Friday analysis | Have Honda turned engines up in Qatar?

19-11-2021 17:30
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Friday analysis | Have Honda turned engines up in Qatar?

The Qatar Grand Prix weekend has started on the Losail International Circuit and some interesting storylines have developed on and off the track. On the track, both Red Bull and Mercedes have spent time at the top of the timesheets, but Friday belongs to Valtteri Bottas who also leads the long-run pace. 

Long-run pace

Mirroring the 2021 World Championship battle, Verstappen and Hamilton are locked together on the long-run pace. Both drivers were averaging the same pace on the circuit towards the end of the second free practice session. Mercedes appeared to split their tyre strategy at the end of the session but both Red Bulls ran the soft tyres. 

Throughout both sessions, tyre graining wasn't high. Pirelli are using the three hardest tyres in the range on the circuit. Little Formula 1 data has been recorded on the track and there was therefore little certainty from Mario Isola. With only small graining, it could be possible that teams look to use the soft tyres as a race tyre either at the start or after their pitstop. 

Bottas was the quickest driver on the circuit during FP2, and this was matched in the long-run data. The Finn used the medium tyre and could therefore push a little bit harder because of the slightly better durability of the yellow marked compound. Sergio Perez was slightly off the pace during the long runs as well as the qualifying runs. 

Driver Average Pace on track Tyre Stint 
Valtteri Bottas 1:27.6 Medium 9 laps
Max Verstappen 1:28.2 Soft 4 laps
Lewis Hamilton 1:28.2 Soft 6 laps
Sergio Perez 1:28.6 Soft 4 laps

Where is Bottas gaining the most time? 

Whilst the track has similarities to the fast Bahrain Outer Loop, the middle sector is twisty and more complicated. Sectors one and three are very fast and form mostly straights which over 2021 has played into the hands of Mercedes. Christian Horner and Red Bull are looking at the Mercedes rear wing and are questioning the legality of the wing. 

In FP1, Hamilton reported a lack of power. Whilst it hasn't been confirmed by Mercedes, it's expected that Hamilton is using the fourth engine in his pool rather than the fifth he used in Brazil last weekend. It's likely that Mercedes ran in a lower power setting for Hamilton. Bottas though was in fine form and finished 0.350 seconds ahead of Verstappen. 

He gained 0.224 seconds of this in the first sector. Perhaps surprisingly, Bottas also went faster than Verstappen in the middle sector, but only marginally. Verstappen's best final sector was actually quicker than Bottas. 

Driver Best sector 1 Best sector 2 Best sector 3
Bottas 27.127 27.884 28.024
Verstappen 27.351 28.075 27.969
Hamilton 27.319 27.974 28.263

Traffic played a part in both sessions. Numerous drivers, most notably Sergio Perez, had to abort laps because of traffic. It's impossible to know how traffic affected the above sector times but it seems like Red Bull are fastest in sector three. 

A lot of attention has been placed on the speed trap times. Christian Horner has often highlighted this in recent weeks, explaining how much faster Hamilton is compared to Red Bull and the rest of the teams with a Mercedes engine such as McLaren. Due to the unknown fuel loads and engine modes, it's often inaccurate to draw a comparison on speed trap times on a Friday. 

Honda turning it up?

In Qatar, AlphaTauri had possibly their best Friday of the season. Both Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda spent time at the top of the leaderboards. In FP1, both AlphaTauri drivers finished in the top five, whilst in FP2 Gasly beat Hamilton and Verstappen. Whilst this track could favour the junior Red Bull team, the data suggests that Honda have turned the engines up in the AlphaTauri cars. 

In the battle for third place in the constructors' championship, Ferrari and McLaren are going at it. Over the last few races, Ferrari have had the upper hand following some upgrades. But Lando Norris had a positive Friday and reached the top five in FP2 whilst Ferrari struggled to breach the top 10. Aston Martin also had a positive day with their Mercedes powered car after Lance Stroll got rid of his problems in FP1. Daniel Ricciardo struggled, whilst the Alpine driver sat in the midfield. 

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