Saturday 26 October 2013

Buddh Qualifying: One of Davids and Goliath

Sebastian Vettel on pole, and by a street. A mere seven tenths of a second quicker than the next guy. Displaying all of his usual swagger and precision over a single lap. It's merely a continuation of recent form in 2013 - indeed his form at the Buddh International Circuit in India more generally - wherein Seb's had the place all to himself? Possibly so, but this time there's a little more room for doubt. Seb has one or two conspicuous threats to his Indian Grand Prix supermacy, lurking further down the grid. A couple of relative Davids seeking to strike down modern F1's Goliath.

Sebastian Vettel is comfortably on pole again,
but has he a bit more to think about this time?
Photo: Octane Photography
As Malcolm Gladwell outlined recently, in the world today thee equivalent of David beating Goliath happens more often than we might think, but for David to beat Goliath then David must do something different to him - just as in the Biblical account David beat Goliath by shedding his heavy, restrictive armour and instead of partaking in a sword-fight with Goliath chose to sling stones at him. If David plays Goliath at the same game then he'll probably lose. And so it was today: just as David did so both Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso recognised Vettel's superiority in normal circumstances and are seeking to prevail via an unconventional strategy.

And it's all down to the familiar pariah of the Pirelli tyres. Pirelli consciously after the rather tepid Bridgestone-type one-stop race of 12 months ago at Buddh shed some conservatism this year by bringing the soft and medium tyre. And in running here the soft tyre while fast has also proved fragile, many cars not being able to proceed for more than a handful of laps at a time before the much-dreaded 'cliff'. Spanner meet works.

As a consequence, it's reckoned that while the soft is better for qualifying in the starting the race on them that comes with this approach you'll be doing well to reach lap 10. And the haughty Red Bull - with all of its downforce - is having more problems herein that just about anyone. Webber and Alonso weighed all of this up, and reckoned it was worth doing their Q3 running on the mediums, so that they can start the race on the them tomorrow and thus do a much longer first stint.

Can Mark Webber be said to be on a 'net' pole?
Photo: Octane Photography
Both look very well-placed with it too. While Webber starts fourth and Alonso eighth, if - as seems the rule of thumb - there is a one second pace difference between the medium and soft on single lap, then from running on softs Alonso would be vaulted up to second; while if Webber had done so he would have pipped Seb to pole (though to be fair, Seb didn't push on his second Q3 effort). So both Davids seem to have genuine speed.

According to Christian Horner the Red Bull team felt in advance that Webber getting anywhere into the top six with the medium tyre would be 'almost like a pole position', and that him lining up fourth was particularly impressive. Webber radiated suitable contentment too: 'I thought that it's worth trying something a little bit different' said Mark, 'we probably thought we wouldn't end up on the second row to be honest, we thought we'd be further back than that...we didn't leave too much out there so we're in a good position'.

And in Alonso's case the evidence of practice was that he was able to run longer on the soft than many others, thus increasing his strategy flexibility.

Say what you like about the Pirelli formula (or whatever you may call it), but it doesn't half make things more interesting sometimes.

Of course, perhaps we shouldn't get too excited. Seb will start tomorrow's race - with soft tyres and a clear track - like a bullet out of a gun, even Webber and Alonso will have to run the soft tyre at some point tomorrow (presumably in a short final stint) and how the traffic plays itself out will be vital - when Seb tried a similar tortoise-beats-the-hares approach in China it was soiled somewhat by running behind Nico Hulkenberg in stint one; Alonso has a particular abundance of traffic to think about from starting in eighth. And - possibly related to the considerations just given - no one has ever won a Grand Prix with such a contrary strategy.

What can Alonso do on his contrary strategy?
Photo: Octane Photography
Seb himself indeed didn't sound too worried: 'What turns out to be the right strategy we'll find out tomorrow. But the race is long and you will have plenty of time to make it up. The strategy should not determine the result that much. We have good pace and the car behaves well around here, so we will see what we can do'.

But nevertheless it seems a smart move by Seb's two rivals, especially given the Red Bull appears to be getting shorter life out of the softs than just about anyone. It would be a surprise if Webber and Alonso aren't running one and two at some point tomorrow. At the very least it is all surely worth trying.

Between the two Red Bulls on the grid are the two Mercs, with Rosberg ahead, both on softs like Seb. Nico and Lewis each seemed pleasantly surprised, though noted that the outcome owed at least something to Webber's strategy. Nico also noted that he drove his car on a 'knife's edge', and thus was highly pleased with his result.

You may be wondering, this far into the quali report, where exactly the recent man-of-the-moment and most consistent Red Bull irritant Romain Grosjean has got to. Well, things could hardly have gone worse for him today as he qualified in a mere P17. Just like Webber and Alonso he tried to get clever with his use of the tyre compounds - in his case seeking to get through the first session without using the soft tyre. He's tried something similar in recent quali sessions and got away with. Today he didn't, as combined with the narrower margin for error a rather scrappy final run plus rapid track evolution left him as the one without a chair when the music stopped at Q1's end. Today Grosjean found out one of the risks of playing David by doing something unusual is that it can backfire on you.

Nico Hulkenberg impressed yet again
Photo: Octane Photography
It was indeed a bad qualifying session for those who've recently displayed improved form. Esteban Gutierrez starts in P16, after curiously not setting a time at the end of Q2. But Gutierrez's stable mate Nico Hulkenberg impressed for the nth time - once again getting his Sauber comfortably into the top 10, and will start seventh. You feel that we're almost reaching the point where - as Clive James once said of Niki Lauda - from him a miracle is the least you expect.

Of course, a lot of the resonance of the David and Goliath story lays in that it's viewed to be an anomaly; that most of the time Goliath still triumphs. And it may be the case that Seb still wins tomorrow. Indeed it still seems the most likely outcome, perhaps by far. But Webber and Alonso will be slinging plenty of stones at Seb tomorrow. It remains to be seen if any one of them result in a knockout blow on their target.

1 comment:

  1. LOL!! Wishful thinking. Vettel is the best, Webber cannot beat him.