The 2011 season – A Statistical Analysis, Part A

Posted: January 5, 2012 in Formula 1, Statistics
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Hello to every F1 fan out there.

This being my first post, I wanted to make it a bit special, so I pieced together a full statistical analysis of the 2011 F1 season. I was surprised with the number of interesting observations that could be drawn; especially when compared to the various media statements of the team managers and drivers throughout the season. Stick around, and together we will find out if, for example, Ross Brawn’s claim that Mercedes were able to keep up development with the top teams throughout the season is valid, or whether Renault are right in suggesting that their forward facing exhausts gave them an early advantage which they then failed to develop.

If people ask for it, I may be willing to post the full analysis (i.e. the raw statistical data) at a later post. In the meantime, here goes Part A, of our analysis:

The Development Race

It’s difficult to judge the development pace in pure terms throughout the season (i.e. a November F1 car how faster would lap around Australia in comparison to a March F1 car?), but there are plenty of observations we can make about the comparative pace of development amongst the teams.

I have taken all the data from all qualifying sessions (Q1, Q2 and Q3) throughout the season, in order to determine the raw pace of the cars. Taking into consideration the first 5 races of the season, it appears that the pecking order, in terms of raw pace, was as follows:

1. Red Bull , +0.000 sec

2. McLaren Mercedes , +0.625 sec

3. Ferrari , +1.115 sec

4. Mercedes GP , +1.297 sec

5. Lotus Renault GP , +1.430 sec

6. Sauber Ferrari , +2.124 sec

7. Toro Rosso , +2.179 sec

8. Williams , +2.232 sec

9. Force India , +2.508 sec

10. Team Lotus , +4.368 sec

11. Marussia Virgin , +5.850 sec

12. HRT , +7.021 sec

(Note : The times refer the average gap to the absolute fastest time recorded in all qualifying sessions)

At a first glance it becomes apparent that Red Bull enjoyed an ominous advantage over their closest rivals, i.e. a good 6 tenths on McLaren and 1.1 seconds on Ferrari, on average. Although this margin was usually less during the races, it meant Red Bull got to be on pole on almost every single race (18 poles out of a maximum possible of 19) and determine the race pace and strategy.

Lotus Renault was also very close to the front-runners, i.e. 3 tenths off Ferrari’s pace and a mere tenth and a half off Mercedes, which is evidence that their forward facing exhaust system was working well.

Now, let’s look at what the F1 pecking order was at the end of the season, after a full year’s of relentless development, i.e. in the last 5 races of the season:

1. Red Bull , +0.054 sec

2. McLaren Mercedes , +0.134 sec

3. Ferrari , +0.597 sec

4. Mercedes GP , +1.299 sec

5. Force India , +1.894 sec

6. Lotus Renault GP , +1.992 sec

7. Toro Rosso , +2.307 sec

8. Sauber Ferrari , +2.518 sec

9. Williams , +2.710 sec

10. Team Lotus , +4,354 sec

11. Marussia Virgin , +6.023 sec

12. HRT , +6.455 sec

Surprised? Let’s look at it team by team:

Mclaren were tremendously successful in clawing back Red Bull’s advantage in raw pace, by finding 5 tenths of a second more than Red Bull and getting to within a tenth of them. This is why Hamilton was able to record McLaren’s sole pole of the season (Korea). This is not the first time that we have seen the Woking team stage such a comeback, because their in-season development pace is legendary. However, this year they started much further back than they wanted, and paid the price for it. One has to wonder how dominant McLaren can be in a season in case they come up with a pace setter from the word go. Having said that, the recent drain of excellent aerodynamicists to Ferrari following Fry’s move there puts a huge question mark on their 2012 campaign (not as much on the car that will roll out on February, as on whether they can keep up that pace of development throughout the season).

Ferrari’s story is similar, albeit a little bit less successful because they started way back the order. They, however, managed to claw back a good half second compared to Red Bull, even though, as you can see in Figure 1 below, they lost the development plot a bit after Silverstone with a series of upgrades that didn’t really work (no need to go through this, you all know what I am talking about). They ended up 6 tenths behind Red Bull at the end of the season, and although that’s much better than the 1.1 second at the start, it’s still nowhere near enough good for Ferrari’s standards and their fans’ expectations.

Where does that leave Red Bull? In not such a good light, I am afraid. Both McLaren and Ferrari were able to cut huge chunks of lap time from their advantage, and although one may argue that this was down to understanding the exhaust blowing concept better and copying Red Bull’s ideas, it still doesn’t leave us drooling over the Bulls’ development pace. On the contrary, it shows a team that started off with a ridiculously faster machine but failed to keep their distance from their rivals – is it a sign of decline or was it just a case of a team realising their advantage and spending more time in the 2012 concept? Only time will tell – March is fast approaching!

Switching over to Mercedes, the picture is disheartening. They started the season 1.3 seconds off the pace and finished exactly 1.3 seconds off the pace, which means that they were unable to follow either McLaren’s or Ferrari’s pace of development (Ross you can stop bullshi**ing us now). In fact, their average gap to the front throughout the season was just that – 1.3 seconds. It’ s ever more depressing considering that Mercedes were very late to introduce their final aero package (first appeared in Melbourne) and were also quite weak on the blown exhaust front at the start, which means they had a big initial scope of development. We failed to see this materialise during the season, and it was only Lotus Renault’s demise (as we will see later on) that kept them from falling into the clutches of the midfield. BAR aka Honda aka Brawn aka Mercedes GP have a history of over-promising and under-delivering (with the blip of 2009 which was due to a stroke of luck / genius in the shape of the double diffuser). This team has a tendency of viewing things behind rose-tinted spectacles and it’s a bit sad having to watch Ross Brawn follow the footsteps of the great Nick Fry (bleah).

Moving over to the midfield, Lotus Renault clearly didn’t know how to develop their radical exhaust system, and lost 6 tenths in comparison to Red Bull, which actually represents the slowest development pace of any team during the season. Force India on the contrary started 9th in the pecking order and finished 5th (the biggest improvement of any, by far), having found 6 tenths of a second more during the season in comparison to teams such as Red Bull and Mercedes. A truly excellent job and a fairy tale story of in-season development for such a small midfield team – many congratulations! Apart from that, Toro Rosso started 7th and finished 7th (although their raw pace suffered in comparison to their race-day performances) and Williams was a disappointment through and through – we don’t need stats to see that. Team Lotus managed a decent development rate (along the lines of Red Bull), whereas Virgin suffered due to the CFD saga and HRT found 6 tenths as well, mainly because their gap to the front was so huge.

In Figure 1 below, I am showing you how the 4 “big” teams compared throughout the year, on a race by race basis, so you can see for yourselves and draw your own conclusions. You can safely disregard Silverstone as a blip, due to the temporary ban of the blown exhausts (something which can be clearly seen in the graph). Figure 2 is basically the same graph with all the teams included.

Development Race of the 4 big teams

The Development Race

The Development Race - all teams

The Development Race - All Teams

In the above figures, where there are no data points is because no meaningful conclusions / numbers could be drawn from the qualifying sessions of the specific race. Also, please note that the numbers to the left (y-axis) are in % and not in seconds – that’s the % of the lap time. The reason I choose to refer to percentages rather than seconds is because they are more accurate in understanding the relative position, since the actual lap time varies significantly from race to race. An example: Being 1% slower than Red Bull in, say, Monaco, means that you are about 7.5 tenths of their pace. However, being 1% slower than Red Bull in Singapore means that you are about 1 second off their pace. Therefore, the relative pace remains the same, but the gap grows bigger, simply because the lap is longer in Singapore. However, this tends to level out throughout a season, which is why I used seconds in my analysis above, so that it will also be easier understood by all.

Race Statistics

Before we move on to the most interesting part of our analysis (i.e. drivers’ performance assessment), let’s take a look on some interesting race statistics, in the following Figure 3:

Race Statistics

Race Statistics

Yeah, I know the letters are small, just click on the figure!

As you can see Valencia was the race with the less retirements (0) and the more kms completed (98.17% – a total of 7277.717kms), whereas the fastest race was Monza, with an average speed of 227.848kmh. The slowest was Singapore (155.810kmh), since we disregard Canada (4 hours duration due to the rain) and Monaco (red flag). What’s really interesting though is to examine the fuel effect in each race, by comparing the average race lap of the winner to the pole lap recorded on the previous day.

We traditionally “know” (because we have been told so) that Barcelona is a race with one of the highest penalties for carrying fuel. However, as you can see in the table, this is not so. In fact, the tracks where the fuel effect is strongest are the following (in that order):

Fuel Effect - High

Whereas the tracks where the cars suffered the least from each gallon of fuel were the following:

Fuel Effect - Low

On average, we had 4.2 retirements per race (including the DNS of HRT in Melbourne and the DSQ of Sauber in the same race), which is a testament of the reliability that F1 teams enjoy these days.

Coming up in Part B:

Stay tuned for Part B, where we will be looking closely into the performances of each driver. We are going to find out, for example, how well Schumacher really did against Rosberg, and just how good Bruno Senna’s stint with Renault was. We will also be taking a look at the performances of the teams along with a few more interesting bits and pieces.

C u all soon.

  1. Sakae says:

    Excellent work. I would be intrested in your statistical approach. Thank you for the above.

    • abu says:

      Thanks for your kind comments mate. What exactly are you interested in? Learning how I combined the numbers to produce the figures? If yes, let me know and I’ll e-mail you with more details… 🙂

      • Sakae says:

        Thank abu for quick reponse. Time permitting, for my better understanding I want to return to your analysis asap, however meanwhile I was interested if you could outline briefly your methodology that you deployed. I do realise there is an explanation within, but abbriviated version, if possible at all, would be nice. At another web site there is ongoing heated discussion that “everyone knows that RB racer was the fastest car”. Lacking definition what “fastest” denotes in this context, my own (incomplete yet) analysis focused on individual performance over three sectors, each lap, over nineteen races. It was my assertion that outcome based on results already available, will indicate that in second half of the 2011 season, despite some limitations of my analysis, McLaren racer was either on the par, or very near to RB. Conclusively it was driver’s performance that made the difference. RB did not had good results through speed trap, but the way they put it together on each lap, sector by sector, was the miracle that did it for them.

        (This is a fantastic discussion).

      • abu says:

        Well, with regards to Red Bull Vs McLaren, I was mainly interested in their qualifying speed; i.e. the absolute speed of the car. For that reason, I compared the best laptimes during the qualifying sessions for both drivers in all races. I made the assumption that at least one of the two drivers of each team would reach very close to the absolute speed potential of the car, therefore the fastest lap that was recorded in any of the quali sessions would be a good indicative of the absolute speed of the car. Example: Vettel posts 1:20.0 in Q1, 1:19.0 in Q2 and 1:18.5 in Q3. Webber posts 1:20.0 in Q1, 1:18.3 in Q2 and 1:18.8 in Q3. On McLaren’s side, Hamilton posts 1:20.2 in Q1, 1:18.7 in Q2 and 1:18.4 in Q3. Button posts 1:21.0 in Q1, 1:19.0 in Q2 and 1:18.9 in Q3. Based on the above, I will be comparing the Q2 laptime of Webber (1:18.3) to the Q3 laptime of Hamilton (1.18.4) to determine that Red Bull was about a tenth faster in terms of absolute speed than McLaren. It’s interesting in this example that Hamilton would have got pole, yet Red Bull would be considered to be very marginally faster. Of course, it is NOT 100% safe that Red Bull was faster by 0.1 seconds in that race, because there are a lot of factors at play (track conditions, weather, etc), therefore you will never see me making such assumptions. However, over the period of many races, or over a complete season the average picture is much more accurate and reliable, and mistakes / variations tend to cancel themselves out. I hope I responded to your question. From my analysis, it was evidently clear that McLaren started the season with a deficit of 6-7 tenths in comparison to Red Bull (in terms of raw, qualifying pace) but ended the season only a slight tenth of a second behind…

  2. Sakae says:

    Great work abu, now we need to digest it, and understand its crucial details.

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