Red Bull did not have the size of performance advantage the were expected to in Singapore.
They still look like the team to beat over the final four races but Ferrari are coming on strong and McLaren can’t be ruled out yet either.
Their performance data for the past 15 races is analysed below to predict about how they will fare in the final rounds Suzuka, Korea, Interlagos and Yas Marina.
The top three
Since we last looked at the performance of the top teams Ferrari have come on strong. The exhaust-blown diffuser added to the F10 in Valencia clearly worked and the team have cut the deficit to Red Bull significantly since then.
McLaren took longer to get to grips with their exhaust-blown diffuser, which arrived at Silverstone but wasn’t raced. They were off the pace in Germany and Hungary, but came back after the four-week break in a stronger position.
These general trends are skewed by swings in performance at some specialist tracks. The RB6s were enormously quick at the Hungaroring, prompting speculation about flexing front wings and floors which led to a tightening of the stress tests in these areas of the cars.
Monza was the opposite – the RB6’s weakest track this year, where an F10 or an MP4-25 was the thing to have.
The performance traits of McLaren’s and Red Bull’s cars are unmissable: the Red Bull thrives in medium-to-high speed corners but is exposed on long straights, the McLaren is lightning in a straight line but not fond of bumps. But what are the F10’s strengths and weaknesses?
This car seems to work best at circuits where low-speed traction and braking are a priority. It favours the softer tyre compounds – Felipe Massa in particular has had problems with the harder tyres.
Predictions for the next four tracks
The first sector at Suzuka (where soft and hard tyres will be used) was made for the RB6, but the MP4-25 could be the second-fastest car here. Jenson Button believes the team’s new front wing will be a particular boost on faster circuits.
If the teams make it to Korea (also soft/hard), its middle sector looks like another happy hunting ground for Red Bull (fire it up in “F1 2010″ and compare it to the middle sector in Hungary, where their cars were rampant).
The long uphill drag at Interlagos (medium/super-soft) look like McLaren’s best chance of a strong result over the last four Grands Prix. Abu Dhabi (medium/super-soft) shares those traits, but this braking-heavy circuit with many slow, fiddly corners should suit the F10 better.
Best of the rest
The battle behind the big three is being fought just as hard and has seen just as many swings in performance.
The advantage Mercedes enjoyed in the opening races has been completely obliterated and they’re now fighting hard with Williams, Renault and Force India for every last points.
Williams didn’t start the season very strongly and early development didn’t seem to go too well. But since the middle of the season they’ve made progress.
One of the most impressive teams this year in terms of development are Renault, who recently enjoyed an especially strong showing at Belgium. This is the team that is most likely to trouble the championship contenders over the final races.
However Force India had a dreadful weekend in Singapore culminating in their worst qualifying performance of the year (where crashes and penalties weren’t involved).
Their difficulties getting the most out of their tyres at Singapore exaggerate their performance deficit on the graph above but even so their position compared to the other midfield teams is getting weaker. That’s no great surprise considering their technical team has lost Mark Smith to Lotus and James Key to Sauber within the last seven months.
All the teams
Sauber and Toro Rosso appear to be falling back from the bulk of the midfield, which goes some way towards explaining why Toro Rosso haven’t scored since the European Grand Prix.
There are limitations to the data above which are important to bear in mind. It mainly reflects single-lap important which is very important – it basically decides the starting grid – but it not the whole picture.
McLaren may have been 0.181s slower than Red Bull in qualifying at Singapore but by lap 16 they were over a second a lap off the pace.
The data can also be skewed by weather and driver error. For example, a wet track in FP1 and FP3 at Singapore combined with Alonso’s mistake in FP2 and Vettel’s in Q3 means Red Bull’s performance advantage there is slightly underestimated.
What’s your view of which teams have the strongest cars ahead of the final four races? Have your say in the comments.
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