F1 track records set to tumble

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Many of F1's fastest laps were set in 2004 with V10 engines and softer tyres
Many of F1's fastest laps were set in 2004 with V10 engines and softer tyres

F1’s ever-tighter technical regulations haven’t stopped the cars getting even quicker in 2010.

This year’s cars are lapping on a par with the 2004 machines which set many of the lap records at the tracks on this year’s calendar.

That’s despite the cars of 2004 having much freer aerodynamic regulations, softer rubber because of the Bridgestone-Michelin tyre war, and two more cylinders in their engines.

This graph shows how lap times have changed over the past 14 years at two circuits whose configurations have remained largely the same: Albert Park in Australia and Sepang in Malaysia.

I’ve plotted the fastest time set by an F1 car at a practice session, qualifying or in the race in each of their visits since 1996:

Fastest laps in an F1 session and Albert Park and Sepang, 1996-2010
Fastest laps in F1 sessions and Albert Park and Sepang (click to enlarge)

Sebastian Vettel’s pole position time at Melbourne this year was two tenths of a second faster than 2004 race lap record set by Michael Schumacher.

The rain-hit qualifying session at Sepang meant we didn’t see the full potential of this year’s cars but it’s likely we would have seen them within range of the 2004 lap times.

However many of the 2004 race lap records are likely to remain unchanged as the refuelling ban means cars are now much slower during the races – by around four to five seconds per lap.

Controlling F1 speeds

We’ve seen the FIA repeatedly intervene to slow cars in past seasons. After 2004 tyre stops were banned to force teams to used harder tyre compounds. That rule only lasted until the end of 2005 but the switch to V8 engines in 2006 slowed the cars even further and the introduction of a single tyre supplier in 2007 also helped slow the cars.

Last year wings were subject to new, tighter restrictions which slowed the cars down, but the return of slick tyres compensated for that.

Will the FIA act to slow the cars down again? We’ve already learned that double diffusers will be banned for 2011, which will slow the cars to some extent. But will the FIA feel the need to go further?

We’ve also heard rumours the FIA is considering allowing competition between tyre manufacturers once again. That would cause lap times to plummet. Look at how the lap times fell on the chart above in 1997 and 2001, both seasons when the sport went from having one tyre supplier to two.

The FIA’s justification for slowing the cars down has been the need to restrict cornering speeds for safety reasons. If a tyre war were allowed in the future, surely they would choose some other means of restricting car performance.

Do you think it’s necessary to keep limiting F1 car speeds? If so, how should it be done? More restrictions on engine performance? Smaller wings? Heavier cars? Have your say in the comments.

Read more: 2009 F1 cars faster than in 2008

Image (C) Ferrari spa