Close qualifying battle in prospect at Suzuka

2012 Japanese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Sebastian Vettel took pole position by less than a hundredth of a second for last year’s Japanese Grand Prix.

He expects another tense contest for pole position at Suzuka on Saturday: “I think tomorrow will be very, very close, so everything we can get out of the car will matter,” he said.

Red Bull were quickest of all in Friday practice but McLaren aren’t far behind on single-lap pace. Expect an exciting the battle for pole position between these two teams.

Fernando Alonso believes that, though his Ferrari may lack outright pace, he can manage his tyre temperatures well, which should stand him in good stead for the race.

Here’s the data from Friday practice.

Longest stint comparison – second session

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint:

Sebastian Vettel99.18698.99299.231101.08799.767101.56799.99799.86199.99899.752106.899
Mark Webber100.541100.169100.022100.182100.379101.884100.405
Jenson Button93.349108.33493.368104.6795.874
Lewis Hamilton100.52100.034104.76599.55108.599100.708102.66199.8299.696101.11599.769100.574100.414133.908
Fernando Alonso100.975101.667100.849114.3
Felipe Massa99.44899.584100.47499.933100.002121.565
Michael Schumacher93.75115.36194.194
Nico Rosberg101.409100.948100.869100.87106.857101.176135.319
Kimi Raikkonen99.88194.29198.52796.307118.04
Romain Grosjean99.41799.40899.38799.36599.43299.77899.693100.29999.894100.316
Paul di Resta
Nico Hulkenberg101.347101.758100.813100.529100.413105.762
Kamui Kobayashi100.44100.193100.266100.41999.972100.089103.549106.493101.486100.343100.631100.719
Sergio Perez95.20294.974104.99499.33794.486
Daniel Ricciardo102.831102.656102.126101.893101.695101.695107.726103.075101.735101.652101.38
Jean-Eric Vergne102.37101.547101.353101.22101.498107.817101.24101.497103.049101.533101.592
Pastor Maldonado96.039107.73795.381111.06295.388107.38795.438
Bruno Senna102.351103.218103.882100.057100.43101.955100.874100.556100.123125.34
Heikki Kovalainen101.263101.451101.151101.074101.208101.653101.908107.075102.555102.871101.467102.107105.511103.228103.321104.417146.716
Vitaly Petrov103.218102.572108.284105.958102.588103.765104.265104.132104.735103.318
Pedro de la Rosa102.778103.055102.565110.251106.953102.202102.157104.689105.677104.157103.248115.572
Narain Karthikeyan102.807102.424102.343102.104102.332102.857103.2103.702107.708104.287102.757107.712
Timo Glock107.657102.919103.645102.85103.12103.489103.316110.311103.421103.341107.176104.112103.83104.391129.549
Charles Pic101.29898.30398.286

There’s not much to choose between McLaren and Red Bull on their long stints. Lewis Hamilton began his stint lapping slightly slower than Vettel, but was more than able to match the times the RB8 was setting later on.

Alonso was not too concerned about his car race stint pace: “Overall, the feeling is good and I don’t think the high temperatures can constitute a problem for the tyres.”

“We have done a lot of races in hot conditions, and not that long ago either, given that Singapore was only a fortnight ago and just like we did there, we will have to learn to manage them, which indeed will be the case for everyone.”

Last year three pit stops were the way to go for most drivers. This year Pirelli have swapped the medium/soft tyre mix for hard and soft, and expect there will be fewer pit stops as a result.

Motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “This year we’re more likely to see two stops, depending also on outside factors such as safety cars and weather conditions. We’ve got a lot of data to look at now, but we would expect the performance gap between the two compounds to be in the region of 1.0-1.2 seconds.”

Sector times and ultimate lap times – second session

CarDriverCarSector 1Sector 2Sector 3Ultimate lapGapDeficit to best
12Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault33.096 (1)41.342 (1)18.055 (8)1’32.4930.000
24Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes33.179 (2)41.501 (2)18.027 (7)1’32.7070.2140.000
31Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault33.378 (5)41.512 (3)17.946 (4)1’32.8360.3430.000
412Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes33.444 (7)41.567 (4)17.931 (2)1’32.9420.4490.045
510Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault33.332 (4)41.639 (5)18.103 (9)1’33.0740.5810.033
65Fernando AlonsoFerrari33.316 (3)41.827 (8)17.950 (5)1’33.0930.6000.000
73Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes33.458 (9)41.804 (6)18.017 (6)1’33.2790.7860.070
819Bruno SennaWilliams-Renault33.445 (8)42.097 (12)17.928 (1)1’33.4700.9770.029
96Felipe MassaFerrari33.491 (10)41.957 (10)18.166 (12)1’33.6141.1210.000
1015Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari33.410 (6)42.094 (11)18.168 (13)1’33.6721.1790.231
118Nico RosbergMercedes33.729 (15)41.809 (7)18.140 (10)1’33.6781.1850.188
127Michael SchumacherMercedes33.501 (11)42.314 (14)17.932 (3)1’33.7471.2540.003
1314Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari33.551 (12)42.194 (13)18.238 (15)1’33.9831.4900.000
149Kimi RaikkonenLotus-Renault33.657 (14)41.947 (9)18.590 (20)1’34.1941.7010.097
1518Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault33.563 (13)42.465 (16)18.272 (16)1’34.3001.8070.000
1616Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso-Ferrari34.236 (17)42.463 (15)18.164 (11)1’34.8632.3700.000
1717Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso-Ferrari34.199 (16)42.661 (18)18.199 (14)1’35.0592.5660.021
1820Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault34.503 (20)42.777 (19)18.415 (17)1’35.6953.2020.016
1921Vitaly PetrovCaterham-Renault34.570 (21)42.609 (17)18.607 (21)1’35.7863.2930.084
2024Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth34.453 (19)43.044 (20)18.487 (18)1’35.9843.4910.210
2125Charles PicMarussia-Cosworth34.720 (22)43.263 (21)18.578 (19)1’36.5614.0680.075
2222Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth34.968 (23)43.676 (23)18.698 (22)1’37.3424.8490.000
2323Narain KarthikeyanHRT-Cosworth35.344 (24)43.461 (22)18.785 (23)1’37.5905.0970.111
2411Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes34.281 (18)45.993 (24)19.416 (24)1’39.6907.197

Hamilton’s lap was slightly untidy and he expects to find more from the car: “I feel comfortable with our car – it’s the best that it’s ever been around here – and I think I could have matched Mark’s [Webber] fastest time with an optimal lap.”

However his team mate limited his running in the second session having been quickest in the first: “The balance wasn’t quite right,” Jenson Button explained, “and we knew we couldn’t go back on the changes we’d made until after the session, so there wasn’t any point doing too much running.”

Half of the Suzuka track has been resurfaced since last year’s race and the steady improvement in track conditions seemed to have an effect during the second practice session. When drivers began their qualifying-style runs on soft tyres they generally went faster the later they left the pits.

Romain Grosjean was one of the earlier driver to do his lap and later found room for improvement that showed he was capable of beating Alonso: “It’s hard to say if [sixth] is the kind of position we’ll be in qualifying,” he said. “There are definitely still a few tenths we can find so let’s see what happens tomorrow.”

Fourth-placed Nico Hulkenberg is happy with Force India’s one-lap pace and is focused on making gains elsewhere. “I’m quite happy with the car on low fuel, but I think we still have some work to do to improve our high fuel performance,” he said.

Sauber were not as quick as expected but Sergio Perez believes they have potential to do better this weekend than their Friday pace indicated: “We have to improve our speed and I think we can do this,” he explained. “I also ran wide on my fastest lap, so I know there is more to come and we will be in a better shape tomorrow.”

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Mark WebberRed Bull-Renault1’34.8561’32.49358
2Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes1’34.7401’32.70758
3Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault1’36.3661’32.83660
4Nico HulkenbergForce India-Mercedes1’35.4741’32.98752
5Fernando AlonsoFerrari1’35.4841’33.09354
6Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault1’35.7241’33.10756
7Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes1’34.5071’33.34942
8Bruno SennaWilliams-Renault1’33.49932
9Felipe MassaFerrari1’35.2831’33.61456
10Michael SchumacherMercedes1’35.1221’33.75033
11Nico RosbergMercedes1’35.0591’33.86637
12Sergio PerezSauber-Ferrari1’35.5841’33.90360
13Kamui KobayashiSauber-Ferrari1’35.1991’33.98360
14Kimi RaikkonenLotus-Renault1’35.6911’34.29134
15Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault1’35.4781’34.30057
16Daniel RicciardoToro Rosso-Ferrari1’36.1231’34.86351
17Jean-Eric VergneToro Rosso-Ferrari1’36.2221’35.08059
18Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes1’35.29920
19Heikki KovalainenCaterham-Renault1’35.71141
20Vitaly PetrovCaterham-Renault1’38.2951’35.87060
21Timo GlockMarussia-Cosworth1’37.7161’36.19449
22Valtteri BottasWilliams-Renault1’36.38924
23Charles PicMarussia-Cosworth1’38.6161’36.63653
24Pedro de la RosaHRT-Cosworth1’39.6881’37.34249
25Narain KarthikeyanHRT-Cosworth1’39.0431’37.70160
26Giedo van der GardeCaterham-Renault1’39.37422

Ferrari technical director Pat Fry is unsure how close they will be to their rivals: “Honestly, it’s hard to say where we are compared to our main competitors, both in terms of where we might be in qualifying and as far as our race pace is concerned.”

Mercedes made a substantial set-up change to Schumacher’s car which cost him time at the start of the second session.

Giedo van der Garde made his second appearance in a practice session for Caterham. He will drive again during the same session in Korea next week, taking over Vitaly Petrov’s car.

Speed trap

#DriverCarEngineMax speed (kph)Gap
17Michael SchumacherMercedesMercedes312.5
23Jenson ButtonMcLarenMercedes311.41.1
316Daniel RicciardoToro RossoFerrari309.33.2
45Fernando AlonsoFerrariFerrari309.23.3
54Lewis HamiltonMcLarenMercedes308.34.2
610Romain GrosjeanLotusRenault307.64.9
724Timo GlockMarussiaCosworth307.35.2
81Sebastian VettelRed BullRenault307.35.2
915Sergio PerezSauberFerrari307.25.3
108Nico RosbergMercedesMercedes306.65.9
112Mark WebberRed BullRenault305.86.7
129Kimi RaikkonenLotusRenault305.66.9
136Felipe MassaFerrariFerrari305.27.3
1412Nico HulkenbergForce IndiaMercedes3057.5
1519Bruno SennaWilliamsRenault304.67.9
1617Jean-Eric VergneToro RossoFerrari304.48.1
1718Pastor MaldonadoWilliamsRenault304.48.1
1821Vitaly PetrovCaterhamRenault303.49.1
1914Kamui KobayashiSauberFerrari303.39.2
2025Charles PicMarussiaCosworth301.910.6
2120Heikki KovalainenCaterhamRenault301.211.3
2222Pedro de la RosaHRTCosworth297.515
2323Narain KarthikeyanHRTCosworth293.419.1
2411Paul di RestaForce IndiaMercedes269.543

Timo Glock was seventh-quickest through the speed trap but he is concerned about his car’s acceleration: “We are a little further behind our competitors because of the KERS effect. I had the chance to follow some cars but when they deploy the KERS it has such a big effect here in Japan.”

2012 Japanese Grand Prix

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    Images © Red Bull/Getty images, McLaren/Hoch Zwei

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    Keith Collantine
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    23 comments on “Close qualifying battle in prospect at Suzuka”

    1. Go Pedro, your chance is finally here

    2. Hm, what to make of Webber saying that he thought Hamilton had been playing mind games (with fuel levels) and is really faster. On the one hand we had only the top 7 within one second, on the other hand, Kimi never got a good lap in, and the evolution of the track makes it hard to compare.
      I think Vettel has a good chance of pole, because he seems to have the right feel of when to do that lap to make the most of that evolution, even without doing so by switching on the more extreme engine mapping / exhaust blowing.

      1. About Kimi, he had some KERS problems causing him to retire prematurely. The KERS unit have given shocks in the past and that is what Kimi never wanted to experience( well who would??). Overall, thanks @Keith once again for the data. Interesting to see the sector times in particular sector-3..where the top 3 drivers were driving mediocre cars!

      2. Hamilton’s remark was made in an interview with Croft before the start of FP1, When Crofty said Lewis was in the fastest car, Hamilton said no the Red Bull is the fastest car, McLaren is second.

      3. @bascb Webber said Hamilton was playing mind games by saying “Red Bull is the quickest car” – not by running heavy fuel.

        1. I read one article where he added that McLaren had been heavier on fuel and therefore the claim that “Red bull is the quickest car” was not true @raymondu999

    3. It’d be great for the championship if it were to finish something like:
      1. Hamilton
      2. Raikkonen
      3. Vettel
      Below 5th – Alonso.

      I can’t see the Lotus being that fast this weekend, but it’d be great simply from the perspective of wanting a close fight at the top. Ferrari don’t look particularly quick.

      1. Great Avatar Ben, love it

        1. Thanks @jochenrindt78 !

          Unfortunately I can’t claim credit for making it – I found it while browsing, but I do think it’s rather amusing!

      2. I won’t say it would be great for the championship since Alonso has 3rd or even 4th fastest car overall. even if Alonso wins here, as long as rivals have better car, the battle will last until Brazil.

        1. And i agree with Eggry. The championship is close enough as it gets,with Alonso generally atleast half a second off the leaders. There is no need for anyone to wish bad luck upon poor alonso!!!!

          1. What he means to say is it would be great for Hamilton & Vettel.

    4. “The balance wasn’t quite right,” Jenson Button explained

      I’ve heard that statement atleast a few hundred times… and it still cracks me up.

      1. lol, same here, balance, balance, balance, even if u have problems with it dont stop saying the same thing

      2. massive massive understeer/oversteer, it’s undriveable, grip’s nowhere, etc…typical Button radio messages.

        1. Can anyone recall Button saying anything positive on a radio message without realising first that he’s slow. I.e

          JB “The balance is great guys, the car feels so planted and quick”

          Mclaren operator: “Ok Jenson you are currently P10, Lewis is P1. More time to be found in all sections”

          JB: “uuuhhhh”


        2. @eggry We would almost turn it into a game, guess what he’s going to complain about next!

    5. Very consistent long run from Grosjean, though perhaps they run the car a little bit lighter than their direct competitors. Also Vettel and Hamilton’s long runs look good. It looks like the Lotus is capable of mixing it at the front again this race, especially if Grosjean can put in another good qualifying performance.

      1. I agree that Grosjean run really leaps out for its consistency (and length). Also Heikki’s run gave the impression that out of the tail-enders Caterham may be ahead again, relative to Marussia. But perhaps that’s just him.

    6. Good session from Bruno Senna also, and interesting that he set the fastest time in the final sector. The question is whether he can do it again tomorrow. I think we’ve seen a couple of times this year that he’s had a good FP2, but then wasn’t able to follow that up with a good qualifying (does he even have a good qualifying besides Hungary?). Perhaps it’s just that he drives as fast as he can on Friday, and that whatever sandbags other drivers manage to extract from their cars between FP2 and Q3 are not available to him.

    7. Speed trap speed is usually comparable between team mate. It’s usually not more than 2~3mph but the gap between Mercedes duo and Ferrari duo is interesting. Is that mean Alonso and Schumacher opted for lower downforce setup than their team mate?

      1. Could be different setup. Also, as the speed trap is right after the apex of 130R, DRS (I think) plays an important role; with slightly less fuel and slightly better tires, you can open it much earlier.

        And the highest top speeds are measured at the second intermediate right before 130R.

    8. Grosjean’s long run is not bad at all, I didn’t notice it this morning. Lotus can easily be in the top 5 on sunday, judging from the times.
      While Hulkenberg or Di Resta could mix a little bit the grid tomorrow.

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