Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes closely matched in race distance simulations

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Three of the top teams of 2010 went head-to-head in race simulations in Spain
Three of the top teams of 2010 went head-to-head in race simulations in Spain

Tomorrow is the final day of F1 testing before the first race of 2010 and the question everyone wants to know the answer to is this: Who’s got the fastest car?

Ferrari have been rumoured to be the favourites for some time but the race distance simulation run in largely dry conditions at the Circuit de Catalunya this afternoon shows rivals McLaren and Mercedes are right up there with them.

Massa, Button and Rosberg race distance simulations, 27th February
Massa, Button and Rosberg race distance simulations, 27th February

Three of the teams tipped to be among the F1 front runners this year all ran race distance simulations at around the same time at the Circuit de Catalunya today.

With no red flags until the very end of their runs the simulations were largely uninterrupted. Only a brief rain shower drove Nico Rosberg into the pits briefly but he returned to the track within a few minutes.

Rosberg, along with Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, each completed 65 or more continuous laps of the track. They will have to complete 66 laps at the Spanish Grand Prix at the circuit in May.

The graph above shows their lap times throughout their stints. Rosberg began his stint slightly early, but after his long pit stop due to the rain he returned to the track and more or less synched up with Massa and Button’s race simulations. You can see Massa and Button’s graphs peak earlier at around the same time (slowing down because of the rain) while Rosberg has a later, much higher peak.

Each driver pitted twice during their stint though Button made his first stop quite a bit later than Massa. Massa did a long and impressively consistent middle stint.

Late in the simulation Button’s times dropped off, which was at least partly due to traffic.

There is a considerable degree of overlap between the three lines which suggest the three teams are fairly close on performance. Massa’s long middle stint suggests to me that the rumours Ferrari has a slight advantage over the others are accurate.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to see exactly how far each car could run for. The simulations ended when Rosberg’s car stopped, causing a red flag. Given how quickly the team were able to get the car running again afterwards it seems likely the W01 simply ran out of fuel.

We wait to see what the likes of Red Bull can achieve over a similar distance. And of course there will be further changes to the cars between now and the first race of the year.

But I take this as an encouraging sign that three of the leading teams are near to each other on pace, and we could be in for an excitingly close-fought championship in 2010.

What’s your take on the race distance simulations? Have your say in the comments.