Greater Noida, 26 October – At times, qualifying seemed as cerebral as a game of chess and come the end of it, Felipe Massa was fifth, while his Scuderia Ferrari team-mate, Fernando Alonso was eighth. The two F138s will tackle tomorrow’s race starting on different strategies, as Massa set his time on the Soft tyre, while Alonso ran the Medium and so that’s what they will start the race with.
In Q1, Massa went out for a 7 lap run on the Medium, but the time didn’t look good enough to get him into Q2, so with two minutes remaining he went out again, this time on the Soft, to go fourth fastest in 1.25.793. Alonso opted to go with the Softs from the start doing a first run in 1.25.934.
The two F138s went out right at the start of the second session, using the same tyres with which they ended the previous one. With three minutes remaining, everyone went out on new Softs. Alonso was second fastest in 1.24.885, while Massa was ninth to go into the top ten with a lap in 1.25.389.
In the final session, Alonso went out on Medium tyres to post a 1.25.826. The Spaniard kept the same compound for his second run but didn’t go faster. Massa went out just once, using a new set of Soft tyres, to set the fifth fastest time in 1.25.201. Sebastian Vettel took pole for Red Bull Racing in a time of 1.24.119.
Indian GP – Split strategies
Greater Noida, 26 October – When qualifying involved setting your fastest lap with whatever load of fuel you wanted to use at the start of the race, the Saturday afternoon session didn’t actually tell you which cars were quickest. The amount of fuel and therefore weight carried was related to strategy in terms of when you planned to take on more of it and change tyres. However, since refuelling was banned, barring the odd unusual circumstance, the Q3 times were an accurate reflection of who had the fastest Formula 1 car on the planet as they run with minimum fuel.
Today, that was not the case, due to the fact that the Soft Pirelli, the Option tyre, has been having a difficult time here in India, blistering and graining and generally proving tricky to manage. Therefore, running Q3 on the softer compound was not the default setting this afternoon. In fact, four of the top ten chose to finish Q3 on the harder Medium tyre, so as to use it for the start of tomorrow’s 60 lap Indian Grand Prix. The qualifying “podium” trio took the conventional Soft tyre route, with Sebastian Vettel on pole position for Red Bull, followed by the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Then we come to fourth placed Mark Webber, running the Mediums as did Felipe Massa, fifth in his F138. Behind the Scuderia Ferrari driver, Kimi Raikkonen was sixth for Lotus and Nico Hulkenberg seventh in the Sauber; these two running the Softs. In the other Ferrari and eighth, Fernando Alonso was also a Medium runner, as were the two McLarens of Sergio Perez and Jenson Button, who completed the top ten.
So, if the Soft tyre is a liability, why did the team opt to put Felipe on it? Firstly, as the track gets more and more rubber on it and provides more grip, usually problems like graining and blistering can reduce by Sunday and the life of the tyre could be better tomorrow than we have seen so far. However, where this theory falls down is if you have already blistered a tyre in qualifying. Then, you are not looking so clever! However, the Soft should be a bit quicker and therefore Felipe has a chance of picking up some places after the start. It also means that, once the Brazilian has pitted for the Mediums, he can expect a stable race from then on. It’s a case of six of one or half a dozen of the other. We will see who was right after 60 laps of the Buddh International Circuit.
Indian GP – The fog finally clears
Greater Noida, 26 October – The start of the third free practice had to be delayed by 20 minutes as, due to the smog, the visibility was too poor for the medical helicopter to fly. When it did get going, Sebastian Vettel was again fastest, in 1.25.332 ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber (1.25.892.) Fernando Alonso was third quickest for Ferrari in a time of 1.26.105, while in the other F138, Felipe Massa was sixth in 1.26.435. As usual the work programme revolved around preparations for this afternoon’s qualifying session.