Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Suzuka, 2018

Ferrari’s big bet on red may have backfired

2018 Japanese Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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After the first day of running at Suzuka it isn’t looking good for Mercedes’ rivals.

The fastest silver car was 0.833 seconds quicker than the next-best car out there. Their closest rival posted a best time 0.94% slower than they managed, which would not only be Mercedes’ biggest margin of superiority this season, it would be their greatest since last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Ferrari’s decision to bring 10 sets of the red super-softs for each driver – more than any other team – didn’t look like a great one when Sebastian Vettel’s rear tyres began to blister in second practice. “I think we were sliding a little bit too much and when you slide the temperatures go up and blistering is caused by high temperatures,” he explained.

Pirelli motorsport director Mario Isola admitted he was surprised by Ferrari’s tactics. “It’s quite an aggressive selection,” he said, “it means they are planning to use mostly the super-soft for free practice.”

Will that allow them to find the set-up they need to make them last? “I think the tyres are manageable and for sure from the data today they will be able to react and find a set-up that is reducing more the blister.

“Don’t forget the team choice is made 14 weeks in advance so a long time ago. They were probably targeting to have more runs on the super-soft in order to understand the behaviour of the super-soft here whereas other teams are more focused on the softs.”

That offers Ferrari some encouragement that they can go quicker. But as it stands they are nip and tuck with Red Bull for second, and the RB14s look capable of going quicker too. The team evaluated different wing angles on their cars today, treading as usual the delicate balance between drag and downforce.

Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Suzuka, 2018
Honda’s upgrade appears to be working
The contest for Q3 should be considerably more exciting than it was in Russia with four teams potentially in the mix and the margins razor-thin. Force India were comfortably ahead thanks to an excellent lap from Esteban Ocon, but Toro Rosso are ones to watch.

With the Honda power unit the team has already virtually matched its best time from this race last year while the remaining teams are slower (besides Sauber, who were struggling with a year-old engine this time last season). What’s more Pierre Gasly, who has usually been the quicker of the two Toro Rosso drivers, had a compromised second practice session and wasn’t able to do a qualifying simulation run. They should be Q3 contenders on merit.

Sauber are in the hunt too. For once it was Marcus Ericsson, who has a lot of experience here, who led the way. But Leclerc has made some big Friday-to-Saturday improvements over the year so far, and the rookie will surely be pouring over his team mate’s data.

But the critical question which remains after Friday’s running is whether Ferrari can make a big gain and pull themselves back into contention.

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Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’28.6911’28.21756
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’29.1371’28.67856
3Sebastian VettelFerrari1’29.6851’29.05056
4Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’29.8411’29.25762
5Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’29.3731’29.51359
6Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’29.6271’29.49853
7Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’30.5911’30.03560
8Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’30.8141’30.44054
9Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’31.0731’30.47862
10Brendon HartleyToro Rosso-Honda1’31.9081’30.50250
11Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’31.2721’30.51057
12Nico HulkenbergRenault1’31.4181’30.64454
13Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Honda1’31.0731’30.79530
14Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’31.1001’30.90454
15Charles LeclercSauber-Ferrari1’30.9291’30.90653
16Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’31.2741’30.95653
17Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Renault1’32.0341’30.98855
18Sergey SirotkinWilliams-Mercedes1’32.5131’31.08765
19Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’31.5081’31.21559
20Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Renault1’31.98132
21Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’32.68330

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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2018 Japanese Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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16 comments on “Ferrari’s big bet on red may have backfired”

  1. Nice article, Keith. It actually makes me a bit excited for FP3 (having missed FP1 & 2, and not missing much, apparently) :-)

    1. I was going to waste my time deleting all those ads before getting to the Sky F1 stream and watching practice 1 and 2 for free, but now I read your comment Im not going to bother! #:) Thx.

  2. Not the 1st time this team gambled on softest tyres just to blow up in their face. Its nothing new anyway rather a pattern for them now.

  3. I get the feeling that even without Seb Vettel screwing up mid season he would struggle to win this title now given the Mercedes current pace advantage. This is Lewis’ to lose now.
    Still, it would have made it a lot more interesting than it currently is.

    1. @db01 Indeed. Just imagine how much tighter it’d now be on the top of the drivers’ standings had Vettel not thrown away as many points as he has by taking unnecessary risks in Baku, Paul Ricard, Hockenheim, and Monza by throwing away two rather certain wins (maybe even a potential third), as well as, a couple of podium finishes.

    2. @db01, let us consider the possible difference in points that we might have seen if things went differently, firstly by considering Vettel’s performance.

      1. Baku – if the running order had remained the same as under the safety car, Vettel would have scored 18 points and Hamilton 15, meaning we’d have to increase Vettel’s total by 6 points and Hamilton’s would be reduced by 10.

      2. France – without the collision with Bottas, I expect that we probably would have seen Bottas and Vettel take 2nd and 3rd respectively. That means that Vettel probably lost another potential 5 points in that race.

      3. Germany – let us say that Hamilton probably would have caught and passed Vettel given the rate at which he was closing in the previous laps, but that Vettel probably could have secured 2nd place – that is another 18 points which Vettel might have lost there.

      4. Italy – the tyre problems Ferrari had probably would have seen Vettel lose position to Hamilton, but he probably could have secured 2nd place in that race, earning him another 6 points.

      In total, between the points he should have scored (35) and the points that Hamilton would have lost (10), the net swing would be 45 points in Vettel’s favour – that would have put the championship at 296 points for Hamilton and 291 for Vettel.

      There are a few other potentially debatable errors that are a combination of team and driver:
      1. Spain – whilst Ferrari were having tyre problems, the slow pit stop for tyres hurt them. That said, Vettel did later say that the pit stop was slow because he overshot his pit box – you could argue that it was a combination of the team misjudging the gap to those behind him and partly Vettel misjudging the stop – either way, you could argue that he’d probably have been ahead of Verstappen with a cleaner stop, so potentially a loss of 3 points there.

      2. Austria – the grid penalty that Vettel was dealt for unintentional blocking, which was down to the team not giving him enough warning that Sainz was approaching, meant he probably lost at least 3 points given he probably could have secured at least 2nd place and finished ahead of Kimi. Some have argued that Vettel might even have had an outside shot of winning if he hadn’t lost time being stuck further down the pack, but I’m going with what is probably the lower bound scenario.

      3. Singapore – the team arguably made a mistake with pitting Vettel slightly too soon, possibly because they’d misinterpreted Hamilton’s radio call (thinking he said they weren’t good when he had actually said that they were good). Dropping him back in behind Perez ultimately seemed to cost them the place to Verstappen, and with it another 3 points (there is also the question of how that race might have played out if Vettel had been able to run his preferred strategy, which was probably ultra-soft followed by softs, if the team had gone with it in qualifying).

      With that in mind, you could argue that strategy errors have potentially cost Vettel another 9 points – which would mean that, rather than trailing Hamilton, he could have been entering this weekend with a small lead of 4 points. I imagine that people will argue over some of those results, but overall there is an argument that Vettel and Ferrari should be within a handful of points, or potentially ahead, of Hamilton in the WDC, rather than being behind them.

      1. Great run down of the possible difference in points had things played out differently. I always appreciate it when people go to the effort of writing these up!

        Not disputing any specific points made, but the bigger question for me is would Sebastian Vettel have made so many mistakes if he’d had that (slight at times) Mercedes speed advantage? Or was the lack of errors of our current championship leader purely down to his phenomenal driving this year? Would Lewis have over-driven if the seats were swapped?

        1. I don’t think hamilton would’ve overdriver with seats swapped because while currently it’s very unclear who’s been the best team overall this season, earlier on ferrari had an overall slight pace advantage, and surely some reliability advantage too, making it the clear (although slightly) best car, so hamilton answered very well to the pressure of being in the 2nd best car cause he managed to jump well ahead before singapore, which was when mercedes started looking like the best car again.

          1. overdriven*

      2. Sure, but Mercedes were quicker in Melbourne but got their strategy wrong.

        Mercedes quicker in Bahrain. Vettel did an incredible job to keep Bottas behind.

        Mercedes were quicker and going to win in Shanghai until the safety car.

        And we can go on an on.

        Bottas would have likely beaten Hammy in Hockenheim if he was allowed to race him.

        Bottas was forced to hand over first place to Hammy in Russia.

        Hammy bottled qualifying in Russia, but all good when you have the clear best car and a doormat teammate.

  4. I think Ferrari are sandbagging their pace advantage /s

  5. So without incidents it will probably be Merc 1,2 (bottas, Ham) Redbull 3,4 (Ves, Ric) Ferrari and the others.

    1. Bottas 1 is a wind-up right..? I mean it’s possible, but not very likely.

      1. Yes, what I hate about the team order is that bottas is superior on 3 tracks: abu dhabi, russia, austria, and they took away a win in one of those tracks…

      2. No, in my opinion. Depending on Ferrari positions on the grid, the fight will be between Bot and Ves. Lewis either wins or doesn’t care about a Bot Ves fight as long as he stay’s in front of Vet. So he probably gives back the “stolen” win to Bot.

        1. told you so….

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