Posts Tagged ‘analysis’

Discussing Michael Schumacher’s driving style is challenging, because his career spans 3 decades or, if you prefer, 23 years (including the 2012 season) – 20 years if we take out the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons. Considering that the official F1 championship started in 1950, this means that Schumacher’s career covers 31.5% of the time that we had a F1 championship. To get a better understanding, Schumacher has raced (and won) against drivers representing many generations of F1 drivers; to name but a few: Stefan Johansson, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell, Jean Alesi, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, Eddie Irvine, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel… It’s fair to say that people come and go in Formula 1, but Michael is always there. Which makes the fact that he’s still competitive and he’s still racing at (near) the top, an extraordinary feat, unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the history of the sport. There are F1 drivers that joined the sport as promising rookies when Schumacher was already an established figure, and are now retired old-timers, like Jacque Villeneuve, Olivier Panis, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Eddie Irvine, Jos Verstappen, Mika Salo, Giancarlo Fisichella, etc… It sometimes hard to understand: no one would consider Jacques Villeneuve, for example, for a race seat in 2012 – it would be a folly. Nevertheless, Jacques joined F1 in 1996, i.e. 5 years later than Michael, and has retired in 2006 (i.e. 6 years ago and long overdue), yet Michael is still racing, which is a testament of a unique combination of sheer talent, determination and love for the sport.

That’s quite a long introduction to the subject of driving styles, but people need to understand that Michael has driven a large variety of F1 cars in his time, and, as we explained in our previous blog, a driver needs to adapt his driving style (sometimes drastically) to suit different cars, tracks and tyres characteristics. It would be silly to suggest that Michael is now using the same “style” as his did when he was racing the 1991 Benetton. However, there are things that never change, and they have to do more with the way a driver deals with the physics involved and his setup preferences. For example, Ralf Schumacher was a late braker; Jarno Trulli was the opposite. Jenson Button brakes earlier than Rubens but he is more progressive. Mika Hakkinen prefered a later turn-in than David Coulthard. Senna blipped the throttle in the middle of the corner, Schumacher was never really off it. Kimi Raikkonen is superb in weight-transfer situations. Ronnie Peterson couldn’t even park a car without power sliding it, etc, etc. The most important thing though that defines a racing driver is his feel for the limit, and we will expand later on that.

The principles of driving a F1 car haven’t changed dramatically from the past. Prost has said that the ideal setup is one with an inclination towards understeer, which preserves the rear tyres and makes the car predictable in fast corners. What Schumacher (and other great drivers in the past) has been able to do, is to drive with the same efficiency and speed cars that were not perfect, or to his absolute liking at all times. We mustn’t forget that Michael’s most spectacular season was 1997, when he fought for the championship in a car that was desperately temperamental, against much stronger opposition, and he would have won it had it not been for his radiator failing in the last race at Jerez, while leading the race.

Michael drove some difficult and temperamental cars in his career. People tend to forget that cars in the 90’s and early 00’s were completely different beasts to contemporary F1 cars, which are extremely well designed, predictable, and have huge amounts of driveable downforce. We have now reached a point that a driver can make little difference in lap times (certainly much less than in the past). The cars don’t twitch under breaking, don’t power slide, you can’t miss a gear change and you can’t over-rev the engine. But it was a different story back then. Up until 1998, Schumacher used to out-qualify his team-mates by 1 -1.5 seconds on average, each year. In fact, he out-qualified every team-mate he ever had from the end of the 1991 season until the start of the 1996 season, with the exception of the 1995 Belgian GP when it started to rain and Schumi hadn’t set a lap in the dry. He qualified 15th and still went on to win the race in spectacular fashion. Can you imagine spending almost 5 years without being out-qualified by another driver driving the same car as you? The reason I have mentioned these old times is because it makes much more sense to talk about Michael’s driving style up until circa 2004 than it is to talk about today. And I am afraid that I will have to follow Peter Windsor’s advise and not post any footage this time, because it’s illegal according to FOM (you can however search for yourselves in YouTube and find many gems).

So, what was it that made Schumacher so special? First, it was the purely visual element; Michael was a spectacular driver to see, especially in a hot lap, from the outside. It was a bit like watching ballet as opposed to bull fighting. The car was dancing around, but in a very premeditated, pre-calculated fashion. And if we watch his onboard laps, it’s easy to understand why. Michael, despite popular misguided opinion, was (and still is actually) a driver who prefers understeer, because he simply understands that this is where the lap time is coming from and that this is the ideal way to set up a car. In fact he is arguably the best driver in the history of the sport when it comes to dealing with understeer, as many team-mates he’s had in the past have attested to (Brundle, Irvine and Rubens). Ferrari, as a result of this, had always been (since 1999) a very stable and well-balanced car throughout Schumi’s reign, that always tended to understeer rather than oversteer at corner entries.

His main advantage was that he was able to carry huge amounts of speed into a corner, by using a gradually increasing steering lock as opposed to gradually decreasing left-foot braking. The interesting bit was that he was able to slide the car at the exact apex of the corner, timing this brief transition from understeer to neutral-steer to perfection. This transition wasn’t a result of something he did (e.g. wheel movement or application of brake) but it was more a natural transition from one state to the other that simply relied on physics and car setup. What was spectacular about it was the timing, since this slide would almost always take place on mid corner, so when viewed from outside it was a very fluid and natural movement, as if the car slid just this tiny bit in order to embrace the apex of the corner.

To accomplish that, Schumacher was rarely off the throttle completely, and even when he came back on it, he was very progressive and gentle – the first since many generations of drivers to achieve that. Popular belief, again, has Senna blipping the throttle inside the corners, in an on-off manner, and that’s true, but what many people don’t realize is that almost all drivers in F1 were just like that back then. Hakkinen, Berger, Coulthard, Alesi, Hill, Herbert, etc all used on-off throttle in the corners, but Michael was the first driver to take car control-by-throttle-usage to that different level. As a result, this slide at the apex of the corner, (which some have called “4-wheel drift” but I prefer to call neutral-steer), gave Michael a very significant advantage in positioning the car for the exit, by straightening the car very early. Michael never used extreme reactions to correct this slide, because it was all premeditated, just a small decrease of the initial steering lock, usually to the neutral position, which again made the transition from the apex of the corner to the exit extremely fluid and, to the onlookers, to appear as one movement. Not only the car, but the front wheels and the steering wheel were in perfect position to put the power down for the exit.

As a result of the above, Michael was indeed the first driver in the history of the sport to have maximized corner entry, apex and exit at the same time. If you like, he was the first driver to apply the fast-in, fast-out driving style. In fact, in order to be entirely accurate, we have to say that there were times when his apex speed was not the absolute fastest because of all the things that were going on at this stage, but overall he would be much faster than anybody else exactly because he didn’t have to compromise any speed either at corner entry or at corner exit. This relentless, absolute driving style required a very necessary ingredient: a very good and consistent feeling for the limit. Like we discussed in our previous blog, Alonso was able to drive the way he did in 2003 – 2006 because he had a very good feeling of how much the car was going to slide and at what exact point it would regain its grip. For Michael it was the same story, only more so, because he had to maximize all parts of the corner. His incredible, instinctive feel for the limit allowed him to drive like the way we described, using the slide to position the car and hardly ever using all the kerbs at the exit, simply because he was so nicely positioned for the straight that he didn’t have to. The only driver that has approached, ever since, this kind of driving style perfection is Lewis Hamilton, but not nearly as consistently as Michael who could do that one lap after the other, for an entire race.

This uncanny feeling for the limit came to the fore every time the track conditions were wet. Schumacher’s wet races from that era are legendary, and he used to thrive in changing weather conditions when you had to trust your instinct on how much grip is available before you commit yourself to a corner. His most spectacular race ever was the Spanish Grand Prix of 1996, when he lapped the entire field up to 3rd position, and then just cruised around to collect the 10 points (for victory, at that time); this remains the single most convincing display of natural talent and dominance I have ever seen in a F1 car. Of course there are many more examples of wet race dominance, like Spa 1997, Spa 1998, Monaco 1997, Nurburgring 2000, Spa 1995, etc, etc. Back then, when the track was wet, Schumacher wasn’t aiming to win the race, but to humiliate his opponents, something for which he paid dearly on occasion, like for instance in Spa 1998 when he crashed at the back of David Coulthard while trying to lap him. In addition to that, Michael was an extremely cunning racer, who could adapt to almost anything that a race threw at him. In 1994, for instance, in the Spanish GP, he lost all gears (from a 6-speed gearbox) except 5th, with 40 laps to go, whilst leading the race. Michael used this feeling for the limit and his knowledge from driving heavy sports cars to bring the car home in 2nd position, including 2 pit stops where he had to get the car going in 5th gear… When he mentioned that he’d lost all gears but 5th in the press conference after the race nobody believed him, and Benetton had to show to the press the telemetry from the car in order to convince them.

So, there you have it. If I had to characterize Michael according to his driving style, I’d call him the great Calculator. Watching him drive in his prime was like watching art. It was this spectacular visual element that made me want to become more involved with the sport and understand what’s hidden behind it. A lot of people tend to disregard Schumacher’s achievements, by arguing that he had subservient team-mates and superior machinery. These opinions never made me angry; they made me sad instead, because it is sad to not be able to appreciate the beauty that Michael has brought to the sport. Appreciating Michael as a driver has made me love the sport even more, and it is simply depressing that other fans are missing on that.

And what about today, I hear you ask. Well, Michael today is not the driver he used to be, by any stretch of the imagination. And this is painfully obvious in his driving style, which is a far cry from his driving style of old. The problem does not lie in reflexes, because this has never been Michael’s strongest point. There have been slightly better drivers than him in that department in the past; it wasn’t just quick reflexes that made Michael faster than anybody else. What is missing, at this point, is this tremendous feeling for the limit – this sense that every move, every correction and every slide is a calculated, analyzed and premeditated action. You can see that from his onboard laps; Michael is more hesitant, his movements are not fluid and his reactions are edgier. Michael’s reactions are just that: reactive. It’s true that the Mercedes W01 and W02 didn’t help, but Rosberg was much more stable and fluid in his driving and, as a result, faster. This loss of feeling was also obvious in qualifying, not because Michael was slower than Nico, but because it took him 2 or 3 laps in each qualifying session to find his groove, whereas Nico was bang-on-the-money from his 1st hot lap. A better car, as we all hope that the W03 is, will surely restore some of his confidence and will allow him to drive better, but it will not be able to restore all the characteristics that made Michael such a unique talent in the history of motor sport.

Schumacher has lost so much of his talent over the years, he is 43 years old and has spent 3 years away from the sport. The fact that he’s still with us and that he outraced Nico in 2011 is a testament, if one was needed, to a truly spectacular and unique driving talent. It also speaks volumes for his love of the sport, for Michael truly adores F1; he’s a hardcore petrol head through and through. And, just for that, we can but love him.

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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.

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! 😉

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

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…

 

Thanks to F1 fanatic, we now have our first serious glimpse of the Mercedes W03 car, from the shake down that took place yesterday at Silverstone, and we can make our first few, brief observations. The nose (2) is very rounded both on the vertical and horizontal planes. The famous platypus step (1) is more pronounced arguably than in any other car we’ve witnessed so far, although from that photo I am inclined to believe that what we are seeing are 2 huge vertical bulges (channels running left and right of the nose), and the “inside” part is void (unlike Ferrari which is completely solid). The front suspension (3) is typically pushrod, so Ferrari will officially be the only team on the 2012 grid to feature a pullrod arragenement at the front (we can safely predict that neither Marussia nor HRT will have a pullrod). The sidepods (4) seem to be surprisingly slim (actually ridiculously thin and tiny at the back of the coke bottle shape), with a heavy undercut; also the air intakes seem to be lower than usual. There is an additional cooling inlet (5) for gearbox and (possibly) KERS cooling. The roll hoop construction (6) follows the trend of having the pillars exposed (it’s not the carbon mono-blade design anymore). The exhausts (7) seem to be situated very far forward and we cannot judge the angle from that photograph (more will come, I’m sure, as the days go by…). The rear suspension (8), although it’s not clear in this photograph, will have a pullrod suspension, as per every other car so far and, finally, we cannot see any cooling outlets so I presume the main one will be that over the gearbox (9).

Roll on Barcelona, 21st of February…….

Mercedes W03 - first decent spy shot from Silverstone shake down

As most F1 fans know by now, the engine regulations have been altered for 2014 onwards. The main changes can be summarized as follows: Cubic capacity drops from 2.4 lt to 1.6 lt and, at the same time, the number of cylinder goes down from 8 to 6, always in “V” configuration, revs are limited to 15,000 RPM, direct fuel injection is limited to 500 bar, single turbo charger is allowed and, finally, the fuel flow will be controlled (i.e. limited). For those interested in reading more, you can find the changes here. We will have the pleasure of watching turbo engines again after 26 years, for it was back in 1988 when the McLarens of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost dominated the season, using a 1.5 lt V6 Honda turbocharged engine.

Many people believe that F1 engines are no longer the great differentiator in performance that they used to be, and that’s true. However, the level of competition is such at the moment, that one can never rest and there is always scope for development and investment. Recently imposed regulations such as the DRS have brought engine performance back under the spotlight. Renault, according to their F1 director Mr. Francois Caubet, have developed an engine so efficient that it allows Red Bull to start a race with 15 – 18 liters of fuel less than their opposition, even though it is slightly down on power in comparison to Mercedes (by about 15 BHP). Teams like Mercedes and Ferrari will be spending millions of dollars developing their engine plants, so I believe it’s worth examining the new engine regulations a little bit further.

Let’s start with the most intriguing aspect, which is of course the fuel flow rate limitation. The upper limit is set at 100 kg/h, and below 10,500 RPM the fuel mass flow must not exceed the amount of Q (kg/h) = (0.009 x RPM) + 5. This means, that the fuel flow tops up @ 10,500 RPM and has the linear graph shown below. Of course, the curve below represents the maximum allowed fuel flow in all circumstances and does not represent the actual flow graph, which will be considerably different.

Fuel Flow (kg/hr) Vs Engine RPM

The question is, how do we get more power in the 10,500 – 15,000 RPM range when our fuel flow is limited? Many people traditionally associate increase in power with increase in fuel supply, which is of course wrong. You can have an increase in power by using different (leaner) air/fuel ratios (and/or different ignition advance settings), and all modern engines are managed that way through air/fuel ratio maps which are embedded in the cars’ computer (and, quite often, tweaked afterwards…). Typically, a road car achieves 100% (or even slightly more) of fuel injector duty cycle at about 80% of its RPM range, and then has 20% more RPM to give (and, often, more power) by changing the air/fuel ratio and increasing the advance (i.e. increasing the degrees before TDC that the ignition takes place). So, you may end up getting 1,000 more RPM and at the same time the fuel injectors workload has dropped to 80% (these are ballpark figures).

The logical question is, how do we get more power by increasing the air/fuel ratio? The reason is stoichiometry. A stoichiometric mixture is considered an air/fuel mixture that has just enough air to burn the entire fuel quantity. For typical gasoline that we put in our cars, this ranges anywhere between 12.5 to 13.3. In F1 fuels, this may be slightly lower (due to the additives that have the effect of lowering the stoichiometric ratio). In reality, however, cars never run stoichiometric mixtures. There are three main reasons for that: (a) a stoichiometric mixture burns very hot and can impart severe thermal stresses to the engine components, (b) the temperature is further increased because we no longer have the cooling effect of the fuel spray on the combustion chamber and, (c) due to the high temperatures, early detonation of the mixture is possible, causing the famous “knocking” effect under load. All cars therefore (even F1 single seaters) use rich mixtures (i.e. air mass / fuel mass less than the stoichiometric one).

The new fuel flow rate limitation nevertheless means that F1 engineers will be forced to explore the upper limits of the air/fuel ratio. The increased ratios combined with increased advance will cause severe thermal stresses to the engines and will dramatically increase the cooling needs of the power plant. Also, since the cars will be turbo-charged, the charge air (i.e. the compressed air supplied by the turbo compressor wheel to the combustion chamber) must also be cooled down. Overall, thermal management of the engines will be crucial in 2014, and I expect most early reliability problems to come from that, as the aerodynamicists will be pushing for leaner sidepods and smaller coolers and air intakes. The engines themselves may be smaller, but this is more than countered by the addition of the turbo and the complexity of the exhaust piping arrangement (see further down in this post).

The problem of cooling is further exacerbated by one addition to the 2014 rules (5.8.2) which states that “over 80% of the maximum permitted fuel flow rate (author note: i.e. over approximately 8400 RPM), at least 75% of the fuel flow must be injected directly into the cylinders”. This means you have a very small time window to get all the fuel delivered directly via the fuel injectors (which are also limited to 500 bar), since you can only direct 25% of the fuel via the air intakes, which would help to keep the valves clean and to achieve more homogeneous mixtures inside the combustion chamber.

Also, the exhaust gases (having worked the turbine wheel) will have lost a lot of their kinetic and thermal energy, so there will be less scope for using them for aerodynamic purposes. Since only one, single-stage turbo is allowed, we will now get a single exhaust outlet from the turbo, although I don’t see anything in the rules preventing the teams from splitting the exhaust manifold in two after the turbo.

How does the 100 kg/hr compare to today’s F1 cars and consumption figures? Typically, contemporary F1 cars consume 75 lt / 100 km (4 mpg). 75 liters are about 68 kg. A typical race distance is around 310km and is done (again, typically) in about 1 hour and 30 minutes. This means that, currently, F1 cars consume on average 140.5 kg/hr of fuel. Please remember that the 100 kg/hr is the maximum amount allowed, we therefore expect the average number to be even less. Assuming (and that’s a big assumption) that the average figure will be around 80 kg/hr, this means that the new generation engines will be about 43% more economical than the current power plants. A 2011 car had to start the race with about 180 kg of fuel – in 2014 they will be starting with 120 kg. This means considerably smaller fuel tanks; and there’s a reason right there for the aerodynamicists to feel a bit better after all.

An interesting addition to the rules is 5.19, which states: “Engine exhaust gases may only exit the cylinder head through outlets outboard of the cylinder bore center line and not from within the “V” centre”. The way I understand this is that exhaust piping must travel outboard the engine and cannot be located in the middle, between the two cylinder banks, as shown in the figure below (the green area is where it’s not allowed to installed the exhaust outlets). This would have been an obvious solution for the engineers, i.e. to join the exhaust outlets from the two cylinder banks in one common manifold running between the V. Now, they will have to keep the exhaust outlets from the cylinder heads pretty much as they are at the moment and resort to more elaborate and complicated exhaust piping arrangements in order to feed the turbo charger.

Not allowed location for exhaust outlets

So, what should we expect from the 2014 engines? I am really not willing to get into the debate of how they will “sound”. They will sound terrific, just like they always have. For those who are interested in the technology, it will be fascinating to observe the new engines and the various solutions that the engineers will come up with.

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.