Will F1 cars lap quicker in 2010?

Mark Webber's fastest lap at Brazil beat the 2008 mark by 0.003 seconds

Mark Webber's fastest lap at Brazil beat the 2008 mark by 0.003 seconds

Thanks to safety rules and cost cutting F1 is far from being the unfettered pursuit of raw speed it used to be.

But it never fails to impress me how cunning designers keep coming up with ways to wriggle free from the constraints of the rule book and build F1 cars which are just a little bit quicker than the governing body wants them to be.

There are some significant changes to the F1 rules this year, but not as drastic as those we saw in 2009. So how much more speed can the designers conjure out of the cars – and how will it affect race strategy?

How 2010 rules changes will affect lap times

Fastest qualifying laps at three tracks, 1996-2009 (click to enlarge)

Fastest qualifying laps at three tracks, 1996-2009 (click to enlarge)

Last year’s rules changes were mainly intended to allow the cars to follow each other more closely but they also had the effect of slowing the cars down, or at least keeping them roughly at their 2008 level of performance. This year the aerodynamic rules are largely unchanged apart from minor details such as the banning of the wheel ‘spinners’.

Bridgestone 2010 F1 tyre width

Bridgestone 2010 F1 tyre width

More significant is the reduced width of the front wheels explained in the diagram (right). Front tyres will be 245mm wide in 2010, 25mm less than last year. The cars will lose almost 10% of their front tyre contact patch which will obviously cut their cornering speeds.

It’s down to the designers to claw back that lost time – and more – by refining the cars’ aerodynamics and weight distribution as best they can. It’ll get harder for them in 2011 if the mooted ban on double-diffusers comes to pass.

I suspect we will ultimately see the 2010 F1 cars lapping quicker than their predecessors on a single low-fuel qualifying run. But the banning of refuelling will make it a very different story when it comes to race lap times.

Race lap times

Lewis Hamilton's lap times, 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix (click to enlarge)

Lewis Hamilton's lap times, 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix (click to enlarge)

With drivers no longer allowed to refuel during the race, cars will have much larger fuel tanks. This will have one obvious effect – as well as others that might not be immediately apparent.

Cars will now be much slower at the start of races than at the end of them. In the example above from last year, Lewis Hamilton began his 24-lap middle stint in the Hungarian Grand Prix lapping two seconds per lap slower than at the end of it. Multiply that across a full race distance and we could see lap times differing by six seconds, though this will vary with different circuits and conditions.

It will also have an interested effect on strategy. Previously after a car pitted the driver would leave the pits with more fuel on board and lap more slowly than he had immediately before his stop. Now, as the drivers’ fuel load will not increase during a pit stop, they will be faster immediately after it, thanks to their fresher tyres.

This may tempt a driver who is stuck behind a rival into pitting early in an attempt to get ahead. But they could run into trouble later in the race when their tyres are more worn than their competitors’ are.

Stint lengths are likely to change too. Instead of splitting the race up into roughly equal portions, as in the example above, tyres will now suffer greater punishment at the beginning of a race compared to the end.

Using rough numbers we can see that if a car carries 200kg of fuel to last a 60-lap Grand Prix its average weight over the first half of the race will be 151kg compared to 51kg for the second half.

Drivers are still required to use each of Bridgestone’s two compounds at least once per race. In our example, they could start the race on the harder tyre then switch to the softer. But the exact moment when they should change is no longer dictated by how much fuel’s in the tank – it’s down to the driver to decide if and when he needs new tyres.

Faster laps, slower races?

The upshot of all this is that even though we may well see faster individual laps in 2010 compared to 2009, race distances will take longer to complete. If we get a safety car period at Singapore – as we have the last two years – we might not even see the race distance completed within the two hour time limit.

We’ll get out first impression of how quick the 2010 F1 cars are when testing begins at Valencia on February 1st. Here’s a reminder of what the quickest times were last year in testing at the three tracks where the teams are returning this year:

Jerez – 1’17.494 (Kazuki Nakajima, Williams-Toyota)
Circuit de Catalunya – 1’18.926 (Rubens Barrichello, Brawn
Valencia – No group test in 2009

2010 F1 cars

Image (C) Red Bull/Getty images

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83 comments on Will F1 cars lap quicker in 2010?

  1. Bewildered said on 11th January 2010, 7:12

    Who are you? Are you some sort of F1 Super Hero?

  2. kapow said on 11th January 2010, 7:48

    does the change in tyre dynamics mean that everyone will start on primes & end on options?

    it will be interesting to see the repercussions of the strategical mistakes teams & drivers will make. Hopefully no one will actually run out of fuel!

    also, i cannot wait for the return of “true” qualifying. with such a big grid (& a handful of rookies) i expect everyone to be pushing for pole position & not settle for mid-grid slots which may be more dangerous at starts. i remember DC setting up tows for Mika to get maximum speed & Frentzen putting an Acer Prost in P4(but only to stall it on the grid)

    • Derek said on 11th January 2010, 12:50

      No I think some races the pole setter may opt for a short fast first stint on the option tyre. Nigel Mansell often did this when F1 last ran full race on a tank. You get well ahead of the trouble, build a gap and when the fuel load starts to come down and the tyres are going off you pit for primes. Pit stops are very short if your just changing the tyres!

      • Bullfrog said on 11th January 2010, 13:55

        They’ll be a bit longer in total, now there’s a pit lane speed limit. Safety cars will be a pain as well. But I hope we see a few pole sitters trying this.

  3. David said on 11th January 2010, 7:48

    I agree with you Keith.
    One important factor will be the fact that at the beginning the fuel load will force the cars to run with a certain load on suspension, while at the end the load will be very different. This will impact a lot on the distance from ground, and on the behavior of the aerodynamic device, which use to be very critical.
    Not an easy challenge for the engineers.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th January 2010, 7:57

      Yeah there’s some debate over whether they’re allowed to adjust the ride height during pit stops (they can’t while the car’s on the track like they did in the early ’90s).

      • Jay Menon said on 12th January 2010, 2:47


        I believe it was banned after Alain Prost won the title in 93 for Williams.

        That was such a leap in technology and as usual it was banned. Yes, we can argue that there was an urfair advantage round corners, and of course in the current environment, development costs would be too high.

        On the flip side, it will be interesting to see how drivers cope with a constantly changing car under them. I feel that drivers with the best car control and management skills will have the edge next season. Which means, its properly set up for Michael isn’t it? Its the game he perfected.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th January 2010, 7:55

          It wasn’t just the performance advantage it handed the team that got their first which got active suspension banned – there were safety and cost concerns as well.

          Of course some people will insist it was all a sop to Ferrari who couldn’t get the technology working (remember Berger’s car coming out of the Estoril pit lane perpendicular to the track?): Banned! Active suspension

  4. David said on 11th January 2010, 7:49

    Honestly, the observation is from Giorgio Piola’s Gazzetta article.

  5. Damon said on 11th January 2010, 7:51

    Keith, I hope you compared the old qualifying laps with todays’ fastest laps in the qualyfing and not the fake pole lap times with full fuel loads.

  6. Ninad said on 11th January 2010, 8:16

    I think, only qualifying lap time will decrease due to low fuel run.
    Fastest lap during race will pretty much be same.
    1. Car weight is increased but aerodynamics will be improved= that neutralise’s each other
    2. Narrower tires mean less surface area but better aerodynamic air flow over tired= that neutralise’s each other
    Just my opinion!!

    • David said on 12th January 2010, 13:29

      Disagree with #2 entirely. If tyres affect on aerodynamics more than they provide grip, you wouldn’t see those big fat tyres on F1 cars. F1 tyres are the only parts of an F1 car that gives a significant, and roughly constant, amount of grip regardless of the car’s current velocity. Smaller front tyres will hurt speeds significantly.

  7. DanThorn said on 11th January 2010, 8:42

    If any of the new teams start to struggle financially, it will be interesting to see if they get tempted to ‘do a Toleman’ and half fill their cars to make them look faster than they are to try and get more sponsorhsip…

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 11th January 2010, 9:11

      You’re thinking Derek Warwick at Brands in ’82? They could do but it would be hard to keep it a secret. They’d need to come up with a fake reason for the car retiring.

      But even if the car was just short by a lap that could mean being 2.5kg lighter per lap every lap on some tracks.

    • ajokay said on 11th January 2010, 9:57

      Would you give sponsorship to a quick team that retired all the time though?

      • Well you could argue that a back marker team that short filled their car to get pole and run at the front for part of the race even though it meant an early retirement would achieve more media exposure such as TV time than if they just trundled around at the back all the time.

        I suppose it depends if you believe the saying there is no such thing as bad publicity.

    • they would need a driver who would be willing to crash it early on, and then lie about it.

      • LewisC said on 11th January 2010, 12:37

        I know just the man!

        • Bullfrog said on 11th January 2010, 13:25

          he’d still only be about 20th, no one would notice.

          There’ll be less of a mad rush for the pits now when the safety car appears – or is that still a good time to change tyres?

          • sato113 said on 11th January 2010, 21:04

            of course it is! it makes the impact of a pit stop far less. because you can come out from one and instantly rejoin the pack behind the safety car.

    • Adrian said on 11th January 2010, 13:38

      But they’d still qualify down the grid…

      • DanThorn said on 11th January 2010, 18:51

        Warwick qualified 16th when he tried it at Brands, but was (I think) running 2nd when he ran dry. In the early phases of the race he was the fastest man on the track by around a second a lap, but was around 2 seconds slower than the front runners in qualifying. He retired just over halfway through the race, so with the tightness of a modern grid a team employing such tactics wouldn’t have to take so much fuel out to gain an advantage and could make it further into the race.

        Of course, in 1982 cars could overtake, Warwick had a turbo while some others didn’t, and retirement’s were more common. I don’t think anyone else has tried it since though, so we probably wont see any such thing again.

  8. wasiF1 said on 11th January 2010, 9:25

    I don’t think the 2010 spec car will make any records of the fastest laps,as remember they will weigh 620kg instead of 605kg.But it is good as the race time will now be longer.But I still think their still will be a lack of overtaking.

  9. I think no refueling is not safe. Be as well giving them back turbos. Then we will see lap time difference :) if we can squeeze 500-700hp from a 2.4L v8 or w/e. Imagine what we can do with a turbo on them :) mwhahahah. i say scrap the no refueling and bring back the turbos.

    • just realiseing, at tne end of the race, they will be light and if they did a good strategy they will be on good tyres to. The cars will have slightly more power to carry the weight at the start (maybe) so we will see some uber super good racing at the end :)

  10. John H said on 11th January 2010, 10:38

    In 2009, the fuel loads and tyre condition were almost all the same for every car for the last 10 laps of the race. The big difference now is that we will have cars with varying states of tyre wear in the closing stages – this should be very interesting.

    Essentially, excitement in the final few laps of any race can make the whole event memorable – Mansell v Senna @ Monaco and Kimi v Lewis @ Spa (albeit due to weather) are two such examples.

    There is a lot of talk of overtaking being necessary, but exactly when that overtaking takes place is not so often mentioned – perhaps it should be.

    • I think the physical conditions of the drivers must be high to withstand the full race. Think of heat races at Bahrain and Malaysia.

      Vettel will find such conditions difficult and I am happy Kimi is not here to witness this season as he normally loses consentration midway. On the other hand, will MSC be fit enough for the heat? …… Can’t wait :-)

      • sato113 said on 11th January 2010, 21:02

        yeah if Kimi were in F1 for 2010, he would have taken up a better driver’s place (ie. Alonso’s at ferrari, schumi’s at mercedes or button’s at mclaren’s *cough*)

    • sato113 said on 11th January 2010, 21:07

      ‘The big difference now is that we will have cars with varying states of tyre wear in the closing stages’
      sorry but could you explain why this will be the case? surely everyone will play to a similar strategy…

      • John H said on 12th January 2010, 10:09

        Because the driving styles of the drivers will dictate the rate of tyre wear during a GP.

        This is different to fuel use where the optimal strategy is usually identical for all drivers.

  11. sumedh said on 11th January 2010, 10:57

    Great article as usual.

    In my opinion, the longer wheelbases will be beneficial in qualifying, as the cars will be lighter and aerodynamically efficient.

    The narrowing of the front tyres, from what I have read, has been introduced so that the car is much more balanced. Cars in 2009 had extremely pointy front ends. (I hope I am right).

    So, all changes are suited to make the qualifying a super-duper quick affair. But races should be slower.

    Keith, I don’t understand the logic of starting with harder tyres. If a car is going to be 6 seconds slower on harder tyres + full tank (as you said), then on the combination of softer tyres + full tank, I think the gap will be about 3-4 seconds. Thus, using the soft tyres for just around 12-15 laps, one pit-stop distance can be achieved. A driver can then take on the harder tyres and lesser fuel load and can go the rest of the distance. He might be slower in the final stages of the race, but definitely not 2-3 seconds slower (the amount by which he was faster at the start).

    • David said on 12th January 2010, 13:33

      “The narrowing of the front tyres, from what I have read, has been introduced so that the car is much more balanced. Cars in 2009 had extremely pointy front ends. (I hope I am right).”

      You’re right. But only because they couldn’t increase the size of the rear tyres. When you’re taking away tyre surface, you’re taking away a tonne of grip. Who cares about the better balance of the car: a balanced car with low grip is never gonna be as quick as a car with high grip.

  12. I think the fastest lap time in qualifying will be quicker in 2010 but this is due to proper qualifying returning rather than any changes to the cars.

    The fastest lap in the race could be quicker at some Grand Prix, I think it will just depend on how the race develops and which drivers on fresh tyres are pushing at the end of the race

  13. David said on 11th January 2010, 11:23

    I think they will be slightly quicker, both in qualifying and in single lap during the race.
    I trust too much in aerodinamically efficiency increase of the cars. I would prefer aerodynamics to be less important.

    • I think there could be possibility for increased overtaking due to cars behavior over the course of the race. Unless there is a team that has the wood over everyone no car will be fastest across all the differing loads of weight and tyre wear etc

      So team A may be quicker on heavy load and make the pass because team B couldn’t defend in hevey car yet come later on in race that may have changed and now car B will be much racier and breeze past…now if car A was that much better on full tanks will the gap be big enough to beat a speedier lighter car B???

      So as a designer do I go for max balance on full or heavy tanks and hope to run away and make a big enough gap to nurse it home or do I go for a car that comes into it’s own on half a tank and left and sprint all the way to the flag?
      Of course yo would want a car to be good from lap 1 to checkered flag but it’s a long race and big variations of that race now…..

      Should be interesting. More interesting than just tyres alone like 09 with Brawn and RBR wet vs cold vs hot…now there is still that plus heaps more to look at.

      • Derek said on 11th January 2010, 13:04

        McLaren were experts at building cars that would perform well across the varying fuel weights during the race, I hope they have not thrown all their old data away.

    • Bullfrog said on 11th January 2010, 14:00

      What do the parc fermé rules say about changing the car between qualifying and the race?

      Will they have to qualify with a set-up that works on full tanks early in the race, or can they make it as fast as possible for qualifying, then apply a compromise set-up for the race.

      • Dave in NZL said on 11th January 2010, 21:00

        Surely the teams will run a hot lap before the end of Q3, trust it, and change the setup for the race before parc ferme comes in effect.

  14. Derek said on 11th January 2010, 14:38

    After qually they are under parc fermé so can not make changes to the setup, but once the race gets under way I don’t know. I’m prety sure they can adjust the wing angle front and back. Last year they could change front wing angle from inside the car during the race.

  15. Hallard said on 11th January 2010, 16:06

    If I have to venture a guess, I would say that the 2010 cars will be faster than the 09 cars (at least towards the end of a race and in quali). The cars (minimum weight) are slightly heavier, but I think this will be more than offset by the constructor’s coming to grips with the aero rules (i.e. copying the red bull RB5). Also, the front tires are skinnier but I dont think that will lower overall cornering speed, but rather improve the handling balance (especially considering that te new cars should have even more rearward weight bias). Plus the narrower front tires will be better aerodynamically. Additionally, the Ferrari and McLaren will not have to spend so much development resources on KERS systems, meaning they can devote their time to aero work. However, I think that they will be MUCH slower in wet conditions than the 09 machines due to the increased minimum weight and fuel load.

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