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???lkenberg. Kobayashi’s front wing fell off, jammed under his front wheels and he slammed into Buemi and H???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. Why don’t we just clone Hamilton 20 or so times, and let the racing roll. That guy is a blast from the past in terms of the way he approaches races, and the consistently spectacular passes he makes, often when in a less competitive car (most of 2009 and so far in 2010), make for breathtaking viewing. I mean, can you really imagine Vettel or Button going round the outside of Rosberg at the frighteningly quick esses. Other drivers like Vettel may be close to Hamilton in terms of driving skill, but in terms of sheer balls-out bravery and uncompromising commitment, he just cannot be matched.

    Alright, maybe his car is very quick in a straight line, and the Mclaren did have good race pace this weekend, but the fact remains that overtaking is currently infuriatingly difficult, even more so among the top drivers. The way Hamilton picked off Ferraris, Mercedes and Red Bulls, all of which were very evenly matched in terms of race pace, was spectacular to watch. I also believe that he would have got past Alonso as well if the overly rash Webber hadn’t shunted him off, and he would have eventually taken Kubica if his team hadnt decided to bring him in.

    By the way, i’m actually not a hardcore Hamilton fan, i actually prefer Button. I just had to say what needed to be said.

  2. PeterG said on 29th March 2010, 15:35

    Is Petrov the Lap1 overtaking champ for this year?
    He jumped quit a few in Bahrain and now he did it again.

    Trulli must -4 in lap 1.

  3. sumedh said on 29th March 2010, 15:47

    What was the quickest strategy around Albert Park on Sunday. One-stop or 2-stop? Looking at Hamilton’s pace as he caught up to Alonso in a matter of 12-15 laps it must be said that 2-stopper was the faster way around the circuit.

    Still, most drivers preferred to take the 1-stopper route.

    This shows that drivers and teams don’t believe overtaking is possible. They chose a slower strategy which gives track position, over a faster strategy.

    Unless teams believe that they can overtake, I doubt we will ever see any dry overtaking.

    Many have advocated the replacement of aero-grip by mechanical grip. But the trouble with too much mechanical grip is extremely short braking distances and lesser mistakes by drivers.

    The correct way of Formula One is to replace Aero-grip by no grip. Aero-grip does not allow drivers to follow each other. But if that is coupled with lesser mechanical grip, then there will be more mistakes by drivers thus allowing the chasing driver to overtake.

    • theRoswellite said on 29th March 2010, 19:30

      If you increase mechanical grip you can corner faster, and as you say, brake in a shorter distance. To lengthen the braking distance and still keep cornering speed, simply decrease the size of the braking rotor surface allowed to come into contact with the pads (or the pad surface area). Then you can extend your braking zone distance to the length you want.

      Problem: If you overdue this reduction you will decrease the cars ability to slow down under any conditions, and this will lead to more contact between cars and cars leaving the track at higher speeds. Both of which are undesired of course. (Oh, and driving in the rain will be even more difficult)

  4. Spencer said on 29th March 2010, 20:07

    No sure what we are saying here???? Current aero prevents passing??? This doesn’t add up to me.

    During the start of the race where mechanical grip was low there was more overtaking and it got worse as the track dried out.

    Am I being thick, but sholdn’t they be reducing mechanical grip to increase overtaking from the data of the race in Oz???

    • Uncle said on 29th March 2010, 21:35

      NOOOOOO!!!!! With the rain, the cars cant go so quick, the slower they go, the less their aero works (ie less grip). So, when another car catches up, he can get alot closer because the car in front isn’t creating so much ‘dirty air’. It is then down to mechanical grip on whether the trailing car can get past.
      Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, if there is a wholesale reduction in aero dependant grip, then we should get better racing.

      • John M said on 29th March 2010, 22:43

        Agree.

        And, I think the other factor is driver input.

        Mechanical grip is much more influenced by driver input than aero grip. This is why you see such disparity in the wet between the average drivers and the truly good drivers. In conditions of poor grip (i.e., rain), the better drivers are better able to control the car.

        I believe that the more effort is put into making mechanical grip paramount, the more you’ll see car control (driver skill and error) influence the outcome of races. Aero, in my opinion, does the opposite as far as driver skill is concerned.

        • Bellof said on 29th March 2010, 22:49

          Yeah this is true when you see these drivers racing karts against each other as juniors etc you can see visibly the different lines etc. karts are approaching having 100% mechanical grip and provides spectacular racing.

      • Spencer said on 29th March 2010, 22:44

        Less mechanical grip means longer breaking distances and more chace for driver error. So I stick by my suggestion that slippy slidey makes better racing and a chance for the more ballsy driver to pass.

        • Spencer said on 29th March 2010, 22:48

          And to quote what you already said that the aero doesn’t work as well at lower speeds, less mechanical grip brings speeds down.

  5. Uncle said on 29th March 2010, 21:17

    “”Rain, rain go away, come back on Grand Prix day.””

  6. Bellof said on 29th March 2010, 22:37

    Agreed the FIA, FOTA etc need to find a way of massively reducing the aerodynamic nature of F1 car design and return to the good old days when cars looked like cigars and men were men pfh! But you cant unlearn the past technological breakthroughs and F1 must remain as the pinicle of motorsport cant get rid aero F1 must be significantly quicker than GP2 and the like, soo..
    Its not an easy solution especially when many fans ( i thought more than 10 points for a win was outrageous) like the tradition associated with the sport; the old circuits, teams etc… to do this without fundamentally changing the sport seems unrealistic if we wish to attract everyman to watch the sport…

  7. anthony said on 30th March 2010, 0:05

    is the main problem the rearwing upseting the air flow for the other cars following ?well why dont the f.i.a bring out a rear wing that all the teams have to use.one that dose not affect the air flow as much.but safe for high speed to

    • Uncle said on 30th March 2010, 13:31

      The problem is that ‘dirty-air’ is an effect of the current aero rules. I don’t know if anything can be done. Do the teams make it worse, now there’s a question.

  8. zomtec said on 30th March 2010, 10:35

    I think standard front and rear wings are a good idea or at least very restricted rules for wing design.
    If you compare the Virgin to the Ferrari the eye can´t see why the lap times are so different.

  9. Does anyone have the fia pdf’s on the aus race, as they’ve taken them down from the site early.

  10. CeeVee777 said on 30th March 2010, 19:02

    I don’t remember who it was but some driver said back when F5000 was being introduced that ‘the most exciting racing happens when the cars power exceeds the available grip’.

    So we need to both reduce available grip and remove limitations on engine power.

  11. maiesky said on 30th March 2010, 23:19

    Have you noticed that between laps 21 and 27 lap times went up? I think it is because frontrunners had to lap cars from the end. This is an excellent example how slow cars can affect lap times of quicker drivers.

  12. The Limit said on 31st March 2010, 5:14

    Its a fair argument, and one that has raged for decades. The problem is that F1 has always devoted time and millions of dollars into the art of aerodynamics, and happily employs some of the brightest in the business to do so. We thought in 2009 we had curbed this inventiveness but we were proved wrong by the now infamous double difusers. Those, as we know, are banned for 2011 but the boffins will come up with other bright ideas that skirt the rules and give their teams and advantage.
    Its a catch 22 situation in which there is no easy solutions. You could increase radiator sizes to aid in cooling, but I doubt that would aid too much in the art of overtaking.
    However, lets get everything in perspective. Hamilton failed to pass Alonso not just to the aero aspect of the cars, he also failed because Fernando made it bloody difficult for him to do so. It was a good scrap, nothing malicious, between two top racing drivers. Hamilton took to trying to pass Alonso the long way around, maybe trying to unnerve the Spaniard as to get a run for the next corner. They both had to brake hard, Fernando locking his wheels, and Webber ran out of room.
    Keith is quite right about the rest of the season. Unless we have plenty of wet weather racing as we did in 2008, this season will see more sterile racing especially at the more modern venues.

  13. Chaz said on 31st March 2010, 17:31

    Whitmarsh’s statement that a driver needed to be 3 seconds quicker than the one ahead in order to be able to pass was quite startling…

  14. wasiF1 said on 1st April 2010, 8:41

    If it rains in Malaysia then we are set for another goor race ( I HOPE)

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