Could Sebastien Bourdais have beaten Sebastian Vettel in the Italian GP?

Was Sebastien Bourdais quicker than team mate Sebastian Vettel at Monza?

Was Sebastien Bourdais quicker than team mate Sebastian Vettel at Monza?

A tale of two Toro Rossos: Sebastiaan Vettel started from pole position, led 49 of 53 laps, and won the race. Sebastien Bourdais started fourth on the grid, but his car stalled leaving him a lap behind, which ruined his race.

I read on another site that, ignoring his first lap problem, Bourdais’ race time was four seconds faster than Vettel’s. That got me wondering whether Bourdais might actually have been able to beat his team mate had it not been for his engine cutting out at the start.

But I’ve had a look at the data myself it seems that wasn’t actually the case. Here’s what I found.

Sebastian Vettel vs Sebastien Bourdais’ lap times

Here’s a graph showing Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais’ lap times from laps 2-53:

Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel lap times (click to enlarge)

Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel lap times (click to enlarge)

It’s not obvious from looking at this graph exactly how well each either did but there’s a clear impression that Vettel was usually quicker, except at the end, when he had presumably backed off a bit.

Gap between Sebastian Vettel and Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel time difference (click to enlarge)

Sebastien Bourdais and Sebastian Vettel time difference (click to enlarge)

This graph shows the difference in seconds between the two drivers at the end of each lap. It’s created by adding together their lap times and calculating the difference between their cumulative time on each lap.

This gives us a much clearer impression of how the gap fluctuated – and where the mystery four seconds came from.

After his car was re-started Bourdais set off in pursuit of the pack. The misconception that he gained four seconds arose because he was able to lap quickly while the rest of the field was behind the safety car. Bourdais’ disadvantage at the start of the race was 117 seconds, not 164.

And from then on Bourdais generally lost time to Vettel, with a few exceptions. By the end of the race, he was almost as far behind as he had been before gaining all that time back thanks to the safety car.

Yes, he would have been delayed further as a result of his predicament in having to let other drivers lap him. But it seems Bourdais just couldn’t match Vettel’s pace. It’s not the kind of data he’d want to see when his race seat for 2009 is on the line.

This comparison was suggested by Kris on the Live Blog during the Italian Grand Prix. If you want to see any similar data comparisons, leave a suggestion in the Skribit box on the upper right of the page.

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18 comments on Could Sebastien Bourdais have beaten Sebastian Vettel in the Italian GP?

  1. cyanide said on 17th September 2008, 8:06

    Interesting stuff, but you’d also have to factor in the massive amount of spray he was probably getting while being last, instead of atleast being able to move off-line and getting a clear line in 4th. I’m surprised you even went for the total-race-time statistic to prove this, that too on a rain-affected race. I feel sorry for the guy. Between the few rookies this year, he’s probably done the best he could from the machinery that was provided to him.

  2. Pedro Andrade said on 17th September 2008, 8:07

    I disagree: that’s probably the data he wants Berger to see. You don’t mention it on the analysis, so I may be wrong, but I suspect he would’ve finished third had the car not stalled. So, when his seat for next year is being discussed, he can say: “if the the car hadn’t stall on the grid at Monza (which was probably not my fault), I could’ve been third, having started from fourth”.

    I think Bourdais had a great race.

  3. Jonesracing82 said on 17th September 2008, 8:36

    ppl seem to forget at start of this year bourdais was hammering vettel in the old car! since the new car came along, vettel has had the upper hand, if he doesnt get the drive next year, the sad thing is next years cars may suit him more wioth slicks and less downforce

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 17th September 2008, 9:16

    Pedro – It’s hard to say for sure where he would have finished had he started in his original position. Even if he had started fourth he would still have been in spray as Cyanide points out.

    But for the sake of argument, Nico Rosberg was fourth after the safety car period, 5.948s behind Vettel. Had that been Bourdais’ position at that point in the race, given that he subsequently lost 42.666s to Vettel, it points to a finishing position of ninth (+48.614s).

  5. Terry Fabulous said on 17th September 2008, 9:22

    I guess we also need to consider how Seb B spent the race in traffic while Seb V had a lot more wide open spaces.

    I don’t think he would have beaten Seb V, but he would have podiumed. (Not a real word, sorry)

  6. I think not , he is still finding himself in F1 – most drivers take a year to adjust except for (Hamilton fans will love me today !) an exceptional talent like Lewis for example. Heikki battled in his first year , esp. the 1st half thereof. And so has Nelson Piquet. Considering Bourdais’ previous titles , STR should give him at least another year , while Renault should also with Nelson. And after all , Vettel himself , had a few races in the end of 2006 , before he started to improve from then on.

  7. Andy R said on 17th September 2008, 9:55

    In theory Vettel should have had all the advantages, a clear view, less traffic, blue flags to lap, where as Bourdais would have at times had to contend with low visibility, getting passed cars that were a lap ahead etc. So question one is how much time that cost him.

    Question two – do we know what fuel strategy he was on (and was extra added when restarting?) as I’d think this (i.e. tyre timings) would have been the other key factor in where he’d have been in the 19 second 3rd to 9th Kubica to Raikkonen.

  8. Sooooperpigdog said on 17th September 2008, 10:01

    All very interesting, but totally irrelevent. Slow news day today, Keith?

  9. To me the interesting thing is where he would have finished had he not stalled – he said third but I suspect possibly second… it’s difficult to say how relevant is his speed when he was stuck as a tail-end charlie compared with how he would have gone had he been racing with other cars for points.

  10. yes quite so Andy. I agree with pigdog but its hardly a slow news day with the worlds financial institutions imploding more effectively than Al QUieda ever managed!

    Outright pace doesnt win you races as Kimi is intent on proving this season. Its the mindset that needs to be right. Bourdais may well have been able to match Vettel, we’ll never know but we do know that theres more pressure when your leading a wet race than when you are charging from the back with nothing to lose. Id say Bourdais is improving nicely but that he hasnt got the potential of Vettel.

    WHo knows, Vettel might be another Kubica ( well over rated in my view) but ive got a hunch hes more Lewis than Lady Hamilton.

  11. It looks like this took quite a lot of work! The results don’t look wonderful for Bourdais, I was hoping he’d have been quicker, perhaps enough so to state “he’d have finished on the podium” but looking at it I think we’d have been looking at 5th or 6th, unless I’m not making enough of a blue-flag allowance :(

    Thanks for taking the time to look this through, I didn’t even realise you’d spotted it at the time… A very pleasant surprise when it popped up in my RSS reader :)

  12. Bourdais comes from a series, where, they hardly race in the rain. So he’s not used to the kind of spray these F1 cars generate. Starting 4th, he would have needed at least another 8 or 9 laps for the spray to reduce a bit. Lets not forget also that he wears glasses underneath that visor.
    My prediction, Big Crash!!!.

  13. Oliver I disagree with you. Bourdais has experienced driving in wet races. Last year in Toronto, Montremblant and race of america wet practice. I think the main difference is adapting from a high rev engine to a high torque turbocharged engine in the wet. But he demonstrated a great handling of the car in wet practice. I think he is a highly talented guy with 12 races in f1 compared to 20 from Vettel. Big difference.

  14. donwatters said on 17th September 2008, 17:42

    Way too many variables to really predict where SeaBass could have finished. That said, I really think he probably would have finished on the podium.

  15. Pedro Andrade said on 17th September 2008, 20:10

    Well, it is difficult to predict, but I agree with what some people said, he probably lost time while letting other drivers past, and of course it wouldn’t have been very motivating to start a race a lap down on everybody.

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