The State of Play

Posted on May 1, 2013


Those folks over at theJudge13 were asking whether I could figure out how the relative pace of the teams in the first four races compares to previous years. This could give us an idea of how things have changed – who has really moved forward, and who back – and whether the perceptions (Lotus/Mercedes are more competitive, Williams/Sauber have dropped back) are really true.

So what I have done is to look at the races in Melbourne, Sepang, Shanghai and Sakhir since 2011, for a like-for-like comparison to see how the performance has changed over the years. This tells us where teams are historically good (which may be worth putting in the Friday analyses) and how their performance has changed over time. There is a huge amount of noise in this – but there are some interesting patterns.

To try to be as fair as possible, I took the race pace of the fastest car in each dry race, and averaged over the tyre types where both played a part, or took the dominant one where the slow/short-lived tyre didn’t really play a part. This gives me two races for Sepang (2012 wet) and Bahrain (2011 didn’t happen) and three for Melbourne and Shanghai.

The trends that we see are as follows:

  • Red Bull are consistently fastest (or close to) everywhere except Shanghai where they are consistently 0.3-0.4s off the pace. Therefore, the struggle in China doesn’t suggest they might have issues – it’s just a bogey (front-limited) track – at least since the switch to Pirellis.
  • The Ferrari data is interesting – the 2013 car seems to be a few tenths better than the 2011 car relative to Red Bull in the 3 races so far, and 0.8-1s better than last year. Given this, they underperformed in the Bahrain race.
  • McLaren, on the other hand, tend to go well in Shanghai – except this year. They seem to have fallen back by about 0.4s relative to the Red Bulls. Less than in might appear – at least in race pace.
  • Lotus is a bit of an enigma. The overall trend is an improvement with time, but they have had a bad race each year – the 2011 car was slow in China, the 2012 car was slow in Melbourne, and the 2013 version in Sepang. Surprisingly difficult to read given the great 2013 results.
  • The Mercedes improvement is genuine. Apart from China, where they perform disproportionately well, they have gained about 1s since 2011 – most of that last year, and about 0.3s in 2013.
  • Sauber have indeed fallen back. They moved forward by about 0.3s from 2011 to 2102, and have fallen away by about 0.7s this year – and worse in Bahrain.
  • Force India are massively better – by about 0.7s over the two years.  They look better this year than last, except in China. They seem to struggle in Melbourne – so Sutil’s performance there has good omens.
  • Williams are pretty much back to where they were in 2011. If not slightly worse relative to Red Bull. They gained a whole second from 2011 to 2012, and they’ve lost it again. No obvious strengths/weaknesses over these four circuits – relative to Red Bull anyway.
  • Toro Rosso have a car which is performing differently from previous years. They’ve always gone well in China, but they were much better in Melbourne, and much worse in Bahrain. On average, things are about the same – but it looks like they might have some really good races, and some really bad ones.
  • Caterham are interesting. They’ve come from 3-4s off the pace to being about 2s off. This upgrade has got them back to about where they were last year, but the stragglers (Williams, bad Toro Rosso days and Sauber) are closer to them as they’ve fallen back.
  • Marussia have improved. They improved by 1s from 2011-2012 and they have the best part of anther second to be as good as Caterham. Bahrain looks to be a bad track for them, and quite a good one for Caterham, so they may still be favourites for 10th, even with the Caterham upgrade.

Overall, it is closer at the front than last year. Ferrari are definitely challengers to Red Bull, and Lotus could be – although it is still not clear how genuinely fast they are. On race pace, the second group is headed by Mercedes (yes, I’d probably put them in a second group) with Force India, who have broken out of the midfield, and McLaren (who have broken into it…).

Then there is a gap. Of up to a second. In what was a close midfield last year.

And we get fast-Toro-Rosso, Sauber, Williams/slow-Toro-Rosso with both Marussia and Caterham within touching distance.They have improved, but they are close because those in front have also fallen back.

No big surprises really. Except that I can’t figure the Lotus performances. I’m sure they’re fast – but I really don’t know how fast.