The pecking order as the teams ready their Barcelona performance upgrades

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

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56 comments on The pecking order as the teams ready their Barcelona performance upgrades

  1. FLIG said on 23rd April 2010, 11:53

    Obviously, everyone will get a boost in performance, but I’d bet on Mercedes to be the team that develops the most. Ross Brawn has a way of understanding this sport that no one else has, so he’ll know what to do. I also think Renault might leap from best of the rest to last of the best, specially because they have 2 very aggressive drivers who will either be fighting for positions or going to the garage.

    • Eric said on 23rd April 2010, 12:31

      He didn’t last year, remember the aero package at Silverstone. Also, Norbert Haug mentioned that the Merc team is effectively running under cost-cutting 2011 rules which means less people at the circuit.

      I expect some improvement, but I think Merc and Brawn (and MSC for that matter) are thinking more of 2011 then 2010.

    • Jim N said on 23rd April 2010, 14:32

      The current Mercedes is an understeering car designed for Button who likes them that way. Schumacher hates understeering cars and Nico prefers oversteering too. The new Mercedes for Spain apparently gets rid of the understeer….. if it does I expect a dramatic improvement from both drivers, particularly Schumacher…. so yes I think Mercedes will be the most improved team … but only time will tell.

      • You sure this is the case? All the Mercedes did last weekend in Schumacher’s hands was oversteer heavily.

      • explosiva said on 23rd April 2010, 15:22

        Ah, you beat me to this point! I was going to suggest that perhaps Button is the reason Schumi is struggling so much. When they starting developing the 2010 car last year, I highly doubt they knew Schumi was going to be driving it and designed it to suit Jenson better. After all, he was the leading candidate for the championship and more than likely was going to resign w/ Brawn.

        Since Jenson and Schumi have vastly different driving styles, this would make a certain amount of sense…

        • Jim N said on 23rd April 2010, 16:46

          Interestingly, Hamilton prefers oversteer, so you would have thought that Button wouldn’t like the McLaren… but perhaps the McLaren is a far more flexible car!

          • wasiF1 said on 24th April 2010, 1:54

            I think the Mercedes will improve their car in Spain. Ross is a good guy when it come to make fast cars.

  2. Cyclops said on 23rd April 2010, 11:59

    I think McLaren will catch Red Bull, Ferrari little bit behind, than I see Renault catching or even surpassing MGP with Williams and Force India leading the midfield and Sauber being caught by Lotus. Maybe not yet in Spain but the things will turn this way within next 3 races I think.

    • MigueLP said on 23rd April 2010, 13:12

      mclaren will have to do a lot of work and spend money they dont have to catch ferrari and redbull

      • Patrickl said on 23rd April 2010, 13:45

        They pretty much caught Ferrari already in the last race.

        • Cacarella said on 23rd April 2010, 14:00

          The last race was wet, then dry, then wet, then dry. Hardly the type of conditions that you would use to determine a proper performance gauge.

          • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd April 2010, 14:05

            Race lap times are pretty irrelevant to this kind of analysis anyway because even in dry conditions because of the fuel loads cars are several seconds slower per lap. Most of the lap times feeding the data in these charts is from laps set in P3 or qualifying.

      • Hallard said on 23rd April 2010, 17:43

        Well, maybe not. The McLaren has proven to have good overall race pace, good overall balance, it isnt too hard on its tires, and they have had reliability on their side so far as well. I certainly wouldnt bet against them surpassing red bull, though probably not in qualifying for a while.

  3. steph said on 23rd April 2010, 12:13

    It’s a guessing game and I’m fairly useless at predictions so I really don’t know what will happen. I hope that Ferrari can close up to RBR in quali as it is so crucial to the race weekend (ok noone has won from pole yet but it’s been unusual and RBR should really have more wins than they do).

    Nico looks impressive on the first graph and so does Button, he’s not that far behind Hamilton considering he’s settling in but that just makes it more surprising that he has managed two wins.

    I posted this on another site a day or two ago giving my compliments to Renault and Kubica…

    I feel at a loss with the Kubica hype at the mo’. He’s always been like this. People last year said he was overrated because he couldn’t beat Heidfeld convincingly yet now he’s only got Petrov in the garage next to him so it’s harder to pinpoint exactly what he is doing.

    I also feel Renault aren’t getting the credit they deserve. The R29 was a dog and now they’ve built a tidy platform to work on, have an aggressive update schedule and have got the balance just right for Kubica to showcase his talent. Kubica is notoriously fussy after all so given he now has a car he can work with he’s doing well.

    Kubica can also be credited with putting himself in the right place at the right time; when the leaders are stricken with troubles he usually capitalises but I think this could be again as much a credit to Renault as him.

    In 05 when Ferrari slumped, Renault were there. When Ferrari came back but Mclaren dozed once again Renault were there. When the two title proganists were scrapping it out in 08 Renault were there and exactly the same in 09 in Singapore. They know how to take a gamble and pick up the points when the opportunity arrives.

    Kubica’s good but this isn’t a relavation as we saw it in 08 (he still made mistakes) but I don’t think he’s the surprise. Renault maybe for building a better and more balanced car but with them producing that it wasn’t surprising Kubica would get the results. Few drivers could take it to the lengths Kubica has and he is one of the better drivers on the grid but I just don’t get the hype right now -hype in general with him and his promise yes but he’s always been this way. He’s been really great this season but not outstanding…yet and we’ve only had 4 races.

    And before it’s brought up-yes I like Massa better but I think Kubica is just as good but a very specific driver in terms of what he needs. I’d support either at Ferrari, the red team is more important than the individual driver to me. If Massa wants his seat he has to show he is better, if he can.

    • I don’t understand the Kubica myths too. The hype is just that – hype. For some reason he’s always been considered as one of the best drivers out there, but he has never performed. BMW Sauber was all too hasty to oust Jacques Villeneuve and replace him with Kubica, but then what? Nothing much.

      One victory and a handful of other podiums and nothing much else. Even when the car was performing he didn’t use that on the track. I do agree he’s overrated. They should have just held onto Villeneuve!

      The Renault is improving, but I think the wrong drivers are with the team, plus we have to look at the long term. Will Renault even be there next year?

      I would like to see Renault at the front because that would make it a far better and more open championship, but that’s not going to happen with the current drivers and commitment Renault has in place.

      • Cyclops said on 23rd April 2010, 16:43

        I don’t understand the current hype either. Kubica has already shown his speed and skill. He’s now where he left off in 2008, and nobody seems to remember what kind of crap was the last year’s BMW. So – speed and talent? Yes. Surprise? Hell, no!

      • bob80 said on 24th April 2010, 11:15

        Kubica NEVER performed? Well, it seems you just don’t like him.

      • Mike said on 25th April 2010, 9:01

        “One victory and a handful of other podiums” Is something most drivers only dream of.

      • gondasek said on 26th April 2010, 12:03

        I he is overrated what do you say about last race in Brazil? Was the second place in crap car just a bit of luck? Or third place in Monza in first season? I think one win and handful of podiums is great considering that he never had fastest car on grid to drive.

    • Patrickl said on 23rd April 2010, 13:56

      Well I’m not really a Kubica fan either, but I do think he’s a fast and reasonably consistent driver.

      Where he’s lacking now and then is concentration. He can let his head down when stuff doesn’t go his way or when he’s busy with his karting team.

      I was incredibly impressed with his China race though.

      People (Christian Horner) say “ah he was lucky with the pit calls”, but he wasn’t. Well he got that first call right, but the second safety car basically eliminated that advantage.

      The cars that are usually around him on pace are Sutil in the FI and Schumacher in the Merceedes. They tend to fight for places somewhere around P7 to P10.

      In those last 30 laps from the second restart, Kubica put Schumacher and Sutil on a 40 second deficit. That’s well over a second per lap faster! Now tell me that that is not impressive?

      He was also faster than Vettel and Webber in their Red Bulls and Massa in his Ferrari. All cars which should be able to go faster.

    • Vishy said on 23rd April 2010, 14:29

      I have to say Kubica is quick. However the Renault is also underrated and I think the renault is faster than people credit it.

      I am not able to assess Kubica’s performance so far because we don’t have another proper race driver to compare against. Nothing against Petrov but I just don’t know what he is capable of so simply can’t compare.

      • M Webber said on 23rd April 2010, 23:28

        The Renault is certainly fast, and with a talented driver like Kubica and a half decent driver in Petrov (well, better than Piquet or Grosjean), they seem to have left all the scandal of last year behind them. Kubica has always been a quick driver, just people forgot about him last year as the Brawns and Red Bulls dominated and BMW produced a bad car.

  4. BasCB said on 23rd April 2010, 12:17

    I would say the Virgin is quicker, but the difference between experienced team Trulli-Kovi and 50/50 team Glock-Di Grassi shows in qualifying.

    It is clear to see, that HRT is getting quicker with all races with both drivers. They will be really getting into the mix shortly.

    Impressive pace by Kubica and Sutil as well, although Kubica had the better race craft and intelligence (and a bit better car) to get the results from it.

    Alonso is impressingly faster then Massa, did not expect this big a difference. Maybe Massa has not quite got back there after his Hungary shunt.
    Alonso is very hungry for succes and seems totally focused on it though.

    • Bertie said on 23rd April 2010, 14:49

      I think Lotus will make a major step forward with their next update and leave the other new teams compeltely behind. Virgin are going waste far too much time on their fuel cell.

  5. Adam said on 23rd April 2010, 12:17

    Great stats, but a little misleading I feel – the use of the word average implies averages within races, rather than across races, and indeed this would be far more illuminating.

    Red Bull clearly have Q3 pace, but my anecdotal ‘feel’ for actual race pace has Hamilton as the quickest driver over the race distance, adjusted for strategy cock ups.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 23rd April 2010, 12:47

      Great stats, but a little misleading I feel – the use of the word average implies averages within races, rather than across races, and indeed this would be far more illuminating.

      To be clear: Graph 1 – average across all four races. Graph 2 – % gap to fastest driver in each race.

      adjusted for strategy cock ups.

      That’s great – last year everything was ‘fuel-adjusted’, now it’s ‘strategy cock up-adjusted’ :-)

    • Vishy said on 23rd April 2010, 14:40

      Going purely by my instinct and what I observed during the race, both Alonso and Hamilton would be very fast in normal conditions.

      My personal ranking taking both car and driver into account would be Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Roseberg, Massa.

      Almost everyone has struggled to overtake other cars in normal conditions and I think this is going to frustrate a lot of us as we will have drivers we support losing time. Not to mention once the mandatory tyre changes are done the race is over for those charging through the field. I remember bahrain and thinking if only there was one more pit stop needed. Maybe they should do that mandatory 3 pit stops.

      Only Alonso and Hamilton have done well in overtaking. Ofcourse you can argue they would not have this opportunity if not for their misfortune in quali or starts.

      When dust settles I think Alonso is going to be a strong contender for WDC and I wouldn’t be surprised if he won this year.

    • Hallard said on 23rd April 2010, 17:47

      You cant display your ‘anecdotal feel’ on a chart though, can you? :)

  6. BasCB said on 23rd April 2010, 12:20

    Both Force India drivers are actually getting farther off the pace each race, even though it is in small steps for Sutil.
    I hope they get to grips with that, it would be nice to see them on the podium this year again.

    Williams shows the same hope for something better they have shown the last couple of years. They really need Barricello and the Hulk to make help improve the car in strides to get back to the top.

  7. djdaveyp said on 23rd April 2010, 12:35

    All the top teams will make a big step forwards at Barcelona, McLaren may make the biggest one – as they proved over last season they can develop a car at a rate of knots! One thing I know is that McLaren don’t need the fastest car to go on and do well this season as the have the fastest driver on the grid (Lewis) and the biggest genius on the grid (Jenson) – together they are unbeatable.

    Red Bull have the next best line up with Vettel and Webber having excellent pace, but reliability will no doubt continue to haunt them.

    Mercedes won’t win the constructors championship even if their car becomes the fastest as MS is just too far off the pace at the moment, Nico Rosberg is brilliant all around.

    Ferrari have a reasonably fast car – but it is probably the most unreliable thing they have built in recent times – with overheating repeatedly being an issue. I expect they will not take a huge step forwards as they will have to work on this as well as getting more speed as they can'[t afford more engine problems – being down to only 6 usable units in Teflonsos car already. Massa is a brilliant driver when he’s on it but seems inconsistant so far this season. Alonso continues to be the luckiest driver in F1 – it can’t last forver!

    • M Webber said on 23rd April 2010, 23:37

      McLaren will make a couple of developments as they know the pace of the grid will increase, but there seems to be a lot of talk about Mercedes bringing the biggest upgrade, even naming the chassis the
      MGP W01 ‘B’.
      I agree that Ferrari won’t develop much if at all, just need to sort out the engine problems which will effect them greatly later on in the season at this rate.
      Red Bull won’t develop much either and i expect their pace to be caught up, but i still tip them for the constructors, just have to sort out the reliability.
      I’ll say Renault will have caught up to the top 4 teams, but they only really have 1 driver to rely on, Kubica. Only time will tell.

  8. Hairs said on 23rd April 2010, 13:06

    Another set of graphs that leans interestingly on the Button-Hamilton war of hyperbole and assumption in the media and on forums, nice work Keith.

    Graph 1 shows that overall Jenson is about the same pace so far as Hamilton, in the final analysis. He’s outqualified him 3 to 1 too. So why is his delta to the fastest lap off, when Lewis has been right on it on occasion? This is just as likely to be the way Jenson drives – he’s stated flat out “It’s not just about having the speed it’s about using it over the race”. So he’s clearly quite content to let glory seekers chase after the fastest lap time – he is playing the long ball game, and keeping an eye on his tyres and track position instead of the just the timing boards. He also seems to have a lot more trust in McLaren to get him a car than he did with Brawn (as I predicted before) and is approaching the whole thing like a metronome, in the car, with the team, and is doing exactly what needs doing, nothing less, and nothing pointlessly more. No effort extended on something that’s not going to benefit him.

    I like Button’s chances this year. Alonso is going to run into engine problems later in the year at this rate and that’s going to hurt his grid positions and chances. Why the Ferrari engine is failing this year when it’s design frozen, and missing the hot KERS system is certainly an interesting question. They’ve clearly made a lot of changes under the bodywork that aren’t helping it at all. Red Bull haven’t proven that they’ve got the “nitty gritty” focus that a championship winning team need yet. Hamilton’s his biggest challenge and that’s going to be fun to watch.

    Roll on the European season!

    • Oliver said on 25th April 2010, 8:04

      You may also want to remember that the two races Button won, didn’t need to chase down a driver to over take them he practically led most of the laps hence had no need to set fastest laps. Hamilton on the other hand had always had to chase down drivers ahead of him hence the need to set faster lap times.

      More often than not, fastest lap time is actually an unintentional effect of a drivers need to pace himself. Only Kimi I know actually seeks the fastest laps in a race when bored.

  9. Calum said on 23rd April 2010, 13:41

    Cone on now you know mclaren will keep on spending until they are the best, even last year they were out of it ( the title race) but the car was constantly being developed, they proved they have they resources to maintain development of two car models – Mp4/24, and Mp4/25 – so I don’t see why you feel they can’t maintain a challange this year,

  10. With most teams due major upgrades for Barcelona it will be interesting to see how much teams will be able to improve relative to everyone else.

    I think the biggest expectation will be on Mercedes and whether their longer base W01 will help Schumacher overcome the problems he has had so far.

    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/83112

    Also with regard to Virgin, as they are building a new car to accommodate a larger fuel tank and they had get approval from the FIA for the new chassis, are they just allowed to make changes to the chassis relevant to the new fuel tank or can they make whatever chassis changes they like.

    • Jason said on 23rd April 2010, 15:08

      e.g. F-duct, stupid name though… oo Hammis behind you on a long straight you’re F*uct..

      J

    • Oliver said on 25th April 2010, 8:09

      Money only helps when you know the right direction to follow, else just more expensive pile of trash.

  11. Patrickl said on 23rd April 2010, 14:03

    So you are basically only looking at qualifying performance right? Either qualifying outright or maybe the fastest lap in a qualifying simulation during practice.

  12. GeeMac said on 23rd April 2010, 14:15

    A few things are worth noting after all that:

    1) I expect that Lotus’ upgrade will move them well ahead of Virgin. Virgin will come to Barcelona with what will essentailly be an untested chassis (one which will hopefully have a big enough fuel tank), and Lotus will come with a reliable and ever improving package;
    2) I expect that HRT’s upgrades will only succeed in keeping them within 107% of the top teams, provided they move forward at the same rate as all of the other teams do. They may well still be firmly last in the pecking order, which is a shame;
    3) I’m expecting Mercedes to take a significant step forward which may also bring about an increase in M Schumacher’s race and one lap pace. This could be the start of MS’s fight back against the young upstart Rosberg; and
    4) I really wasn’t expecting Lucas Di Grassi, Vitaly Petrov and Vitantonio Liuzzi to all be an average of 1% slower than their team mates. Di Grassi may be a rookie, but he is being thoroughly owned by his team mate. I’ll let Petrov off because Kubica is driving out of his skin in that Renault. I have no excuses for Liuzzi, he just isn’t delivering in what has turned out to be a very quick car.

  13. Icthyes said on 23rd April 2010, 14:22

    Personally I feel this was the situation:

    Bahrain:
    – Qualifying pace order: Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes
    – Race pace order: Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, Mercedes

    Australia:
    – Qualifying pace order: Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes
    – Race pace order: McLaren, Red Bull = Ferrari, Mercedes

    Malaysia:
    – Qualifying pace order: Red Bull, Ferrari = McLaren, Mercedes
    – Race pace order: Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes

    China:
    – Qualifying pace order: McLaren, Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes
    – Race pace order: McLaren, Red Bull = Ferrari, Mercedes

    Conclusions:
    – Red Bull have the best one lap pace, but McLaren are catching them, having leaped Ferrari
    – McLaren have improved most
    – Ferrari have gone back a bit in terms of race pace (or rather, others have improved)
    – Mercedes have a lot to do
    – Drivers are playing a bigger part in the cars’ performances than last year; the Red Bulls should still have been strong in China, for instance, but their drivers’ relative lack of aggression compared to Hamilton’s was shown in Hamilton getting 2nd and the RBRs finishing in 6th and 8th

    Personally though, I think Mercedes will show the biggest improvement in Spain, followed by Ferrari and McLaren, and Red Bull, who will keep ahead in qualifying but most, if not all of their improvement will be wiped out by Ferrari and McLaren, and a lot by Mercedes’

    But I don’t think any concrete order will emerge until Silverstone, and I expect the season to be like 2008, with teams developing to the last.

    • Icthyes said on 23rd April 2010, 14:27

      By the way, for Australia and China I am assuming dry conditions. A bit difficult for China, but I made a guess based on the change in the qualifying order and applied it to the race pace pattern.

      Also, China’s qualifying pace might have been better off as “McLaren = Red Bull”.

      • A.K. said on 25th April 2010, 5:57

        On what basis do you think McLaren had the fastest car in qualifying in China? Besides qualifying 5th and 6th their combined best sector times were still a good 3 tenths off the pole time.

        p.s. by aggression I guess you mean slyly bumping the guy ahead off the road upon safety-car restarts?

  14. DaveW said on 23rd April 2010, 14:51

    Massa is clearly lagging. The speed gap, though measured from the low-fuel/new tires format that never occurs during a race, is significant. If it weren’t for Button’s left front tire, Alonso might be at the top of the table now and Massa.

    As for McLaren, the facts completely undermine the current conventional wisdom that Button is somehow emerging as Hamilton’s equal. First, as the speed data above shows, he is not as quick, at least in the sui generis low-fuel/new tires scenario. Let’s not talk about “settling in.” Alonso went to Woking and Maranello and needed no time to choose drapes and hang pictures before showing the incumbent how to wring the car.

    Second, the race performances emphasize this gap. Hamilton put 23 seconds on him in Bahrain and 13 in Malaysia over the distance. In China, he barely beat Hamilton to the post, after Hamilton spotted his teammate a couple pit stops. Saftey car or no, Hamilton fought his way through the pack to get to that position. In Australia, Button took a clear win, gambling against the weather and the tire capabilities. The clear conclusion is that, in a dry, normal race, where Button’s lucky dice or his apparent meteorological skills do not factor, he has some time to make up. And here comes the summer.

  15. George said on 23rd April 2010, 15:38

    I think the fastest lap statistics are a bit skewed this year, with refueling usually everyone was on the same strategy so they all had the same fuel level/tire wear. This year you see for example Jenson pitting quite early then getting to the end on that set of tires, which doesn’t create fast laps since when you have low fuel your tires are buggered.

    As far as the pecking order goes, I would say Red Bull > McLaren (when they can use duct) > Ferrari > Mercedes at the moment. In Barcelona I expect McLaren to fall behind a bit and Ferrari to make a jump forward, and I hope that Mercedes will catch up a bit.

    • I believe the “fast laps” used in this analysis are the fastest laps of the entire race weekend, which are usually set on low fuel in either qualifying or FP3.

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