When will the new teams catch up with the midfield runners?
F1’s three new outfits, led by Lotus, have cut their deficit to the midfield teams by more than a third over the first seven races of 2010.
The graph shows the percent difference between the best lap time of each of the new cars and the slowest of the ‘established’ teams at each race weekend.
In Bahrain Lotus were 5.19% slower than the quickest cars, while the slowest of the established teams was 2.3% off – a difference of 2.34%
By last week’s race in Turkey that difference had fallen to 1.48% – an improvement of more than a third. As we can see from the graph this is partly because Lotus more than kept pace with the advances at the front of the field, but also because the slowest of the established teams have failed to.
What does this mean in terms of lap time? Around a typical 90-second lap Lotus are now 1.3 seconds slower than the slowest midfield runner.
Team principal Tony Fernandes congratulated his squad on their progress after qualifying for the Turkish Grand Prix. And he couldn’t resist a nod in the direction of Ferrari, who publicly criticised the sports’ new teams before the start of the season:
Today we were just 3.2 seconds off the pace of the Red Bulls in Q1 and if you cast your mind back 10 short weeks to Bahrain you can see just how far we?óÔé¼Ôäóve come. There we were over five seconds away from the outright Q1 pace and anyone in the sport will tell you what an achievement it is to find nearly two seconds in just seven races.
We were also just 2.4 seconds off Ferrari, celebrating their 800th race in Turkey, which is pretty spectacular for a team who are only seven races old ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ I think that shows to all those who expressed doubts about our participation that they were wrong.
Reading what progress the new teams have made is tricky because of the differences between circuits and track conditions. for example, the results for the Malaysian round are skewed by the wet conditions qualifying was held in.
Despite introducing major upgrades at the Spanish Grand Prix the new teams were further behind the established outfits. This will be because of the unusually high demands the Circuit de Catalunya places on aerodynamic efficiency – a particularly challenging area for the new teams to make progress on.
However with a careful reading of the data we can draw some conclusions.
Lotus edge ahead of Virgin
In the first four races Lotus and Virgin were closely matched on raw pace – with Virgin slightly ahead. But while Lotus has been able to concentrate on improving the performance of its T127 Virgin have had to focus on reliability problems and enlarging its fuel tank capacity.
Since Spain, Lotus have pulled out a gap over Virgin, at least in terms of one-lap pace.
Meanwhile Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi are increasingly having to worry about the HRTs.
HRT make progress
They have reduced that deficit to 5.76% since the start of the season, despite adding few upgrades to the Dallara-designed F110. The most significant change has been the repositioning of the wing mirrors following the FIA’s banning of sidepod-mounted mirrors.
The team have made so much progress partly because they completely missed pre-season testing and have had a lot of ground to make up since Bruno Senna gave the car its baptism in first practice in Bahrain.
Despite the team’s criticism of Dallara, which has led to a split between the two, the F110 has some qualities. It appears to be quite low-drag – possibly a consequence of not having very much downforce – allowing Senna to record the fifth-highest speed in qualifying at Shanghai. This could serve them well on Montreal’s long straights next weekend.
When will the new teams catch up?
The new teams have already beaten established outfits in qualifying (when the front-runners were caught out in a wet Sepang qualifying session) and in a race (Heikki Kovalainen leading home Nico H?â??lkenberg when the Williams driver made six pit stops in China).
But when will they be able to out-qualify and race with the established teams ‘on merit’?
The chances of it happening this year depends on how soon they commit to work on their 2011 cars. As these are the least well-equipped teams in the sport, expect them to throw the bulk of their efforts onto their 2011 cars as soon as they can.
However Fernandes gave a clear sign that he wants to see more progress this year before Lotus commit to developing their 2011 car:
We?óÔé¼Ôäóre also now in a position to turn our attention to the 2011 car, but we?óÔé¼Ôäóre still here and fighting hard for this season ?óÔé¼ÔÇ£ I want, in the nicest possible way, to take this fight to my mentors Frank Williams and Patrick Head and their team, from whom I?óÔé¼Ôäóve learnt an awful lot over the last few years, and compete with them and the likes of Toro Rosso and Sauber
Based on what we’ve seen so far we can expect the new teams to go better on tracks which demand high downforce with little of a drag penalty, such as the Hungaroring and Singapore.
But tracks which require aerodynamic efficiency, such as Silverstone and Spa-Francorchamps, will be more of a struggle.
Of course the same development battle is going on throughout the field. We’ll take a look at the rest of the teams in a later article.
Changes to the new teams’ cars since Bahrain
Lotus and Virgin both introduced major upgrades at the Spanish Grand Prix. However, due to delays blamed on the volcanic ash cloud, Lucas di Grassi didn’t get his updated VR-01 until Turkey.
Though many of the changes will have been under the skin Lotus have revised their front and rear wing designs (the latter in Turkey), added pod-wings and re-shaped their sidepods.
They have admitted the T127 still lags badly in some key areas. They do not yet have carbon fibre suspension, for example.
I got to see the changes made to the VR-01 ‘Limo’ first hand and wrote about them in detail here. As well as fixing their fuel tank problem the team lengthened the car and added a shark fin wing.
But the most significant change to the HRT F110 since the start of the season has been a revised paint job.
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Images (C) Lotus F1, Virgin Racing, Motioncompany