In our previous blog entry, we analyzed the race simulation that Rosberg did. How does it compare to the real thing, though, i.e. the amount of time it took Vettel to complete the race distance in 2011? Let’s examine that:
Vettel finished the race in 01:39:03.301 hours. This, however, included four (4) pistops: Lap 9, Lap 18, Lap 34 and Lap 48. Thanks to F1 Fanatic, we know that Red Bull’s average pit stop time was around 20 seconds, we can therefore safely assume that the clear race time is 01:39:03.301 – (4 x 20 seconds) = 01:37:43.301. This, over a period of 66 laps, would give an average laptime of 01:28.838.
Let’s see how this compares to Mercedes’ race simulation. Nico did 65 laps, at an average lap time of 01:28.127. Over a 66 laps race, this would equate to a total race time of 01:36:56.382, i.e. 47 seconds faster than Red Bull in 2011. Before we get too excited about that, let’s not forget that the temperatures in testing are (traditionally) significantly lower. This has an effect in performance, both in terms of engine and aerodynamics (cooler air = denser air). Mercedes best lap time in Barcelona pre-season testing was 1:21.218, whereas their best quali lap was 1:22.569, i.e. a difference of +1.5%.
By adding 1.5%, finally, we get a total race simulation time of 01:38.23.628. How does that compare to Vettel’s 2011 race? It’s about 41 seconds slower. Admittedly, this is a very risky comparison because (a) we don’t know how hard Nico was pushing, (b) although we know Nico was using hard tyres for his stints, we don’t know their condition (Vettel was used 3 sets of softs and 2 sets of hards in 2011), (c) we don’t know if Merc were running the car at full blast (engine settings, KERS settings, etc) (d) Vettel did 5 stints whereas Nico did 4 stints to cover the same distance. Lots of disclaimers then.
We can, however, be confident enough to say that Mercedes, at this moment, are a little bit behind of where Red Bull were at the start of their 2011 season, with the exhaust blow diffusers. That’s a very good step for the team. Vettel has already admitted that the RB8 is sliding more in fast corners than the RB7. From this, we cannot surmise how much downforce / performance exactly they have lost from the previous season. If it’s around 1.5 seconds (which is approximately the time that they have found between Spain 2011 and Brazil 2011), then Mercedes should be reasonably close to them. Let us also not forget that from now until the first race, the cars will be heavily updated and worked on; we should not expect big gains in terms of seconds, but a 0.3-0.4 seconds gain from the start of Barcelona pre-season testing to Melbourne should be expected for the top teams. All in all, Mercedes seem to have made the necessary leap to bring them into the Red Bull “territory” and I believe that we are going to see differences of less than 0.5-0.7 seconds between Red Bull and Mercedes at the start of the year (last year, I remind you, was around 1.3 seconds). 0.6 seconds over 66 laps translates to 40 seconds difference at the end…
Now, it’s interesting to examine what some of the “smaller” teams were doing on Friday, Williams and Sauber more specifically. They both (Maldonado and Kobayashi respectively) embarked on what looked like race simulations. Kobayashi completed 58 laps (including in and out laps) and Maldonado completed 69 laps; you can see their runs in the diagram below:
Kobayashi’s runs are a little bit short of a race distance. As you can see in the table below, his average lap time was 01:29.802. This translates to a race distance (again, disregarding the pitstops) of 01:38:46.932. By adding the 1.5% percentage that we discussed above, then it translated to 01:40:15.836, which is about 1:52 minutes slower than Mercedes and 2:30 minutes slower than the 2011 Spain GP Red Bull. If that was indeed a race sim, Sauber would have been lapped quite comfortably.
Williams, on the other hand, look much more racy. Maldonado’s average lap time over 69 laps was 01:28.516, which translates to a race time of 01:37:22.056. Again, using the 1.5% addition, we get a final race time of 01:38:49.687. That’s barely 26 seconds slower than Mercedes’ race simulation (0.4 seconds per lap), which (possibly) shows that (a) Williams are in a much better shape than they were in 2011 and (b) the gap in the midfield is going to be very tight in 2012. People should not be surprised with Williams’ testing performance. In the Silverstone GP (2011) they were the team who gained the most from the temporary ban on engine mapping to blow the diffuser, therefore it was expected that they had the most to gain from this change of rules. In Silverstone qualifying, Williams were able to almost match McLaren’s pace…
So, you naturally ask, is it safe to draw any conclusions at this moment? The answer is no. We can get a general “idea” of things. Mercedes have upped their game. By how much? Only time will tell. The midfield will be very tight this season… By how much? No one knows – we have yet to see what Lotus can do, for instance, and we have yet to evaluate Force India’s race simulations (none so far). We have also yet to see what Ferrari are capable of. Rumours have it that they have unlocked certain areas of the car – perhaps people were far too quick to rule them out. All in all, provided it’s not another Red Bull whitewash, we should be in for a thrilling 2012… I can’t wait for the next and final Barcelona tests….