Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Qualifying in Shanghai

Saturday’s qualifying session at Shanghai was thrilling as ever, with the official timesheet at the end of the session showing identical four-lap average lap times for the no. 14 Porsche and the no. 8 Toyota on the front row of the grid.

I’m sure readers here will be well aware of the format of WEC qualifying; but just in case you’re not, a brief recap for you.

Qualifying is split so that the GT cars and prototypes each have their own session, and each has 25 minutes, during which time teams are only allowed to use one set of (dry) tyres, and two drivers from each car must set two timed laps each. Refuelling is permitted, but the car may not go back into the garage during the session; if it does so, then its qualifying is deemed to be complete.

Obviously, the prototypes are quite a bit quicker than the GTs, and 25 minutes provides enough time for around four flying laps for each P1 driver (bearing in mind that the final ‘in’ lap doesn’t have to be completed inside the time limit). So although the mantra “every lap counts” is true, there is also room for a lap or two to be spoiled by traffic, without the four-lap average being too badly affected. There is also the opportunity to use the laps between ‘flyers’ to cool the tyres, or charge up hybrid systems, for example.

In Shanghai, the pressure was intensified by threatening clouds and reports of spots of rain on the track. The no. 14 Porsche was started by Neel Jani and he did just two flying laps and brought the 919 straight back into the pits to hand over to Romain Dumas. The Frenchman got into the car, did two more flying laps, and came back in as well. The car was pushed back into its garage, the Porsche having done just eight laps in total on its set of tyres.

Over at Toyota, Anthony Davidson took the no. 8 TS040 Hybrid out and did three flying laps, each one quicker than the one before - even if, by his own admission, the laps were “a bit scrappy”. Sebastien Buemi may not have had ideal track conditions, but he did find himself on an increasingly empty track, and was able to unleash all of the Japanese car’s 1000 horsepower in his quest - not only for pole position, but also for a championship point. Despite managing six flying laps, however, he wasn’t able - quite - to extract a quick enough lap time, as the figures below show.

14 - Porsche 919 hybrid
Lap Driver Time
1 Neel Jani 1m 47.036s
2 Neel Jani 1m 47.606s
3 Romain Dumas 1m 49.443s
4 Romain Dumas 1m 49.115s

8 - Toyota TS040 Hybrid
Lap Driver Time
1 Anthony Davidson 1m 48.097s
2 Anthony Davidson 1m 48.087s
3 Anthony Davidson 1m 47.847s
4 Sebastien Buemi 1m 48.671s
5 Sebastien Buemi 1m 55.994s
6 Sebastien Buemi 1m 50.555s
7 Sebastien Buemi 1m 48.637s
8 Sebastien Buemi 1m 54.459s
9 Sebastien Buemi 1m 48.632s

Now, before you get your calculators out and work out the four lap averages for the best two laps of each driver from each car, consider this: when you do an average, you have to divide, and that means rounding. Try working out the total time of the four laps, and don’t divide by four. Then you get a total time for four laps for the Porsche of 7m 13.200s. For the Toyota, the total is 7m 13.203s.

So the average lap times, as issued by the FIA WEC, are clearly truncated, rather than rounded. If you round to the nearest thousandth of a second, then the result is:
Porsche - 1m 48.300s
Toyota - 1m 48.301s

Of course, there is nothing in the regulations to say how you should resolve this arithmetic: perhaps there should be. What is specified, is that the car that sets the four lap average first takes precedence in the case of the average lap time being the same for two different cars. Fortunately, the Porsche did its time first, but if it hadn’t done, then I think it would have had a good case to argue that its average was quicker, and that it should have had pole position anyway.

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