New teams have cut the gap to the midfield by a third since Bahrain

The Lotus has been substantially updated since the start of 2010

The Lotus has been substantially updated since the start of 2010

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.

Percent gap between new teams and established teams' fastest laps

Percent gap between new teams and established teams' fastest laps

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?ve 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 ?ǣ I think that shows to all those who expressed doubts about our participation that they were wrong.
Tony Fernandes

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

HRT were a huge 8.22% slower than the front runners in Bahrain. Remember that until 2002 any driver that was 7% slower than the fastest qualifier was not allowed to start the race.

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???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?re also now in a position to turn our attention to the 2011 car, but we?re still here and fighting hard for this season ?ǣ 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?ve learnt an awful lot over the last few years, and compete with them and the likes of Toro Rosso and Sauber
Tony Fernandes

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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39 comments on New teams have cut the gap to the midfield by a third since Bahrain

  1. alejandro said on 4th June 2010, 12:41

    “This could serve them wall on Montreal’s long straights next weekend.”

    Two alternatives to this typo (both equally valid):

    – This could serve them to the wall [of Champions] on Montreal’s long straights next weekend.

    – This could serve them well on Montreal’s long straights next weekend.

    Your subconscious got the better of you there Keith…

  2. Richard Brown said on 4th June 2010, 12:43

    I’ve become ever-more impressed by Hisapnia Racing. They know where they’re at, are making little fuss, and are simply getting down to business race-by-race, understanding and improving the car.

    Given most of the established teams were doing 80-100 laps per day during the 4 group tests pre-season, HRT must surely have only just matched such figures in the race weekends we’ve had so far.

    Kolles and, hopefully soon, Willis should do some good things by 2011, if the finances hold strong. But good luck to all the new teams for the future

  3. sw6569 said on 4th June 2010, 12:43

    I like the attitude of Lotus, Virgin and to an extent HRT. Thats been the best thing about the new teams this year. Though, they have provided some good racing at the back of the grid but unfortunately its often missed by the race director!

    I think that the low drag HRT may also pull a suprise somewhere like Monza. I wonder if it might be worth them working solely on that configuration to try to score a point there. Similar to force india last year, although not as successful :P

  4. sato113 said on 4th June 2010, 12:51

    ‘and wrote about them in detail here.’
    should there be a link here keith?
    great article.

  5. sumedh said on 4th June 2010, 12:58

    Lotus and Heikki Kovalinen have easily been the pick of the new teams.

    The difference in the Lotus front wing at Bahrain and Turkey is striking!! The new one seems less bulkier which perhaps means they have shifted more ballast at the back of the car. This same change was done by Mercedez when they introduced their Spain upgrade.

    Lotus have not only managed to beat the other new teams but their development schedule has kept pace with that of he mid-level and even Mercedez I would say.

    Plus, their latest signings from the Force India teams: Mark Smith, Marianne Hinson and Lewis Butler, shows that Lotus mean business and are in it for the long run.

    IMO,it won’t be long before we start getting news reports on Lotus trying to break their Cosworth engine deal and trying to get an engine supply from Mercedez / Renault.

    • Clay said on 5th June 2010, 10:07

      Hmmm… imagine if Bruno got pried away from HRT and then Lotus did a deal with Renault. All that would then remain is to re-paint the Lotus cars in black and gold…

  6. rok said on 4th June 2010, 13:22

    As far as i can see from your chart only HRT improved… so the gap stayed the same, or should we belive that tha last three teams are developing better than first three?!?!?

    • Rob said on 4th June 2010, 14:08

      The new teams are developing ‘better’ than the rest of the teams purely because they were so slow relative to the fastest cars in the first place.

      Compare two people with family cars trying to tune them up to compete with a sports car: one person has a new family car while the other has a ten-year old wreck with bald tyres and an engine only running on three of its four cylinders.

      The one with the new car can tweak the engine a bit, put new wheels on and it will run a bit faster, maybe 5% faster round a lap of a imaginary circuit. The person with a wreck will be so slow relative to the others that just fixing the engine so it runs properly and putting new tyres on it could make it 20% faster round the track than it was.

      The new car is still faster, but has only improved by 5% compared to 20%.

      • rok said on 4th June 2010, 18:39

        you have a point… still.. there is no progress (only HRT) compared to the best teams, god forbid one third cut as is mentioned in the title…

        • It’s commonly been said that to find 3 seconds or even four when you’re 5 off the pace is easy. It’s the last second that separates the men from the boys.

    • SteveH said on 4th June 2010, 21:33

      Really, if you ignore the outliers of the first race or two, they haven’t improved much. Draw a best fit (linear) curve through the data points and if might edge down a bit, but not much. I don’t see the improvement. On the other hand, the gap of the ‘slowest established teams’ to fastest lap looks to be increasing slowly but very steadily! Improvement? Me thinks not much.

      • SteveH said on 4th June 2010, 22:14

        Just to add more fuel to the fire, I generated best fit linear curves in Excel.

        Using all race data:
        – the established team is getting slower worse (from 2.6% to 3.0%)
        – Virgin is not improving (constant at 5.2%)
        – Lotus is slightly improving (from 5.2% to 4.6%)
        – HRT is dramatically improving (from 8% to 5.9%)

        Best fir (linear) curves with the first two races excluded:
        – the established team is getting steadily worse (from 2.7% to 3%)
        – Virgin is getting worse (from 4.7% to 5.5%)
        – Lotus is constant (4.8%)
        – HRT is improving a bit ((6.8% to 6.1%)

        So, statistics are deceptive and are what you make of them. Sorry I can’t post these charts.

  7. BasCB said on 4th June 2010, 13:22

    Lotus look pretty well on course (if the FI lawsuit won’t hamper their progress) for a lucky point this year, while building the design-, technical-, and racing-teams.

    Virgin lost a lot with the need to change the chassis, efectively throwing them back to 2-3 races as they had to find a basic setup for it anew. They did it without losing out completely, so i expect they will improve again in the next races.

    HRT is doing impressively so far. Up to now they have still made less milage than Ferrari did in testing. Their drivers and team had only minimum F1 experience and no texting.
    Still, they are getting in the running with the other new teams and if they get an update on the car it might pay out. A low drag advantage would be nice in Canada and Italy if it helps them to the front.

    Nice one with the paint-job being their most eye-catching development! It does look a lot faster, maybe its surface is more aerodynamic as well.

  8. Shimks said on 4th June 2010, 13:40

    Keith, it would be great if you did an article on who the 13th team should be. That would also be interesting to read and discuss.

  9. Stu said on 4th June 2010, 13:46

    The two revelations this season have been in HRT. Two very very likeable personalities, underdogs if you will! It would be simply incredible if HRT did a 2009 Force India at Spa or Monza. It worries me that the japanese guy (he’s so useless I can’t even remember his name) will get Sennas seat, simply because he has a big wallet.

    • steph said on 4th June 2010, 13:50

      Yamamoto is the Japanese guy you mention I think ;)

      I adore HRT. Kolles is funny in interviews when his answers are so short. The car looks good, the drivers seem to be genuinely lovely people and pretty much no-one expected them to be here except HRT themselves and I bet they felt shaky at times.

      I’m glad that they haven’t wasted on major updates really as I just see it spending money when there are a few changes next year and they won’t close up. Maybe later in the season it’ll be great for them but they field two rookie drivers and I think the best they could have done was just to nail set up and get feedback from the ones with experience. I like their approach. It’s been prudent, strong and sensible. They’ve got the fighting spirit and they’re going to need it as next year without Dallara may well be tougher.

      • HG said on 5th June 2010, 0:55

        yes, you summed up my feelings for HRT steph – the little team that could (perhaps in the future, if every thing goes a lot better, if they get more money and learn how to make their own cars and get a full pre season test in) – But, still :)

    • James_mc said on 4th June 2010, 15:13

      I would be surprised to an extend because currently the largest sponsor on the (excluding “Karun” and “Bruno”) car is “Embratel”, which comes with Senna I believe!

  10. Matt said on 4th June 2010, 14:01

    Even with the new HRT paint job, it still amazes me how dire their choice of colours could be!

  11. Iqbal_M said on 4th June 2010, 14:01

    Great blog Keith

    You mention that the Lotus don’t have carbon fibre suspension yet, so what is it made of? If it is steel then the suspension will strong but the car will be heavy, if it is aluminium then the car will light but the suspension weak.

    • Metallion said on 4th June 2010, 23:16

      I believe it’s steel. I’m quite sure I read in the beginning of the season about HRT having steel suspension, so I’m going with steel:)

    • SteveH said on 4th June 2010, 23:58

      I doubt the car will be over weight; it’s more a matter of how much less underweight it is and thus how much ballast can be added. Since ballast will be added at the lowest possible position, this will affect the car’s c.g. which will raise roll centers, etc. Heavy suspension bits will also increase unsprung mass.

      • Oliver said on 6th June 2010, 10:46

        Sprung masses springs to mind as regards the steel suspension, rather than an over weight car.

  12. PJA said on 4th June 2010, 14:36

    I would be surprised if any of the new teams manage to catch up to the established teams this season, although there may be again be a situation where they out perform them due to the conditions.

    I thought that Lotus would end the season as best of the new teams, mainly because they didn’t seem that far off Virgin before the first race even though they were granted their place in F1 later than Virgin and HRT, also the fact that they have two experienced drivers should help them as well.

    HRT were always going to improve a lot after Bahrain considering that was their first test, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they now concentrated on 2011 and gave up on this year’s car.

    If I recall correctly I think Sir Jackie Stewart said something like that after an impressive debut season for Stewart GP 1997 one of the reasons they struggled with the 1998 car was that it was the first designed while they were coping with a full season of racing at the same time.

  13. wasiF1 said on 4th June 2010, 15:26

    I think Lotus which have the funding the people should start concentrating of 2011 car as soon as they find out that they can’s improve the 2010 car further.

  14. Jelle van der Meer said on 4th June 2010, 18:16

    Hi Keith,
    Agree that teams in relative terms improved but doubt your chart correctly reflects the still massive gap.
    (Look at tab “times team” of Season 2010 scores you received earlier this week from me)

    Red Bull has been the fastest team at each race this year – measuring fastest possible lap by adding up teams best sector times.

    All teams except new teams have been within 2 second gap of Red Bull using same measurement.

    HRT at Bahrain was 9.3 seconds off Red Bull and last 2 races about 5 seconds
    Virgin at Bahrain was 5.2 seconds off Red Bull and in Monaco 3.6 vs Turkey 4.6 seconds
    Lotus at Bahrain was 5.7 seconds off Red Bull and in Monoca 3.0 vs Turkey 4.0 seconds

    Will add same graph but than in % of optimal time rather than absolute difference.

    See below ranking based on sum of optimal times:
    Red Bull 625.11
    Ferrari 628.37
    McLaren 628.48
    Mercedes 628.62
    Renault 631.85
    Force India 633.61
    Williams 634.83
    Toro Rosso 636.95
    Sauber 637.22
    Lotus 655.63
    Virgin 657.90
    HRT F1 668.74
    See the massive gap of 18 seconds between Sauber & Lotus and agian 11 seconds from Virgin to HRT

  15. John H said on 4th June 2010, 18:59

    Is there any measure of just how much that Cosworth engine is costing the new teams and Williams?

    • Kie said on 5th June 2010, 5:58

      good point John H…. I’ve wondered this

      • Oliver said on 6th June 2010, 10:50

        I indeed found it odd Williams risking its progress by signing on the Cosworth engines. I begin to believe Frank is getting too sentimental.

        Not saying Cosworth hasn’t got what it takes, considering they’ve been away for a while, it will take them some time to get to grips with the established engine manufacturers, and one doesn’t know if they have the resources to develop those engines.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 7th June 2010, 11:27

      It’s very hard to say – of course people look at the speed trap but that doesn’t tell the whole story because it’s affected by downforce levels. This weekend’s race should give us a decent indication.

      However perhaps something can be read into the rumours that Williams and Lotus are trying to switch from Cosworth to Renault engines for next year, while Red Bull are complaining those engines are 20-30bhp down on the Mercedes…

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