Romain Grojean says Lotus misjudged pace increase of soft tyres after India Q1 exit
Raikkonen, meanwhile, notes small step forward in his qualy struggles
By James Galloway in Greater Noida. Last Updated: 27/10/13 9:53am
Romain Grosjean conceded he and Lotus had probably been guilty of being a "little bit too brave" during Q1 at the Indian GP in the wake of the strategic mistake that has compromised his promising weekend.
Having carried through his career-best run of form into practice by again proving Lotus's lead runner near the top of the timesheets, Grosjean's side of the garage gambled on completing the first knockout stage of qualifying on only the slower 'prime' tyre - a tactic also adopted by the dominant Sebastian Vettel.
But while the Red Bull driver progressed through to the second stage without drama, Grosjean's 1:26.577 time left him vulnerable to an early exit as a host of usually slower cars found big gains late on while on the softer tyres.
In the end Grosjean dropped below the cut line to 17th on the grid, his second worst qualifying result of the season, and put him in reflective mood when speaking to reporters after the session.
"Obviously it wasn't far [away from making the cut]. The times didn't work out as expected in the afternoon," he admitted.
"Sebastian Vettel lapped only six tenths quicker than what my lap is, which is the time difference we have seen so far [this weekend].
"I got traffic in the last corner, I lost something like a tenth, tenth and a half. That's more or less about it. The car was quite difficult to drive. We did [one minute] 26.5. 0.1, 0.2 [less time] it would have been possible but it was not good enough to go to Q2."
Given Grosjean had shown the speed throughout practice to challenge for the second row at least - the Frenchman confirming he would have attacked Q3 with two fresh sets of soft tyres in order to "go for the gap probably between the Mercedes and Webber" had his Q1 gamble paid off - the sight of him falling at the first hurdle represented a major shock.
The Frenchman said he had been as culpable as the team's strategists in the ultimate misjudgment.
"Everyone planned the cut off for 26.5," he explained. "That's the lap time we did but for some reason the option tyre worked much better than in the morning.
"That tyre was supposed to be five tenths, six tenths [faster]; I think we have seen something like a second which explains this misjudgment of five tenths. I was part of the decision with the team when we decided to go with primes to Q2.
"The wind changed a little bit, the car was a bit harder to drive but it wasn't far off what we should have been doing."
Admitting Lotus is again down on the kind of top speed required to make easier headway through the order on Sunday, Grosjean said he would now give it his all to salvage a strong result in the race.
"You never know - we've seen Kimi starting P13 and finishing P3 in Singapore. For sure I will not lead the race in the first corner unless I have a big jump start!" he joked.
"We try to get the best strategy we can get. Option tyre is clearly not a good tyre for here. They run out of grip after one lap, even sometime before. So for sure we don't want to spend much time on them. We'll see what tyre we start on and just go for maximum attack in the first few laps and try to get some places.
He added: "It's not the end of the world. It's not good, it's not good for the constructors' and it's clearly not what we were expecting. We've been maybe a little bit too brave today. But surely the situation is not the same [as before his upturn in form]. I've proven that we were able to do it and we did some strong races. We had a very good weekend until here."
Grosjean's Q1 demise means that for the first time since Monza, and only the second time in the last seven events, Kimi Raikkonen will start a race as Lotus's highest-placed driver on the grid.
The Finn had admitted in Thursday's Drivers' Press Conference that rediscovering his early-season single lap pace was a priority this weekend, and after achieving his best grid position since July on Saturday, Raikkonen noted a small improvement.
"It was overall a little bit better but it's not still as I want it. There are still some issues but it's been a bit better today," he said.
"Usually we do better in the race and that's the aim and we have to see what happens tomorrow. There are a lot of different ways of doing the race, there's a big difference in tyres, so we'll just see how it goes."
Although the Finn starts on the more brittle soft tyres, and could therefore be vulnerable to the medium-tyre shod Fernando Alonso behind, he gave a characteristically phlegmatic response when asked if he had considered starting on the more durable rubber.
"We could have done anything we wanted but obviously it's hard to say which way it's going to go," Raikkonen added.
"We will see tomorrow and then after the race but you have to use both tyres so I don't think it's going to make a difference."