Lessons from qualifying - and likely tactics for this afternoon
Tyre preservation is going to be a key influence in todays race, especially as the level of degradation here will be very high. With track temperatures as high as 49 degrees Celsius during qualifying, everybody was sliding around on Bridgestones chosen tyre compounds. For the sake of ease, lets call them the soft and the hard options, though taken out of the Japanese tyre suppliers 2007 catalogue, they are actually their medium and hard offerings. The more a car slides, the faster it degrades the rubber, so besides coping with cockpits that will be like saunas, the drivers need to keep their heads and not throw the cars around too much.
All but one runner yesterday opted for the softer tyre, which means that all of the first five rows starters will be using it with their chosen fuel loads. There is a suspicion that polesitter Felipe Massa may be running a lap or two lighter than Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen, but the McLarens are only likely to be a lap apart on fuel load, even though Hamilton was seven-tenths of a second shy of team mate Fernando Alonso. That was explained by the Englishmans admission that he was extra cautious when he (and Massa) encountered a brief rain shower in Turn 7 on their final laps. Having discovered how slippery that could be here in testing last week, Lewis didnt want to take the risk. Both he and Alonso should be better matched in the race, if Melbourne is any guide.
Alonso admitted yesterday that Ferrari still have the edge in race trim, but McLaren are very encouraged by their own performance thus far this weekend. We have to be realistic and see what our pace is, because it is not as good as the Ferraris on long runs, they are very consistent, the Spaniard said. But this weekend we have a much more competitive package, so I expect our race to be more competitive than Melbourne. I am very, very happy with the work the team have done. We are closer to Ferrari so everything is going in the right direction.
McLaren are also hoping that, despite all of the positive prognostications, Raikkonens engine will give trouble following its small water loss in Australia. Certainly, the merciless heat will seek out any weaknesses in any cars this afternoon, and all of the top drivers have been at pains to suggest that anything can happen in this race.
Behind the leading quartet the BMW Saubers and Nico Rosbergs Williams seem set for a good scrap, while the Toyotas once again performed strongly over single qualifying laps. After their performance in Melbourne, however, it remains to be seen whether the red and white cars from Cologne will be as strong in relative terms in the race.
Elsewhere, Red Bull are quietly optimistic, Tonio Liuzzi was encouraged by the performance of his Toro Rosso, and Super Aguri are hoping to claw back some pace, as Spyker hope for a reliable chase in the quest perhaps for the final point. Neither Honda driver is optimistic at all, while the mood in the Renault camp is aggressive.
We felt we had made progress before this race but of course, the notion of competitiveness is always relative - and it is now clear that some of our rivals have made more progress on this circuit, admitted Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering, after neither of the teams drivers made the top ten on Saturday.
Having said that, it is equally true to say that we didnt maximise our chances in qualifying. Clearly the overall level of performance is disappointing, but we now have to make the most of the situation we find ourselves in. We will look to take full advantage of our freedom to choose the fuel load for both cars, and race hard through the midfield pack.
As has been the case all weekend, the expectation remains for a very hot race with an ambient temperature high of 34 degrees and track temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees. The chance of rain this afternoon is less than 20 percent, though, as we saw on Saturday ,a brief shower is always possible.