Could we be in for a shock in Melbourne?

Posted on March 11, 2013

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Right from the beginning of testing there have been noises about topsy-turvy grids, surprise race results due to the closeness of performance of the cars. I have read a number of times about the midfield having closed up and Sam Michael’s quote about “nine teams within one second”. Further to this I have read about the Toro Rosso looking good, Sauber being in a position to build on the performances of 2012 and Williams being confident that they could win a race. So, is there any evidence for this from the laptimes done in testing?

My last post looked at the relative performance of the teams generally considered to be the front five and this post considers the next four teams; Sauber, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso. Given that it seems well accepted that Caterham and Marussia will bring up the rear, these are the teams we are looking to for the big surprises.

As discussed before, the test times are extremely difficult to sort out as the teams have quite simply not done race simulations which look like real races, when they did last year. The longer run stints which do exist are harder to assess, because there is no (close to) definitive fuel load data to say when the cars are full – which is the only fixed point that really exists if they have managed to complete a race distance. So I have tried again to sort the long runs out by their approximate fuel load using the same assumptions as in the previous post; that things are relatively close, and that the runs can be categorised according to a race stint which they represent, and that the pace of interest comes after the initial large degradation of the first few laps. There is clearly some noise here as not all teams would follow the same strategy, but at least it provides a reasonable indication of which stints are comparable.

The pace is given relative to Maldonado’s first stint pace from 2012:

Stint 1: (top five cars in region +1.0s to +1.5s)

Sauber: 3 stints; +1.9s, +1.8s, +2.5s; generally poor tyre behaviour, slower stint good

Force India: 5 stints; +2.3s, +2.7s, +2.4s, +1.9s, +1.7s; OK tyre behaviour

Williams: 6 stints; +3.0s, +3.5s, +1.9s, +1.5s, +1.4s, +1.6s; OK to good tyre behaviour (first two stints in Barcelona 1 appear not to be representative)

Toro Rosso: 2 stints; +2.1s, +2.6s; OK to good tyre behaviour

Stint 2: (top five cars in region -0.1s to 0.3s)

Sauber: +1.0s, +0.8s; OK to good tyre behaviour

Force India: 1 stint; +1.2s; good tyre behaviour

Williams: 2 stints; +0.4s, +0.6s; good tyre behaviour

Toro Rosso: 3 stints; +1.3s, +1.3s, +0.9s; generally poor tyre behaviour

Stint 3: (top five cars in region -1.0s to -2.0s)

Sauber: 1 stint; -0.5s; good tyre behaviour

Force India: 3 stints; -0.7s, -0.5s, -0.3s; OK to good tyre behaviour

Williams: no stints

Toro Rosso: 1 stint; -0.9s; OK tyre behaviour

Stint 4: No data for any of these teams.

From this data, nothing is particularly clear, but I would put Force India and Sauber as very closely matched, Sauber being faster in the opening few laps of the stint which makes them likely to qualify better. Toro Rosso seem to be slightly behind, although there is one stronger stint on lower fuel. The pace of these teams is about one second slower that of the leading five teams – so I would guess that they are a little more than a second off the ultimate pace, and there does appear to be a gap between the front five and these teams.

Which leaves us with Williams. If we discount their two very slow stints as experimental (although they could be real, in which case the other data can all be shifted across by a stint and they will find themselves behind Toro Rosso), then they are pretty close to the front five – indeed the opening stint data would be as strong as McLaren. So if there is to be a surprise, it is most likely to come from Williams, and I would expect them to be the only interlopers within the top ten (under normal circumstances) from this midfield pack. There does appear to be a visible (but not big) gap between the top six teams (as we should now call them) and the remaining three midfield teams.

So the best guess I have is that a rough order of merit on race pace would look like:

Red Bull, a few tenths, Ferrari, Lotus/Mercedes, McLaren (but likely to qualify better), a few tenths, Williams, 0.5s, Sauber (may qualify better)/Force India, a few tenths, Toro Rosso.

But I wouldn’t say I was confident. There just isn’t the data for that.

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