2023 F1 Midfield Tales – The Midfield Pounce at the Dutch GP!

'F1 Midfield Tales' will be a combination of data and analysis that will aim to dissect the uber-competitive midfield of F1'

2023 Dutch Grand Prix

Preface

WELCOME BACK !! 

The season is back in action and everything seems normal to us fans and enthusiasts.

For the restart, the location at which the F1 carnival pitched its tent this week was in 'Max Land'. Yes, Circuit Zandvoort amidst the dunes of North Zandvoort in the Netherlands at the shore of the North Sea was the setting for the Formula 1 Heineken Dutch Grand Prix 2023.

This is a unique, the word used in every sense of it, a circuit where the track meanders around the natural dunes to create an undulating experience for the drivers. This is the only track in the current calendar with very steep and prominent bankings, the first at turn 3 and a fast one at turn 14. The lack of straights and medium to high-speed corners makes this a downforce-demanding race track. Here's a track map for your reference:


There were no changes made to the track layout. Pirelli offered the hardest range of tyres for the weekend. Haas introduced a few minor upgrades to their car.

With the narrative set, let's take a look at how things unfolded for the midfield.

Observations

For the comparisons, data with similar variables are selected for a viable analysis. For instance, the fastest sectors by a team and not individual drivers are considered for the qualifying examination. Lap times are collected for the same tyre compound at comparable race periods.

This year has put up its hands to be remembered as one of the wettest seasons in Formula 1's history. Dry, straightforward weekends have become a rarity and the unsettled weather has been a thorn to the participating teams.

Rain was expected on all three days of the weekend but the clouds held its waters for the first day. Practice 1 and 2 were identical in terms of the conditions offered and the stability helped the teams with their preparation.

All was not smooth sailing among the midfield, a few drivers had a mishap in this unforgiving classic track and the most significant of them was the crash suffered by Daniel Ricciardo. He, in trying to avoid the stricken McLaren of Piastri at turn 3, slammed his car into the outside barriers. The jolt, unfortunately, fractured one of the metacarpals of his left hand. This presented an opportunity for the reserve driver of Red Bull and Alpha Tauri, Liam Lawson, to step up and replace Daniel for the rest of the sessions.

Practice 3 was declared wet and acted as a precursor for the Qualifying session.

Qualifying

The rain had taken its full effect and the start of the session was declared wet as usual at the start of Q1, all the drivers were on the inters. The track was drying and constantly improving, here is a clustered chart comparing the times set in Q1 by the midfield drivers:


  • The Williams of Albon was the fastest car in the segment, after bolting on a new set of intermediates, Albon was on top after Q1. He had even more time in his hand. The Williams on the whole were surprisingly quick this weekend and they managed to get both cars to Q3. Albon went on to qualify at an impressive 4th position.
  • Unusually, the Alpine team opted to stay on one set for the whole segment, Gasly could make it to Q2 but Ocon fell short.
  • Alpha Tauri had a reasonable pace in these conditions and Lawson managed to keep away from the walls and the gravel but was understandably the slowest.
  • Haas had considerable pace but managed only one car into the subsequent Q3.
  • Alfa Romeo on average was the slowest car, Bottas claimed to have a good feeling with the car but had no pace to show, he was also out-qualified by his teammate.

The Race

Rain was expected on race day but the teams were not sure when it would arrive. This uncertainty resulted in what can be considered one of the most challenging races of the year for the teams and an exciting race for the spectators.

All the drivers in the midfield started on new soft tyres, the lights went green and as the cars were making their way to complete a lap, the clouds opened their vaults and the rain came down, it was expected to be a light shower and hence a few drivers tried to brave it out on their existing tyres while others went on to the intermediates immediately, those who took that call early, benefitted the most. Here's a look at the position changes in the first 18 laps of the Grand Prix:


It is evident that a lot of positional changes were made and the drivers who braved it on the soft tyres lost a lot of positions. The track quickly dried out and was suitable for dry tyres by the end of lap 11, at this time the undercut had a significant effect and again positions were exchanged.

Logan Sargeant crashed on lap 15, the ensuing safety car prompted the drivers on lap 1 softs to shift to another set of softs or a set of mediums. Albon decided to hold on to his soft tyres to maintain race position, he drove impressively for 44 laps on the same set.

When it came to race pace under stable race conditions, there was a lot to take away and the signs were good for certain teams. Let's take a look at how the lead driver of each team performed using the soft tyres:


  • The Alpine of Pierre Gasly was clearly the fastest car in the midfield, his pace was enough to keep himself ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.
  • Alpha Tauri in the hands of Yuki Tsunoda on average was the second fastest car.
  • It is unclear if Albon had more pace under him if he had followed the path of Pierre but his impressive long stint was still on par.
  • The Haas was the slowest on these tyres and their upgrades seemed to have not made an impression.

On the medium tyres the pace differential is depicted by this chart:


  • Haas was the fastest on these tyres, it should be noted that Alpine and Williams didn't opt for the mediums.
  • It is concerning to see Alfa Romeo to be even slower than the Haas.
  • Liam Lawson had an impressive debut as he wasn't completely out of the race, given the time he had with the car.
Drivers pitted again for another stint on dry tyres with a few opting for mediums and others opting for the softs again, that stint was short-lived as there was another heavier burst of rain. It was heavy enough for the race to be halted. Zhou was a casualty as he crashed in those treacherous conditions.

After the rains subsided and the conditions turned drivable again, the race was restarted with a rolling start with every driver on intermediates and it stayed the same until the chequered flag.

Here is a look at the overall change in positions throughout the whole race:


It was Pierre Gasly who made the most positions moving forward with sharp decisions and brilliant driving holding on to his gained positions. Here is a table depicting the winners and losers of the race:

Conclusion

The return to Formula 1 action after the summer break was very intriguing, The race in Zandvoort was expected to be very one dimensional but the weather conditions and the atmosphere created by the fans allowed it to be a multi-faceted entertainer.

From this race weekend, the thing that was reinforced was the closeness of the entire field. The top teams were reminded that if they don't bring their 'A' game every week, the hungrier midfield team will be ready to pounce and overhaul them. Albon and Williams had a strong performance in quali and Gasly pounced on the opportunity on Sunday. 

We head to 'Ferrari Land' next, another classic track in Monza. Everybody is expecting Williams to be a handful there but will they satisfy the expectations? Their recent form has been a mystery. Questions can only be answered on the track. Ciao!

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