Who had the fastest car? Performance data analysed

2012 F1 season review

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

  1. maxthecat said on 3rd December 2012, 19:34

    I like McLaren but they haven’t put a good/dominant championship year together since the early 90’s.

    • Brace (@brace) said on 3rd December 2012, 20:27

      They could have walked 2007 if it weren’t for bad managing of things (like this year).
      Also, in 2008 they would have won easily, both titles again if they had Alonso instead of Heikki. Both Hamilton and Alonso would find it much easier to win in 2008 since they’d be taking Massa’s points together. Heikki was nowhere. He even finished a season behind Alonso who was driving Renault.

      • @brace – I think 2007 will always be left in obscurity though because simply we don’t know how much that Ferrari data affected the McLaren’s performance. 2008 for sure though should’ve been a year in which they got their act together and won the titles but with a poorly performing 2nd driver and a resurgent Ferrari meant that wasn’t the reality (in a way it reminds me of this year)!

    • He Yue (@tknocry) said on 3rd December 2012, 22:42

      I think the 1998 season would be dominated by the Mclaren had not for the skill and dedication of the peak state Michael Schumacher

  2. Anderis said on 3rd December 2012, 19:54

    I don’t think this table shows the true potential of the car. Some cars, like Ferrari or Sauber had very good tyre management over a race distance, which made them much better overall packages than this analysis shows.

    Also if you look at 2011, Williams was supposed to be pretty much on par with the rest of the midfield but it was obviously not true when it came to the capability of scoring points.

  3. Colossal Squid (@colossal-squid) said on 3rd December 2012, 20:09

    So Ferrari didn’t have a dog of a car, but based on the evidence being 3rd or 4th fastest still means it was a fantastic achievement to have been in the hunt for the Championship for so long. Alonso did exceptionally well to maximise every opportunity in a car that was never faster than a McLaren or Red Bull, and sometimes slower than a Lotus.

  4. Callum McMinn said on 3rd December 2012, 20:13

    I’d say Lotus have been one of most consistent during the year as Kimi Raikkonen’s 19/20 points finishes indicate. Wasn’t necessarily the quickest during qualifying/1-lap but they certainly did have some blistering race pace

  5. Tony M (@tango11) said on 3rd December 2012, 20:33

    Vindication of Hamilton’s move? McLaren unable to provide reliability when needed – needs a team who can deliver it all – not just speed. Mercy need to raise their game though.

  6. He Yue (@tknocry) said on 3rd December 2012, 22:40

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

    • Michael (@freelittlebirds) said on 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.

  7. Kimi4WDC said on 3rd December 2012, 22:48

    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.

  8. joac21 (@joac21) said on 3rd December 2012, 23:29

    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..

  9. Scalextric (@scalextric) said on 4th December 2012, 1:40

    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.

  10. dragoll (@dragoll) said on 4th December 2012, 5:35

    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.

  11. Dev (@dev) said on 4th December 2012, 7:24

    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.

  12. nidzovski (@nidzovski) said on 4th December 2012, 10:46

    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.

  13. superix said on 4th December 2012, 15:00

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

  14. 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.

  15. So I ask again as I did a few days ago http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2012/12/02/alonso-feels-level-respect/comment-page-1/#comment-1115065 here, was the Ferrari really THAT bad?

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