2009 F1 cars quicker than in 2008

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Brawn's BGP001 is faster in qualifying than last year's cars were
Brawn's BGP001 is faster in qualifying than last year's cars were

Speed is part of the essential attraction of Formula 1. But containing the ever-escalating cornering speeds of F1 cars has been a major goal of the FIA for safety reasons.

The new rules introduced for 2009 were not just aimed at improving the spectacle of the racing in F1, they were also intended to keep cornering speeds under control. But already the teams have got their performance at or near the same levels of performance they enjoyed this time last year.

Here’s how the lap times compare – and how they vary for cars equipped with KERS and the controversial ‘double decker diffusers’.

2009 vs 2008 lap times (click to enlarge)
2009 vs 2008 lap times (click to enlarge)
Laptimes (s) 2008 2009 2009 (best KERS) 2009 (best non-DDD)
Australia qualifying 85.187 (Hamilton) 84.783 (Barrichello) 85.319 (Massa) 85.121 (Vettel)
Australia race 87.418 (Kovalainen) 87.706 (Rosberg) 88.488 (Raikkonen) 87.988 (Kubica)
Malaysia qualifying 94.188 (Raikkonen) 93.784 (Button) 94.456 (Raikkonen)* 94.222 (Webber)
Malaysia race 95.366 (Heidfeld) 96.641 (Button) 98.453 (Raikkonen) 97.672 (Webber)

*KERS installed but not activated.

This year’s cars are already lapping quicker than they were in 2008 in qualifying. A significant factor here could be Bridgestone’s decision to bring a greater variation in tyre compounds – meaning softer compounds with better one-lap pace, ideal for qualifying.

They haven’t quite been able to match the performance seen last year in race conditions. But it’s important to remember we’ve only had two races so far, both of which had disruptions.

So far all the fastest times in qualifying and the race have been set by cars without KERS and with the controversial ‘double-decker diffuser’.

The legality of the diffusers will be decided at the international court of appeal hearing on Tuesday. After that, we will either see the diffusers banned or (more likely) declared legal, and then swiftly adopted by the rest of the field. However this will present more of a challenge for some teams than others, particularly Red Bull’s RB5/Toro Rosso’s STR4, with its unorthodox rear suspension configuration.

How much faster will the cars be after a few months of development? Flavio Briatore has some bold predictions:

With this [diffuser] solution you gain 14% aerodynamic load: give us a few months and we’ll gain 30-40%, and the lap times will decrease by two seconds.

KERS has not shown a great benefit for lap times so far, but that may not be the case later in the year when the technology has had further developments and the championship reaches tracks where it can make more of a difference – particular Spa, Monza and other tracks with long flat-out sections.

How much faster will the cars be by the end of the season? Is it inevitable the FIA will have to make further rules changes to cut speeds? Have your say in the comments.

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58 comments on “2009 F1 cars quicker than in 2008”

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  1. If I wanted to slow down the cars a bit, I would make such changes that at the same time would improve the racing in F1 (which isn’t that great yet, as it’s been 30 years ago).

    My idea would be to make the braking disks smaller in diamater. (They could then be thicker as to avoid cracking)
    Longer braking distances would make overtaking more spectacular and safer as well.

    Increasing the minimum weight of the cars would also contribute to making them slower.
    This solution obviously bears other important aspect:
    It’d make heavier drivers less handicapped – especially in the KERS era.

    1. I like the smaller brakes idea

    2. no way FIA, FOTA,GPDA would be up for steel discs. Braking points would be longer, and they wouldn’t take up that idea on the grounds of safety.
      i agree with higher minimum weight, but the best way of making F1 safe and slow is to make rules that do not allow for different interpretations that gives you half a second advantage or more. non KERS designed car+DDD is clearly a far better solution than a KERS designed car. It is just stupid of FIA to allow someone to build a car without KERS and all the weight problems that come with it.
      there should be a rule, that all cars must be designed for KERS, no matter if they use it during races or not.

      Brawn GP clearly has an advantage, the FIA should increase the power of KERS to make things more even.

  2. If the FIA really wants to slow down the cars and make Formula 1 ‘green’ and more road relevant, it should then introduce a fuel formula. With such a regulations any engine configuration is allowed and the FIA will get a very effective and cheap instrument (lowering fuel consumption even further) to reduce speeds in the future.

  3. I think the sport has been crying out for less efficient brakes for a while now, it could greaty improve the racing. But while it would increase lap times it wouldn’t slow cornering speeds, so with that in mind, further downforce reductions sound good to me.

    Just no standardised parts.

  4. The breaks idea coupled with the diffuser ban and bringing back Grooved tyres would certainly reduces speeds significantly. Oh with the current Aerodynamic packages they have today.

  5. StrFerrari4Ever
    11th April 2009, 14:02

    Great article Keith I think late 08 when people saw some articles which suggested the cars would be slower I believe some of them were upset myself included but seeing these cars lap that fast and in some cases in qualifying close to 04 cars pace which is fabulous i truly believe by lets say mid season the cars could have knocked over a second or a second and a half in laptime with all the upgrades and tinyloopholes oh yeah Keith in 2010 did the FIA say a team can build their own specification engine as long as it doesnt exceed a certain price if so Ferrari bring that v12 back ;)

  6. The problem, I think is that they are trying to micro-manage the changes instead of specifying outcomes. For example, on aero you can do anything you want provided that, when another car is behind you, your aero does not cause greater than x% disruption in the downforce of that car. (measured using your own car in normal spec.). For cornering you can do anything you want provided that catastrophic failure of any one part does not decrease overall area by more than x%, thereby preventing massive sudden loss of grip.

  7. What the hell does Flavio Briatore know about engineering? What qualifies him to make a statement like “The diffusers and 14% more downforce to the cars.”

    Flavio is the most arrogant man in F1. Anyone who can dismiss Ross Brawn by claiming he has “never won a championship” because he wasn’t a Team Principal at Ferrari is stupid. Brawn has contributed much more to a championship victory than Flav has. This is a man who has disparaged engineers constantly throughout his career, and now proceeds to act as if he’s qualified to make engineering statements?

    To hell with Flavio Briatore. Straight to hell with him.

    1. Don’t forget, Flavio is only saying this to scare FIA out of approving the double decker diffusers. He’s predicting hell and damnation if these DDD’s are allowed to continue for a reason …

  8. This year the problem is that the rulemakers had several priorities, most of which conflicted with each other. So they decreased downforce by getting rid of winglets but negated the slowing effect by bringing back slicks. The trick diffusers have helped, too, in maintaining speeds and it seems likely that the WMSC will confirm that they are legal.

    Next year there will be further changes designed to bring down speeds, no doubt, and they should be more effective since there will not be a compensating rule change elsewhere.

  9. I have to ask, how much safer can F1 be? Racing incidents will always happen and they never tend to be in high speed areas anyway. Lower speeds and less lap distances is what the FOM and FIA are striving for all to the detriment of F1 in my opinion.

  10. Every time the FIA have change the regs aiming to reduce speed, they screwed up big time. With such wondrous facilities and safer cars, what’s the point to kill the sport? A modern car is the result of bright ideas tested with simulator, wind tunnels and i the track. Whatever the FIA does to cut speeds, science and engineer will come up with a better solution to make the cars fly…and that’s a good thing

  11. Keith
    A truly excellent basis for discussion. If cars without driver aids are lapping faster with no evidence of undue loss of control there can be no reason for the FIA to tinker. I agree with those who blame excessive brake performance for the lack of cut and thrust in the braking zone and fail to see where danger lies if less efficient brakes are specified. Drivers would respond as required. Briatore’s political remarks before the diffuser meeting have no significance. What does appear to be abnormal in a scientific sport is loss of ability to test updates. Now that does sound dangerous.

  12. controlling the speed should never get out of hand. F1 should be allowed to be slightly quicker each season. Thats just the evolution of tech. The cars get safer, the tracks get safer, and racing should be faster. This is still a high risk sport and there is no reason for the FIA to slow it down to a SAFE sport. Its the pinnacle of motorsports. Everything should be on the edge.

    Kubica’s crash in Canada really shows us how F1 has made strides in safety as well as speed. Had it happened in the early nineties it would have been a catastrophe. This is why I think cars should be allowed to naturally be faster while kept in check as to not start flying.

  13. Is Briatore using that as an argument to ban the double-diffusers, though? I doubt Renault can get 2 seconds out of their truck…

  14. Changing the brakes seems like a sensible idea, I’d just ban Carbon breaks though, almost every other series manages with steel brakes and so could F1.

    Reducing the size of the wings would be my other choice for reducing speeds.

  15. Hi! I am an Aerospace Engineer, especially i am an aerodynamicist.
    Some of you spoken about brake, sure the breaks power is very hight, the breaks are the most powerfull things in a racing car, but also in the road car. But breaks can slow down a car if the tyres are capable to slow down the car, i.e if they are the necessary grip. This grip is done by only two componets…the rubber and the dowforce; if you want to stretch the brake distance you have to reduce the dowforce or make tyres slower.
    I make some simulation program about the performance of a racing car, especially a F1 car on my computer, and you can see that at some level of dowforce the brake dimension is not so important. The brake disks in F1 is not so big, they are just bigger than a normal road car.
    If you don’t have downforce the equations shown that the hightest deceleration “in G” is equal to the grip coefficient of the tyres (from 1.8 to 2 in a F1 car), at the first chicane of Monza you reach 5 or 5.5 G….so the difference of 3G is done only by the downforce.
    To conclude, to really slow down the car you have to reduce the downforce (one airfoil in the front and smaller rear wing whith a single airfoil or at least 2 very very small airfoil for example, and smaller diffurser) and allowed one single change of tyres during the race, to force the tyres manufacturer to produce hardest tyres, is not normal that a compound in the first race was destroyed in only 8-12 laps…they are only 40-60 Km!!!

    Sorry for my bad english, i am italian, so i am not a “champion” in english language! I hope that i could send you my “messages”.Bye!

    1. yes, even with the new restrictions, downforce still dominates.

    2. Fede – thanks for that, your English is much better than my physics!

    3. Fede you make some good points that, I for one, was not that sure of, if your simulations are anywhere near correct, then downforce, and the way it is achieved, is an area where the FIA need to be clear if they are to reduce speeds, your English was certainly good enough for me…

  16. The cars already have 13inch wheels. How much smaller do you want to make the brake disks that they become ineffective.
    When you reduce the size of the rear wing area, you also reduce drag. Means cars will travel faster in a straight line. With the added mechanical grip from slick tyres, and diffuser magic, laptimes stay the same or increase.

    1. but it’s cornering speeds that are a concern which reduced downforce will impact.

  17. Exactly Fede, you just stated what I was too lazy to write although to a greater detail.

  18. MacademiaNut
    11th April 2009, 18:41

    Please don’t take the speed reduction to the extreme that F1 races start to look like Nascar road races.

  19. Ok but you can make car larger, and the front areas increase, or for example, increase the bodywork dimension, delete the airfoil section from the suspension, delete the brakes cover. Anyway if you reduce the downforce you reduce the grip during the acceleration outside of a corner….so the maximum speed is reduced much more than you immagin…!

  20. I don’t know if it is a bug of my programs, but if you use the the typical Monza dowforce in a track like Melbourne or Silverstone you reach speed lower than the usual.
    If you reduce the downforce the speed increase until a maximum and then decrease to a normal value, like the present speeds. It is umbelievable but is not impossible.
    The right way is to reduce the aerodynamics efficienty, so the rate dowforce/drag…but is not too easy, the most simple things is to put a little “wall” in the wings like the champ car on the superspeedway some years ago, but it is a very ugly solution…or increase the total front areas of the car, for sefety reason like the FIA has done for years…!

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