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

99 comments on “F1 track records set to tumble”

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  1. Marc Connell
    11th April 2010, 16:15

    by the looks of the graph, they look like they are coming down! is this because of the reduction in downforce?

    1. Fundamentally it’s the nature of competition; teams are striving to be the fastest hence they getting faster and faster. It’s generally technological development in a competitive environment.

      Down force slows cars down on the straights but lets the corner faster. F1 cars are generally optimized to suit the track. So when a rule change occurs to limit down force designers look to work around it, eventually they get to a point where they go beyond their previous best.

      1. Actually, downforce has no bearing on the speed of a car down the straights. However, drag does. It just so happens that most of the aerodynamic devices that create downforce also create drag. To say that downforce slows down a car is like saying a static magnetic field makes electricity (Fyi, it doesn’t. To generate electricity you need a moving magnetic field, at least relative to your conductor, or a chemical reaction, i.e. batteries, fuel cells).

        1. fyi lol

          downforce has no bearing on the speed of a car down the straights. However, drag does. It just so happens that most of the aerodynamic devices that create downforce also create drag

          Yes you’re right. If I’d had known you were going to read this I would have been more specific ;)

    2. @Marc Cornnell It’s a lap time graph, not a speed graph. The lower the line is, the faster they go.

  2. f1 is the pinnacle of motorsport, the cars should be allowed to go as fast as the engineers possibly can. Other series like indycar or A1GP will catch up and overtalke F1 in terms of speed if the FIA keep tightening regulations.

    I want to see drivers wearing G-suits because their cars can corner at 8G :D

    1. In terms of speed (meaning straight line speed), Indycars are already faster (correct me if I’m wrong)… As for the cornering speeds, I honestly don’t know…

      1. I thought that was only because they are configured to be fast in a straight line for ovals. On a normal circuit I doubt their top speed is a match for an F1 car.

        1. On an oval an IndyCar is designed to turn left, like paddling a canoe with one oar on one side. That allows them to run less wing for speed on the straights.

      2. Indy cars are both less powerful and heavier than F1 cars. Cornering speeds are also far from F1 cars.

      3. Daniel your correct. On the fastest tracks they have recorded in speed traps as fast as 240mph compare this to 223mph at Monza.
        Their cornering ability is not as good so if you put them on the same track F1 would set faster lap then a Indycar because it’s slightly heavier and not as powerful and highreving engine as a F1 but the Oval track allows them to carry a lot of speed around and they can slip stream and the slipstream can get a big extra pull in form of speed.

    2. no, there have to be limitations. Otherwise the cars will go so fast that even G-suits aren’t going to help. And we don’t want remote-controlled cars or drivers dying again.

      1. Maybe, but the reason the FIA want to limit the speed is for the “show” and not at all for safety. They want to bunch the cars together and they don’t want the top 3 teams to be 3 seconds faster than the next three teams and 6 seconds faster than the next teams. Problem is, this happens anyway.

        1. Cars travelling at 350mph pulling 8G would be some show ;)

          1. Not if the second car was going 340mph…

        2. I think a major reason for technical limits is cost. FIA are (were) concerned that the cost of continual development and testing was excessive, and so it has been severely limited. Virtually no mid-season testing, no engine development allowed, have to make do with 8 engines per year, etc. This is all in the name of cost reduction.

        3. Yes but as you pointed out that happens anyway.

          1. that was in reply to mfDB

    3. I have a feeling A1GP wont be catching up with F1 in any sense…

    4. MuzzleFlash
      12th April 2010, 1:13

      Even an untrained human can take over 10G laterally, so g-suits wouldn’t be necessary.

      Fighter pilots wear them because even the fittest human can only take about 5G’s positive and -3G negative before black/red out, respectively.

    5. holy crap all of my YES

  3. Well, maybe not every year, but I think, once in a three years time period. But only by reducing cornering speeds. In 2006 V8 engines replaced V10. The decision was bad, because it increased cornering speeds and began “aerodynamic efficiency” war, in order making overtaking harder and harder. I think FIA should ban restrictions on engine development and opportunities to overtake would increase once again!

    1. I think rev limits should stay in place. Getting engines to rev faster requires research into very expensive exotic materials which only the richest can afford, and we don’t want the same one or two teams dominating every year.

  4. Don’t forget the banning of traction control aswell which gives up to 2 seconds of laptime.

  5. If the FIA are serious about reducing speeds, then they should seriously cut back on what’s allowed on the front wing. Roughly 75% of the increase in downforce since Australis 2009 has come from this one area, or so I’ve read (maybe in one of John Beamer’s excellent articles, or the LG Technical Report on James Allen’s blog). It would also aid cars being able to follow each other. I don’t think cutting engines is the answer. What’s the point in, say, limiting the engine to only 160 mph, if the cars can corner that quickly? Open the engines, restrict the aero.

    1. By the way, why no Round-Up for today/yesterday?

    2. theRoswellite
      11th April 2010, 19:19

      I hate agreeing with Icthyes………

      But, the assessment is exactly on the money.

      Do not limit the engine (they might look to the future and begin to interface a fuel/electric relationship), it is one of the areas of classic interest to fans and needs to be perceived as being both highly technologically developed and more than adequately powerful.

      It is more than a little depressing to think of a dwarfed, muted, restricted and overly regulated “power plant” placed in the world’s finest racing cars. Spare us that ignominy.

      And, as Icthyes says, drastically cut the area of the working front wing. This will negate the effect of running in the interrupted air which now follows all our present cars.

      Obviously, this will promote cars following each other more closely while remaining in a state of more steady, thus predictable, traction or grip. (hello, hello, is there anyone up there at the FIA…or should I say down there?)

      In the intro, increasing the weight of the car is mentioned as a way to decrease overall speed.

      As other comments must have mentioned, this is the absolutely the wrong direction to go. The cars become harder to slow down, they become, in an accident, missiles of increased inertia, their performance relative to energy expended decreases and, among probably a thousand other things, they can’t change direction as quickly, so they become less agile. Most of these attributes are more than a little undesirable.

      Just Cut The Aero….many of the other problems will go away.

      (Oh, Jean…you can still keep front wheel traction by increasing, significantly, the front wheel contact area…make the tires wider not taller…and allow for a variable suspension
      dynamic..driver controlled.)

      1. Cutting the aero seems to be everyone’s answer to F1’s issues on track – I certainly agree with it. However no series other than FVee & FFord runs no aero so no-one knows exactly how things will pan out. And neither of those series have much in the way of horsepower.

        A no wing or tiny wing F1 would be very different but the racing would most likely be mega! Corner speeds would be down but straight line speeds would be up, braking distances would be longer giving more opportunity to overtake, and cars would slide around and still be fast!

    3. I’m not convinced that simnply reducing aero is the answer.

      I think the problem is more that the aero is so incredibly refined and finetuned for running in clean air that it virtually stops working in “dirty” air.

      I think the aero should be made a lot simpler so it doesn’t depend so much on clean air.

      At the start of the 2009 season they were driving around with pretty much undeveloped aero packages and the cars were able to follow each other pretty closely (apart from Vettel in his Red Bull).

      Over that season the cars got increasingly more problems staying close behind each other.

  6. I wish they actually allow the cars to go faster so we can see their potential better. A good starting point would be removing the RPM restrictions. This would highlight the driver’s skill in managing the engine, besides the tires. It would also aid in overtaking. We have seen so many overtakings ruined by cars reaching the RPM cap. This is one of the main reasons why slipstreaming doesn’t appear effective as it once was.

    Besides this, Formula 1 lap times have become ridiculously slow. Yes, they might be setting lap records in qualifying, but ultimately during race pace, lap times reveal otherwise. Safety, unlike what the FIA thinks, is not an issue either. These cars have show time over time that they are very safe. Driver testimonies exist too to back up my opinion. For example Timo Glock, a driver who suffered two bad crashes in the space of 2 years (Hockenheim and Suzuka) said that he feels the safest in the cockpit of his car.

    1. The two worst racing incidents (that I know of) in the past year – Henry Surtees and Felipe Massa – had nothing to do with cornering speeds.

      Contrast this to Robert Kubica’s accident in 2007: a high-speed impact into a wall with barely any run-off between it and the track, and Robert only missed one race, and only as a precaution.

      I guess the FIA, FOM, and FOTA are that terrified another driver will die. It’s a tough issue because speeds could eventually get to a point where it’s ridiculously difficult for the drivers to drive the car, no matter how safe it is in a crash.

      That’s the problem: there’s always going to be a limit. But I think if we restricted aero and opened up the engines, it would take a hell of a lot longer to increase lap times through engine power than it would through aero improvement. After all, isn’t engine development far more relevant to the everyday motoring world than aerodynamics? I think F1 fans have to accept that being the fastest motorsport is far preferable to being the fastest possible.

      1. So keeping the cornering speeds down is working …

  7. Its hard to say wether F1 should keep being speed limited by regulations. On one side I would say no, let them go as fast as possible. It is the pinnacle of motorsport right. But then look at what engineers are capable of. With so many inhibiting regulations they are able to get back to the lap times of the V10s. I tend to agree that with no guidance the cars would become ridiculously quick and possible too quick for a human to control. Like Group B rally where drivers complained their eyes couldn’t adjust focus quick enough when cornering.

    1. Group B is a good example. I think there do need to be some restrictions. The drivers are only human. The cars are not and could be engineered beyond the limits of the humans that drive them.

      1. Ahhh but if they are engineered beyond the limits of drivers then that will really let the best drivers who can really push their limits past those of other drivers shine!!

  8. I tyhink F1 can afford to be a little relaxed with speeds. Things have improved so much with regards to safety -track and cars- that there should be some room for movement. There should always be a cautious approach though.

  9. i hope that the cars will not get any heavier. an f1 should be as light as posible. they should give the car makers more freedom to design the car.
    the FIA should not change the regulation every year for that will only cost mony en brings more controversy in to f1.

  10. The FIA has spent the last 20 years adressing the saftey problems that used to make limiting cornering speeds so important. We’ve seen some spectacular crashes of late an some fairly unscathed drivers, however cornering speeds are linked to the bane of all things F1, performance from aerodynamics and performance drop off behind another car due to performance aerodynamics.

    The easiest way to keep F1 at a technical pinacle, improve the racing an slow cornering speeds, would be to change two rules. Totally ban wings, an ban tyre changes. In one you have slashed cornering speeds dramatically and grip making following an overtaking possible at nearly every track. This means many other areas of F1 currently affected by bans, which have actuall relavance to the real world and the motor industry can be unbanned.

    Active suspension, brake steer, tuned mass dampers, all of which are present on road cars could go back under the microscope in of F1’s R+D departments. Unbanning such things would also loosen the regulations on other areas of F1 mechanics meaning F1 would stay at the pinacle of motorsport, but in an area relavant to everyday motoring. The manafactuers would benefit, an your Megane would benefit, making F1 more attractive to everyone who matters, fans, industry and teams.

    Banning tyre changes would also benefit the industry an make the racing better. Some of the absolute best races of the decade came in the season where tyre changes where banned, Suzuka 05, so it’s tried and tested but it would also make tyres slightly more simular to the tyres on cars, wheras currently, especially the softer tyres, they are essentially short distance grip grenades.

    With these rules you can also loosen engine restrictions, keep refueling banned to keep efficiency development going, but up the power, more cylinders turbo, full hybrids etc. Faster on the straights slower round the corners, win win no?

    Banning wings an putting the grip focus on mechanics will mean massivley less drag and wake. Meaning the cars will find it easier to follow an the cars will become many times more efficient. In a recent convo with K he said modern F1 cars are effectivley downforce creating machines. This is both true, an bad for the sport. Banning wings will make the cars so much more fuel efficient it’s mad, most of the fuel filling F1 tanks is spent on pushing it down the straights against all that drag. If we cut downforce we cut that drag, making the engines more efficient we’ll be able to have no refuleing and less fuel. Drivers will be able to drive with less of a save the tyres mind set but we won’t have to go back to the jump him in the pitstops problem from before the ban.

    So IMHO, if you ban wings and tyre changes. You’ll be able to cut cornering speeds making some of the most dangerous F1 crashes less likley. While improving the sport in nearly all areas and keeping it as the pinacle of motor racing technology in an area thats actually relavant to drivers.

    1. Banning all tyre changes might induce drivers to always save their tyres, thus limiting overtaking. At least now a driver can take a lot out of their tyres and then change them, though the difficulty of passing doesn’t make that as viable an option as it should be.

      Also, many of those wonderful technologies take away the performance from the drivers’ skills. Active suspension would be great, but why not driver-tuned suspension instead? It won’t be relevant to cars on the road, but would improve things in your vision of what F1 should be, which I don’t share but seems very intriguing nonetheless. I agree that smart technologies are discouraged a bit too much in F1, but in most cases I think it’s a good thing. Adjusting the suspension, for example, would increase cornering speeds, which is okay if you tale away all the wings, but I personally don’t want to do that.

      I’m all for opening the engines in part to increase relevance to the motoring world, but it can only go so far. If F1 teams really want to have road-relevance, they can start their own F1 Touring Car series in the winter. In fact, I would love that :)

      Great alternative ideas, though!

      1. Banning all tyre changes didn’t really do this in 2005. The season saw some flat out racing. Plus my post explains ways that the way rejigged F1 cars wouldn’t treat they’re tyres as roughly as current F1 cars, hence limiting the need for tyre saving.

        1. But we still had re-fuelling in 2005, so the tyres weren’t being punished as much as they are now, though I take your point (the tyres were different back then, after all).

          I don’t actually think you’ve put a case for the cars being kinder on the tyres, but the effect is implied and I know that that’s what would happen.

          Tyres weren’t really my bugbear with the idea though, but I wouldn’t want to see changes banned. Tyre strategy might be an artificial way to produce excitement, but I think if a driver wants to do something different, let them. The difference with fuel is that there’s always going to be an advantage in making stops rather than carrying all of your fuel. With tyres, it can be either/or, depending on the driver.

          1. I’m less in favour of no tyre changes because mechanical grip is important for overtaking and it does facilitate more aggressive driving.

            F1 designers will always look to utilize aero dynamics what ever rules you place.

            I don’t think F1 needs to cut cornering speeds. I think it needs to make cornering at higher speeds safer.

            As you embrace greater technological advancements and speed the challenges for the driver will evolve.

          2. I realize the aerodynamicist will always look to exploit the rules but if cutting aero really is the aim, it is possible to take proper steps to do this in the regulations an then ban anything thats against the spirit of the regulations for the next year.

            An high speed cornering is fairly safe, hence all the crashes resulting in barley any injuries.

            No tyre changes, especially if a tyre war is allowed to happen will result in better an better tyres, that’ll become more resistant an better wearing as development goes on. So if a tyre war is inevitable, banning changes is the best way of keeping them from becoming ridiculously grippy.

            It’ll also make it easier to make it easier to make F1 more attractive to supplier by lowering costs. Many less tyres would be required for a full weekend. 1 set for each practice, 1 set for the race, maybe even 1 set for qualifiying though I’m less sold on that.

            Also while 1 set of tyres may cause conservative driving in some cases, what if with 10 laps to go the car in second is trying to take the lead. Like Imola 05. Knackered tyres will only improve that spectacle. Both drivers will go flat out but in cars much harder to drive, perfect!

  11. F1 is and will always be the top flight in open wheel racing, as long as its competitive and exiting. Speed is not the ultimate goal to me, in a straight line Indy/ChampCar is at least as fast (or maybe faster??). Getting competitive wheel-to-wheel racing is what its all about. Give FIA and FOTA credit for trying to make F1 more exiting to watch, weather you agree with the rule changes of 2010 or not, the goal was to try and make F1 more exiting to watch (read = more overtaking and closer racing).
    To me, the rule changes needs another few races before I have a clear verdict, but when you look at the points standings, its closer then ever after three races.
    Getting cars to work aerodynamically in close combat will make F1 really fun to watch, I hope they get it right soon.

  12. In the races they are seconds slower than last year. Singapore GP lasted for almost 2 hours last year, I wonder if they’ll even make it on time this year.

    1. If they get a safety car, almost certainly not. But they’re planning to make the track shorter next year.

    2. I cant stand v 2 hr time limit,id really like to see a few races go a little longer than that.

  13. But the cars will only set their fastest laps in qualifying. Come race day it will be back to driving the haulage truck.

    1. HounslowBusGarage
      11th April 2010, 18:17

      Not sure if I woud describe an F1 car as a haulage truck . . .
      But it’s a haulage truck that gets lighter and able to go faster as the fuel load decreases – whether needs it to go as fast as possible battling against competitors or merely coasting to the line, is another matter.
      Is there anyone here with understanding of the physics of forces? What’s the difference in force between a car at 300 kph versus the same car at 320kph? And does it have any implications for run-off area, debris fencing and driver protection?

  14. We want turbos
    11th April 2010, 17:31

    Increase car weight you increase Force of an collision hence making the cars just as safe as without the weight, personally I say smaller engined turbos is the answer, they would be just as fast lots more efficient and lighter!

  15. With Michelin probably coming i next year with their 18 inch tyres we will have wider tyres as well. Their narrowest front tyre is 270 mm wide compared to the 245 mm wide front tyres used now which was narrowed down from 265 mm wide last year to have a better balance between fronts and rears. So with 270 mm wide fronts the rears would need to be 350 – 360 mm wide (compared to the 325 mm wide rear tyres used this year) to keep the balance between fronts and rears next year.
    As long as Michelin is the sole supplier they can keep speeds down by supplying hard enough tyres. But with a tyre war mechanical grip will go up quite considerably
    with the wider tyres (which is exactly what we want).
    To keep lap times from escalating aero downforce would have to be cut (which we want). Of course the double diffusors will disapear next year but the question is if this will be enough to keep lap times in check.

  16. It seems extremely artificial that things have to be banned or restricted every year so that the speed of the cars can be kept in check. F1 is meant to be the absolute pinnacle of automotive technology, driver fitness and entertainment. By constantly limiting the cars, we are stifling innovation and creativity and also denying the opportunity for many amazing, and relevant, technologies to be developed. By making the cars more similar to each other we are also removing any performance difference and therefore making overtaking less likely. With the introduction of refuelling, many drivers have said they were taking it easy and haven’t felt as physically exhausted as before.

    Recent history has proven that the cars are incredibly safe. Surtees’ and Massa’s injuries were not because of high cornering speeds or straight line speeds, but because of the open cockpit nature of the cars, something that can’t be avoided with open wheel racing. So why not let the cars develop and push the envelope? If G-suits are needed then so be it. And even then, if the forces become too great for G-suits then we’ve found that point in racing we’ve all been looking for; where the focus comes onto the drivers who have that little bit extra and can make the difference by pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

    1. Forgive me if I’m being dense, but aren’t G-suits only really useful in a vehicle which travels in 3 dimensions (aerospace) as they are to prevent blood loss in the brain when it is forced to the lower body due to upwards acceleration?
      Even under heavy braking, fluids in the head are surely forced forwards in it and not down from it?

      1. The only dimension missing in F1 is vertical. G forces for an F1 car are approx, 1.5g accelerating, up to 5g braking, and up to 6g lateral at Suzuka 130-R, [5g @ Blanchimont or Copse]. But the worse is probably is about 5g in turn 8 at Instabul Park.
        As an F1 driver is almost lying down, during braking to blood is forced towards the feet, and away from the brain. But it is in comparison to a jet or acrobatics pilot for a very short time.

  17. David Drinkwater
    11th April 2010, 18:47

    Controlling F1 Speed:

    It;s a Sport for goodness sake. The more restrictions applied the more cars will be grow to be the same and they will be like dodgem cars bumping and boring around the circuits. Free the restictions and allow research and technology to find out which are the best teams. I know the small teams do not have a budget to allow then to do that so that wil he a problee to be overcome but…… Remove the stupid “safety car” rule where the whole field bunches back up again when prior to the problem, a cominant driver was establishing a lead.
    Allow the teams to choos their own tyres from whatever manufacturer they choose. And finally remove B. Ecclestone from the scene thus preventing even more circuits and therefore inflating his business interests.

    1. theRoswellite
      12th April 2010, 2:27

      Wow, I think my bottom line is your final line.

  18. The most surprising thing for me is the fact that they increased the minimum weight from 600kg to 620kg yet these cars are still quite fast.

    What F1 needs to do is make the wings (much) smaller and simpler, the cars wider (axle track) and the engines more powerful/turbos. Include a more powerful KERS system but I think it’s still abit expensive.

    People have to remember that it’s imperative that F1 at least stays faster (lap times) than GP2, otherwise you end up with a silly situation if F1 cars end up slower than GP2…

  19. Clearly there has to be an upper limit. But safety is so good these days, runoff areas are usually massive and the whole point of F1 is to be the fastest and most difficult sport in the world.

    Having said that a good way to slow down the cars is to have a minimum mpg of the cars. That way, engine restrictions could be lifted slightly to help improve consumption, thus making the engine technicians happy. Moreover, it would be brilliant technology for road cars and give F1 much needed green credentials!

  20. I think it’s a bit strange that so many people are so opposed to regulations in Formula 1. The name Formula 1 refers to the set of rules and regulations, i.e. the formula!

    I agree that F1 should remain the pinnacle of motorsport, but as others have pointed out, that doesn’t mean the fastest (as they’re already slower than indy cars in a straight line). Whatever restrictions are put in place, engineers will find other ways and other places on the car to innovate and increase speed. That’s what they do, and that’s part of what makes F1 the pinnacle, coupled with the best of the best drivers. I think it makes sense for restrictions to be put in place every few years that keep the cars at relatively the same speeds from one year to the next.

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