Jenson Button, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012

Who had the fastest car? Performance data analysed

2012 F1 season reviewPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

McLaren overtook Red Bull as the quickest team on the track in 2012. Ferrari were quicker than in 2011 – but Lotus were ahead of them. Here’s all the data.

Teams performance throughout 2012

This table compares the fastest lap time set by each team at each race weekend in 2012 (in any session) and shows how far each team was off the quickest last time as a percent.

Australia Malaysia China Bahrain Spain Monaco Canada Europe Britain Germany Hungary Belgium Italy Singapore Japan Korea India Abu Dhabi United States Brazil
Red Bull 0.858434798992008 0.251509577110554 0.608698394676253 0 1.44051305273723 0.107670152487856 0 0 0.274501719704446 0.924788289538014 0.560819240794032 0.761343459790083 0.80585644566122 0.403339538557006 0 0 0 0.345821325648416 0 0.169753512379572
McLaren 0 0 0.530902744924887 0.106035359546425 0 0.379537287519668 0.410658137265528 0.33032237016495 0.166003016263943 0.525808198908777 0 0 0 0 0.496482788229713 0.233438226280839 0.215752260122159 0 0.113948796219844 0
Ferrari 1.85111043074822 1.20558309689356 0.905162897782816 1.06143558892906 0.728211781120351 0.820984912719894 0.497397809823269 0.633117876149484 0 0.424081487059567 0.717700394055811 0.687904957563674 0.196405189858353 0.802918335495747 1.09424366186326 0.300281771251122 0.5745576492384 0.878465666302304 0.93249840576226 0.730078114217861
Mercedes 0.487506182143619 0.178758872987686 0 0.426305425115231 1.43806528204439 0 0.849777729589078 0.426156638052305 1.40505820955438 0.389732207733886 1.16363816041407 1.40183875135953 0.60111891441494 1.37361087606477 1.7943834696551 1.15073733571913 0.812588675351478 0.966908476597411 1.18862184680681 1.42289326230367
Lotus 0.447469442547273 0.251509577110554 0.817905614953588 0.634048170349047 0.877525793383668 0.454906394261172 1.14252412447145 0.410863935729864 0.207232523571349 0 0.510172569268576 0.587508017811132 0.871324842280671 1.09719636712357 1.08653772058256 0.39386273420952 0.959159504238798 0.626055848156597 0.972223674169186 1.15929227966545
Force India 1.63915122112056 1.72315239193924 1.25734590679241 1.17720888965832 1.73546942122465 1.50334450411165 1.15878781307599 0.44144934037476 1.06654225482006 0.763610901932822 0.86469926994674 1.07461909586976 0.349958338293035 0.826422970609826 1.57751626504033 1.0530429238395 1.12331883259262 1.38030408426913 1.47297113645632 1.03232217284494
Sauber 1.48371446739361 1.30743408266561 0.697006970069708 1.05169764774622 1.01092929614354 1.62447342566048 1.22519787487802 0.629039822196816 0.838694977595011 0.04359716222109 1.16363816041407 0.277021185613464 0.80109510772526 2.0148173219759 0.947830777529475 1.25254519652005 0.92984533846132 1.44489714796781 1.83781636471979 2.39035027188162
Toro Rosso 1.64503897694355 1.72938816657833 1.90494212634435 0.530176797732153 1.90681336972354 2.12244788091679 1.75376775452673 1.87386579124443 1.63399047381382 1.0872868032711 1.76275122602003 1.65561990462288 1.54981549815498 2.26772719580302 2.32829511553409 1.54460006992862 1.75181454686162 2.12163370764185 2.32288280000419 2.92031245687157
Williams 1.16106544829373 1.28456957565555 1.22160195960934 1.72577957629136 0.487106367875455 0.975760756921147 1.31600346958689 0.396590746895555 0.493669100654245 0.644709550420799 0.680641853915233 0.297472414081597 0.964170932031891 0.415561948816318 1.84171996609383 1.52506118755274 0.820796641769135 0.592268707144996 1.40502001944449 0.988158657429096
Caterham 4.02604743176092 3.20830605181929 3.5134197495821 2.62924411936554 4.36927068672206 3.01072663894159 3.35980700422856 2.04004648981504 2.31210737031692 2.54581004848534 3.24015169295764 3.87271899082479 2.82347339602427 4.21579135405501 4.20304054425962 3.04909401287512 4.07232390980616 4.29891682400874 5.32736757372696 3.72767672306715
HRT 9.64649914038766 6.49040210353465 5.48984977029259 5.83194477505356 7.15728150586854 5.10760285864255 5.02547977881385 4.16471259914766 5.535603849534 5.39680023251819 6.13071782392251 5.07283426138527 4.08403761456968 5.65051428141629 5.00445843745527 5.76191357643819 6.22515624450357 5.10384577163869 6.64248303835579 5.16161086422477
Marussia 6.83686206165659 4.86806140159428 4.37442835966822 4.50650278072322 5.96644106380116 4.90706719963391 5.57980049875313 4.42264951165303 4.8151724586891 4.65961185314363 5.27590083134659 4.42769096334578 3.60552315200573 4.70844850604539 4.81511245170023 4.19057608852145 5.07721351265783 4.43108416973071 4.59872251900021 4.56126307654088

Jenson Button, McLaren, Melbourne, 2012One point leaps out immediately when comparing this graph with the same data for last year: Red Bull got slower.

It was said from the beginning of the season that the restrictions on exhaust-blowing would hit Adrian Newey’s cars hardest, and here is the proof. Last year they were the quickest team at 18 out of 19 race weekends (94.7%), this year that fell to 7 out of 20 (35%).

While Red Bull felt the effect of the changes most strongly, it had consequences for every team in the pit lane. The field closed up dramatically. Throughout the season there were often six teams covered by 1% on lap time – last year there was usually only three.

The cars at the tail of the field were generally closer to the pace this year. Eight races in it looked as though Caterham were finally going to catch the midfield. Instead they fell back into the clutches of Marussia, who they were involved in a fight for tenth in the championship with until the final race.

Change in performance since last year

Team Average %
deficit to
fastest car
Average %
deficit to
fastest car
McLaren 0.18 0.5 -0.32
Red Bull 0.38 0.01 +0.37
Lotus* 0.68 2.2 -1.52
Ferrari 0.75 0.83 -0.08
Mercedes 0.87 1.5 -0.63
Williams 0.96 2.76 -1.8
Sauber 1.15 2.75 -1.6
Force India 1.16 2.51 -1.35
Toro Rosso 1.82 3.06 -1.24
Caterham** 3.49 5.18 -1.69
Marussia*** 4.83 6.85 -2.02
HRT 5.73 7.86 -2.13

*Renault in 2011
**Lotus in 2011
***Virgin in 2011

If we average out the teams’ performance across the entire season McLaren emerge as the quickest team ahead of Red Bull (see table).

The pole positions statistics back this up as the two teams took eight each, though McLaren lost one due to a penalty in Spain and Red Bull picked one up for the same reason in Monaco.

Red Bull exhibited crushing pace in the European Grand Prix which prompted speculation they were about to return to their dominance of 2011. However they were later required to make a change to their engine maps which appeared to set them back again. In the latter part of the season they hit the front once more, but McLaren beat them in the final two rounds.

Ferrari’s performance in 2012 was closely scrutinised and the data tells an interesting story.

Having struggled in the first four races, the upgrades introduced in Spain after the Mugello test allowed them to slash their deficit by more than half – progress they built on in the remainder of the year. Over the first four races where they were a dismal 1.26% off, but from Spain the figure was half that: 0.63%.

It might come as a surprise to learn Ferrari were closer to the pace on average in 2012 compared to 2011. They were 0.75% off the ultimate pace throughout 2012 and 0.57% off the quickest car (McLaren) – the corresponding figures for 2011 are 0.83% and 0.78%.

Even so, Lotus were closer to the pace than Ferrari on average, yet scored only one win to the Scuderia’s three. This serves as a reminder that this data reflects single-lap qualifying pace better than race pace.


Performance is meaningless if a car doesn’t get to the end of the race, of course. Ferrari did very well in this respect, with neither car breaking down in a race all year long – in Fernando Alonso’s case, for the second year in a row.

McLaren did conspicuously worse with four non-classifications due to technical problems. Lewis Hamilton broke down while leading in Singapore and Abu Dhabi and Jenson Button did likewise while holding second in Italy.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Barcelona, 2012Those lost points would certainly have been enough to beat Ferrari to second in the constructors’ championship and perhaps overhaul Red Bull too. The adage “to finish first, first you must finish” remains true as ever.

Red Bull also suffered with unreliability, clocking up three race-ending failures. Mercedes had five – all for Michael Schumacher.

As well as exhibiting similar performance to Ferrari, Lotus had similarly good reliability too. Their only race-ending technical failure was suffered by Romain Grosjean while he was running second in Valencia.

Over to you

Which team do you think had the best blend of performance and reliability in their car in 2012? And who under-performed and over-performed with the machinery they built?

Have your say in the comments.

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139 comments on “Who had the fastest car? Performance data analysed”

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  1. I don’t think it’s fair to nominate the car which didi the fastest weekend lap as the fastest car of the GP

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      4th December 2012, 13:09

      Yes, others have said that too but I’m curious how would one do it? Take of sampling of lap times every 10 laps or so? Tire condiitons will skew the results. Also tire strategies affect lap times so the lap time doesn’t necessarily reflect the truth.

  2. Not sure how Mercedes can be 5th fastest. Yes, they were fast in first couple races, but for most of the season they were a road block for most of the mid field. Every one was trying to avoid running behind them due to their high speed on straights and donky-slow pace during the rest of the lap.

  3. I dont agree on this Qualy/Race pace differentiation…. Most of the time race pace is the result of a compromise the teams do in setup over Qualy pace..

    Meaning that if a car has the single lap pace the team has a lot less to compromise for the race.. it seems that ferrari always went for more race pace becauase they already knew the front rows where impossible.. but STILL a fast car is a fast car and both qualy and race pace are a reflection of that.. teams just to try to maximise what they have..

  4. What stands out most for me is how the whole field closed up from 2011. It would be great to credit HRT, Marussia and Caterham with dramatic improvements, but I suspect a large part of the change is due to the loss of certain aerodynamic advantages that were predominantly found in the leading teams in 2011 and prior years. Nevertheless, it’s a shame that in HRT’s case the trend could not continue, I guess we’ll see in a few weeks time if the other two teams can continue the overall positive trend.

  5. If you overlay Redbull with Mercedes, there is an interesting similarity between the 2. The main difference however is that Red Bull has a few moments, similar to mercedes where the gap to the fastest car grows, but instead of bouncing back for the next race, Mercedes seems to ride the slippery slope upwards.

  6. i think this analysis does not give the clear picture about true pace of the car on Sunday. One lap pace of Ferrari was very weak compared to RBR & McLaren.

  7. This just show that McLaren and Red Bull should demolish the field. But at the same time Alonso was at one point 40 pts clear on the top. So one can say that Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel had their chances to win the WDC but there can be only one.

  8. So 150mio Lotus gained 1.5s faster and 300mio Ferrari only gained 0.2s…or it was just Kimi+Romain combination?

  9. Riddle me this: Ferrari were 57 points behind McLaren in pace and contended for wins and the titles. Mercedes was only 12 points behind Ferrari and were nowhere near Ferrari. They had their moment(s), but it was a shambles at all other times.

  10. Looking forward we have a have a chance to put the driver into the equation in 2013, because the line-up for the top 3 was stable for the past two years.

    According to Keith’s driver stats (the bounty never ends here) Hamilton brought .275s over Button in qualifying this year, that is about a difference of .0030 or .30 percent on a 90 second lap. According to these data, .30 points is more than the difference between Ferrari and Williams this year. In a more relevant example, it was quite a bit more than the difference between McLaren and RBR. Hamilton was the McLaren advantage this year. RBR’s qualifying was not so lop-sided—Vettel had .11s on Webber and we assume that Vettel is a top driver in raw pace, which further supports the Hamilton-effect at McLaren.

    Next year, assuming that Rosberg is “benchmark” driver like Button, if Hamilton can bring .30 percent to Mercedes, they might be on par with Lotus in raw pace.

  11. This article begins with “McLaren overtook Red Bull as the quickest team on the track in 2012.” I would like to emphasize the word “team” here. Somehow people in the forums tend to separate the team and contribute the achievements/failings of the team to ether the car or the driver. While we can safely use the statistics from this article to conclude that McLaren and Red Bull have one of the best cars on the grid and the Ferrari wasn’t far behind, we can never know which was actually the best car. if there is such thing. Even if the lap time depends 90% on the speed of the car the remaining 10% of driver’s skill cannot be underestimated especially in a season where the top few teams were so closely matched. How do we know that it wasn’t Webber and Vettel the ones that were “driving the wheels off” the Red Bull and Alonso had a really bad year in the best car?
    I believe that every driver gives his best but someone’s best is a bit better than the others and unfortunately there is no exact measure for that but there is where the fun starts. F1 is exciting because it’s not only a race between drivers in a same cars. It’s a race between engineers too trying to make a car that is best for their driver.
    That’s why I’m disappointed by people, especially Alonso, putting all the blame on the car while contributing Vettel’s WDC on only one man – Newey like he’s the only one working at Red Bull.

  12. Great data Keith. Your analysis clearly reveals the difference between what people think as opposed to the hard core truth. Also, does anyone have stats or could anyone compile some statistics related to drivers benefiting from other car failures be it mechanical failures or other failures?

  13. Here is some data on Overtakes this season. I got this data from

    All overtakes, without backmarkers, with equal tires
    Disgarding the overtakes on the teams of HRT, Marussia and Caterham
    Disgarding overtakes on cars with more than 5 lap older tires
    1. Sebastian Vettel – 29 on-track overtakes
    2. Jenson Button – 26
    3. Mark Webber – 24
    4. Kimi Räikkönen – 23
    4. Felipe Massa – 23

    All overtakes, only on 5 top teams
    Counting only overtakes on the teams of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes
    1. Sebastian Vettel – 28 on-track overtakes
    2. Lewis Hamilton – 25
    3. Jenson Button – 22
    4. Kimi Räikkönen – 21
    5. Felipe Massa – 16

    All overtakes, only on 5 top teams, with equal tires
    Counting only overtakes on the teams of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus and Mercedes
    Disgarding overtakes on cars with more than 5 lap older tires
    1. Sebastian Vettel – 17 on-track overtakes
    2. Kimi Räikkönen – 16
    3. Jenson Button – 14
    4. Lewis Hamilton – 13
    5. Felipe Massa – 12

  14. Best Team: Ferrari

    Best Performance: Red Bull

    Best Car: McLaren

    That’s the way I see it as an average over the course of the season. Ferrari really are a force to be reckoned with it they can produce a better car next year and I’m hoping they do. Hopefully making use of the wind tunnel in Cologne will help them out as well as having their own correlated.

    It’s a shame to see HRT lose their way a little bit towards the very end but given the circumstances I think they still performed well.

    Caterham had a pretty dismal end to the season performance wise so I’m sure they will be feeling a little nervous at the prospect of the next Marussia car having KERS and not having to contend with HRT.

  15. You would think that determining which car was fastest would be a straight-forward exercise, but it’s actually close to impossible. If Hamilton is quicker in qualifying than Alonso in the same car (as their time at McLaren together suggests) then the fact that Hamilton cut quicker qualifying laps than Alonso in 2012 can’t automatically mean that the 2012 McLaren is that much quicker than the F2012.

    I strongly suspect that Vettel would likewise beat Alonso in qualifying on a regular basis even in the exact same car. Maybe it would be better to look at fastest lap times recorded in the actual races. Of course that is subject to error as well.

    The tyres played a huge role this season, especially in qualifying and especially at the start of the season. I think it was the tyres rather than the cars proper which led to some of the freakish early results we saw – wins for Rosberg and Maldonado while the likes of Alonso and Vettel started races on the third, fourth, fifth or sixth row of the grid.

  16. Qualifying performance has obviously become a setup choice. Some teams/drivers will choose to lose race pace just to get track position by a quicker qualifying lap. Look how much Vettel’s car changed in Abu Dhabi after their failed qualifying.

    Who is to say that Alonso didn’t just choose to lose half a second of qualifying lap pace in return for a better race performance. Whilst at the same time allowing him to play the role of the poor underdog with a slow car that miraculously did show good pace during the races.

    Simply looking at raw numbers really says nothing anymore. It’s like when we didn’t know the fuel levels before the start. 10kg extra fuel could mean a few laps extra and a lot slower qualifying.

  17. Could someone give me or compile a list of stats that show which driver profited the most from other driver retirements/failures ?


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