24/03/2012

Pre-Race Analysis: the midfield battle

So 14th and 16th are the starting positions for the Sahara Force India boys tomorrow, perhaps the team wanted higher but considering the closeness of the midfield that result is completely understandable.

Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso, Williams and Massa's ailing Ferrari are all extremely close!

Let's have a look at the final times after Q2 for the midfield:

10) Perez (Sauber) 1:37.477
11) Maldonado (Williams) 1:37.589
12) Massa (Ferrari) 1:37.731
13) Senna (Williams) 1:37.841
14) Di Resta (Force India) 1:37.877
15) Ricciardo (Toro Rosso) 1:37.883
16) Hulkenberg (Force India) 1:37.890
17) Kobayashi (Sauber) 1:38.069
18) Vergne (Toro Rosso) Out in Q1

The most common time from that list is a 1:37.8 - we can take this to be the standard laptime for the midfield pack. If Hulkenberg was just 0.05s faster he would have finished the session three places higher in 13th!

What makes the difference here is the driver; clearly Perez and Maldonado had exceptional laps and thus they finished 0.4s and 0.3s ahead of the standard laptime respectively. Meanwhile Kobayashi had a poor lap and thus finished 0.2s slower than the standard laptime. Vergne had a poor Q1 lap and so he was knocked out. As for Felipe Massa, his story is a little different as we know that Ferrari is capable of more due to Alonso's (his teammates) performance.

Essentially this race, and the next few races infact, will have a similar trend; the Force India, Sauber, Toro Rosso and Williams teams qualifying between 10th to 18th (maybe with Massa's Ferrari). The order depends on the driver, a good lap could put you in 10th, but one mistake and you could end up knocked out in Q1!

There are two exceptions to this:

1) Penalties or reliability issues to the guys in the top teams.
2) Rain.

We didn't see rain today in Malaysia, but we may well see it tomorrow in what has the potential to be a crazy race - let's hope the Sahara Force India drivers keep all four wheels pointing in the right direction, avoid any incidents and bring home some points!

Here is what the Indian contingent had to say:

Paul Di Resta (Sahara Force India driver)
"We definitely improved the car between final practice and qualifying, but it was a tough session and it got quite a bit warmer during the two hours between qualifying and practice. My laps in Q2 were good and I got sectors one and two right, but I maybe lost out in the final sector, which I never really maximised. I think P14 is a reasonable place to start and hopefully our race pace and tyre management will pay off tomorrow. The other variable is the weather because there is always a high risk of showers late in the afternoon".

Nico Hulkenberg (Sahara Force India driver)
"You only have to look at the times to see how close things were today. Half a tenth would have given me two or three places, while finding a tenth would have put me twelfth on the grid. To be honest, though, I don't think there was any more to come because I pretty much got the maximum from the car. Now it's all about racing well and using the strategy to try and come away with a result. Having already missed most of the race last weekend in Melbourne, it almost feels like the first race of my season, so hopefully I can go the distance and have a strong performance. Tyre degradation will be a key factor in the race and the chance of rain could also mix things up".

Robert Fernley (Sahara Force India deputy team principle)
"Overall we can't be too disappointed with our qualifying showing today. Yes, we would have liked to have been a little higher up, but looking over the timesheets shows just how closely matched the grid is. In fact, just three tenths cover the cars from ninth to 16th and with such margins the slightest error can cost you three or four positions. Both Paul and Nico delivered consistent laps, although it's fair to say they were both marginally compromised by the release of the Mercedes cars in Q2. However, I remain optimistic for tomorrow and believe we're in good shape, and that our race pace will allow us to get up there challenging for points".

Narain Karthikeyan (HRT driver)
"The conditions changed a lot from the morning and the track was much more slippery but we qualified for the race which was our first objective for this weekend and a positive step from Australia. We had to change our strategy a little bit today because of some heating issues, and it worked, but now we must focus on overcoming those issues and aim to finish the race. It would be good for us if it rained because that keeps the car a bit cooler but, no matter what, we'll have to give it our best and try to put in a good performance".

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