I have always been fascinated by the differences between driving styles, and the effect that they have on lap times, tyre degradation, consistency and, of course, spectacle. Endless articles and opinions have been recorded on the subject, however the leading authority on the issue remains Peter Windsor (twitter: @PeterDWindsor / The Flying Lap), who has over the years published some fascinating articles on the subject, where he compares different driving techniques and styles. To anyone seriously interested in the subject I’d wholeheartedly recommend following him and trying to find old issues of F1 Racing for which he once worked for as Grand Prix Editor.

My own fascination with driving styles started at a very early age, but I was able to get a deeper understanding once the internet started booming and I got access to numerous onboard laps posted online in various websites. Old timers will fondly remember the various sites that offered onboard laps, like the f1-gp.ru and F1 seasons, at a time when FOM couldn’t or wouldn’t appreciate the F1 fans’ thirst for quality and specialized footage. Those were the days of the dial-up connection, and I remember downloading at 1.5 or 2.0 Kbytes/sec. Those were legitimate speeds back then – it took more than 2 hours to download a 10MB clip, and if you account for all the dial-up connection crashes, it could take your whole day. Things got only a little better around the year 2000, when I was near the completion of my Master thesis, which meant I had access to decent (by the standards of that time) connection speeds in Uni, so I was going back and forth carrying backpacks full of 3.5″ diskettes with zip files – and oh, the horror of realizing once back home that one of the 85 diskettes containing a 150MB Avi race was corrupt…

Anyway, I digress. My point was that it’s a real shame that FOM still doesn’t understand or appreciate the importance of providing this kind of footage freely to the public or, even, at a fee that most hardcore F1 fans would be willing to pay. They have the footage after all, why not use it? If I were them, after each race, I’d be posting online download links for the entire race from onboard cameras, so that fans can select their favourite driver and pay a reasonable amount of money to see the entire race from his cockpit; the same could be done for qualifying. If the content was made available by FOM, I’d be willing to pay to get it.

Despite their inability (and unwillingness) to provide us with onboard footage, I have been able to scrape together a very decent collection over the years. What really strikes me every time I go back to this collection, is the incredible development in driving styles that has taken place over the decades. Most people tend to compare drivers between eras – internet F1 forums are filled with fans endlessly arguing about whether Fangio was better than Senna, and if Jim Clark was more naturally talented than Schumacher. The truth is that the conditions are so different in between eras that any meaningful comparison is not possible.

The reason is that the requirements from a racing driver change dramatically in between eras. Let’s see the factors that change throughout eras and, in turn, affect the driving style and skills:

1. Tracks: Racing circuits have changed significantly since the days of Rouen and the old Nurburgring. Gradually, throughout the decades, the tracks became wider, with accommodating kerbs at the corner apex and exits, smoother tarmac, bigger run-off areas and, of course, dramatically different layout philosophy. As the track gets wider and the kerbs become larger and more accommodating, drivers tend to explore the limits more, and use different racing lines.

2. Cars: The vehicles’ characteristics throughout the years changed dramatically. From cars that relied heavily on mechanical grip, to turbo-charged monsters, ground-effect and, of course, the playstation-like cars we have today, which are more heavily relied on aerodynamics than any time in the history of the sport. Comparing drivers from different eras is like comparing cars and trying to argue which is the fastest. The reality though is that it takes a very different set of skills to drive a 1955 Ferrari than to drive a 2012 Ferrari, or driving a turbo BMW-powered car with 1400 BHP to driving a 2006-spec F1 car, with 850 BHP and all the electronics turned on. It’s not a matter of difficulty, since in all cases you are driving to the absolute limit, but it is a case of different skill characteristics required from a driver. We often see drivers thrive one year and then struggle the next year, only because the aero balance has changed, so imagine how out-of-place Fangio would have felt in the 1988 Honda-powered turbo McLaren, or Schumacher in Jim Clark’s Lotus.

3. Drivers: Drivers themselves change, and the level of driving constantly changes from one year to the next (usually increasing). F1 used to be a niche sport, reserved for a handful of talented drivers complimented by rich aristocrats, empire heirs and journey men. Not only has this all changed, it’s now a much more athletic sport, with a larger pool of talent to rely on. As F1 grew through the years, more and more young kinds got into grassroots motor sport. The success (and untimely death) of Ayrton Senna, generated a lot of interest in the sport, which really took off during the Schumacher / Ferrari domination years. As a result, drivers are just as hardcore athletes as any track athlete out there and, more importantly, more kids are involved with the lower levels of motor sport which means that, when it comes to talent, F1 is spoilt for choice.

4. Tyres: Tyres have evolved as well, from the tall and thin Firestone, Dunlop and Pirelli tyres of the early 50’s, to the monstrous Michelins of the 80’s, the grooved Bridgestones of the early 00’s and now the Pirellis again, the tyres have evolved along with the sports in leaps and bounds. Making a tyre “work” is, arguably, the most important skill of a F1 driver, and (just like cars) we’ve seen drivers struggle from season to season, with tyre characteristics changing only be relatively small amounts. Truly great drivers, like Schumacher, can understand and work with tyres for many years (the length of 3 or 4 careers for an average F1 driver), but even these drivers have their limitations, because the skills you acquire and hone are not necessarily transferable from one generation of tyres to the next, or from one generation of cars to the next for that matter.

It’s important to understand that changes to the sport are not so slow and progressive as we sometimes think. Starting from the subject of tyres, it’s interesting to examine the way Fernando Alonso took maximum use of his 2005 and 2006 tyres, to gain an advantage not only against his team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, but to the rest of the opposition as well. The Renault F1 cars of that time had very particular characteristics, such as a rearwards weight balance which gave to the car very good traction out of the corners. More importantly, Renault, in collaboration with Michelin, had developed a suspension tailor-made to the very specific characteristics of the Michelin tyres.

Michelin, by the end of 2003, already had a better tyre than Bridgestone, with a more square profile that offered a significant wider contact patch, and more grip. The, let’s say, disadvantage of that philosophy was that the grip was not very progressive – especially in slow to medium corners there was a “bite” point for the front tyres that offered higher grip in comparison to Bridgestone, but was arguably harder to switch on. Also, the squarer profile meant that turbulent air coming from the tyre was more disruptive to the car’s aerodynamics. Bridgestone, on the contrary, traditionally had a much rounder tyre, which was a result of years of evolution in collaboration with Ferrari, with a view on minimizing the aero effect of the spinning wheel to the rest of the car. Although Ferrari tended to struggle in tracks with predominant mechanical grip (such as Monaco, Hungary and Monza), this was definitely a successful recipe as evidenced by the 5 WDC’s and 6 WCC’s between 1999 and 2004.

The different tyre philosophy of Michelin gave their teams an opportunity, i.e. an area of development that Ferrari couldn’t tap into. The first and only team to take advantage of that to the maximum degree was Renault. Flashes of the brilliance of the Michelin – Renault combination was evidenced as far back as 2003 (with Alonso’s stunning Hungary victory in which he lapped Michael Schumacher) and their 2004 domination of the Monaco grand prix, amongst others. It was just a matter of time for Renault to catch up with Ferrari on the aerodynamics department (i.e. minimize the disruptive effect of their square tyres), and this happened in 2005 and 2006. We must not underestimate the effect that the ban on tyre-changes during the race had on this overhaul of the F1 pecking order, because Ferrari and Bridgestone struggled massively in 2005 with tyres that had to last a race distance.

Fernando Alonso was the Renault driver who took maximum advantage of the Michelin tyres, and one can see the evolution of his driving style from 2003 and during 2004, working towards the perfection that of 2005 and 2006. It was fascinating stuff, watching a driver adapt to a tyre characteristic from one season to the next – a sign of brilliant skill and dogged determination. But let’s take a break here, and see an example of what we are talking about, to get a visual understanding:

As we can see in the above video clip, the first glimpses of Alonso’s trademark driving style are there (2003), however there some significant ingredients missing, like rear end grip and aerodynamic downforce coming from the car, and even Alonso himself is a bit hesitant in some corners, as if he’s lacking confidence on how the car is going to react. Let us compare what we saw with the following lap from 2005, and do some analysis:

As you can see, Alonso uses a lot of initial steering lock, causing understeer during corner entry. This kind of understeer is not coming from the car so much, as it is induced by Alonso on purpose. He uses an extreme slip angle (i.e. in layman’s terms, the difference between where the tyre is pointed and the car’s trajectory) to bring the car to the apex by sliding the front end. As a result, he tends to brake and turn a little bit earlier. This is quite obvious in corners 01, 05, 07, 09 and 14 (the last corner). An interesting phenomenon is the extreme wobble of the external front tyre, which is a direct result of the extreme slip angle utilized. However, it seems that Renault have tuned their suspension to operate that way, and Alonso is using it to the extreme. Note this wobble on the front right tyre at the 1st corner, and then also note how this phenomenon is gradually reduced as the lap goes on and the tyres pick up temperature.

The most interesting point of observation is the “bite” point that we discussed before. You will notice that once the Renault hits this bite point, Alonso immediately decreases the steering lock and gets on the throttle. As a result, he is much earlier on the throttle than other car/driver combinations and he has a hot, switched-on tyre for the apex and exit of the corner, taking full advantage of Renault’s superior traction. If we focus on turn 07 (the long, uphill right hander immediately after sector 01 and before the infamous turn 08), you can see the extreme initial steering lock (and induced understeer) at 00:41 and the bit point which comes a bit before 00:42. I have heard many fans argue that it is relatively easy to drive like that – you just “whack” it into the corner, and as soon as it bites you’re on the throttle.

I am afraid it’s a bit more complicated than that, for two main reasons. The first reason has to do purely with geometry; trajectory, if you prefer. What Alonso is doing is counter intuitive, i.e. instead of driving the car into the apex, he is sliding with the front end towards it instead. As a result you must have a perfect understanding in advance of how much the car is going to slide, to hit the apex perfectly. And if it’s hard enough to do it with a settled F1 car, imagine how difficult it is to do it like that. In fact, Alonso only barely misses two apex in the 2005 lap – the one at turn 09, but he gets a decent exit nevertheless, and the one at turn 12, at the end of the long straight, which was due to wind from the back that made him misjudge his braking point. You must also possess a great feeling of what the tyre is doing, to always be on top of that initial slide and understand the bite point as soon as it manifests itself.

The other reason has to do with oversteer. In order to drive like that, you need a very strong rear end, that will remain planted, no matter how much you are “hacking” the steering wheel. Furthermore, you need to be incredibly alert inside the corner because it’s very easy for this understeer to turn to snap oversteer at the bite point. Since your hands are already committed to a very big steering lock, it’s difficult to make small corrections to the oversteer once it exhibits itself. As an example of that, I am showing you the following lap, which is from Silverstone qualifying in 2006. You can see after he goes under the Bridge and as he turns into Priory towards the end of the lap, the kind of oversteer that we are talking about, which he is able to correct with tiny corrections on the steering wheel and by cutting the corner slightly.

As we all know, Michelin left the sport in 2007 and Fernando moved to McLaren which had a completely different design philosophy and driving characteristics. Fernando had to adjust within a very short period of time to a driving style he hadn’t used since, basically, his 2001 Minardi days. Despite all the negativity that surrounded his 2007 season and the off and on track shenanigans, he managed to make this transition smoothly and still be at the sharp end of the grid, fighting for the championship until the last race. It’s this kind of adjustments and ability to adapt to very different requirements that separate the great drivers from the merely good ones.

In our next article we will be taking a look at Michael Schumacher’s driving style and how it evolved from his Benetton years, to Ferrari and now, in the twilight of his 2nd career, in Mercedes.

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Hello guys (and girls). I have a problem. I don’t know how to start this post. So, I think I’ll just get right down to it.

I was a little bit disappointed with my last blog entry (the round-up), because it was too argumentative and not factual enough. The 2012 pre-season testing has, arguably, been one of the most difficult to understand and decipher in the history of the sport. The regulations have apparently closed the gaps between the teams, to a point where it’s difficult to say if Ferrari will be faster than, say, Force India. This ambiguity led many respected journalists to desperate measures, such as Andrew Benson’s decision to take all lap times, from all testing sessions, from both tracks (!), add them up, and produce an average as a means of comparison. I think F1 fans deserve a little bit more than that. So, immediately after I did my last blog entry, I decided to sit down and try to crunch some numbers, trying to find patterns in the chaos (don’t you just love it when the title of the post is mentioned in the post itself?), and see if I can make some sense of what we have seen in testing over the last few weeks. You should, therefore, brace yourselves for a very long post, filled with stats, assumptions and calculations. If you are here just to confirm that Red Bull is fastest or find out what the pecking order is, I suggest you continue reading no further.

So, our testing analysis, first of all, will focus only on the Barcelona tests that took place between 21/02 – 24/02 and 01/03 – 04/03. I think that we must exclude Jerez from the testing picture because (a) it adds a variable for which we simply don’t have enough data to factor in (b) not all teams were present with their 2012 cars and (c) most teams used Jerez as a springboard to get a baseline for their cars, so most laptimes are completely inconclusive. From the various lap times that the teams were performing, it was clear that the teams were following four (4) different testing scenarios:

1. Back to back comparison runs, with heavily fueled cars. I will refer to that in my analysis as “heavy fuel stints”. The stints that I have decided to include in this category and analyze were those that consisted of at least five (5) consecutive lap times, with the first 2-3 laps above the 01:28.000 mark.

2. Back to back comparison runs, usually in shorter stints, with reasonably fueled (but not very heavy cars) – I presume around the half tank mark. I will refer to that in my analysis as “medium fuel stints”. Again, the stints that I have decided to consider as “medium fuel stints” for analysis, were those that consisted of at least five (5) consecutive lap times, with the first 2-3 laps within the 01:24.000 – 01:27.999 bracket.

3. Low fuel runs, usually in very short stints. Some teams (like Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes) were running a bit more heavy and some were going for more accurate qualifying simulations. I will refer to them in my analysis as “low fuel runs”. In order for a stint to qualify as low fuel and be part of the analysis, there is no minimum limit on the laps / stint, but there is an upper limit of 01:23.999 in terms of lap time.

4. Finally, the last testing scenario that I was able to make out was, of course, race simulations. The term “race simulation” is by itself a bit contentious, since it doesn’t mean the same to every team on the grid. Anyhow, we will see that later on.

To give you an idea, you can see in the picture below (a snapshot from my working file) a typical testing day, and how I have marked the various stints. The low fueled stints are marked orange, the medium fueled stints are marked yellow, the heavy fuel stints are light green and, finally, the race simulations are dark green.

Snapshot of 24/02 Barcelona 2012 pre-season testing

By breaking the testing into these 4 categories, it’s easier to understand how each team compares to each other, and it’s also safer (but definitely not safe) to draw conclusions. We are trying to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, and we managed to get some pretty interesting results. I would like to start by examining the low fuel runs, and see what we get:

You can go to any F1 website and it will give you the fastest lap times from testing and an unofficial classification. Do that, and you will find out, for example, that Lotus registered the fastest lap time from all teams with a 01:22.030 and that Mercedes were the slowest with 01:22.932, i.e. 3 tenths off Caterham’s pace. One must, however, take into consideration the amount of fuel that each team is carrying. This is an information that we don’t have. What we do have, however, is the amount of laps that they did during these low fuel runs. By removing the fuel penalty (again, I am using the 0.150 sec / lap figure) that you have to carry in order to complete all the other laps of the stint (apart from the out lap / in lap and the timed lap), we are getting some different results. You can see for example, in the table below, an example, where Red Bull’s fastest lap time was 01:22.662, but fuel corrected on an other stint they were actually able to go faster than that, with a 01:22.157. I don’t think it’s necessary to remind you that Red Bull were still probably carrying quite some fuel onboard, something that we cannot be positively claim for the smaller, midfield teams.

Red Bull low fuel runs, fuel corrected

By applying the above logic to all the low fuel runs of all the teams from all testing sessions, we are getting the results of the following table. I have posted the standard classification to the left (i.e. the fastest lap times as recorded), and next to it I have posted the fastest lap times, after the low fuel stints were fuel corrected.

Fastest laps classification, fuel-corrected

So, there you have it. As you can see, the order changes dramatically. Does this mean that the new order is correct? No, it’s not – but it’s closer to reality. It all has to do with how much fuel was left in the tanks when the cars were returning in the garage, and we don’t have that information available. It’s safe to presume that teams like Sauber and Williams had very little fuel, and those 1:21’s are close enough to a very legitimate qualifying performance. On the other hand, we can safely say that Red Bull and McLaren apparently have a considerable amount of fuel left in the tanks, and that Mercedes are looking good, based on the above table; in fact, they look quite fast. I also assume Caterham must have attempted legitimate qualifying simulations, so the gap they have to Sauber and Williams is not very small. Unless they had at least 6-7 laps of fuel onboard, they seem to not be exactly where they wanted to be. As you understand, these are all big assumptions and we can not base any meaningful conclusions on this table alone, so let’s move to the next part of our analysis: heavy fuel stints.

As I have described to you above, in order to consider heavy fuel stints as part of my analysis they had to be at least 5-laps long and they had to be above a lap time benchmark. In this way, I was able to shed a lot of scattered and inconsistent data; noise, if you prefer. I then worked on the assumption that teams would be testing their cars with comparable (high) fuel loads, and that averaged laptimes between those stints should be a good indication of where we stand. I am afraid I am repeating myself, but I have to stress that it’s only natural that bigger teams will be testing bigger fuel loads and doing all sorts of things to blur the waters, such as doing slow and fast laps in the same stint, slowing down in a specific track sector, not operating DRS or KERS, etc. I have therefore tried not only to produce average laptimes, but I also calculated for each team the average degradation that they suffered in all their heavy stints, from all Barcelona testing sessions and I have excluded the peak times (which can be a result of a driver lifting off, facing traffic, or simply making a mistake).

Surprisingly, Lotus didn’t do any heavy fuel running at all, since they focused on shorter stints, medium fuelled and race simulations. Very surprising. We therefore have no data for them, but we have 9 other teams which are presented in the following figures:

Heavy fuel stints by Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes

Heavy fuel stints by Force India, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Williams and Caterham

First of all, it’s clear to the naked eye that Ferrari’s runs don’t belong in the first group (top teams) but rather to the 2nd. Visually one can also say that the team that stands out from the 2nd group seems to be Force India, with Caterham being, again, visually slower than the other teams in the group. Let’s take a closer look then at all the numbers involved. In the following table, I have listed the pecking order, as a result of averaging the laptimes that were performed, using the above mentioned criteria. Next to this table, there’s the classification based on the calculated degradation (average), but factoring in all the heavy fuel laps, of all the stints, from all the days of testing and for all teams.

Classification based on (a) heavy fuel running lap times and (b) degradation

As you can see, McLaren was the fastest team of all and, on top of that, enjoyed a very mild degradation of 0.169 seconds per lap. Mercedes were a very close second (less than a tenth), but their degradation was the worst of the lot (0.238 seconds per lap), however such levels of degradation are not cause for concern, especially since we noticed that the Mercedes drivers were pushing more at the start of the stints, taking more life out of the tyres, in comparison to McLaren or Red Bull. McLaren’s fastest lap times are complimented by the fact that they did 11.5 laps per stint, the 2nd biggest tally after Caterham. Mercedes (with 10.8) and Red Bull (with 10.4) were close behind. Red Bull was only 4th fastest, but their degradation was insignificant (easily the best of the lot, at 0.121 seconds), indicating that the drivers weren’t pushing and there’s much more performance to come from this side. Force India’s good results, both in terms of lap times (3rd fastest, 4 tenths off McLaren’s pace) and in terms of degradation support the visual observation that they are the best of the midfield in this comparison. Ferrari’s results are somewhat disappointing. Their average lap times are only good enough for 6th, they suffered the 2nd highest degradation of all (0.227 seconds per lap) and they did the least amount of laps per stint (only 9.4). These results also confirm our visual observations that they should have been graphed with the 2nd group. One last observation is Toro Rosso’s seemingly disappointing performance with regards to lap times. I remain sceptic as to whether this is the real picture or if they have been hiding the car’s pace (more than others, that is), especially considering their decent results in the low fuel runs above.

Having said that, there’s always a degree of uncertainty in those figures; a considerable one, for that matter. Yet I believe that although the above figures and tables don’t represent the truth, they are a good indication; they are, let’s say, a hint of where things stand at the moment. But still, it’s not enough. It’s time to move to the next stage of our analysis, the medium fuel stints. In the following figures, I am doing a graphical representation of the various stints. Before we get there though, a very surprising observation: Red Bull have decided to do absolutely no running on medium fuel levels (apart of course during the race simulations). That’s a completely bizarre decision and it makes us think that, apparently, they are trying to hide the car’s true pace. From all the lap times that I have amassed, it’s clear that Red Bull have only been focusing on very heavy fuel running (as we saw above) and on race simulations, which are also a bit “bizarre”, as we will examine later on.

Medium fuel stints by McLaren, Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus

Medium fuel stints by Force India, Toro Rosso, Sauber, Williams and Caterham

Before we go into the analysis of the medium fuel stints, it’s worth saying that medium fuel stints are less accurate than heavy fuel stints, because there is more data scatter, so they are considerably less conclusive. The reason is that a medium fuel stint can start at 1:24.100 and end at 1:27.800, or it can start at 1:27.000 and end at 1:30.000, you therefore have more than 6 seconds of data scatter between laptimes. On the contrary, in a heavy fuel stint you start pretty heavy (at 01:28.xxx) and end up in the 1:32’s, so there’s less scope for scatter – it’s much more accurate. On that disclaimer, let’s look at the results:

Classification based on (a) heavy fuel running lap times and (b) degradation (medium stints)

It’s immediately clear that the picture is less intuitive than before. Ferrari remain solidly in the middle of the pack (5th), however they manage more laps / stint than anybody else (9.1). As you can see the degradation figures are higher, and that’s because on a lighter car, the drivers tend to push more. Also, many of the performance tests and setup evaluations are done using half tanks (medium fuel), and that’s when the drivers go for it. McLaren and Mercedes continue to look reasonable, as does Force India. Toro Rosso seem to be going very fast, but they are paying the price in tyre degradation (0.446 seconds per lap), as opposed to Force India who are both fast and consistant. Lotus is behind Ferrari here, and look relatively mediocre. However, it’s important to note that, in general, McLaren, Lotus, Force India and Caterham did must fewer medium fuel laps in comparison to the rest, so the results are a bit skewed. All in all, I think it’s better to leave the medium fuel stints and go to the final part of our analysis, the race simulations.

All teams bar Caterham attempted race simulations in Barcelona, but the way the teams approach a race simulation can vary dramatically. Others choose to stretch the legs of their cars and test the performance whereas others (the most) tend to hide stuff and prefer to test mainly reliability, consistency and procedures, such as pitstops. It makes sense. A race simulation is very easy to be read and analyzed by opponents. You know the fuel loads (you start filled to the brim and work your way through it) so you can calculate the pace, the degradation, the strategies, everything. Which is why most teams prefer to hide as many things as possible during race simulations, and usually do them to get their reliability, systems and consistency checked. I would therefore pay the least importance on the race simulation figures (it’s clear to me that the most important testing scenarios are on that order: (a) heavy fuel stints (b) low fuen stints (c) medium fuel stints and (d) race sims), but for what it’s worth I am posting the race sim results below:

Race simulations

A brief explanation on how I compiled the above numbers: Some teams did a bit less than 66 laps (theoretical Barcelona distance) and some a bit more, so I normalized all race simulations to reflect a 66 laps race, using the average lap times. Also, in the final race time I included the pitstops. As you may recall from our previous blogs, the average time penalty for a pitstop in Barcelona is 20 seconds, so adding all the pitstops together we finally get the total race time. As you can already see, there are some oddities. First, Williams 24/02 race simulation is the 2nd fastest recorded, whereas their 03/03 simulation is the slowest of all. McLaren, despite for their excellent tyre degradation, seem to be lacking in pace, etc. Mercedes’ race simulation is a very good one, and should provide hope to the Merc fans, but I have to stress that these race simulations is the least reliable set of data we have in our disposal.

Which brings us to the conlcusion of this article. As I said, I was disappointed a bit with my previous blog entry, but I now think we have some good data to base our “conclusions”. First, and foremost, all the top teams have excelled in one part of our analysis or the other. Mercedes have been very quick in low fuel runs and also 2nd quickest in heavy fuel running, not to mention their impressive race simulation. McLaren have been the fastest in heavy fuel running and have exhibited admirably low levels of degradation throughout. Red Bull have been relatively fast in heavy stints with the tiniest of degradations under all conditions. Even Force India have shown flashes of brilliance, with good and consistant speed and no degradation issues.

Ferrari though is different. They have been strikingly mediocre, failing to shine in any of the testing scenarios we examined, and particularly the important ones (i.e. heavy and low fuel stints). Their heavy fuel pace is unspectacular and their tyre degradation at the same time is a bit poor. Their quickest lap times in low fuel mode were 2nd to last, and they have never been able to escape the middle position of the tables. If they are sandbagging, they are doing a hell of job. A lot of the people have suggested that the figures aren’t bad for Ferrari and that we are basing our negative reviews on heresay and rumours. The data, though, seem to suggest that Ferrari are behind at the moment, firmly in the midfield.

Red Bull are fast, but are clearly hiding the majority of their car’s true pace – they should be bloody hard to beat in Australia. McLaren are very fast in all situations and their degradation patterns suggest that they are also consistant. Mercedes have clearly done a much better job this year, and they are in a much better position to challenge. It seems they have inherited Ferrari’s position in the top 3 of the sport. Ferrari have fallen in the clutches of Force India, Lotus, and the rest. Lotus’ pace is a bit inconclusive, because they have done no heavy fuel stints and their fuel corrected low stints pace is a questionmark. As for the rest, they all look in very good shape, which is proof of the extremely tight battle that is developing in the midfield.

I, for one, cannot wait for the season to commence, and I hope you will be here with me to share our thoughts and experiences… I hope you liked this series of articles on testing, and do stick around! 😉

Ok, now that testing is over and done with, for those who are interested we have set up a (quite cerebral) fantasy league, that requires hard thinking and committment… You can find it here, and make your selections (or you can click on the link next to the “About” button to access all posts regarding the Fantasy League) – thanks to everybody who has participated so far!

On the subject of testing, probably tomorrow, I will be posting something very special for you guys. I will be making the ultimate comparison, between all the days of Barcelona testing, for all the teams, in order to try and make a more educated guess of where everybody stands at…. Stay tuned for that, it will be mega… 😉

Hello to everyone out there. I have to share my disappointment with you, today, as I was expecting to get some good full race simulations and, hopefully, some quali laps from the top teams, but we ended up with nothing of the sort. Instead, let’s see what we got:

Hamilton and McLaren continued on their usual testing regime of short stints in the morning, and they also did some back to back heavy-fuelled stints in the afternoon, none of which were really impressive or conclusive. His first 2 stints suffered from severe degradation, his next 2 were absolutely great in that respect. Ferrari didn’t attempt a race sim, and neither did Mercedes, apart from a few heavy fuel stints. Red Bull did very few laps due to a problem, and that prevented them from testing their new package properly (combined with Webber’s limited running yesterday as well). Lotus’ race simulation was nothing to write home about, being somewhat inconsistent and definitely slower than expected (at an estimated race time of 01:39:45.992 including 3 pitstops it’s 49 seconds slower than Grosjean’s race simulation from 02 March). As for the rest of the team, we haven’t seen anything today to change our perceptions or to better our understanding.

Therefore, I am not going to post any analysis today, because I think it would be cheating you, and you would spot it immediately. This post will be argumentative (rather than analytical and mathematical) and I apologize in advance, but there’s simply nothing more to be said, except to make a brief synopsis of the testing so far and, at the same time, present our (perceived) pecking order as follows:

No1 – McLaren

McLaren have been hiding their car’s true pace all testing long. They haven’t gone for any low fuel run and they haven’t even attempted any revealing race simulations. From the few bits and pieces that we have seen, it seems that they have a fast, reliable and very consistent racing car, with which they can challenge for victories from the very 1st race.

No2 – Red Bull

I place the Bulls 2nd in my pecking order, because they have had some reliability issues throughout testing and, especially during the last 2 days, when they failed to properly go out and test their Melbourne-spec configuration. The delay of this specification may well turn out to be a wrong decision, creating problems for the first fly-away races. However, like McLaren, they have been extra careful to reveal their car pace, which is a sign of confidence. I have a feeling though that McLaren may have stolen a small march on them this year. Vettel will be even stronger this year, so he may well be the deciding factor that tips the scale in Red Bull’s favour.

No3 – Mercedes

They have been the fastest team in race-simulation trim from all the other teams, bar McLaren and Red Bull who didn’t attempt any. They have been the fastest in heavy fuel loads, and Nico’s 01:22.9 yesterday on a 15 lap stints confirms that they should be bloody quick in qualifying too. It will be interesting to see if they can mix it with McLaren and Red Bull. Their tyre degradation issues, as we have explained, have been blown way out of proportion. It’s telling that they attempted a race simulation on the 24th of February, and then spent the 2nd Barcelona testing pretty much hiding from the top of the time sheets, just like McLaren and Red Bull.

No4 – Ferrari

I say Ferrari, but in reality I mean Alonso, because in the hands of Massa I see Ferrari behind Lotus, at this moment. They have a lot of work to do to recover, and their position is actually closer to the midfield than it is to Mercedes. If our predictions come true, expect a political shitstorm of epic proportions. Fernando will wrestle with the car and will keep motivating the squad to recover, but it will be tricky if heads start to roll in Maranello. Having said that, the first race in Melbourne is usually not a good indicator of a car’s performance and Ferrari may be able to get a lucky break, or even a podium. Ferrari fans should do well not to hope for much more, at this stage.

No5 – Lotus

As I said, I would be placing Lotus above Ferrari at this moment, if Alonso wasn’t part of the equation. At this moment, Lotus is more consistent, faster and kinder to the tyres, especially in the hands of Romain Grosjean. Kimi has been fast during pre-season testing but inconsistent, a sign of a talented driver that has been out of the game for quite some time. I expect Romain to have the upper hand at the beginning, and quite comfortably, with the odd flash of speed coming from Kimi’s side. They start the season in a good position, but their in-season development pace is what will determine the outcome of their campaign.

No6 and No7 – Sauber / Williams

Perez will shine for Sauber this year. The Swiss team have come up with a competitive, contemporary package, that has shown promising signs during pre-season testing. Williams are up there too, with a FW34 that is apparently very kind to its tyres. It may lack a bit in terms of raw pace compared to Force India, but should have the edge in the races.

No8 and No9 – Force India / Toro Rosso

Force India may have a bit more raw pace in comparison to either Sauber or Williams, but we have seen a worrying pattern of heavy tyre degradation during their longer stints. They may find themselves qualifying reasonably well but falling behind in the races. Toro Rosso has also shown some good speed during low-fuel quali laps, but their race pace isn’t 100% there at the moment. I have to say though that positions 6 to 9 are very difficult to decipher, and I expect the teams to drop from 6th to 9th in the pecking order on a race-by-race basis. It seems that everybody has been able to produce good, quick, reliable and sensible racing cars, and that shows in the time sheets; it’s very difficult to separate between these 4 teams.

No10 – Caterham

Caterham have definitely made a big step forward this year, as evidenced by the 01:22.6 lap time that they achieved on a low-fuel quali simulation. However, their long stints pace is behind the other midfield runners at the moment, and although they have closed the gap to them, they haven’t quite bridged it yet. They can, however, proudly claim that they are now part of what we call “midfield runners”, in dire contrast to HRT and Marussia who continue to disappoint in their 3rd year in the sport. HRT, in particular, are expected to not reach the 107% laptime from pole in Australia, and given that they have done no testing at all, I don’t see them racing down under.

So… That’s it on what has been a relatively short, but interesting nonetheless pre-season testing. I am thrilled that so many of you took the time to visit my site and post your comments. It’s needless to say that we will continue posting articles and analyzing the races, all season long, along with other articles and technical features, and we will also be doing our Fantasy League that has generated a lot of interest so far. I have to apologize again for not posting anything on today’s testing times, but it would feel like I’m cheating you guys, and that’s not what I want to do.

We will only be posting something when it makes sense to do so…

Stay tuned… 🙂

Rain spoiled the party today at Barcelona (at around 15:40), with many teams forced to stop their race simulations before their completion. And if it’s hard to decipher dry running lap times, it’s practically impossible to make any sense of the wet laps, which is why we will be focusing on the lap times up until the rain started. A lot of talk has been generated about Mercedes’ tyre degrading issues – Autosport in particular have been quite vocal in suggesting that Mercedes are eating up their soft tyres. We argued yesterday that Mercedes don’t appear to be in any sort of special predicament, and Norbert Haug confirmed today during testing (talking to Autosport) that “every team can improve in every area, but I cannot see specific issues on the tyre front for us“. I continue to believe that Mercedes are not suffering from excessive degradation patterns, and here’s the data to back it up.

Let us begin with Rosberg’s shorter stints. As I have already argued, when a team is chasing performance (i.e. evaluating set-up changes and new components), the drivers usually push harder at the start of every stint, it is therefore normal to see increased degradation in comparison to race simulation scenarios. Let’s examine some of Rosberg’s such (short) stints, in comparison to other short stints performed today by Webber, Massa and Raikkonen:

Rosberg Vs Massa Vs Webber Vs Kimi - short stints

As we can see even from the slopes of the various lines, it’s clear that in such a scenario, the degradation for all teams is quite severe. There is nothing to suggest that Mercedes is suffering particularly from it, and that’s even more clear in the following table which gives an overview of the laptimes and the degradation figures. It’s interesting to note Webber’s 2nd stint, for instance, which started off much slower than his other stints, and, as was expected, suffered very little degradation.

Degradation high in all short stints

I did not include Rosberg’s last short(ish) stint in the above table, because I think it was so impressive it deserves its own analysis: Nico started the stint with a 01:22.932 (on the soft option tyres), which is comparable to the single quali laps that some other teams were doing at the same time, on the softs and super softs. However, he kept going for another 12 laps, ranking 15 laps in total (including in and out laps). His degradation within that stint was similar to the ones posted above (i.e. higher than what you would expect to see in a race simulation, or a real race, but expected taking into consideration how hard he was apparently pushing at the beginning). It’s therefore clear that in a qualifying situation Nico would be carrying at least 13 laps worth of fuel less than he did. If we accept an average fuel penalty of 0.150 seconds / lap (which is a somewhat conservative approach – it could be higher than that), then the calculated, theoretical quali lap would be 01:20.982. This falls nicely into our predictions that the top teams can go into the 1:20’s bracket on minimum fuel runs. I expect Mercedes were even running a bit more fuel than that (possibly 5-6 laps more), so all in all, again, I have to say that they are looking in very, very reasonable shape. There’s only one potential area of concern so far, though, and this is that most of the really exciting stuff that Mercedes has done during testing has taken place in the hands of Nico Rosberg and not Michael Schumacher. In fact, if I were to examine Mercedes’ performance simply on the basis of Michael’s lap times, I would not be so confident that Mercedes have taken a big step forwards. Let us hope that in tomorrow’s testing (and the remainder of the season) I am proven wrong.

Nico's rapid stint

The same picture is also apparent in the longer stints that the teams started to embark on until of course the rain started. Webber did one stint on what it appears to be (I believe) the beginning of a race simulation. Nico Rosberg did a series of long stints, all of which were apparently heavy fueled and definitely not part of a race simulation (more like back-to-back comparison using heavy fuel loads and long runs). Finally, Massa also did 3 stints on what appears to be a race simulation as well – judging by the short first 2 stints, he was probably going to follow Alonso’s 02/03 strategy of 4 pit-stops, but his 3rd stint was interrupted by the rain. I am presenting those stints in the figure below:

Long stints for Massa, Rosberg and Webber

Without even having to crunch any numbers, it’s already clear to see that the degradation of the tyres on the Mercedes is quite reasonable and comparable to Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s. In fact, if this was indeed the beginning of a race simulation by Ferrari, the tyre degradation looks much, much better than it looked in the hands of Alonso, yesterday. And, since we are on the subject, the average degradation for each stint was: (a) for Nico Rosberg 0.244 sec / 0.210 sec / 0.182 sec, (b) for Felipe Massa 0.186 sec / 0.300 sec / 0.250 sec and (c) for Mark Webber 0.264 sec. In heavy fuel, long stints therefore we don’t see anything to suggest that Mercedes are suffering from extreme tyre degradation.

Unfortunately, with the rain cutting short many of the race simulations, we cannot produce and meaningful comparisons in terms of overall race time. McLaren did very few laps (also due to a hydraulics failure in the morning), and their fastest lap time came in a single lap burst. Since Martin Whitmarsh has suggested that they would be attempting no quali simulations until Melbourne, it’s fair to assume that McLaren had decent fuel onboard, much like Mercedes did in their 15-laps stint that produced their fastest lap. It’s all too close for comfort, and I tend to believe that this year’s championship will be decided on two factors: (a) in-season development pace and (b) reliability and consistent points scoring throughout the season – I don’t think we are about to see another championship being decided in August.

Several of the midfield teams also embarked on long stints, heavily fueled, and these are the results:

Long runs by Williams, STR, FI and Sauber

What we are seeing is, I believe, a full race simulation by Force India, a race simulation by Williams that was cut short a few laps before its completion and long runs, heavy fueled for Sauber and Toro Rosso. Sauber’s runs could be a race simulation, only from the looks of it seemed that they skipped the 1st stint, and started from the 2nd (i.e. short-fuelled the car). Are all these assumptions solid and bulletproof? Far from it. What we are seeing in the graphs is a very tight battle going on in the midfield and it’s impossible to tell at this moment who will be the leaders of the pack. I presume, much like 2011, we will have a season of up and downs – remember last year Sauber starting strongly with their race pace and Lotus was mixing it with Mercedes, but come the end of the season, it was Force India (mainly) and Toro Rosso who came out on top. Lotus seem to be in a good position pace-wise, provided they sort out their reliability problems (Kimi was stranded in the morning with steering issues). With Caterham hauling themselves up to a 01:22.630 today (even if this was a minimum fuel, quali lap), the battle to get out of Q3 will be immense this year.

What’s a bit worrying is that Marussia and HRT will be starting the season so far off the pace. This will be their 3rd year in the sport, and the state that both teams are in is simply unacceptable. This will also be a challenging year for Force India, financially wise, with Vijay Mallya in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and Sahara unwilling to invest in an enterprise they are not interested in. Ah well, I am getting ahead of myself there. Tomorrow is the last day of testing and we expect two things to happen: (a) times will tumble to low 1:21’s (or even 1:20’s should any of the top runners decided to do a quali sim) and (b) all teams will attempt as many laps and race simulations as it is possible. Stay tuned for this, and our analysis, which will also feature a synopsis of what we have seen so far from all the teams…

A lot of talk has been going on today about Lotus’ performance, both in terms of their race simulation that they did today as well as their single lap pace, as evidenced by the day’s fastest lap, recorded by Romain Grosjean at 01:22.614 which was done on a 2 timed-laps burst, on the soft tyres. But was Lotus’ performance today as impressive as some respectable journalists would have as believe? Fernando Alonso also embarked on a full race simulation for Ferrari, and it’s interesting to compare the results. I have taken the liberty of adding the known quantity of Rosberg’s race simulation in the comparison, to get a benchmark. The results are listed in the figure below, and make for very interesting reading:

Race simulations comparison between Rosberg, Grosjean and Alonso

Let’s first begin with some simple observations. Alonso did a 5-stints race (with 4 pit stops) and he used the following tyres: medium – medium – soft – soft – medium. Grosjean, on the contrary, prefered a 4-stints (3 pit stops) strategy, with the following tyre selection: soft – soft – soft – hard. Finally, Rosberg also went for 3 pitstops (4 stints) but we don’t have solid / reliable information on the tyres he used. We believe that he primarily used the hard tyre and at some point switched to the soft option (please use a pinch of salt on that). In any case, Ferrari’s approach gives faster average lap times for each stint, as you understand, because the tyres are refreshed more often and have to go through less number of laps. When we are taking into consideration the full race time however, we will have to factor in the time that it takes to stop and get going again. As we now from my previous posts, this amounts to about 20 seconds / pitstop of lost time, and this time has to be added to the overall race time, to get an accurate final result. It follows, therefore, that Alonso’s final race time must be increased by 1 minute and 20 seconds, whereas we only have to add 1 minute to the times of Rosberg and of Grosjean. This is all quite clear in the table below.

Lap times comparison

What interests us here are two things: (a) the final race time and (b) the tyre degradation, because significant tyre degradation can leave you exposed to attacks during the race from, theoretically, slower car / driver combinations. As we can see, Rosberg’s race time is (by far) the quicker one. He completes the (theoretical) race distance in 01:37:59.288, which is approximately a whole minute faster than what either Grosjean or Alonso can do. At this point we have to stress that this is the first race simulation that we are seeing from either Lotus or Ferrari, so we expect them to improve further over the last 2 days. However, Mercedes will be improving too, so it’s hard to tell what the end differences will be. From the looks of it, though, over a race distance Mercedes seem to have the upper hand, and quite comfortably so.

A very positive sign for Lotus is the tyre degradation. Grosjean’s last stint, in particular, is very impressive, suffering from a drop off of merely 2 seconds over a massive 25 laps stint, which gives an average degradation of 0.081 seconds / lap. Grosjean’s other stints are very good in that respect as well, with the average degradation hovering around the one tenth and a half mark. At the other end of the spectrum is Alonso’s Ferrari, who suffered a 0.361 seconds / lap and 0.284 seconds / lap average degradation over the 2nd and 3rd stint respectively. This is also apparent in the figures where you can see the increased slope. Mercedes sit somewhere in the middle – not as good as Lotus but not as bad as Ferrari. The important thing however is the overall race distance time, and Mercedes, as we said, are ahead.

What about Grosjean’s over fastest lap time, I hear you ask. Well, a 01:22.614 is not something to write home about really. If you recall, the fastest time has been recorded by Kobayashi, so far, with a 01:22.3, i.e. 3 tenths faster. As I have already explained, the top 2012 F1 cars should be able to lap Barcelona in the low 1:20’s bracket, at this time of year. During last year’s testing, Michael Schumacher lapped the track in 1:21.2 and we know from Jerez that the cars can already go about 1 second faster than they did during last year’s testing. I therefore have to (boringly) repeat the known mantra: single lap times in testing mean absolutely nothing… In all fairness, it looks like Lotus is about where we expected them to be (respectable upper midfield performance), but Ferrari seem to have a long, long way to reach Red Bull and McLaren, or even Mercedes from the looks of things. They are a very strong team however, and no one can rule out a change of fortunes come Melbourne.

The rest

What about the other teams? Well, what we saw today confirms my suspicions that Red Bull and McLaren are playing a very cautious game, trying not to reveal too much. They have realized that they don’t have to fear Ferrari (not at this stage, in any way), so they have been focusing on doing short runs, with varying fuel loads, and few timed laps. Hamilton, for instance, did merely 65 laps – 12 laps less than Schumacher who had two red flags in his name today. Of those 65 laps, only 35 laps were timed ones… And although Red Bull did more laps (85), they hardly reached the mileage that would be expected at this time of year. Of those 85 laps, only 43 were timed ones… So there you have it: a game of cat and mouse that it’s impossible to decipher.

And, from the looks of things, Mercedes have also joined the “party”, preferring to do short stints, with reasonable fuel onboard, having apparently satisfied themselves with the reliability of their car. A lot of discussion has been going on with regards to the tyre degradation that Mercedes suffered today in those runs, but I don’t believe it’s a cause for concern. In a race simulation scenario (or a real race, for that matter) a driver never pushes 100% from the very first lap, because he knows his tyres will be gone after 3-4 laps. It appears that this is what Michael has been doing today, i.e. pushing very hard from the first lap, hence the extreme degradation patterns that we noticed. I haven’t seen anything in Mercedes’ race simulations to suggest they have a real issue with tyres falling apart, at this moment.

Finally, as a brief final remark, I want to add that Caterham look to be behind the established midfield runners at the moment; I presume further back than they hoped they would be. This is apparent not only in their fastest laps but also their heavy-fueled stints that are slow and somewhat inconsistent.

Please stay tuned for tomorrow’s testing results and analysis. It will be the final weekend of testing, and hopefully we will have a lot of data and time in our hands to analyze the results and produce a summary. I am even going to stick my neck out and make some predictions. After all, you have to put your money where your mouth is… 😉

Those of us who were hoping to get a clearer picture, at least from today’s running in Barcelona, will be somewhat disappointed. The teams continued to keep their cards close to their chest; characteristically, not one of the teams involved in today’s running attempted either a race simulation (although most covered many laps above the race distance), or a low-fuel quali “banzai” lap. What we are left with is data that is difficult to decipher and, in any case, unwise to rely on to draw any meaningful conclusions.

I have been hearing / reading comments all over the blogosphere that “the McLaren looks good”, the “Red Bull looks fast”, “Williams is a handful”, etc, but no data seems to support any of the above. In any case, we will try to provide you with a synopsis (rather than an analysis) of today’s laptimes, in the hope that over the next days we will have more to talk about…

Let’s start with the four “big” teams, i.e. Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes. I include Mercedes in that bracket, because all data points to that direction. Mercedes, contrary to previous days, didn’t attempt any race simulation. Being, apparently, satisfied with the car’s reliability, they have been focusing on extracting performance from the car (today, for example, they introduced a new rear wing, that has a waved lower “lip” in comparison to the perfectly straight previous version). They therefore spent the entire morning doing four (4) short stints, each of which consisted of 1 out-lap, 8 timed laps, and 1 in-lap. We cam reasonably assume from the laptimes that the car was identically fueled for each of the runs. The 1st run (as always, excluding peak times) averaged 01:27.028, the 2nd run averaged 01:26.189, the 3rd averaged 01:26.335 and, finally, the 4th run averaged 01:26.302. Nico Rosberg was very happy afterwards, and claimed that the progress Mercedes has made is evident for everybody to see.

This is true. Let us examine what the other top teams were doing at the same time, starting off with Red Bull. The Bulls were focused on even shorter stints for the majority of the day, apparently working more on car setup and less on studying tyre degradation effects. You can see how their stints compare to those of Mercedes in the figure posted below. In general, their pace looks comparable, with the big unknowns of tyre selection and fuel loads threatening any meaningful comparison. It’s reasonable to assume, however, that the top teams would not approach testing dramatically differently, unless they want to hide something spectacular; we haven’t had any evidence so far that this is the case. We can therefore deduct from the graphs that the differences will be smaller this year. This is further corroborated by Ferrari’s and McLaren’s short stints, which are also presented in the figure. McLaren did surprisingly little running (64 laps, against 102 for Red Bull, 105 for Ferrari and 128 for Mercedes – almost twice the race distance of the Spanish GP). They focused on short runs – shorter than either Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull. Button’s average lap times for the 5 stints that are shown in the figure were 01:26.351, 01:26.766, 01:25.600 (the shorter one), 01:26.514 and 01:26.024. Ferrari also focused on short runs with Massa, with the following average lap times, per stint: 01:25.615, 01:25.235, 01:26.140, 01:25.216 and 01:25.952. Before celebrating Ferrari’s pace superiority, it’s worth remembering that Ferrari appear to follow a completely different testing philosophy to the rest of the teams. From the looks of it, however, it doesn’t seem as if Ferrari will start the season in such a bad condition as it was feared after the first Jerez test. Things should further clarify in the next tests.

Short stints - Barcelona testing 01/03

With the exception of McLaren, the other top 3 teams also embarked on longer stints in the afternoon, in what appears to be definitely NOT a race simulation. The degradation patterns are a bit all over the place; it’s very pronounced in the first stint, and almost non-existent in the last (5th) stint, so no conclusions can be safely drawn. Nico’s 5 long stints averaged at 01:29.695, 01:29.942, 01:28.862, 01:28.789 and 01:29.291. Red Bull only attempted two “heavy-fueled” stints, which are also represented in the figure below, but it serves us well to focus on the 2nd one. Webber’s 1st stint averaged at 01:30.823 and the 2nd stint averaged 01:28.439. What’s impressive about the 2nd stint is the very small degradation that the Red Bull appears to suffer from. Nico Rosberg commented after today’s testing that both types of degradation (front tyres blistering and rear tyre wear) are very apparent this year too, but this may be an area where Red Bull already has the upper hand over their rivals.

To be more specific, Webber’s 2nd stint saw his tyres degrade by 1.048 seconds, over a period of 16 timed laps, which gives an average degradation of 0.066 seconds per lap… What’s more impressive is that the degradation seems to be smooth and almost linear in nature, with no sudden drop-off in performance (the dreaded cliff point that characterized the 2011 generation of Pirelli tyres). It all becomes even more impressive if we factor in Barcelona’s notoriety of being a “tyre eater” and the fact that Webber was, obviously, driving a very heavy fueled car. Ominous stuff…

Ferrari’s heavy fuel stints, on the other hand (3 in total), were less impressive, and similar to Mercedes’ runs. Massa’s 2 first stints suffered from severe degradation, but the situation was improved for his final stints, which was a 12 timed-laps stint, averaging at 01:29.152, with a degradation of 0.948 seconds (i.e. 0.079 seconds per lap). The other 2 stints averaged at 01:30.682 and 01:29.910. All indications point to the conclusion that Red Bull are sitting comfortably ahead of the pack, and the only thing that’s left to determine is by how much.

Heavy fueled stints - Barcelona 01/03

Since we can draw no further conclusions from today’s testing, at least with regards to the pecking order at the top of the pack, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how Nico Rosberg’s race simulation from the 24th of February compares to the actual races of Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher from the 2011 Spanish GP. In the following figure I am presenting Rosberg’s laptimes compared to the actual laptimes that were recorded during the race. Please note that all Rosberg times have been increased by 1.5% (to give you an idea, for a laptime of 1:30.000 that gives an extra 1.350 seconds, so it’s a very big correction, to account for the difference between cool temperatures during testing and hot temperatures during the race (as we explained in our previous blog entry).

Rosberg's 24/02 race simulation Vs the real thing

As we can see, Nico’s laptimes, even corrected by +1.5%, compare very well with those of Red Bull and McLaren’s top runners from that weekend, reinforcing our conclusion that Mercedes have taken a big step towards the front of the grid. What’s even more interesting is the significant difference in laptimes between Nico’s race simulation and Schumacher’s actual race pace, further indicating that the W03 is a much faster and more contemporary car than the W02 ever was. With this data, and assuming that Nico’s was a legitimate race simulation, he would have finished 1:30 minutes ahead of Schumacher’s Mercedes. It all bodes well for the upcoming season. Finally, I am posting the average laptimes for the stints, so you can draw your own conclusions.

Hopefully we will have more meaningful data to work with tomorrow – until then, thanks for visiting and stay tuned… 🙂

Lap times comparison

New theme!

Posted: February 28, 2012 in Various

….Hope you like it.

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….

Today was the final day of testing @ Barcelona for this week, and most teams were focused on full race simulations, completing many miles in the process. Testing resumes at Barcelona on Thursday, where we are (not really) expecting to see the new HRT and Marussia cars. Ferrari and Red Bull have decided to skip Thursday and run, instead, on Monday, alone. Today’s test provides some interesting insights in what the teams are doing. Let’s go…

Mercedes

Mercedes did a full race simulation again, although unlike yesterday they chose to run in the morning, when conditions are more favorable in terms of temperatures and grip. Rosberg was able to do a 65 lap race simulation, however it’s really interesting to compare it with yesterday’s race simulation by Schumacher, in the drawing below:

Full race simulation Schumacher (23/02) Vs Rosberg (24/02)

As we can see, Nico’s run was considerably faster than Michael’s. In a hypothetical scenario, they would have finished the race 73 seconds apart, i.e. Nico would have theoretically almost lapped Michael. Naturally, this is not a reflection of the drivers’ relative ability, but it bodes with Ross Brawn’s statement that Mercedes did a full race run yesterday to get the reliability checked and to establish a good baseline, and that they would be focusing on performance from now on. It’s clear that Mercedes are feeling more comfortable with the reliability of the car, and are starting to work on setup optimization. This is clear in the laptimes:

Schumacher Vs Rosberg lap times

After this long run, Mercedes focused on 12 lap stints, working on tyre degradation and setup optimization. From the way Nico was sometimes pushing and sometimes holding back a little at the beginning of each stint, we can tell that Mercedes were looking at the best way of managing their tyres throughout a stint, as well as setup options that were going to help the driver in this situation. You can see the graph of Nico’s runs below:

Rosberg stints (1 in lap, 1 out lap, 10 timed laps)

Red Bull

Red Bull focused on shorter stints, apparently working on setup optimization and different solutions. Later during the day, they did a couple of long stints (pictured below), where you can see that they had very good results in terms of tyre degradation. Of course, these runs could be steady-pace runs, so it’s difficult to draw any conclusion at the moment. In general, Red Bull are keeping the cards close to their chest, even though I am sure McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes know exactly the fuel loads Red Bull are running, from sonar analysis and clever reading of the sector times. I’m afraid such analysis is unavailable to us.

Webber long(ish) stints at the end of the day

McLaren

McLaren focused on long stints as well, working mainly with tyre degradation and setup work. Button embarked on 6 long stints (pictured below):

Button tyre degradation / setup optimization runs

The 3 first stints seem to be steady-pace stints, a la Webber (that we discussed above). Let us focus on the last 3 stints, which seem to be more performance-oriented. As you can see, Button did 3 stints, each of which consisted of 15 timed laps (+1 in lap / +1 out lap). He averaged 01:28.690 on the first stint, and suffered a degradation of 2.637 seconds. On the second stint, McLaren were able to improve the degradation dramatically (1.990 seconds) and keep the same level of performance (01:28.632). Finally, on the last stint, McLaren were able to maintain the degradation levels in check (2.081 seconds) and improve the overall performance (01:28.457). I am sure they have lots of nice, juicy data to go on with, but it’s hard to put these numbers in comparison with what the other teams are doing.

Button's lap times and lap time degradation

The rest

Ferrari once more focused on long(ish) runs, geared towards data acquisition and setup work. At this stage, it’s very risky to compare lap times and we won’t do it. In general, they were testing softer compounds today, hence the improvement in the overall lap times. There is a very interesting comment made by Peter Windsor on Episode 58 of the Flying Lap. It appears that Fernando Alonso has reverted back to his old “whack-the-steering-wheel” driving style. For those who don’t know exactly what I am referring to, they can refresh their memory with this very good example… Maybe this is a way for Alonso to deal with the new pull-rod suspension characteristics and/or the squarer profiled Pirelli tyres, or it may be just his way of testing things, from a driver’s perspective, ahead of the new season. It’s going to be really interesting to see what comes out of it…

For the rest of the teams (Williams, Toro Rosso, Force India and Sauber) I will be posting tomorrow. Thanks for taking the time to visit this blog, and for all your kind comments so far…

 

…stay tuned…