2009 F1 cars quicker than in 2008

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

  1. Oliver said on 11th April 2009, 18:32

    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.

  2. Oliver said on 11th April 2009, 18:35

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

  3. MacademiaNut said on 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.

  4. Fede said on 11th April 2009, 18:45

    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…!

  5. Fede said on 11th April 2009, 19:05

    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…!

  6. Raceaddict (@raceaddict) said on 11th April 2009, 19:32

    I like the low-tech approach. Add weight to the cars; say 75-100 kg per car. I guarantee they’ll be going slower. Also have a spec bar-coded weight-plate or brick for each car that the FIA provides to the teams that needs to be returned intact after each race.

    The standardized weight could be made into, or incorporated within the shape of the driver’s seat shell (the rigid one they use to mold and hold the driver’s form-fitted foam insert. The curved, negative spaces under the seat formed by driver’s rear-end and small of the back form natural cavities where weight could be added.
    Knowing F1 however, I’m sure the weights will end up being machined from Titanium billet!

  7. Fede said on 11th April 2009, 21:02

    Increase weight is another way to reduce the performance, but there are at least two problem: more weight means more energy to dissipate during accident, and the second problem, another umbelievable things, is that more weight is not equal less speed, or at least, not less speed everywhere.
    The equation shown that if you are in a very slow corner (like the Lowes at Montecarlo, or similar) the speed not depends by the weight…but only from the grip coefficient of the tyres, and this ‘phenomenon’ is the same at the braking and the acceleration at very low speed. From 60-70 Km/h (40-50 MPH) the weight become more important.
    Anyway the more important thing is the first, the bigger part of kinetic energy that must be dissipate during the accident.
    The reduction of the downforce will reduce the speed on the corner, increase the acceleration and braking distance, because of that you will not increase the speed on the straight line, or at least not so much.
    The brake are not the way, thinking about the 1999, Alex Zanardi used for some race (at least at Zeltweg) metal brake, but he was not the slower on the track, that means the brake are not so important right now, dowforce is more important.
    Another problem for the brake is that less efficient brake will be a problem during the “emergency” braking just before an accident; think about the Senna crash in Imola ’94: Ayrton make an emergency braking just outside the trak, he passed from 307 to 216 Km/h in some tenths of a second, if you reduce the brake power were been impossible.
    Less dowforce means less force braking, that’s rigth but if you talk with a driver, he will drive a car without dowforce, but not a car with less brake power…!

  8. sean said on 11th April 2009, 22:10

    so if the fia passes the “trick diffusers” as legal and all cars have them.The teams with the most money start going the fastest and the championship is fought out by ferrari and mclaren by seasons end what has changed.Why is there not a standard template for aero design why so much grey area and room for interpretation it’s obvious to a layman that there is a problem but not the stewards or fia.In a time when teams are supposed to be saving money there all about to dump sh@tloads to catch up.Sorry we have to make you redundant because we have to build a new diffuser because the rules are a little bit fuzzy in that area.Bit of leadership wouldn’t go amiss.

  9. phil c said on 11th April 2009, 23:38

    This will all change next year. I dont think the FIA will worry to much about it. If they ban refuelling next year the cars wont be as quick, and fuel efficiency will be the key to winning a race. Less fuel equals less weight. Start an f1 car with 100kg of fuel on board and see how fast it goes. We will end up with cars going around a track slower then indy cars. Personally i dont see the fuss, yes the cars are quick, but racing cars are meant to be. Going around the parabolica or through eau rouge at 250km hr or 265 km will mean no difference to the driver or the FIA, because at the end of the day if he losses control at that speed it is going to hurt and the difference in impact and danger is no different. Why do the teams need the FIA and Bernie i dont know. They seem to me to ruin the sport more then anything. They should start there own series.

    • Pingguest said on 12th April 2009, 10:59

      Of course, refuelling will be banned. But we still have the ‘engine freeze’. So, fuel economy won’t be king really.

    • Macca said on 13th April 2009, 10:09

      Banning refuelling is a terrible idea. Pit stops are the most dramatic part of the race because anything can go wrong. And in this age of motorsport it is almost the only way of over taking. If you ban refuelling the fast cars will be at the front and slow cars at the back and overtaking will be dead forever.

  10. m0tion said on 11th April 2009, 23:50

    If we don’t already see it in Shanghai, later this year at Spa & Monza we might see relatively taller gearing on KERS cars come into play with high speed trap differentials (excuse pun).

    Already we have seen KERS rekated downforce differentials in setup with KERS cars playing to the straight line advantage and non KERS playing to higher corner speeds.

  11. Andy said on 12th April 2009, 0:33


    Good lord people, my eyes, they bleed!

  12. Why the obsession with slowing down cornering speeds and speed in general??

    This is auto racing at the pinnacle of competition, let the driver’s drive and the designers engineer faster and safer cars.

    And for all of our sakes please rid the cars of this KERS nonsense! Please explain how an engine limited to 18,000 RPM benefits from a jolt of HP at the end of a long straight, when it should be maxed out at peak RPM already?

    Paragraphs just for you Andy:) I agree with your point:):)

    • Lowering speeds because of safety. Safety because dead drivers and spectators is highly undesirable.

      The max RPM of an engine is irellevant. And using extra power at the end of a straight makes no sense. In racing, it is extra important to nail the corner(s) leading to the straight well, because your exit speed of that corner will affect how fast you travel down the entire straight. The longer the straight, the more the effect. KERS adds 80HP whenever you want. The RPM of the engine does not matter, as the power is added on top of that. The car with less power (no KERS) will accelerate slower and reach a lower top speed – the more powerful car will pull ahead for the whole duration of the straight. The longer the straight, the more time to keep pulling ahead.

    • Fede said on 12th April 2009, 9:24

      I agree with you, for me F1 cars have to go faster time after time, i would like engine without limitation on weight, RPM, materials, shape and number of cylindres, angle ecc….aerodynamics like last year (2008) active suspension, driving aids, variable aerodynamics configuration ecc ecc…with all of this you can go 8-10 second faster than now……but is a dream. Even if the level of seafty increase of 2 or 4 times…!

    • Why the obsession with slowing down cornering speeds and speed in general??

      Exactly. Right now F1 cars should be traveling at 400mph, leading renewable energy technological innovation and bending physics. At the moment F1 generally flies in the face of technological development by implementing the wrong restrictions with the wrong emphasis. Slowing the cars down to make them safer does not equate in the more extreme competitive environment of F1 compared to say driving in an urban habitat. The general trend in F1 since the 1950s has seen speeds increase and safety improve this is due to a growing emphasis and innovation in the area of safety. If F1 put safety firmly at the top of it’s priorities, financially as well as conceptually, designers of both cars and circuits could be free to open their imaginations. This more than anything else this would provide great racing, more enjoyment, more competition, more mental and physical challenge, more technological innovation and relevance, better viewing figures, better revenues and more than any other solution “improve the show”. It’s unlikely but if you never dream you’ll realize a dream.

    • DGR-F1 said on 14th April 2009, 13:34

      I agree K – Jackie Stewart etc started the ball rolling with the safety aspects, since at the time the cars really were death traps (and the drivers were supermen).
      But I also remember after the Turbo era, the switch back to non-turbo did not see any slowing down of the cars for long, and even the more recent switches to less powerful engines and groovy tyres didn’t stop the designers and engineers working their way round it to stay competitive.
      As far as I am concerned, if its F1 it should be fast and innovative, and with the modern use of carbon fibre, speeds should only be limited by what the drivers and tracks can take.
      Otherwise whats the point?

  13. theRoswellite said on 12th April 2009, 7:59

    Kudos to Fede.

    Cornering speed is the issue, downforce is the problem.

    Downforce can be micro-managed by adjusting the area of the inverted airfoil. This is also fairly cost effective when compared to other solutions. As downforce decreases the cars rely more and more on mechanical grip. Remember the 4-wheel drift?

    An added benefit, which I don’t believe has been mentioned, is that with a decrease in downforce you will reduce the huge loss of grip which results when a car’s wings “stall” from any major disruption in smooth airflow.

    And finally, adding weight increases accident duration and extension, plus decreasing brake effectiveness is working at cross purposes to the primary issue…which is safety.

  14. Peter said on 12th April 2009, 10:24

    The faster laptimes does not exactly mean that they are faster in high speed corners. I would assume that we are indeed a bit slower, not much though, in high speed corners this year with the lack of downforce (compared to last year) but with the return of the slicks they gain a lot of time in the slow corners due to the higher grip from the tyres…

  15. Good point Peter. This was my first impression too, especially at Melbourne. We’ve also seen some great duels, with drivers holding their racing line seemingly “easier”, around slow corners. Unfortunately I don’t have the data to back this impression ;)

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