McLaren and Ferrari hunting Red Bull: The F1 development race analysed

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Silverstone, 2010

Red Bull clearly have fastest car in F1 at the moment. But McLaren and Ferrari have been relentless in their pursuit of the flying RB6s, bringing significant upgrades to the last two races.

Have they been able to cut Red Bull’s lead? And what’s the balance of power among the rest of the teams? This analysis provides some answers and explanations.

The graphs below shows how far off the fastest lap set at each race weekend each team was.

They generally reflect two things: the progress each team has made during the season, and how different circuits expose key strengths and weaknesses in each car, such as aerodynamic performance, straight-line speed and so on.

For example, the gap between the cars is greatest at Catalunya and Silverstone – both circuits which place the most severe demands on aerodynamic efficiency.

A weakness of this analysis is that it tends to reflect single-lap pace rather than race pace. It slightly exaggerates Red Bull’s advantage, as they’ve boosted their single-lap performance in qualifying by using a special engine setting to increase hot air flow through their diffuser.

Despite that it can still tell us a lot about how well teams are doing in the development race.

The top five

Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault

Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault (click to enlarge)

It’s no great surprise to see Red Bull out in front. They’ve only failed to set the fastest lap of the weekend twice this year: at Bahrain (Fernando Alonso set the fastest time in final practice) and Canada (where McLaren were clearly quicker).

Ferrari started the season in a stronger position than they are in now. It seems they can’t quite match the development pace of Red Bull and McLaren.

Alonso recently said the test ban hurts Ferrari more as they can’t use their Fiorano test track, except under the cover of a ‘filming day’ – something which they won’t be allowed to do any more.

McLaren’s development pace is very highly regarded and was cited by Jenson Button as part of the reason why he joined the team this year. Comparing their performance and development to the team Button left – Mercedes – it’s an easy decision to justify.

Nonetheless McLaren have some specific weaknesses to work on. They were only the fourth-fastest team at Monaco and their car seems particularly unhappy on bumpy tracks.

Last weekend they chose not to race their exhaust-blown diffuser – over the objections of Lewis Hamilton who was happy to try it – which left them with the third-fastest car.

Despite that they came away with points for second and fourth place – a crucial piece of damage limitation which was partly thanks to Ferrari shooting themselves in the foot. But Button is concerned about the development rate of their rivals:

Valencia showed us that the opposition never stands still. And a number of teams showed up with some significant upgrades, and even if the results didn’?t necessarily show it, we became aware of their intent.

We saw ourselves at Silverstone, that it?s not easy to arrive at a track and simply ?switch on? a new package ? it require quite a bit of effort ? so I think over the next few races, we?re going to see a lot of the top teams further fine-tuning their refinements. So we can?t afford to stand still.

And we’?re not. I think we?’ve perhaps punched above our weight at the last two races ?which is great for us ?but we?re not standing still.
Jenson Button

Renault’s performance at Monaco suggests we should keep an eye out for them again at other slow and twisty tracks like the Hungaroring and Singapore.

The midfield

Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber

Williams, Force India, Toro Rosso and Sauber (click to enlarge)

The interesting development in the midfield in the last two races is how Williams have moved to the front at two very different circuits – Silverstone and Valencia. It’s allowed Rubens Barrichello to score a pair of top-five finishes for the team.

However despite having a quicker car than Force India in seven of the ten races so far, Williams are behind them in the constructors’ championship.

Sauber’s C29 appears to go particularly well on tracks like Barcelona and Silverstone where aerodynamic performance is at a premium. This goes way to explaining some of the pre-season hype around the team as the final test was held at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Kamui Kobayashi used the C29 to great effect at Silverstone and rode his luck for a strong points finish at Valencia. But they may find themselves back behind Force India and Toro Rosso on a ‘normal’ track like Hockenheim.

There is some overlap between these ‘midfield’ teams and the front-runners – see below to compare them.

The new teams

Lotus, Virgin and HRT

Lotus, Virgin and HRT (click to enlarge)

Lotus got closest to the midfield teams’ pace at Canada, where they were 1.1% further off the fastest lap time than Sauber. They were 3.1% slower than McLaren that weekend.

Virgin were closest to the leaders at Malaysia (4% off) and HRT were closest at Valencia (5.1%).

The progress made by the new teams was the subject of an earlier article: New teams have cut the gap to the midfield by a third since Bahrain

All teams

All teams

All teams (click to enlarge)

The final graph shows the same data for each team, compared to the average best lap for each event, to give an overall impression of how competitive the field is.

It’s clear to see how ‘aero’ tracks like Barcelona and Silverstone increase the gaps between the teams – expect the same again at Spa-Francorchamps.

What remains to be seen is whether adopting a version of Red Bull’s exhaust layout will allow McLaren – or any other team, for that matter – to mimic their phenomenal qualifying performances.

Expect the RB6s to be most vulnerable at the one track where straight-line speed counts above all else: Monza.

Of course all this depends on whether each teams’ drivers are getting the most out of their cars. I’ll examine that in a future article and I may also have a go at comparing the race pace of the different teams, although that is much more difficult to achieve with any accuracy.

Share your thoughts on which teams are performing and developing their cars most successfully in the comments.

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69 comments on McLaren and Ferrari hunting Red Bull: The F1 development race analysed

  1. GeeMac said on 15th July 2010, 12:03

    Really interesting bit of work their Keith.

    What struck me is the gradual improvement we have all noted from Lotus really comes through in that graph, with the curve catching up to the more established teams race by race. The same can be said of Force India (with the exception of the last race).

    HRT, bless them, seem to head in the right direction, then get to a really aero important track, and loose the plot for a bit!

    • fyujj said on 15th July 2010, 13:49

      This last weekend they got further back since they didn’t have the fastest driver.
      (hope no Indian fanboy comes replying how unlucky Chandhok has been in the qualifyings etc.)

      • GeeMac said on 15th July 2010, 14:12

        I didn’t mention last week because of Keith’s caveat:

        “the gap between the cars is greatest at Catalunya and Silverstone – both circuits which place the most severe demands on aerodynamic efficiency”

        I think we can take it as read that the new teams strength is not aerodynamic effieiceny.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th July 2010, 20:52

          But it seems Virgin is starting to get a development route in place, as their gap to avarage went up less than that of the other new teams, a relative improvement for them.

          Interesting to see how close the mid and front runners have become in the last races. After Renault joined the top 5 and Mercedes fell out of it before making up ground in Silverstone again, it gets pretty close.

  2. Gill said on 15th July 2010, 12:07

    Even Ferrari were fast in MOnaco (Alo was fastest on friday ). IF luck is on ferrari side and they cut down on listakes, they Alonso have high chances of winning in HUngary and Singapore and who knows abt Korea.
    Championship can still go anywhere.

    • Calum said on 15th July 2010, 16:18

      Well my bet from after Bahrain has Schumacher winning in Hungary.

      These two tracks you note were both won by Hamilton last year in a bad car, but this years Mclaren MP4 25 will probably struggle at these ciruits because it struggled at Monaco. It’s toooo long!

  3. Adam Smith said on 15th July 2010, 12:09

    This is great Keith! Loving your charts. Its so good to see three different battles taking place. And they are all thrilling. Obviously the teams at the front will get the most coverage with the media, but there are three sets which you have clearly shown.

    The battle at the top is interesting for so many different reasons, internal battles with Red Bull, two brits at McLaren, Alonso being done over by the safety car, its all good!

    The battles at the middle is also great, good to see the Williams and Force India battle, many people wanted to see this battle and I’m glad Williams are getting the upperhand lately with Rubens’ podium finishes.

    The battle at the bottom is also facsinating, to see if Lotus can get anywhere near the back of the middle pack. To get the praise of Murray Walker, a Lotus fanatic, must feel good!

    Honestly, I can’t pick who will come out on top, it should be Red Bull but if they don’t start capitalising on their advantage they will be drawn back in by McLaren.

    BEST SEASON YET!

  4. Ferrari have to perform in the second half .. they have mostly been strong at monza and spa .. singapore and hungary should suit them as well ..

    I’m sticking my neck out and putting my money on Alonso to win this years championship :)

    • Nitpicker said on 15th July 2010, 14:01

      That’s pretty far out :) But it would be nice to have a third team in the running. Sure would spice up an already spicy season!

  5. Bartholomew said on 15th July 2010, 12:15

    Seen from the outside, there is a great difference between the atmospheres of McLaren and Ferrari. It is remarcable how the McLaren drivers sort out development issues and problems by working in an intelligent and civilised way with the engineers.
    Even the drivers behave towards each other with politeness.

    By contrast, the Ferrari team and drivers give the impression of a Three Stooges show.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th July 2010, 20:55

      It seems they have not found any confidence to get the team anywhere. From Alonso’s remarks at the end of the race in Britain, it seems he is now ready to grit down and battle as their champion.

      I do expect him to give it a fight back and rally the team behind the effort, they are still very close to the pace and to succes. But they need a lot of luck, no furter technical problems and a lot less mistakes by the team and drivers to make it happen.

      • Jay Menon said on 16th July 2010, 2:47

        Ferrari have had a rotten season so far. Apart from the fact that team isn’t really up to scratch, Alonso has made quite a few minor mistakes that have contributed to their very average form.

        I personally feel that Alonso has been pushing the car to its limits, which has led to him making these mistakes. That isn’t an excuse though.

        They need to get a clean break, one uneventful weekend is probably what they need to set them up for the rest of the season. Apart from that, Massa really needs to start picking up the pace, he’s been comprehensively stuffed by Alonso for pace so far this year!

    • Senor Paz said on 17th July 2010, 1:55

      Agreed. Ferrari is in complete disarray, which is a shame considering they had a strong beginning of the season.

      Alonso has only himself to blame for so many stupid and amateurish mistakes, quite uncharacteristic performance for such an accomplished driver. He could have been in a serious contending position right now. And Massa is having the worst year of his life, a very poor season indeed. His confidence seems so low that he’s completely incapable of criticising the team or his teammate, something Mark Webber has done to great effect.

      As the season heads towards a Red Bull x McLaren finish, I just hope Red Bull doesn’t do what Williams did in ’86. Go Webber!

  6. CNSZU said on 15th July 2010, 12:23

    Good job by Lotus, however there is still a sizable gap to the back of the “back”, so to speak. The question is if they can close that gap next year. Otherwise, they won’t make the 105% rule Bernie is implementing for next season. If that’s the case, then all the hard work has unfortunately been wasted and Lotus should give up.

  7. Hamish said on 15th July 2010, 12:25

    That blue line in graph 1 is rather frightening. However 9 poles, 9 fastest laps yet only 2nd in the contructors points and third and forth in the drivers table. They haven’t really capitalised have they?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 15th July 2010, 12:50

      Nope. Here’s another good one:

      On page 11 of this week’s Autosport they’ve printed a large zero.

      It’s the number of Red Bull’s one-two starts they’ve converted into one-two finishes this year. Nought from five.

      • Hamish said on 15th July 2010, 13:22

        Thats terrible. They’ve only managed to share the podium three times this year also.

        • Syqo said on 15th July 2010, 19:07

          And it gets worse! Vettel has qualified in the top three for every race, Webber only qualified outside the top three once* (Bahrain). Vettel has started on the front row in six of the ten races so far, Webber has started on the front row in eight races.

          Hamilton has qualified in the top three four times, twice on the front row including one pole. Button has never qualified in the top three.

          McLaren have had three one-twos and have shared the podium four times. They have 11 podiums compared to Red Bull’s nine. Eleven podiums from four top three starts is hugely impressive whereas nine podiums from 18 top three starts is a massacre.

          If McLaren get their rear blown diffuser working and their cars are able to compete with Red Bull in the remaining races and the drivers are as good as they have been so far then I think they will comfortably beat them.

          * He received a grid penalty for a gearbox change in Canada so he started outside the top three twice.

  8. dragon said on 15th July 2010, 12:54

    It’s easy to talk about this advantage Red Bull should have, without looking into the whole situation a bit more carefully. They run their blown diffuser in a particular way in qualifying, as was documented by Ted Kravitz, which is mostly what’s accounted for those 9 pole positions. However it paints a false picture sometimes, because on Sundays, McLaren can suddenly match it with the Bulls, even at tracks where they’re not expected to be as strong, such as Turkey. Catalunya – and perhaps Silverstone – were really the only anomalies on the calendar as far as race AND qualifying pace go, and I don’t expect that to be the case once McLaren figure out their diffuser. It’s worth noting also that the Newey creation, while blindingly quick, also needs a bit of care to last the race distance – it’s not particularly strong on a full fuel load and soft tyres (hence why Mark and Seb can sometimes look vulnerable during the first stint of a race). It really does seem to come into its own on the harder tyre though. But back to the fragile nature of the car, I do wince every time I see Seb smashing over the kerbs, which is stark contrast to Mark, who (when on form, and not in a blinding rage) is the very definition of controlled aggression.
    It’s easy to forget that Red Bull are still a relatively young team, and technical gremlins will still spring up perhaps more often than they do on the Mclaren or Ferrari – it only takes us by surprise because they’re a front-running car, not one traipsing about the midfield.

    Of course, track position is king – now that all passing has to be done on-track, the RB6 is always well positioned. So perhaps they should be better off – but not nearly as much as some of you seem to think.

    • Tango said on 15th July 2010, 13:13

      Two facts strike me with your splendid work Keith :
      1 – You have included Renault with the first tier teams, which is a change compared to the same type of charts you did up to China. Just shows from how far they’ve come.
      2- Mc Laren, according to this Chart, shouldn’t be leading the tables. And it’s to their great credit that they did.

    • GeeMac said on 15th July 2010, 13:45

      Its all relative. Having the quickest car is a blessing and a curse. Its a blessing because it puts you in a position to win, and a curse becuase your damed if you do win and damed if you don’t win.

      Take the classic examples of Damon Hill, Jacques Villenueve and Jenson Button. All three had the best car in the field, took advantage, won the WDC and were promptly labled as “undeserving WDC’s who only won because they were in the best car”.

      What this season from Red Bull shows is that those three drivers in particular should be given far more respect, because they took the best car in the field and achieved the result their teams expected which, judging from Red Bull’s form in 2010, isn’t all that easy to do.

      • Tango said on 15th July 2010, 13:54

        Very true :D. However, the season is not over yet.

      • Nitpicker said on 15th July 2010, 14:23

        You’re damned if you win? I think several world champions may beg to differ.

        This is Formula One, not IndyCar or NASCAR. Sophisticated car technology will always enable a winner. I find your “classic examples” a bit flakey too, since Hill nearly won in a vastly inferior Arrows and won at Spa in a Jordan. Button has shown he can win races in different cars at different teams in consecutive years.

        No driver is superhuman enough to win consistently in a poor car. That is the nature of F1.

        • GeeMac said on 15th July 2010, 14:43

          I agree with you Nitpicker, particularly with Hill who holds a special place in my F1 heart, but I awas only trying to reflect popular opinion. You can go all the way through history to find legendary drivers who won in the best car of the day, but a select few (like Hill) are slated for doing so.

          When responding to dragon’s point that we should essentially stop banging on about the advantage that Red Bull “should have” I was simply trying to say that F1 fans will always point out what “should have been”, and on paper, Red Bull “should have been” leading both Championships comfortably by now.

          Perhaps my damed if you do, damed if you don’t point was a poor choice.

          P.S I changed my avatar to an older one to prove a point!

          • Nitpicker said on 15th July 2010, 15:05

            Ah yes I see your angle. I tend to get a bit prickly when I see anything that remotely appears to be Damon-dissing. Jacques I’ve never been that convinced by, especially his recent big talk of wanting back into F1. And Jenson is still out there showing what he’s made of.

            I think it’s easy to get caught up in the romanticism of the next Nuvolari wringing a lowly Hispania to a podium finish. Schu’s magic moments in the underperforming Benetton and Ferrari days were especially memorable, but performances like that are few and far between.

            Getting back to your point, it’s a widely-held understanding (at least I think it is!) that to clinch a championship or even win a GP you need a perfect package, with everything and everyone pulling in the same direction. A fast car won’t do it by itself. Similarly, a fast car and a talented driver are not guaranteed to win if there’s a lot of political unrest going on in the background.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th July 2010, 20:59

          But you must hand it to him, that Schumacher did quite a lot of consistent winning with below par Ferrari’s in 1996 and 1997.

      • kbdavies said on 15th July 2010, 17:58

        I disagree. It is actually quite easy to do – given that these drivers you have mentioned are not rookies – so it is understandable that with their experience, and given the best cars on the grid, they would score enough points to enroute to being WDC. Any half decent driver given the best car, would score the most points in it.

        The issue with RBR is not the driver’s skills – we know enough about that. I would say both RBR drivers are better than Hill or Villeneuve, and Vettel better than Button on raw talent. The problem is improper driver and team management. The atmosphere at RBR is affecting the drivers psychologically – They are unable to extract the maximum from their potential ALL the time – Webber sometimes, Vettel most of the time. This is why they seem to self destruct under pressure (Webber – Aus, Valencia), (Vettel – Turkey, Silverstone, etc).

        The intra team politics, with the different protagonists – Dietrich Mateschitz, Marko, Horner, Newey is having a destructive effect on the drivers abilities. This is what the main problem is.

    • David BR said on 15th July 2010, 14:41

      @ “track position is king – now that all passing has to be done on-track, the RB6 is always well positioned”

      I think this is the key to the season, since if Ferrari or McLaren do soon start to compete for pole, it obviously means Vettel and Webber will have some places to catch up at least. And that’s going to be a lot of pressure on Vettel for one, who hasn’t shown much adeptness in getting past anyone halfway competitive. And as we know Webber too is accident prone. If that happens – RBR slip down a notch during qualifying or lose a lot of race pace relative to the two other teams – I can’t see past Hamilton and Alonso competing for the title. All a question of the development race though, really is a critical moment over the next 2 or 3 races…

      • studi06 said on 16th July 2010, 0:26

        Well said David BR, I would agree with 99% of that.. The 1% I don’t agree with probably has a lot to do with the fact i am Australian and would like to think Mark Webber can keep himself out of trouble and be in the running for the title.. ;)

  9. HounslowBusGarage said on 15th July 2010, 13:08

    Highly impressive (and informative) analysis!

  10. Great article Kieth, can’t wait for Monza…

  11. Nitpicker said on 15th July 2010, 13:58

    “Lotus got closest to the midfield teams’ pace at Canada, where they were 1.1% further off the fastest lap time than Sauber. They were 3.1% slower than McLaren that weekend.”

    The chart shows that being Valencia, not Canada, or have I missed something?

  12. mateuss said on 15th July 2010, 14:14

    Great article Keith!
    I don’t think a lot of people realize just how competitive the field is. Some ten years back with such performance as Lotus relative to the front runners they could easily score top 5 finishes. Some 40 years back with such performance they could score podiums or even wins.

  13. Nitpicker said on 15th July 2010, 14:27

    I’ve just read Ted Kravitz’s article on how Red Bull always excel in quali. Find it here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/motorsport/formula_one/8820607.stm

    High engine revs even when the driver takes his foot off the throttle, eh. Presumably this is a simple gadget working with the standard ECU (indeed it appears Renault has one), so does that mean we’ll see all the blown-diffuser-equipped teams quickly adopting a high-revs gadget in future GPs?

    • mateuss said on 15th July 2010, 14:41

      No you got it wrong, its not the revs, revs depend on when the drivers change gears, but even with high revs if the throttle is off, the exhaust flow is low.
      How it actually works is the ECU still demands fuel to be pumped in the cylinder but the ignition is delayed so when it goes bang the exhaust valve is already open and the mixture burns in the exhaust, so the exhaust flow stays constant but the explosion does not force the piston down when the driver is off throttle,so it doesn’t force the engine to rev, and no power is transmitted to the wheels.

      • Carl said on 15th July 2010, 15:05

        Thanks for that post mateuss. Now I also understand it.

      • Nitpicker said on 15th July 2010, 15:09

        I see. Even cleverer!

        It sounds like this technique could be replicated easily enough too. And when I say “easily”, I mean easier than implementing an effective F-duct into a homologated chassis…

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 15th July 2010, 21:05

          But it makes for the biggest difference in pace only for a diffosor where the exhaust gases go into the diffusor, like RBR have.

          For now only McLaren have done this with theirs as well. Renault, Ferrari and Mercedes have only guided the air over the top of the diffusor. Not sure about Williams, maybe they put it in as well.

        • Maksutov said on 16th July 2010, 1:10

          This technique seems overly complicated, so I wouldn’t say its easy. I still have doubts as to how much exhaust pressure they can generate with this ECU delay system. Clearly there is a big difference between igniting compressed and uncompressed fuel that simply burns in the exhaust and a big difference to how much exhaust pressure and flow is generated, if so the ECU was delayed. Instead to me it seems more logical that this process would be better achieved if the timing at which the exhaust valve was opened was advanced instead. It is more likely that the primary factor that benefits from the delayed ECU is the continued heat rather then flow.

          • John Cousins said on 16th July 2010, 15:27

            Sounds difficult but the process itself is very easy. It is essentially a form of anti-lag (without the turbocharger) which is available on many mid-level aftermarket engine management systems. It is extremely effective and quite easy to set up. I must admit now that someone has done it to promote aerodynamic flow it seems a logical choice. You shouldn’t be surprised by the amount of thrust it produces.. It is essentially (up to) 8 pulse-jet engines being channelled into a central point… It’s the stuff of genius!

  14. DaveW said on 15th July 2010, 15:06

    Brilliant work.

    Looking at apparent race pace, clearly McLaren has left the peleton behind. Ferrari has yet to show their supposed race pace. They can blame luck, but at this point in the season its too late for that. You make your luck by good driving and good strategy. As for Mercedes Hamilton buried Rosberg in the race in a direct pursuit.

    With these corrections you see that McLaren is the distinct second best car, and really the only ones with a prayer of actually catching RBR on pace, and the only ones with a real advantage in some condition–and the only ones with two drivers who can consistently deliver the most from the car.

    But the overall picture is dismaying from these tables. The raw performance gap on the quickest tracks show that no one may be actually catching RBR technologically. Webber clearly was only pushing to top Hamilton’s pace in Britain—and the three other teams that actually have an EBD fell even further back!

    Even if VMM master the EBD, it would be a major task to duplicate the exhaust flare technology and great risk to reliability, and thus they may never better RBR in one lap pace. So, whatever happens, Hamilton is going to have to pass a few times to keep ahead in the tables. Fortunatley for him, he frequently gets to pass a RedBull while its floundering around at the start or parked in a heap of its own carbon fiber.

  15. Nitpicker said on 15th July 2010, 15:11

    VMM?

    (apparently the words above alone are too short to make a comment, hence this totally useless addition)

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