Red Bull off to a strong start as McLaren struggle

2013 Australian Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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In recent seasons we’ve become accustomed to seeing Red Bull let someone else lead the times on Friday, before springing to the top of the tables once the real action begins on Saturday.

But the first day of practice for the 2013 season began with Sebastian Vettel leading both sessions, ending up over four-tenths of a second quicker than anything that wasn’t an RB9.

And that came despite him making an error on his first flying lap on super-soft tyres. Looking at the combined best sector times, Vettel had at least another two-tenths in hand over the opposition.

The consolation for his rivals is that they left time on the table today as well. Felipe Massa had a KERS problem which likely kept him from setting a quicker time than Fernando Alonso. And Lewis Hamilton abandoned his first effort on the super-softs after running wide at turn nine.

But the early signs are that Red Bull have begun 2013 in a stronger position than they ended 2012. That doesn’t mean the first race of the season is a foregone conclusion. Rain is expected to play a role in tomorrow’s action, most likely during qualifying, which will pose taxing set-up questions for the teams as well as present an additional challenge for the drivers.

Longest stint comparison

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

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Sebastian Vettel 92.731 92.856 96.587 94.065 93.281 94.07 94.283 94.823
Mark Webber 92.661 93.743 94.604 95.553 102.314 95.722 95.773
Fernando Alonso 93.734 91.615 93.224 94.301 91.784 94.593 94.485 99.541 99.035 91.796
Felipe Massa 91.894 91.54 91.689 101.947 91.662 92.154 96.573 93.284
Jenson Button 93.832 94.332 94.283 93.357 93.395 94.294
Sergio Perez 95.408 94.958 94.926 94.767 96.439 95.524 96.007 96.904
Kimi Raikkonen 92.196 92.124 92.844 94.963 93.207 93.077 93.132 93.82 95.216 94.291 93.332 95.451 99.145
Romain Grosjean 93.02 93.001 93.373 94.718 94.818 93.868 93.754 97.123 93.11 93.739 116.199
Nico Rosberg 94.255 101.627 93.718 92.936 95.367 97.18 97.197 96.223 94.258 94.728
Lewis Hamilton 87.882 100.192 101.252 87.469 103.173 92.105 95.553 86.776
Nico Hulkenberg 94.484 94.116 94.521 94.999 99.208 94.37 94.805 102.011 97.595 94.637 95.507 99.97
Esteban Gutierrez 90.667 102.251 90.184 89.79 98.492 88.825
Paul di Resta 94.182 93.521 94.735 93.333 94.832 100.487 97.882 92.938 92.752
Adrian Sutil 95.783 94.068 94.936 95.163 95.015 95.005 95.145 95.19
Pastor Maldonado 95.238 95.359 94.767 94.734 94.539 98.718 97.542 94.399 93.995 93.968
Valtteri Bottas 107.955 98.167 97.985 96.381 95.945 103.909 103.857 97.292 96.228 102.288 94.977 94.586
Jean-Eric Vergne 96.088 95.883 94.928 94.744 95.074 97.043 96.681 97.809 95.984 95.713 102.107
Daniel Ricciardo 95.676 95.642 95.415 95.814 98.344 99.183 97.128 96.74 96.739
Charles Pic 94.318 92.739 97.143 98.45 94.675 100.117 93.07 97.93 98.247 95.752
Giedo van der Garde 93.052 99.236 92.467 100.629 93.252
Jules Bianchi 96.352 95.344 96.289 95.797 98.524 98.954 96.66 97.006 98.575
Max Chilton 100.674 96.817 96.715 99.773 98.026 97.162 97.777 97.873 97.628 97.261 97.777 102.407 100.728 100.907

Pirelli’s aggressive 2013 tyre compounds appear to be performing as planned. The super-soft tyre has a very short life – the stints above were mostly done on the medium tyre.

However the considerably better performance of the super-soft – around 1s per lap quicker than the medium – will make it the tyre to qualify on. Expect those at the sharp end of the grid to do that (if it’s dry), then switch to the medium tyres early on in the race.

“From what we can see of the degradation so far, we’d expect the majority of the teams to stop twice during the race, with some of the faster cars maybe trying three stops,” said Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery.

Those who know early on they will have to do three stops may be able to return to the super-soft tyres for the final stint, providing the stint is short enough.

Sector times and ultimate lap times

Felipe Massa looked in good shape during practice, outpacing Fernando Alonso in the first before falling behind in the second largely due to a KERS problem.

Ferrari had the fourth-quickest car, which Alonso said was in line with their expectations: “We already knew we were not the quickest and that was confirmed today. The car responds well, but we know there is still much to do if we want to fight with the very best.”

The situation at McLaren is far worse: “Our short runs weren’t particularly encouraging, to be honest,” said Jenson Button. “We’re a couple of seconds off the pace, by the looks of things.”

Sergio Perez can’t have been too pleased at ending his first day for his new team behind his old team.

But Sauber have problems as well, according to Nico Hulkenberg, who said it had been a “challenging day” for the team: “On the first day there are always a few things you need to work on and improve.”

“We still have some homework to do,” he added. “I think we can still improve our time.”

Car Driver Car Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3 Ultimate lap Gap Deficit to best
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 28.459 (1) 22.968 (1) 34.223 (1) 1’25.650 0.258
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 28.581 (2) 23.176 (5) 34.393 (2) 1’26.150 0.500 0.022
3 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 28.602 (3) 23.312 (7) 34.408 (4) 1’26.322 0.672 0.000
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 28.808 (6) 23.156 (3) 34.397 (3) 1’26.361 0.711 0.000
5 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 28.615 (4) 23.343 (8) 34.453 (5) 1’26.411 0.761 0.361
6 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 29.058 (8) 23.167 (4) 34.455 (6) 1’26.680 1.030 0.000
7 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 28.817 (7) 23.136 (2) 34.795 (7) 1’26.748 1.098 0.000
8 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 28.754 (5) 23.219 (6) 34.799 (8) 1’26.772 1.122 0.083
9 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 29.087 (9) 23.423 (9) 34.925 (9) 1’27.435 1.785 0.000
10 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 29.133 (11) 23.496 (11) 35.316 (12) 1’27.945 2.295 0.242
11 5 Jenson Button McLaren 29.139 (13) 23.563 (13) 35.350 (13) 1’28.052 2.402 0.242
12 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 29.129 (10) 23.530 (12) 35.424 (15) 1’28.083 2.433 0.483
13 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 29.308 (14) 23.490 (10) 35.460 (16) 1’28.258 2.608 0.053
14 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 29.359 (15) 23.739 (15) 35.226 (10) 1’28.324 2.674 0.448
15 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 29.512 (16) 23.704 (14) 35.282 (11) 1’28.498 2.848 0.129
16 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 29.133 (11) 23.751 (16) 35.667 (18) 1’28.551 2.901 0.301
17 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 29.744 (19) 23.829 (17) 35.385 (14) 1’28.958 3.308 0.010
18 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 29.639 (17) 24.038 (20) 35.499 (17) 1’29.176 3.526 0.210
19 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 29.852 (20) 23.939 (19) 35.824 (19) 1’29.615 3.965 0.081
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 29.998 (21) 24.070 (21) 36.097 (20) 1’30.165 4.515 0.000
21 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 29.709 (18) 23.889 (18) 36.716 (21) 1’30.314 4.664 0.286
22 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 30.718 (22) 24.571 (22) 37.030 (22) 1’32.319 6.669 0.131

Complete practice times

Williams compared their different aerodynamic packages today and decided to keep the FW35 in its launch specification, which they believe it is a better fit for the track and conditions.

Adrian Sutil out-paced team mate Paul di Resta on his return, but chief engineer Jakob Andreasen pointed out that di Resta was hampered by floor damage in the second session.

A similar problem caused Hamilton to go off late in second practice, according to Mercedes, while a gearbox glitch forced Nico Rosberg to stop shortly afterwards.

Car Driver Car Best lap Gap Stint lap At time Laps
1 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1’25.908 3/3 55 33
2 2 Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1’26.172 0.264 1/2 48 31
3 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1’26.322 0.414 1/1 53 26
4 7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus-Renault 1’26.361 0.453 1/3 49 38
5 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1’26.680 0.772 2/2 57 32
6 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1’26.748 0.840 1/1 46 35
7 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’26.772 0.864 2/2 64 28
8 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1’26.855 0.947 1/2 49 32
9 15 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1’27.435 1.527 1/3 50 35
10 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1’28.187 2.279 1/1 51 34
11 5 Jenson Button McLaren 1’28.294 2.386 1/2 51 30
12 14 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1’28.311 2.403 1/3 50 37
13 6 Sergio Perez McLaren 1’28.566 2.658 4/4 12 33
14 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’28.627 2.719 1/3 55 31
15 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1’28.772 2.864 1/5 50 33
16 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault 1’28.852 2.944 1/4 26 36
17 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1’28.968 3.060 3/3 32 36
18 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1’29.386 3.478 1/3 24 39
19 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1’29.696 3.788 1/3 41 32
20 20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1’30.165 4.257 1/3 59 37
21 23 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1’30.600 4.692 2/2 37 36
22 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1’32.450 6.542 2/2 32 11

Speed trap

Straight-line speed is the only thing McLaren have going for them at the moment while Red Bull assume their usual place near the foot of the speed table.

# Driver Car Engine Max speed (kph) Gap
1 10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 313
2 5 Jenson Button McLaren Mercedes 312.1 0.9
3 6 Sergio Perez McLaren Mercedes 312 1
4 11 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber Ferrari 311.8 1.2
5 9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes Mercedes 311.5 1.5
6 7 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus Renault 308.9 4.1
7 8 Romain Grosjean Lotus Renault 308.3 4.7
8 15 Adrian Sutil Force India Mercedes 307.6 5.4
9 23 Max Chilton Marussia Cosworth 307 6
10 14 Paul di Resta Force India Mercedes 306.9 6.1
11 22 Jules Bianchi Marussia Cosworth 306.8 6.2
12 12 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber Ferrari 306.5 6.5
13 4 Felipe Massa Ferrari Ferrari 306.5 6.5
14 21 Giedo van der Garde Caterham Renault 306 7
15 3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari Ferrari 306 7
16 20 Charles Pic Caterham Renault 305.6 7.4
17 16 Pastor Maldonado Williams Renault 304.4 8.6
18 17 Valtteri Bottas Williams Renault 304.3 8.7
19 1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Renault 301.4 11.6
20 19 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso Ferrari 301.4 11.6
21 2 Mark Webber Red Bull Renault 301.2 11.8
22 18 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso Ferrari 301.1 11.9

2013 Australian Grand Prix

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    Keith Collantine
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    44 comments on “Red Bull off to a strong start as McLaren struggle”

    1. Nigelstash (@)
      15th March 2013, 16:03

      Red Bull look strong, but it will be interesting to see whether they still find that magic half a second at the climax of Q3, or whether less bendiness and limits on DRS eat into that advantage.
      Also, a lot has been said about Lewis, but through testing and so far in practise, Nico looks to have good pace in that car as well. Bring it on!

    2. As a McLaren fan, I sincerely hope they can work their magic and sort out the car issues. Both drivers seem focused on the race – the car is the issue here. I’m certain McLaren will have their car up to top notch again before Ferrari did last season. The rain is set to come out tomorrow, so laps won’t be as fast as they would be in the dry – so the MP428 should cope fine, especially with Button at the helm. Elsewhere, I’d really like to see Lotus start the season well. This will be interesting indeed.

      1. Rain is usually a good leveller, but if McLaren are short of downforce in the dry it could cause them loads of problems in the wet. They weren’t very strong in the wet last season either, other than Malaysia, when they did have a good car.

        I just hope the Red Bull’s aren’t as far ahead of everyone else as they seem.

        1. I don’t think the McLaren was too bad in the wet towards the end of last season to be honest. They seemed to cope just fine in Brazil after all.

        2. I don’t think they’re short of downforce to be honest. I think their problem is more setup related because of pull-rod suspension. They need some time to get their heads around that just like Ferrari last year.

    3. Sebastain in particular looks very strong over one lap and is in perfect sync with that car. It gives ominous signs for qualifying, but for the races I expect the deficit to be much reduced or even non-existent, so a rain-affected qualifying could really spice things up for Sunday. I can’t wait!

    4. a couple of things:
      1. That Ferrari is not as quick as it looks
      2. When Alonso says the Ferrari is 3rd best car, not that he tries to build his “Superhuman” image, but may be actually Ferrari is well off pace

      1. If that’s the case, that’s the complete opposite to the majority of last season.

      2. But Alonso IS “Superhuman”.

      3. I think Ferrari are there or thereabouts @nirupam – they aren’t top by any means but they’ll certainly be mixing it with the Mercedes’ and Lotuses in particular I imagine. 3rd best may be a fairly accurate assessment though.

        1. I dont think we will get the most accurate picture of how fast each team is until Q3 has ended. the ferrari has had strong race pace in the last few seasons. so lets wait and see.. figures crossed. i am predicting a 3rd place finish for Alonso in the race.

    5. I half expect this season to be similar to 2010 in terms of RB getting most of the Poles but in the race it’s more of an open playing field.

    6. The big problem for McLaren this year is that both their drivers are unreliable when it comes to establishing a good performance baseline. Checo has no frame of reference for the team, so they can’t assume that he’s showing them good data, and Button is notoriously sensitive to a bad car. With Hamilton, they had a driver who could be relied upon to almost always show exactly what the car is ultimately capable of. Now, with a car not showing good pace, they need to work out whether the car is fundamentally bad, or if the car is ok and the problem is simply that it’s not suited to Button, and Checo is simply not that quick in the first place. How do you even begin to address issues when you can’t even work out how fast your car is in the first place?

      1. Checo failed last 6 races in 2012, he had no points. Button every year half a season failed. I ‘ll be very surprise if Maclaren take high position in WDC and WCC.

      2. What a conundrum…

      3. That’s my thinking too. Imagine Ferrari last year without Alonso. Probably even Luca would have fired himself along with the whole team. Running around 12th place for good 2/3 of the year.

        Last year, McLaren would have probably entered a critical meltdown phase if all they had was Button driving around 10th place, thinking their car is a horrible bunch of scrap-heap metal.
        Only thing is, they had Hamilton fighting for poles and victories at the same time, so they knew they actually have a great car.

        This year, they probably have no clue if their car is a pole contender or the worst crap they managed to make since 1995.

        I mean, car might actually be the masterpiece it was hyped to be, but Button is not “feeling it” and Perez is just no more adaptable either.

    7. What’s going on with Mclaren???? Hope they get their act together and get up there with the big boys tomorrow….i ain’t getting up at 06:30am to see them among the mid teams.

    8. Jules Bianchi: Give him a proper Car.. The guy is a future World Champion

      1. +1. He losted last years Renault series in the same way as Hill losted to Shumi in 1994.

    9. error: On the speed trap table Mclaren has its own engines.

      1. That’s a new one! Fixed it.

    10. It’s tough to read a lot into the times from today other than the Red Bulls are quick! Hopefully the other teams are able to challenge them a bit in qualifying. I guess we’ll find out more in FP3. Let’s try and summarise…

      Mercedes look to be a close second on single lap pace, but their longer runs (especially Lewis’) were a bit erratic. I guess that could be down to traffic? If not then a final podium place could be the best they can hope for. The Lotus (in Kimi’s hands at least) looks quicker than the Red Bull on long runs and is well rumoured to look after it’s tyres a lot better, expect them to be contenders for a podium even if they miss out on the front two rows in qualifying. Ferrari, last season were stronger in the race than qualifying and that looks to have continued. You can never rule Fernando out in the race. McLaren, I don’t think anything extra can be said about their problems, but I would expect one of them to scrape into Q3.

      It’s going to be an intriguing Saturday and Sunday!

      1. I was just going to mention Lotus’ race pace, they are looking very solid. I’m surprised, as I was expecting them to slip back a bit this year, what with them having a smaller budget for development compared to their rivals.

        1. I’d love to see Lotus and Ferrari able to challenge Red Bull in the race. Raikkonen v Alonso v Vettel for the lead would be almost perfect, and Hamilton must surely also be a factor.

    11. Exactly what was the extent of Massa’s KERS problem? I’m very (pleasently) surprised to see him to close to Alonso after failing so miseraby in up till last year’s summer break.

      I just hope that Ferrari let them race, should they find themselves close to each other on Sunday.

      1. I think Alonso had a short KERS glitch as well in one or two turns, lets hope these are just small things. I would love to see Ferrar actually have to solve the issue of getting Alonso stay in front of a pushing Massa.

      2. I too am pleasently surprised to see Massa back on form: if he can maintain it Ferrari will have a very strong line-up and it’s always good to see Massa challenging Alonso! Nonetheless though, it’s good to see him being more 2008 than 2012 recently! :)

    12. Again RB . I feel again in 2011 year. I hope Lewis and Mercedes will be in position podium. Mclaren you did very big mistake choises not right a horse. Sorry if i did mistakes i know English not well.

    13. While McLaren’s woes are the main talking point, I still can’t believe how strong Mercedes looks. I never thought they’d look like genuine contenders but amazingly they look like they could even be the second fastest team behind RBR. Ferrari are somewhere near the top but who knows where?

      I’d say keep an eye out for Lotus. Not much has been said about them but they’re quietly going about their business and the car looks pretty good to my eyes.

      1. Looking at the long runs data it looks to me like Lotus followed by Red Bull and Ferrari. Lotus just need to qualify their cars near enough to the front and they look very strong to me.

    14. Thomas (@smashnfanatic)
      15th March 2013, 17:29

      I think Lotus will be the ones to watch out for in the race provided they qualify good (second row at least). Nobody’s been talking about them.

      1. I agree. I find Kimi’s longest stint quite impressive. So consistently quick. Grosjean’s wasn’t that bad either.

      2. @smashnfanatic – I think quite a lot of people have been talking about them actually! I agree with your assessment entirely, but I suspect that possibly the grid advantage Red Bull may have could tip it slightly in their favour, but all we need is a wet qualifying to throw everything into disarray!

        1. Thomas (@smashnfanatic)
          16th March 2013, 3:06

          @vettel1 – Well, lets see what the weather and qualifying put up. Button could be a dark horse then?

    15. As a McLaren fan, I am incredibly concerned. They may be further away from the front than Ferrari were this time last year, and there’s no way that car in its current state suits Jenson. Thankfully they have Lew… Oh.

      1. It seems Button already mentioned a hope of rain. And its supposed to be raining not far from the track right now, so who knows!

      2. @craig-o – they’ll have their work cut-out to do that badly, but yes I do see them being off the pace. I think a double points finish would be a great result for them looking at FP but I wouldn’t lose faith: McLaren are great at development. So I still fully expect a McLaren win at some point during the season despite the mediocre driver line-up.

    16. Looking at the long run times, Button’s were very even compared to the others. It suggests he is cruising around in his comfort zone rather than pushing the car to find the limits.

    17. Paul Di Resta already looking like he’s been found out, might be a long season for him.

    18. Re Mclaren, it looks deceptive. While they don’t look fast over a hot lap and might struggle to qualify well, it doesn’t look like their long run pace is that bad if you actually compare. Infact, as I have often claimed, Button’s long runs are always far more consistent than many other drivers and while one might start of slow, their pace dips dramatically and Button’s does not.

      Even compared with Vettel it’s not THAT bad.

      We shall see.

    19. The difference between HAM’s ultimate lap and his actual lap pushing him 2 places down, could indicate that he isn’t comfortable in the MERC as of yet.
      Surpricing to see McLaren so far down the pecking order, and I didn’t think RBR would be that dominant here in P1 and P2. Can’t wait till tomorrow. In my timezone I have to get up at 0600 to see P3 before qualifying (RTL – german television, not the same quality as Sky, but very cheap compared).
      Compared to last years P1 to Quali delta, this year should give us a Quali time around 1:24.575 oposed to 1:24.927 last year. But the rain might ruin that prediction as well as every other prediction:-)

    20. Wow, van der Garde is way off the pace. I wonder how long he lasts before Caterham dump him for a better driver with equal or more money. Maybe Petrov will be back before 2014 after all. Who knows, maybe even Karthikeyan at mid-season, just in time for the Indian GP. Now that Fernandes and TATA are tied up, Karthikeyan would make a lot of sense from a marketing perspective.

    21. I’m slightly worried for Mclaren as I don’t think Button and Perez are the best at dragging performance out of the car if its hard to find or not there, as it seems to be at the moment. Hoping they don’t spend the season in mid grid obscurity.

      It’ll also be interesting to see come quali just how much closer Caterham and Marrusia have got to the back of the midfield. It looks like there’s still a gap, but they have to bridge it at some point, and it will make things more interesting when one or the other does.

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