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Strategic win for Mercedes in qualifying
12 May 2012
It might not be a front row lockout for Mercedes in Barcelona, but the team reckoned that their strategic decisions during a "unique" qualifying session at the Circuit de Catalunya puts them in a very strong position for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.
"The story of qualifying indeed turned out to be one of managing tyre use, and it certainly delivered a unique session," said Bob Bell, the team's technical director who is subbing for an ill Ross Brawn as team manager in Spain.
"From a team perspective, we got two cars into the top ten and both drivers will start from the cleaner side of the grid," he pointed out. "Our positions were probably as good as we could have achieved with the way we chose to use the tyres."
After having made it into the top ten with both cars, Mercedes then opted to limit Michael Schumacher's Q3 run to some gentle sector times in order to preserve tyres.
"We wanted to save tyres this afternoon, which dictated how we managed Q3," said Schumacher, who has been vocal about how much he dislikes the ascendancy of tyre strategy within the sport this season. "I did not complete a timed lap, and now I still have the choice of what tyres to start on tomorrow.
"Equally, I thought it was better to start from ninth on the grid than eighth, and be on the clean side," he added, echoing Bob Bell's own line of thinking. "It will be interesting to see if our choices today pay off at the end of the race."
His compatriot team mate Nico Rosberg at least got to set a lap time in Q3, although it was clearly some way off what the Mercedes is capable of achieving in normal sessions.
Even so, "seventh position was about the most that we could have achieved," insisted Rosberg. "That was a tricky qualifying ... It was a challenge to find the right set-up for the tyres and some of the others did that better than we did today."
The mention of "others" seemed a nod to the pace of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in particular, who ended up a whopping half a second faster than second-place man Pastor Maldonado by the time the chequered flag fell on Q3.
"Some sessions are tight, like Q2 when 0.048s separated P5 from P10. Others are not, as Lewis' impressive qualifying time more than half a second ahead of P2 proved," admitted Mercedes-Benz' head of motorsport Norbert Haug. "Having said that, it is most likely that we will see changes in the top ten order from today at the end of the race tomorrow. Our target will be to score points with both cars posting consistent lap times as Nico did during his long run at the end of the final practice session this morning."
Everyone is wondering whether cooler conditions will mean on race day, and whether that will shake things up even more than the scrambled grid positions.
"Tomorrow's forecast is still for cooler temperatures," pointed out Bell. "With what we have seen both this weekend and this season so far, we know that a difference of several degrees in track temperature can make a huge difference to how different cars perform. We can expect a very interesting race."
"It's going to be a tight race tomorrow, although the forecast says it should be cooler," agreed Schumacher.
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