly made one lap too late.
“It’s difficult to understand exactly what happened today, because the start went very well. I was immediately quick and the car was working perfectly. At the first stop, I fitted the Medium tyres and after a few laps I began to suffer with graining on the front. That meant I lost ground to other cars and it was probably down to a problem linked to the track conditions and my driving style. All weekend, I haven’t felt comfortable with these tyres and in the race, any attempts I made to save them was useless. But for this problem, I would certainly have been in the fight for the podium, but I am still confident because, all the same, I was able to bring home a good points haul which is important in a season that has only just begun”. - Felipe Massa
“I am sorry for Felipe who, because of graining, was unable to make the most of his potential, nor to secure the result he could have aimed for after his great start.” - Stefano Domenicali
Räikkönen was able to be on the 2nd place even though he had a bad start and some damage in his car. In the last laps it started to be close: Alonso was cruising to the victory, but Hamilton was right behind Räikkönen on 3rd place. Sebastian Vettel made his last pitstop while there was only 5 laps to go, and chased the podium battle very fast with the option tyre he had just taken from the pits. Both Hamilton and Vettel had difficulties lapping Charles Pic’s Caterham. First, Hamilton lost time and then Vettel made couple of mistakes after lapping the Caterham. This was very important for the result, as Vettel couldn’t attack Hamilton anymore after the gap became too big after two small mistakes.
“Fernando and Kimi were just a little bit too fast for us during the race and my tyres were shot at the end trying to keep ahead of Sebastian. I could see his car getting bigger and bigger in my mirrors so it was nice to be able to hang on for the third place.” - Lewis Hamilton
Fernando Alonso won the race with his great pace, and was followed by Kimi Räikkönen on the 2nd place. Hamilton finished 3rd and Vettel 4th, but in the finish line their gap was only 0.2 seconds. Button was 5th and Massa 6th. Ricciardo continued his fine qualifying form and finished on the same position he started from in 7th. Di Resta, Grosjean and Hülkenberg filled the top 10.
After the race there were still some doubts about the final result as a big number of drivers were under investigation for using DRS under yellow flags. In the end there was no action made and no penalties given, as FIA’s flagging system showed green flag for the drivers instead of yellows.
Sebastian Vettel leads the driver’s championship with Räikkönen 2nd and the Chinese GP winner Fernando Alonso in 3rd.
“It couldn’t have gone better than this today! I hadn’t won since Germany and this has a special feeling because it was a tricky race full of action. Along with the second place I got in Australia, this result shows that the car is competitive and that we are working in the right direction to always be in the fight for the podium. For that, I have to thank the team for the huge efforts it has made both here and back in the factory. They have worked so hard to put me in this position from which I can fight with the others on equal terms. We had a good feeling all through the weekend and qualifying third gave us the possibility of fighting for the top places. On top of that, maybe we were owed some good luck. Along with that all the important factors worked perfectly, such as set-up, strategy, calling the pit stops and the stops themselves. All together it produced a win that wasn’t easy at the end of a race in which we made the most of our pace and did a good job of managing the tyres, which was definitely the most dangerous aspect. With no one dominating the Championship, it makes it extremely interesting, even if we are aware this is only the third race. We are under no illusions and we must continue to concentrate and do all we can to improve still further.” - Fernando Alonso
“Second wasn’t quite what we wanted, but in the circumstances it was the best that we could manage today. I’m not 100% happy because we didn’t win, but it is what it is and second place is a good result after a bad start and the incident with Sergio [Perez]. It was quite difficult out there; obviously the car is not designed like that otherwise we would use it all the time, but I was surprised how good it was still. Of course there were some handling issues which was not ideal, but we just had to try to live with it and we still had pretty okay speed.” - Kimi Raikkonen
Written by: Sini Salminen
Images Courtesy: Zimbio