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

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

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  1. J.A. Summers
    29th April 2010, 16:38

    There are still a couple of unknowns about the rest of the season:
    – How well will everyone’s aero upgrades work? (I.e. at which rate will everyone develop? If everyone develops at the same rate, the differences will stay the same.)
    – Will Ferrari and Red Bull sort out their unreliability problems?
    – Hamilton, Schumacher, Webber and Massa seem to have been beat thus far by their team-mates (though Hamilton only by a small margin). Will they be able to recuperate? In Schumacher’s case, (re-)adjusting to car, team and F1 will play a role, as well as how the new chassis will suit his driving style.

    However, a few trends are also clearly visible, based on which certain predictions can be made.

    – Red Bull are still a long way ahead of everyone else on one-lap pace, but the rest (especially McLaren) are catching up fast.
    – McLaren, apparently, don’t need the fastest car to win. Button’s race tactics of not going for fastest laps but instead steady race pace works better than Hamilton’s. Maybe Hamilton will need to copy his team-mate’s style.
    – Renault are fast nibbling away at the pace of the front-runners.
    – Force India, like last year, seem to be stronger on some circuits than others, although their general pace has improved on every circuit. For this reason, we might see a drop in their performance mid-season, after which I expect them to be back with a vengeance in Spa and Monza.
    – Sauber are in dire financial straits and look unlikely to keep levels of development up. They might well be unable to catch up with the rest of the midfield.
    – Of the new teams, Lotus and Virgin seem to be about equal on pace, with Lotus far better on reliability. It will be interesting to see how the development of the new Virgin chassis (with the larger fuel tank) will affect their performance. Hispania, meanwhile, are catching up at a very steady pace, and I expect them to be able to mix it soon.

    At the start of this season, based on sheer speed, everyone would predict Vettel to run away with this championship. Thank goodness the championship isn’t decided solely on speed though, as we have seen, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Button or Alonso snatch it from under his nose. Like Murray Walker said, anything can happen in F1, and it usually does! Well, let’s hope it will. :)

    A word for Williams, by the way… I feel sorry for them. They always seem to be a bit “soft in the middle”, to borrow the words of a famous songwriter. They have very few noticeable flaws, but they aren’t doing great either. It’s been like this for a few years now. It seems like they’ll just about be able to keep their development rate up with the other teams, which doesn’t get them any higher up the order. On the plus side, compared to last year, they seem to have built a good allround car, which sadly means they won’t be shining at any one circuit. I hope Barrichello continues to get used to the car (if you want development, he’s your man), though, and maybe pull out a few miracles here and there.

  2. J.A. Summers
    29th April 2010, 16:40

    By the way, based on the impressions I’m getting about everyone’s relative potential for development, I predict that the order (in terms of speed) after the upcoming aero upgrades will be:

    Red Bull
    Force India
    Toro Rosso

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