The pecking order as the teams ready their Barcelona performance upgrades

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Red Bull enjoy the quickest car at the moment but their rivals have them in sight
Red Bull enjoy the quickest car at the moment but their rivals have them in sight

With the four ‘flyaway’ races behind us the teams look to the start of the European season to accelerate development of their cars.

Aside from a quick excursion across the Atlantic for the Canadian Grand Prix, from now until late September the teams will be racing at venues much closer to their factories, making it quicker and easier for them to bring upgrades to their cars.

Several of them are planning big steps for the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks’ time. How will this change the pecking order? And who has had the quickest car over the first four races?

Red Bull fastest overall – but it’s close

Average lap time gap to fastest driver
Average lap time gap to fastest driver (click to enlarge)

The graph above gives a good indication of how quick each driver has been on average so far this year. It compares the fastest time a driver set at each race weekend to the fastest time overall and shows how far off the pace each driver was as a percent.

Red Bull’s performance advantage is reflected in their qualifying results: four pole positions out of four.

Despite having won two of the four races so far, McLaren only seem to have the fourth-fastest car, although this also serves to underline what an excellent job Nico Rosberg is doing in the Mercedes W01.

McLaren making progress

Percent gap to fastest driver on best lap (front runners)
Percent gap to fastest driver on best lap (front runners) (click to enlarge)

This graph shows each drivers’ fastest lap at each race weekend compared to the fastest driver overall at each meeting.

Among the trends we can pick out are clear signs of progress at McLaren – particularly in the Jenson Button camp, which makes sense as he adjusts to his new team.

Red Bull, however, look hard to beat with the track demands good aerodynamic balance (Sepang, Shanghai) or good braking and low-speed traction (Bahrain, Melbourne).

The consolation for their rivals is that Red Bull don’t seem to have as good pace over a race distance – though we need a few more dry races to make an informed call on that one.

Renault leading the midfield

Percent gap to fastest driver best lap (midfield)
Percent gap to fastest driver best lap (midfield) (click to enlarge)

The midfield is always where you find the closest battles and sure enough this year we have Renault narrowly ahead of the closely-matched Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso cars on pure pace.

Here a top-drawer driver can make all the difference and sure enough Robert Kubica is doing great things for Renault.

Sauber is just hanging onto the back of this group but are being badly hurt by unreliability.

New teams starting to catch up

Percent gap to fastest driver on best lap (new teams)
Percent gap to fastest driver on best lap (new teams) (click to enlarge)

Lotus and Virgin have produced two cars that are closely matched on pace – though you have to say the T127 is ahead of the VR-01 on reliability.

Lotus are planning a significant aerodynamic upgrade at Catalunya, which should give us a useful benchmark of just how close the new teams can get to the established runners this year.

HRT, meanwhile, are making progress race-on-race having only run their F110 for the first time at Bahrain. At their current rate of progress they could be on terms with their new teams rivals fairly soon, which is an impressive rate of improvement for a team that hasn’t done any testing.

Who do you think has held the upper hand for far in 2010? How do you expect that to change at the Spanish Grand Prix? Have your say in the comments.

Compare each driver’s performance against his team mate in 2010

Image (C) Red Bull/Getty images