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F1 Data Analysis: How Nico Rosberg Needed Force India for Canadian GP Miracle

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, center, from Australia, is sprayed with Champagne by Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg, left, from Germany, and fellow Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, right, from Germany, after winning  the Canadian Grand Prix auto race, Sunday, June 8, 2014, in Montreal. Rosberg finished second and Vettel was third. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press
Neil JamesFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

Daniel Ricciardo won the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix, with Nico Rosberg in second.

Despite suffering a loss of ERS power midway through the race, the German had somehow held off the rest of the field to score 18 priceless points.

It was without question one of the drives of the year, but he had a little help along the way.

 

The First Force India Train

Early in the race, the two Mercedes of Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were streaking away into the distance, running one and two as they had been since Lap 10. Having dispatched Sebastian Vettel two laps after the safety car came in, Hamilton quickly caught Rosberg and they began to build a lead.

Their pace advantage on the supersoft tyres was greater than it had been in qualifying, evidenced by this comparison of lap times immediately after the safety car. Shown are Rosberg (leading), Vettel (third) and Valtteri Bottas (fourth).

 

LapRosbergVettelBottas
81:20.1261:20.6761:21.259
91:20.2791:20.1921:20.470
101:19.9591:20.9521:20.853
111:19.8401:21.4011:21.624
121:20.3301:21.3161:21.725

 

Mercedes were pulling away at around a second a lap.

Vettel pitted on Lap 14 to cover Bottas, who was in a lap earlier. By this stage, Rosberg was already 7.35 seconds ahead of the nearest non-Mercedes. The race leader pitted four laps later, sticking to an optimal strategy while those behind had pitted early. This would prove crucial later in the race.

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Nico Hulkenberg of Germany and Force India drives during practice ahead of the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

But the main factor which would later affect the end result was the presence of the one-stopping Force Indias. The safety car period had allowed them to remain less than a pit stop behind all the two-stopping cars in the top 10 bar the Mercedeswhen the cars ahead pitted, they moved up the order.

Vettel emerged around five seconds behind Nico Hulkenberg, now in fourth and who was not due to stop for another 20 laps. Ahead of Hulkenberg was his teammate, Sergio Perez.

Rosberg's advantage on the soft tyres was smaller. Looking at the start of their soft-tyre stints, with all running in clean air, the Red Bulls and Williams were losing less time than before.

 

Lap After StopRosbergVettelBottas
11:22.5631:23.1751:22.746
21:20.5501:20.6751:21.122
31:20.9491:20.3911:20.900
41:20.0881:20.0951:20.488
51:19.6191:20.2031:20.632

 

But it wouldn't last.

Vettel began to catch the dirty air of Hulkenberg's car on the fifth lap shown above, and by the seventh lap of his stint, he was firmly entrenched in the Force India's wake.

From losing less than half a second per lap, he began losing one and a half.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Though significantly quicker over a whole lap, his Red Bull lacked straight-line speed relative to the Mercedes-powered Force India. In qualifying, Hulkenberg was eight kilometres an hour quicker through the speed trap than Vettel. Even with DRS, Vettel was not quick enough on the straights to get by.

Bottas was on the defending world champion's tail by the 24th lap.

 

Massa and Ricciardo Come Back into Play

On the 25th lap, Rosberg steamed through the final chicane and set what was then the fastest lap of the race. Further back, with Vettel still stuck behind Hulkenberg, another man who'd figure at the end of the race moved into contention.

Felipe Massa got past Fernando Alonso and started to catch the Hulkenberg train. Ricciardo, also in clean air, was doing the sameproviding us with some idea of the lap times Vettel would have been doing had the Force India not been there.

Vettel may even have gone quicker, as he seemed to have more pace than Ricciardo.

 

LapHulkenbergRicciardoMassa
261:20.4671:20.7091:20.559
271:20.6111:19.9061:19.800
281:20.4761:20.1101:19.852
291:20.5111:20.2681:20.027
301:20.4091:20.1081:20.075

 

By Lap 34, positions three to six (Hulkenberg, Vettel, Bottas, Ricciardo) were separated by just 1.7 seconds, with Massa four seconds back in seventh. Perez had made his only stop of the race a lap earlier, moving from the supersofts to the softs.

His visit to the pits, and the knowledge he would be going quicker on fresh tyres, sparked a stampede.

First, Bottas pitted from fourth. Red Bull brought Vettel in the following lap to cover the Williams driver, and Ricciardo was in one lap later.

Ricciardo jumped Vettel, and both came out ahead of Bottas. But crucially, all of them were behind Perezand without the benefit of fresher tyres. Bottas dropped away, but the two Red Bulls latched on to the rear of another Force India.

Again, it had too much straight-line speed for them to get by.

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 08:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 8, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

 

Problems Hit the Mercedes

While this was going on, the two Mercedes up front had both developed a problem. Identical failures of their control electronicsHamilton on the 36th lap, Rosberg on the 37throbbed them of their MGU-Ks.

This is a component which acts as a generator, harvesting energy by helping to slow the car down under braking. Without it, the rear brakes are put under greater strain because they have no assistance in slowing the car.

But that's not all it does. It also operates as the car's electric motor, providing a 160 horsepower boost from the energy recovery system (its own energy, plus that provided by the MGU-H). Without it, the car has to rely on the internal combustion engine only.

With their power output reduced and braking performance compromised, the pace of the Silver Arrows dropped dramatically.

All of a sudden, Sergio Perez looked like he was ideally placed to claim an unlikely win. But he wasn't the only man going substantially quicker than the Mercedes. Everyone down to Fernando Alonso in a net ninth was, at the time, going quickly enough to pass them both.

 

LapRosbergPerezMassaAlonso
371:22.1021:19.7031:19.5001:19.829
381:22.7041:19.8961:19.3911:19.416
391:23.0701:19.8321:19.4961:19.596
401:21.9481:19.7401:19.8451:19.792
411:21.9961:19.8351:20.0951:19.973

 

Perez Unable to Pass

But Perez was not going as quickly as we might have expected. The times of his we see above were set on fresh tyres, five laps old at the start of Lap 37. Massa was doing slightly better lap times on rubber which was 22 laps old, and Alonso had been on his for 21 laps.

The Mexican knew the tyres had to do the rest of the 70-lap race, so was forced to restrict his pace in the name of tyre management. And due to their earlier-than-optimal stops to cover Bottas, the Red Bulls behind had tyres only one (Vettel) and two (Ricciardo) laps newer than the Force India.

Rosberg pitted on the 44th lap, emerging on tyres which would have to do 10 laps fewer than Perez's. Hamilton was in a lap later, and he came out ahead of his teammate. But his joy was short lived, and he retired with brake failure on Lap 47.

Perez moved up to second.

The Force India driver caught Rosberg on the 49th lap, and behind him were the Red Bulls.

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Sergio Perez of Mexico and Force India drives during practice ahead of the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2014 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images)
Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

Everyone on the track had enough straight-line speed to pass the Mercedes on the main straight, but Perez was too slow in the corners through the first and second sectors to take advantage.

Rosberg, having spent the last 10 laps learning the most effective way to drive his energy-free Mercedes, was using his extra tyre grip and superior downforce to pull out around one second between the end of one lap and the DRS detection point on the next.

This negated the time he was losing on the straights. He could not have done this so effectively had Perez been on tyres the same age as his nor could he have pulled out the time if he'd been racing the Red Bulls.

The Force Indias which had helped him build a massive lead earlier in the race were now protecting Rosberg from Ricciardo and Vettel.

With Perez seemingly stuck and the Red Bulls showing no sign of being able to pass, attention moved further down the order to three men who looked set to join the party.

 

Hulkenberg Again

Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso had fresher tyres than the cars behind Rosberg and were reeling in the race leader at over a second a lap. Bottas, on slightly older tyres, was doing the same.

But like the Red Bulls ahead, the trio also encountered a roadblockHulkenberg. The table below shows how their charge was halted (gap to leader shown).

 

LapHulkenbergBottasMassaAlonso
496.8998.3519.71111.141
506.0777.6287.9579.596
515.7186.7107.0008.472
525.3195.9006.2827.263
535.6525.9536.3337.011

 

On supersoft tyres, Hulkenberg had initially shown reasonable pace. But his rubber began to give up around Lap 50, and a few laps later he was at the head of the second four-car, Force India-led train.

Massa and Bottas in Canada.
Massa and Bottas in Canada.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Massa lost seven laps getting past his teammate and Hulkenberg but eventually did and set off after the leaders. Alonso, lacking the straight-line speed to get by, was out of contentionhe stayed behind Hulkenberg all the way to the chequered flag.

Bottas was also removed from the podium fight by the Force India. His Williams suffered overheating after sitting in its wake for so long, and he was forced to drop back.

Here we see the contrasting fortunes of the two Williams men.

 

LapRosbergMassaBottas
581:19.7691:18.5041:21.247
591:19.8721:18.5081:21.168
601:19.7731:18.8771:22.045
611:19.7281:18.6641:21.683
621:19.7351:19.0171:21.425

 

At the end of Lap 62, with eight to go, fifth-placed Massa was 1.87 seconds off the race lead and shaping up to pass the first of four cars ahead, which was Vettel's.

He had much fresher tyres and excellent straight-line speedbut a combination of mediocre offensive driving from the Brazilian and good defensive work by Vettel meant he couldn't get by.

 

Ricciardo Finally Makes It

A second up the road, Perez was now struggling with worn tyres and a brake problem. A poor exit from the final chicane left him open to Ricciardo's brilliant pass around the outside.

Despite running very wide during the pass, he still went quicker than Rosberg on that lap. Two laps later, he demonstrated what would have happenedsave for the presence of Perezhalf an hour earlier when he breezed past the stricken Mercedes.

 

LapRosbergRicciardo
661:20.2781:20.138
671:19.5961:19.082
681:19.9501:18.640

 

Vettel got past Perez three laps later but was by then too far back to mount a challenge.

Ricciardo wins his first grand prix.
Ricciardo wins his first grand prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Rosberg was thus free to cruise home in second. It was an exceptional drive under challenging circumstances, and it would be difficult to argue that he didn't deserve his 18 points.

But the data shows he owes a great debt to the two Force Indias. Had they not proved such effective corks in so many bottles by running slow one-stop races, Rosberg would have finished no higher than sixth.

 

All data was taken from the FIA's impressive timing information page.

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