April 19th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Lotus are looking good for another strong performance at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix. Kimi Raikkonen topped the times in Free Practice 2 this afternoon after finishing ninth in the morning session. Romain Grosjean was tenth in the morning and seventh in the afternoon, just under half a second shy of Raikkonen's leading time.
FP2 tends to be about tyre comparison for all of the teams. Typically, each driver will do a run on the harder prime tyres, followed by a low-fuel run on the softer option tyres for comparison and then high-fuel runs on both sets of tyres for purposes of race setup and evaluating tyre degradation. It is normal for the difference in lap time between the tyre compounds to be between half a second and a second, but for Lotus today it was 1.5 seconds for Grosjean and 2 full seconds for Raikkonen. That points to a heavy fuel load on the prime tyre, which this weekend is Pirelli's hard compound. Such a tactic of using higher fuel suggests that Lotus are comfortable with their qualifying pace and more interested in race setups. It also demonstrates that there is plenty of pace in the car, which is ominous for their competitors ahead of qualifying and the race.
Raikkonen has not had a pole position since returning to Formula One at the start of 2012, and has only featured on the front row of the grid once - at last weekend's Chinese Grand Prix. Romain Grosjean is still looking for his first Formula One pole position at this early stage of his career. It is possible that there could be a Lotus on pole in Bahrain, but it is by no means certain given how close the times have been in practice for this weekend - in FP2, the top ten were separated by just over eight tenths of a second.
Qualifying simulations will form a part of many teams' FP3 programmes, and we should therefore have a better idea of the likely qualifying order tomorrow morning.
This is what the Lotus team had to say after Friday practice:
Kimi Raikkonen: “It’s nice to be fastest but you never know what the others are doing; we just stick to our programme and don’t take too much notice of what else is happening. I actually made a mistake through the final corners on my fastest lap, so there’s still more time to be found. It’s tricky to get the setup right here and the wind can make a big difference; it might work for you one way but make things more tricky the other. It wasn’t a bad start today; things aren’t exactly where we want them but we’re reasonably fast, so let’s see what we can do from here.”
Romain Grosjean: “The new chassis feels good. Today we’ve been working on getting the right correlation between chassis, setup and tyres to extract everything we want from it. It’s easy to know what you want, the difficult bit is getting the little details sorted, but we’re getting there and it’s been a positive day. We’ve seen that Kimi was fastest today so that gives us a great target for tomorrow.”
Alan Permane, Trackside Operations Director: “It was a fairly standard Friday for us, which is a nice way to start the weekend. We looked at setup work in the morning before moving to longer runs, higher fuel race pace and degradation analysis on both tyre compounds in the afternoon, with no problems or interruptions to the programme. We were able to push both allocated compounds of tyres pretty well in the hot conditions today and generally the cars are well balanced. Romain’s running a new chassis and overall is happy with the car so we’re looking forward to an exciting qualifying session tomorrow.”