Melbourne was a blast but F1’s aero problem remains (Australian GP analysis)

The wet track allowed F1 cars to race side-by-side at Melbourne

The wet track allowed F1 cars to race side-by-side at Melbourne

The Australia Grand Prix was every bit as thrilling as Bahrain was dull.

But don’t expect many more races like that unless we get a lot more rain, because F1’s aerodynamic problem hasn’t gone away – as the later stages of today’s race showed.

Lap 1

Australian Grand Prix: Lap 1 position change

Australian Grand Prix: Lap 1 position change (click to enlarge)

In the pre-race analysis yesterday I wrote that you can count on two things happening on the first lap at Melbourne: the pole sitter keeping the lead and a crash.

Sure enough, Sebastian Vettel motored off into the lead and behind him Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher collided, tumbling down the order.

Further down the field a frightening crash eliminated Kamui Kobayashi, Sebastien Buemi and Nico H?â??lkenberg. Kobayashi’s front wing fell off, jammed under his front wheels and he slammed into Buemi and H?â??lkenberg.

Worryingly, this was the third time a front wing had come off Kobayashi’s car this weekend. The team said it did not fail on its own – Kobayashi had made contact with another car at turn three.

With the Virgins starting from the pits and Jarno Trulli not starting at all the HRTs gained the most places. Meanwhile the McLaren drivers converged – Jenson Button slipping back to sixth for fourth and Hamilton climbing four places to seventh.

Pit stops

Australian Grand Prix - pit stops

Australian Grand Prix - pit stops (click to enlarge)

Jenson Button pitted for soft tyres on lap six and completed the remaining 52 laps without another stop for tyres – an impressive feat.

Button’s early switch from intermediate to dry tyres prompted his rivals to follow suit. Though it’s possible that his off-track moment at turn three on his out-lap led them to being more cautious than they needed to.

When they reacted on lap eight Button was 2.1s faster than any other car on the track. The next time around he was 4.3s quicker.

For some reason Red Bull delayed bringing in Vettel and Mark Webber until laps nine and ten respectively. Although Vettel kept his lead Webber lost three places, plus another one when he went off at the start of his out-lap.

Lewis Hamilton lost two places in the first round of pit stops while Fernando Alonso picked up three (one was thanks to Adrian Sutil’s retirement).

The aero problem

Hamilton and Webber catching Kubica, Massa and Alonso

Hamilton and Webber catching Kubica, Massa and Alonso (click to enlarge)

During the first half of the race the Melbourne track was damp and then drying. The lack of grip meant the detrimental effect of running in the slipstream of another car was far less of a limiting factor for the drivers and so we saw lots of exciting passes and changes of position.

But it was a different story towards the end of the race. As the graph above shows even though Hamilton and Webber were up to two seconds per lap faster than Alonso/Massa/Kubica, once they caught them they couldn’t get close enough to pass.

Yes, Hamilton had asked a lot of his tyres in closing the gap to Alonso, making the job of passing him more difficult. But the fact remains the Ferrari driver had covered twice as great a distance on his rubber and Hamilton was faster. The McLaren driver couldn’t get close enough to try a pass because, now the track had dried, the cars were once again extremely sensitive to running in disturbed air.

Hamilton finally put a move on Alonso as the Ferrari driver became desperately short of grip, locking up his tyres at turn 13… and we all know what happened next.

This tells us two things about the much-debated question of – brace yourself for that horrible phrase – “improving the show”.

First, aerodynamics is still a big problem and fully dry races are likely to be much more processional than what we saw today.

However, because all the cars at Melbourne started on intermediate tyres none of them were forced to use both dry tyre compounds. As a result we saw some drivers pit more than others and as a result lapped quicker on fresh tyres later in the race – creating the opportunity for racing.

In the dry at Bahrain we saw no major differences in strategy among the front runners because of the mandatory pit stop rule. Removing this rule, and the requirement for the top ten qualifiers to start on the tyres they set their fastest time on should, looks like a good way of improving the quality of racing in F1. The next few races should provide more evidence for whether this is a good idea or not.

Read more: Bringing back refuelling will not solve F1’s overtaking problem

Race charts

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart (click to enlarge)

Here are the race charts showing the gap between the race leader and the other drivers (top) and a version of the chart based on the leaders’ average lap time (bottom). The lap chart (below) shows the position of each car on each lap.

Australian Grand Prix: Lap chart

Australian Grand Prix: Lap chart (click to enlarge)

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart (average times)

Australian Grand Prix: Race chart (average times) (click to enlarge)

2010 Australian Grand Prix

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188 comments on Melbourne was a blast but F1’s aero problem remains (Australian GP analysis)

  1. All drivers who had gained the most positions ( Senna, Chandhok, Petrov) didnt made anything good at the race

  2. GeeMac said on 29th March 2010, 8:10

    Another great analysis Keith. I have to make two points though.

    “Jenson Button pitted for soft tyres on lap six and completed the remaining 52 laps without another stop for tyres – an impressive feat.”

    It is impressive, but the fact that F1 tyres are now so durable that a driver can last 51 laps on the second softest compound available to him is one of the reasons F1 races have become so processional. How many laps could Jenson have completed on the “prime” tyre (the hardest offered by Bridgestone), my guess is about 100, far far more than a race distance. Prehaps I’m simplfying things here, but in my view, a super soft and soft tyre should be just that… SOFT! They should provide epic grip and massive pace, but for a VERY limited time period. These things should be worn out within 10-15 laps, no more.

    “The aero problem”

    You hit the nail on the head again Keith. Much more still needs to be done to limit the cars reliance on aerodynamic grip. Yesterday’s race was epic, but it was solely because of the changeable weather conditions. Yesterdays race would have been processional too if it had been dry. Need evidence? Fernando Alonso could not pass Felipe Massa, who was clearly struggling with the car. A driver in a quick car, who had great pace through FP and Quali, and who is one of the best racers on the grid today, could not get by his team mate who was struggling to keep his car on the track never mind string some fast laps together. Lewis Hamilton, driving his socks off in the McLaren, couldn’t get by Alonso despite the fact that he had been catching him at 1.5 seconds per lap. It’s just not right.

    • GeeMac said on 29th March 2010, 8:20

      One thing I forgot to add to my rant is that the time which you could gain by changing tyres is now cancelled out by the reduced pit lane speed limit. What does this lead to? Less pit stops, more drivers and teams afraid of losing track position because it is impossible to overtake, more processional races.

    • Patrickl said on 29th March 2010, 10:05

      I think it’s more likely that Alonso wouldn’t get past Massa rather than couldn’t.

      It’s hard to overtake with lots of risks for an accident. You don’t pull something like that on your team mate.

      Before the team might have allowed that if the drivers were on different strategies. For instance when Heidfeld let Kubica pass him in Canada and Kubica went on to win the race that Heidfeld would have won otherwise.

      Or when Kovalainen let Hamilton pass at the nurburgring after they “forgot” to give Hamilton a pitstop during the safety car situation.

  3. shri said on 29th March 2010, 8:30

    sorry guys for asking a dumb question. why the dirty air effects a car balance in dry track, but not when it is wet?

    • David B said on 29th March 2010, 8:59

      It’s not a dumb question at all!!!
      I believe it is because they run slower and generate less dirty air…

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 29th March 2010, 9:09

      Because of the relatively slower speed of the cars in the wet.

    • Kremer said on 29th March 2010, 9:14

      They can also choose different lines heading into corners on a wet track without too much change in grip. A wet track has different characteristics than a dry track (or even a damp track with a dry line) in terms of grip over the entire width.

  4. David B said on 29th March 2010, 8:56

    Agree a lot on aerodynamics limitation.
    Agree a lot on free tyre choice.

    But another silly point is: if we see spectacular races when the rain comes in, it means that we need to decrease mechanical grip also!!!
    With lower mechanical grip the drivers need to manage engine power, that means that you are much likely to do a mistake and be attacked from the others.
    Less aerodymanics is ok. But what about narrower tyres and more powerful engines? Or any other device to reduce mechanical grip also???

    • Mike said on 29th March 2010, 9:21

      I think this is a common misconception, Lower Mechanical grip will simply see cars going slower,

      What the rain actually does, is lower the predictability of the tracks grip levels, A driver does not know how much grip he will have as the track is always changing in those conditions, Which means, he must be careful, and if he is not, he facing losing grip, and sliding, possibly into retirement.

      That’s why we saw so many drivers go off at the first corner after their pit stops, they expected more grip than was available.

      Ok, badly explained but hopefully you can see what I’m trying to say.

    • Kremer said on 29th March 2010, 9:23

      No, rain means the entire field slows down, especially in heavy breaking areas and fast curves.

      Slower speed plus longer breaking distance diminishes aero grip to a greater extent than mechanical grip entering and through a corner.
      Why penalize the mechanical grip in that case?

    • theRoswellite said on 29th March 2010, 19:08

      If you reduce or eliminate aero-grip and mechanical grip, as you suggest then you have a massive overall reduction in grip, which means, as you say, the cars will be sliding around more (4 wheel drifts…a good thing!) and the driver will become more of a factor in overall car speed. All of which I like.

      But, the problem will still be a significant reduction in cornering speed, it can’t be any other way, and this, at present, is unacceptable to the powers that be.

      Oh, and if it rains under the above conditions (no down force and low mechanical grip) you can almost forget about being able to race at any speed close to what they are now running at.

  5. PJA said on 29th March 2010, 9:14

    I think the race was a good example for why there should be no mandatory pit stops at all. After everyone had changed to slick tyres we saw what it could be like if drivers did not have to use both compounds of tyre and could choose whether or not to pit.

    Both Mercedes, Hamilton and Webber decided to pit for fresh tyres and try to use the extra grip to charge through the field while the other leading cars decided to stay out and try and make their tyres last until the end. If everyone had to make a pit stop they would all have just come in at about the same time so as not to loose track position.

    If the people in charge are still looking at ways to “improve the show”, my suggestions would be in the short term to get rid of the mandatory pit stops, and make the tyres more marginal, I don’t think it should be possible for the soft tyre to be able to last the whole race so easily. In the long term it comes back to the car and they need to reduce the dependence on aero so the cars can follow each other more closely.

    When the BBC interviewed Stefano Domenicali (I can’t remember if it was on Saturday or before the race on Sunday) I liked what he had to say including that F1 shouldn’t rush into making any knee-jerk changes after just one race. He makes more sense than some other people in F1.

    • Kris H. said on 29th March 2010, 17:24

      Agreed entirely. Make the soft tyres less durable, get rid of the two compound per race rule, and most all of the problem goes away – just like that.

  6. Nixon said on 29th March 2010, 9:26

    No offense Kieth, but i dislike any of the driver? Because it seems to me that you aren’t a fan for Alonso.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 29th March 2010, 9:46

      I’ve nothing against him. What was it in the article that made you think otherwise?

      • gpfan said on 30th March 2010, 3:37

        Alonso is the best in my opinion, and that is the only opinion that counts. And, Keith? If you have a bother with this, we shall arm-wrestle over it!

        But, I am rather arthritic, and not too fond of Spaniards. Now, if he was Scottish or Canadian, I should be rather threatening towards you. But, sadly, Fernando is not either, so I will continue with veiled wimpy talk to defend my fave driver … :)

  7. Pabs said on 29th March 2010, 9:28

    The race was good, up to a point (it dryed out) The last 25% of the race was as dull as Bahrain, and I’m starting to lose interest in the sport, again. Unless something is actually done to fix the aero problem then I’ll just give up and wait till 2011.

  8. sparky said on 29th March 2010, 10:32

    I definitely agree with everyone that says the problem is the mechanical grip and not the Aero grip. That’s why wet races are always more exciting, – less mechanical grip.

    What we need are really hard tyres that last the whole race or even two. The tyres would have a lot less grip and drivers would make more mistakes. Drivers could be restricted to sets of tyres per season as they currently are engines. (cheaper for the tyre supplier too) this would spice things up when some drivers are forced to use old tyres at a race whilst others use fresh ones.

    The only problem with that is that you would have to go back to refueling inrace to force pitstops.

    James Allen suggested going back to manual gear boxes – great idea, botched gear changes would provide loads more overtaking opportunities.

    • MARIOME said on 29th March 2010, 14:07

      Just like Mike said above. This is a common misconception. Wet tracks lead to drivers making more mistakes not because there’s less mechanical grip, but because you don’t know how much grip is available. When a dry line starts to appear after it stops raining, as soon as you get out of this line you go on a damp surface with slicks and you slide. Even when it’s raining, you can’t know exactly how much grip is available since it’s always changing, and every time another driver goes into a corner, the grip levels change since the water is moved.

      If you lower mechanical grip in the dry, races will just be slower. Drivers are always on the limit of the tyre’s grip, and sometimes you go over and lose traction, but those are just simple mistakes that happen even in dry races (like massa at the end in bahrain when braking). But you’re pretty sure how much grip you’ll have and most times know ahead of time when and if you’ll slide, but in the rain you go slower since you don’t know how much grip you’ll have in the next corner, so you’re not as close to the limit, and another driver that judged the grip levels better, or was simply lucky, overtakes you because he was closer to the grip limit.
      I hope it makes sense but pretty much if there are tires with less mechanical grip drivers will go to the limit and will just go slower, without aiding overtaking since the mistakes will just be regular simple mistakes, not many, as in for example bahrain, a dry race.

      • sparky said on 29th March 2010, 14:54

        Can’t argue with that I suppose, but won’t drivers with less grip -be it mechanical or aero- make more mistakes thus creating more overtaking oppertunties? Of course with changing conditions drivers are going to make even more mistakes, maybe they should hose every track down at the beginning of the race!

      • theRoswellite said on 29th March 2010, 19:15

        Yes, I agree, well put MARIOME.

  9. silencer said on 29th March 2010, 10:46

    going back to manual gear boxes is one good idea
    it will let the drivers show their true driving skill

  10. John Beamer said on 29th March 2010, 10:52

    I’m not sure I agree that aero is the problem … this race showed that mechanical grip is the issue – take a bit of that away and actually the passing flows quite freely. You’ve just got to look at all the overtaking in the race on what was essentially a track that reduced mechanical grip. The aero was the same.

    Had Webber not shunted lewis he would probably have got past Alonso … that was still pretty exciting racing!

    • Uncle said on 29th March 2010, 21:46

      you’re missing the point. when the cars go slower (ie in rain), the ability of the aerodynamics to create grip lessens. (These cars arent designed to go slow remember, so when they do, they’re a dog to drive.) The car then has to rely on mechanical grip. That’s why the racing was better.

  11. SP1KE said on 29th March 2010, 10:58

    The funniest part of all the rules is no tyre choice for the 1st 10 positions.
    Itz like you drove too well? now herez ur punishment! :P

    • David said on 29th March 2010, 17:08

      Indeed, it’s commonly known as handicapping. Just another tire related rule instigated to “even the playing field” that does not belong in a true motor-racing venue – and won’t work either.

  12. gazzap said on 29th March 2010, 11:10

    I thought Webber was out of order in his last move on Hamilton and Alonso, that was the sign of a desperate man. Hamilton was making his move, and I think was going to make it stick having been patient. Next thing, bang, Webber comes flying into his behind. probably happened because webber was in front of his crowd and he said he wanted to go down fighting. I think that was stupid. I like racing but that was not racing.

  13. David B said on 29th March 2010, 11:18

    Racing is great overtaking, ma is also sometimes making some mistakes.
    Don’t worry gazzap, that was not the bad part!

    (unless you’re Hamilton fan, then I understand you :-D)

  14. TMTR said on 29th March 2010, 11:24

    How about if the following is played a couple of hours before the start of each F1 race?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nao6j-n0nz8

  15. Why is everyone still trying to mandate the solution instead of the result? Everyone has complained because the 50% aero reduction never happened, is it any wonder it never happened when they are aiming to reduce aero instead of mandating what they really want which is the ability to follow.

    Instead of saying that you cannot have a double diffuser or must have a wing that looks like X or is Y high they need to start making the rules limit the effect of the aero on the air after the car has passed.

    Tell the teams they can do whatever they want but once they’ve done it they must leave the air in a sufficient state for a standardised car model to follow with a maximum percentage loss of downforce.

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