Malaysian Grand Prix: Some team-mate comparisons

Posted on March 31, 2012


The long stint on intermediate tyres in the middle of the Malaysian Grand Prix saw significantly different fortunes for different drivers. Massa and Rosberg struggled, Alonso and Perez were quick. As all the drivers changed tyres within a couple of laps of each other, we can make almost direct comparisons between team mates on the same tyres of the same age. Also, as the field spread is quite big, the traffic issues are less important than we normally get in the opening laps of a race.

What I have done is to manipulate the race history chart (simple addition/subtraction of elapsed race time), to put the team mates traces on top of one another in order to make direct comparisons of their relative pace. And what we see is that many of the drivers are very well matched – and some were not. The first comparisons are of the Mercedes, Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso drivers – these are in the chart below.

The drivers in these four teams are all very closely matched. It is difficult to separate them on pace for the majority of the stint. For Mercedes, Rosberg loses time being overtaken by the Red Bull cars – the reaction to this is to stop for new tyres, but it is clear from this picture that this loses him a huge amount of time. He may have been in tyre trouble, but the evidence here is that he was in the same state as his team mate. The Force India drivers are also very closely matched – Hulkenburg loses a little time behind Vergne in the middle of the stint, but has regained some of that time by the end of the stint. The Williams drivers show some slight differences – it takes Senna a few laps to reach the pace of Maldonado, but once on the pace, he proceeds to outpace his team mate ever so slightly over the rest of the stint. These graphs go to show how closely matched the drivers are, especially considering that the track conditions are constantly changing through this stint.

The next set of drivers (McLaren, Red Bull and Caterham) are not quite so precisely matched, as shown in the chart below.

The difference in pace between the McLarens is about 0.2s per lap – with Hamilton faster. Lewis also starts to pick up pace as the track dries slightly better, probably precipitating Button’s roll-of-the-dice ptistop. The differences between the Red Bull drivers is slightly more difficult to assess as they are separated by Raikkonen’s Lotus. The two extra laps Webber spent behind Rosberg made a difference of a few seconds, but after this the difference is small – Vettel is marginally quicker, but that might be due to Raikkonen. The other cars on this chart are the Caterhams, and Petrov is clearly quicker (just over a second per lap), and indeed passes Kovalainen.

The remaining comparisons involve the front two cars – Alonso and Perez. The level of their driving in these conditions, is shown by the massive difference which can be seen in comparison with their respective team mates. Given the closeness of the drivers which can be seen from the previous charts, the contrast is obvious.

The difference between Alonso and Massa, and between Perez and Kobayashi, are of the order of 3-3.5s per lap in the initial stages of the stint. I have matched the data at lap 16 for all four cars – so the differences are measured from this point. In comparison with the charts where the team mate traces can be overlaid quite convincingly, it’s easy to see that there is just no way that it can be done in these cases. It seems that the cars were working for Alonso and Massa, and their team mates were struggling. There were suggestions from Sauber that Kobayashi did a good job, but this data does not support that – indeed Kobayashi was not stuck in traffic which would be tha only viable excuse. Massa is clearly struggling with the car, and it seems that these conditions only served to highlight the performance disparity between him and his team mate.

So we can see that most of the team mates were very closely matched in the changing conditions – closer than it might have seemed. Toro Rosso and Williams are good examples of this where it seemed that Vergne and Senna were much superior during the race, but actually their team mates had very similar pace. The story is different, however, at Sauber and Ferrari…