Maldonado’s Williams topped the time sheets today, with a laptime of 1:22.3, which is further proof that (a) we should not pay attention to it and (b) we expect the top teams to be able to go possibly into the 1:20’s. Today, however, saw Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button embark on a full-race simulation, Schumacher completing 67 laps and Button 66 (typical Barcelona race is 66 laps long). Mark Webber was also on a similar program, however he did not do a full race distance (50 laps in total, including in and out laps). We have isolated these runs and present them to you in the following figure (as always, you can click on it to enlarge):
Let’s focus on the McLaren Vs Mercedes stint for an instant, because they seem quite comparable. Both completed the same number of laps and both did 4 stints (actually JB’s first stint was cut in half, but we’ll consider it as one). The data are in the table below. The laps include the in and out laps of course, and the average laptimes disregard the peaks (which may represent either the driver easing up or facing traffic).
As we can see above, it seems that Mercedes are quite close to McLaren’s pace, although we can’t tell who’s ahead at the moment. We don’t have solid information of the tyres used (we believe that MS started on softs and moved on to the hard option, whereas JB started on the medium), and we don’t know the condition of the tyres (where they used, scrubbed in, brand new, etc). We also don’t know exactly how much the drivers were pushing, and whether they were using KERS (I presume they were, since KERS reliability is something that also needs to be tested). All in all, however, Mercedes’ long stints are much better in comparison to their 2011 pre-season testing, and let’s not forget that the other teams had one extra week in Jerez to get their cars dialed-in. An interesting observation has to do with tyre degradation; with the exception of the last stint, Button’s McLaren seemed to keep its tyres in better shape throughout the stints than Schumi’s Mercedes and Mark’s Red Bull. Again, it could be a factor of how hard the drivers were pushing, but overall we can see that Mercedes are there or thereabouts.
Red Bull’s pace, on the other hand, is a bit more difficult to decipher. Theirs was not a full-race simulation, therefore if Mark’s 3 stints are compared to MS’ and JB’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd stint, then Red Bull was massively faster today. If, however, they are to be compared with MS’ and JB’s 2nd, 3rd and 4th stint (which is what I believe), then we have the following picture:
As you can see in the average lap times for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th stint, Mercedes is a bit faster. Of course, that’s not a conclusion; it’s not even an observation. But it’s an indication that Mercedes are not far off the pace (if at all). I am afraid, once more, we cannot decipher Ferrari’s lap times, because they were on completely different testing schedule, doing shorter runs and focusing, again, in data acquisition. Hopefully we’ll get more from them tomorrow.