AUSTRALIAN GP: race analysis

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Articolo di Cristiano Sponton e del PJ – Traduzione di Federico Marchi (@liquo71)

It has been a great demonstration of force from
Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel, the one shown on the track of Melbourne on
Sunday. For the first time in the era of hybrid engines (2014, 2015 and 2016
seasons) Mercedes have been defeated on track. The other wins from RedBull (2014,
2016) and Ferrari (2015) has been obtained mainly thanks to some errors or
issues occurred to the German team.
 

The one of yesterday,
instead, has been the win of the fastest car on track that exploited and
managed in the best way possible the new tyres developed by Pirelli.

The rumors that wanted an uncompetitive Ferrari were,
as a consequence, not entirely true
(not the
ones related to the presence in the wind gallery of a SF70H-B with a longer wheelbase,
though, still on study to evaluate the pros and cons of such a solution)
with a team that probably wished to work with low pressure and few expectations
from mass media and fans.
News that were reported on this
website but also on other more prestigious and well-known headlines.
Few people trusted the horizontal structure adopted by Marchionne and
Binotto.
The new arrivals (no big names), in the engine department
mostly from Mercedes and in the aerodynamics department from RedBull, seem however
to bear fruit.
 


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After this necessary premise,
let’s go more in depth and see the analysis of the race.
Starting
from this season, we will try to analyze it through the use of words and
graphs. 
Since the earliest laps it was
clear that the fastest car was the one of Sebastian Vettel.
After
a pretty good start, he managed to keep the position against Bottas and
Raikkonen. In the latest years we were used to see one of the two Mercedes’
drivers opening a substantial gap in the earliest laps while easily managing
the race and, with no pressures, the strategy. To be honest, even in this case
we could expect a race of this kind, given the very good pace exhibited by
Mercedes on Friday’s free practices.
But
it has not been so
thanks to the amazing work of the
Ferrari’s team after Friday’s FP2. On Friday, both cars seemed to miss a little
bit even if they did not appear too unbalanced, that bit that was found on
Friday night. However, by looking at the performance of Vettel and Raikkonen throughout
the weekend, it is worth noting that what said above fits more to the German
driver.
Vettel has been able, since
the start of the race, to put under pressure Lewis Hamilton, making him realize
that if he wanted to win he should have toil for it.

He managed to stay very close to the W08 of the triple world champion for some
laps, and this gives proves that the Man in Red was quicker.
Realizing that the overtake on Hamilton was nearly impossible, he slowed
down a bit and took some space,
both to ensure a correct cooling
of the car, and to manage the use of tyres without losing ground to aim at an
easy undercut already planned.
Exactly in the management of
tyres, the Achilles’ heel of the latest seasons, Ferrari built this very important
win.
Looking at the tendency line at the beginning of the
race, it is possible to note how the pace of Vettel has been the best, both in
chronometric terms and in terms of the decline of tyres. Only Bottas, of the
first three drivers, exhibited a similar tendency line making though record
slower lap times of about 0.5 seconds (as you can see in the 1st
graph).



TEAM MERCEDES: according to Plan A, Hamilton’s pit stop should have occurred one lap later, during the 18th lap.

Let’s focus on the moment that decided the race, the
anticipated pit stop of Lewis Hamilton.
The
moment chosen by the German team seemed to nearly everybody a bit ahead of time,
even if it is worth noting that the Soft compound
would have been able to resist to all those laps by ensuring a decent pace.
The biggest trouble occurred to the English driver was to find himself behind
Max Verstappen, not the simplest driver on the grid to pass, showing that the
choice of the engineers has been a mere gamble.
To be
precise, after the race, we came to know that the pit stop of Lewis Hamilton
was planned at the 18th lap, one lap after. The question then is:
why did Mercedes decide to stop a lap earlier, without apparently considering
that their driver would have found himself stuck in the traffic of the RedBull?

Analyzing the first 16 laps
of the driver number 44 (graph 2) it is possible to note that the tendency line
started to nose up
, symptom of a considerable
decline of tyres.
Since the beginning of the
race he repeatedly whined with his engineer about the lack of grip
,
caused probably by an unusual oversteer felt on the W08 throughout the weekend,
which elicited an anomalous overheating of tyres. However, there was not such
an important deterioration to force him to an early pit stop (
even
if in the last lap of his 1st stint he lost more or less 7 tenths in
only two sectors).
This fact had put on alarm the box,
who opted for an early call.
Looking at the graphs below,
we see that Hamilton was progressively opening the gap on Verstappen.
Until
the 13th lap he was gaining about 1 second per lap, while from the
14th to the 16th lap the gain reduced to 6 tenths per lap
on average. At the 16th lap the gap between the two drivers was of
18.5 and, looking at the tendency, Hamilton should have pitted at least 6 laps later
in order to maintain the position on the Dutch driver (he would have anyway
risked because few seconds ahead there was the SF70H of Kimi Raikkonen).

Mercedes,
put under pressure,
has hurried the stop and Ferrari
has cunningly took advantage from it
. The pressure that Vettel was exercising on Hamilton, turned out to be
crucial to cause big issues to the brains of the German team.

The traffic caused by Max Verstappen has been
fundamental to make the strategy of Ferrari effective.

As you can see from the graph below, Hamilton, in the first two laps after the
pit stop, has been able to gain some tenth on Sebastian.  From lap 20, however, the English driver
started to lose ground due to the presence of the RedBull RB13.
The 22th lap revealed to be decisive for the destiny of the race, with
Sebastian Vettel gaining 1.4 seconds on the triple world champion
and building
the gap needed to pit during the following lap. Perfect strategy from the
Italian team. For what concerns Mercedes, instead, we reached the conclusion that
their decision cannot be completely considered a mistake for the reasons
explained above (decline, chance to undercut Vettel,…). Could they force
Vettel to undercut on Hamilton and get him stuck in the traffic? Yes, if the
tyres of Lewis were in good conditions.
AUSTRALIAN GP: during the 1st stint the fastest driver on track was Sebastian Vettel
In the table below we summarized the average times set by the top 5 drivers in the first part of the race: all the drivers involved were on UltraSofts (tyres already used in the Q2 of Saturday’s Quali).

From this analysis it is possible to note that the pace of Vettel was slightly better than the one of Hamilton (who, however, had a 25% shorter stint) by few thousandths.

Not good, if compared with the one of Hamilton, the pace of Bottas who has been 6 tenths slower than his teammate (on same tyres). Same for Raikkonen who appeared in trouble over the whole weekend. Difficulties highlighted also in the pace during the 1st stint, given that the gap from Vettel was of 7 tenths.  

AUSTRALIAN GP: on SuperSofts the RedBull of Max Verstappen had a good second part of the race
During the 2nd stint the fastest car on track was the RB13 of Max Verstappen. The Dutch driver has been capable of exploiting at their best the SuperSofts without major problems realizing a stint of 32 laps.
Among the drivers who used the Soft tyres, the pace of Sebastian Vettel has been very similar to the one of Valtteri Bottas, and to the one of Max Verstappen (on SuperSofts, as indicated above). It is important to remind that the difference of performance between the two compounds was more or less of 7 tenths per lap, reduced over the laps due to a greater decline of the red compound. Pretty good also the pace of Kimi Raikkonen who, using this type of tyres, nearly matched his teammate. The graph below shows that Raikkonen, during the 56th lap, set the fastest lap of the race. 
Anyway Vettel, given the gap on Hamilton, did not push hard in the last part of the race but he only focused on managing the car and the tyres (he, however, set the 3rd fastest lap).
Insufficient performance the one of Hamilton on Soft tyres: he had never found a decent pace (even worse than Bottas).
Looking at the graph below it is possible to see the fluctuating tendency of his times (lapped drivers should be not be blamed for this, given that the same cars were easily passed by Sebastian Vettel). It seems that the main issue of the Mercedes W08 of the English driver has been the overheating of rear tyres. After two or three fast laps, the triple world champion, was forced to “take a break” in order to bring his tyres back to their window of functioning.
Analyzing top speeds, we see a Ferrari in a very good shape, exhibiting speeds similar to those of Mercedes. This, once again, proves the amazing job of the team directed by Sassi, who developed a Power Unit at the level of Mercedes. The SF70H in this race, combined a very aggressive rake setup, a high downforce rear wing and the monkey seat. Mercedes, instead, opted for a medium downforce wing coupled with a smooth setup. Notwithstanding this, the speeds recorded by the SF70H has been really good.

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