Lotus and Sauber

One of the most startling things to me in qualifying was the surprisingly quick pace of Lotus and the relative lack of pace from Sauber considering the cold and wet conditions of Silverstone.

Recall it was at Malaysia that Perez got his first podium and Lotus showed great pace at Valencia until Renault’s alternator failed.

There are three possible conclusions to explain this phenomena.

1.  The development of the cars has led to them performing more equally in either hot or cold temperatures.

2. Sauber mucked up the strategy in Q2 while Lotus timed its runs very well.

3.  Lotus set up their cars expecting rain and thus gained an advantage that surpassed its inherent weakness in cold conditions.

I expect that it is probably a combination of all of these things with the least emphasis on option 1.  Sauber screwing up the strategy is just unfortunate and there is not much of a story there.  They fit the wrong tires thinking the track had come to them but it had not.  Ferrari made the same mistake at the start of Q2 and got saved by the proverbial bell (red flag).

More interesting to me is the relative set up of the Lotus which was probably set up with rain in mind.  First, lets talk about what a rain set up is and how it differs from the dry set up.

In the wet, there are three things that teams do.

1. Raise downforce

2. Induce understeer

3. Lengthen the gear ratios

They do all of this to give the driver better grip and confidence in the corner.  More downforce helps to prevent aquaplaning and gives faster corner speeds.  Straight line performance is not as important in the wet as it increases the chances of aquaplaning.  Lengthening the gear ratios helps give the driver better throttle control and when you have 770bhp as F1 cars do, throttle control is a good thing.  More like than not oversteer in wet conditions is throttle generated rather than the natural balance of the car.  That explains the understeer too so there.

Recall also that car set ups are locked after Qualifying.  Teams are not allowed to change anything set up wise between Qualifying and the Race.

If Lotus is willing to gamble that the weatherman will be right for Sunday as well as Saturday then they can go to a full wet set up.  Obviously, other teams have the same information though they may be more hesitant to believe the weatherman and so may give their cars a compromise in case it dries up on Sunday.  Should it dry, Lotus will find themselves with a car that understeers and lacks straight line speed.

We’ll see how this gamble works out for them.

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