The full extent of Mercedes’ advantage in Melbourne

2014 F1 season

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2014Just how far ahead of the chasing pack are Mercedes? The first race of the season gave ominous but unclear signs for their rivals.

Rain during qualifying meant we never got to see the cars exploit their one-lap performance to its fullest. But the dry running that did take place left no one in any doubt who the pace-setters were.

Nico Rosberg’s 1’29.375, set during the third practice session, was the fastest lap time seen all weekend. The closest any of Mercedes rivals got to it was Fernando Alonso’s 1’30.132 in second practice.

That 0.757s deficit represents a performance gap of 0.85% over a lap. Comparing the same data for each team’s fastest lap in Australia against their performance over the whole of last year gives an indication who has emerged from the winter with a competitive car and who has some catching up to do:

Comparing the differences between the 2013 and 2014 bars for each team gives a quick insight into how their change in form. Red Bull have obviously lost a lot of performance, though their situation pales in comparison to that of last year’s race winners Lotus.

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Albert Park, 2014Such has been the increase in performance from Mercedes that most of the other teams appear to have dropped back. The major exception is Williams: while it’s clear they are considerably quicker than last year the circumstances of last weekend disguised just how much progress they have made.

Felipe Massa believed the wet conditions “probably hurt us more than others” than in qualifying. The performance data from Australia puts them as the fifth-fastest team but they may prove to be Mercedes’ closest rivals at the moment.

This all applies to one-lap pace. Do Mercedes enjoy the same kind of advantage over a race stint? The indication is that they do, though Nico Rosberg was clearly managing the pace of his W05 for much of the race.

That he set the fastest lap of the race as early as the 19th tour goes a long way to showing just how quick the Mercedes is. It was almost a second-and-a-half quicker than anyone else managed on the same lap.

This wasn’t a particularly slow lap for his rivals. Even if we assume that Rosberg had pumped in a qualifying-style lap in the middle of the race, and couldn’t run at that pace consistently without running out of fuel, he could have backed off by eight-tenths and still enjoyed the same margin Mercedes had in practice.

The coming races will help to build up a more accurate picture of how quick the teams are. Reliability was a significant factor for some teams such as Ferrari, whose cars were slower by electronic problems.

Tracks like Sepang, next on the schedule, are more representative of the other circuits to come during the season than Melbourne’s temporary, stop-start layout. And if Mercedes can keep both of their cars running beyond lap one, their drivers may reveal more of their car’s speed as they strive to beat each other.

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38 comments on The full extent of Mercedes’ advantage in Melbourne

  1. Diego (@ironcito) said on 20th March 2014, 13:25

    The performance data from Malaysia puts them as the fifth-fastest team

    I believe that should be Australia, not Malaysia.

    Mercedes do seem to have the fastest car, by a considerable margin. The only caveat is that their car did a lot of running and fine-tuning during testing, so it is more mature and has less room to grow. Diminishing returns and all. Teams like Red Bull, on the other hand, probably have more untapped potential, more room to grow.

    At least Hamilton and Rosberg seem to be more equally matched than Vettel and Webber were, so even if it’s a one-team season, we could see a good fight between them.

    • JCost (@jcost) said on 20th March 2014, 13:40

      I hope you’re right and we see other guys closer when the European season starts.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th March 2014, 13:44

      @ironcito Got it, thanks!

    • hobo (@hobo) said on 20th March 2014, 17:38

      @ironcito – If this were the third year of these regulations, I might agree with you, but it’s too early to think that a team will run out of development room, in my opinion. People were saying that RBR had less room for years and yet they maintained their advantage under the previous regs.

      If another team outperforms MERC in the development war, or if MERC is somehow going down a dead-end path (a la McLaren a year or two ago?) then other teams can surely catch up. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long year for other teams.

      • Diego (@ironcito) said on 20th March 2014, 19:05

        @hobo Of course every team has room for improvement. Otherwise, they would already have the perfect car. But Red Bull, I believe, just completed their first full-race distance with the RB10 on Sunday. They are probably still using stopgap solutions, making compromises, and things like that. Renault as well. I believe they will improve faster over the next few races than Mercedes or Williams, who already have their cars and engines at a more advanced stage of development. Whether that will be enough to catch up to Mercedes -and to do so in time to fight for the championship- is a different matter, but I doubt Mercedes will be as far ahead in a few months’ time.

        Of course, that’s just my opinion of what I think is likely to happen. We’ll see! :)

        • hobo (@hobo) said on 21st March 2014, 19:24

          @ironcito – You may be absolutely correct. I would simply point, however, to the last few seasons with RBR. They had an advantage that other teams could have made up, as at least some of RBR’s solutions were visible. But they kept pushing development as well. It’s not as if MERC is just going to stop developing.

          Further, they are all one race into the season on new regs. While MERC does have more distance on their engine and chassis at this point, in terms of how much distance they will cover under the current regs, the difference to date will be minimal over the long run.

    • Toxic (@toxic) said on 21st March 2014, 5:16

      There is not much chance of catching Mercedes soon. the only teams looking like having some chance are Williams and Macca. for me the most noticeable thing about Mercedes is their engine.
      Sitting very close to the track and watching some of the FP2 I noticed straight away that the engine sound is different than the other, even Mercedes powered teams. The sound is very low and smooth. You can hardly hear any other noises almost like there would be no difference no matter the revs. It really seems like they have a winner this year.

  2. Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 20th March 2014, 13:34

    Obviously when Rosberg won by such a large margin, it’s pretty clear they have extreme pace.

    However, if you’re not totally convinced (which I’m sure few people are), then you just have to look at Q1, when it was still dry, and everyone else had to set times on the Option tyre to feel safe from elimination. Mercedes didn’t need to. They used the Prime, and were more than comfortable.

    • @tophercheese21 – Especially when it was widely believed the gap between the Option and Prime in Australia was between 2.0 and 2.2 seconds and Hamilton – the fastest Merc in Q1 – was just nine tenths off of Ricciardo’s fastest time.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Merc have at least a second advantage.

    • chris said on 20th March 2014, 13:54

      i was still worried that Merc where over confident at the end of Q1 & would get knocked out.

  3. chris said on 20th March 2014, 14:00

    Its interesting that no one driver was fastest in all 3 sectors.
    sec1 Lewis:- 29.863
    sec2 Kevin:- 24.068
    sec3 Daniel:- 36.344
    Speed Valtori:- 317.5 kph

    lewis was over a second behind in the last sector. Don’t discount RB yet.
    Also Merc had the same testing opportunity as all the other teams. Just because the car seems more evolved now, doesn’t mean there is a no more evolution to be had

    • kpcart said on 20th March 2014, 15:01

      redbull looked really impressive in the turns, I think they have the best aero, and any disadvantage they have is because of Renault. they have a better car then merc, but a worst complete package.

    • Andrew81 (@andrew81) said on 20th March 2014, 17:08

      Those sector times are based from Q1 (the only dry running in qualifying). Mercedes only ran the medium tyres in this session whereas the others ran softs. Naturally, the soft tyres were most advantageous in the twisty third sector.

      Also, the claim that Red Bull are losing all their time on the straights is dubious (this is more aimed at kpcart). Ricciardo was only 7 kph slower than Hamilton in the qualifying speed traps. For reference, Hamilton had a similar deficit to Bottas.

      In FP3 (dry running), Red Bull were 0.5s down on Mercedes in the final sector and Ferrari and McLaren were within a tenth of Red Bull. The top speed deficit was also pretty much the same (7-8 kph behind Mercedes).

  4. OOliver said on 20th March 2014, 14:04

    I don’t think we ever really got to see Ferrari’s true race pace, and I also think a lot of the teams are still learning on the proper way to deploy the ERS during the races, so by Malaysia we may just see the field much closer than it was at the first race.

  5. Albert said on 20th March 2014, 14:10

    I hope Renault gets over their issues soon. They won’t be able to match Mercedes’ engine, but once they get somewhat more competitive it will a great fight between Mercedes’ power versus Red Bull aerodynamical prowess.

  6. skipgamer (@skipgamer) said on 20th March 2014, 16:25

    I don’t know how anyone can judge anything by what we saw at Melbourne. There’s been no clarification exactly who had faulty fuel sensors and therefore we’re running at a reduced pace (except for red bull which we know we’re running at 100%)

    It’s been hinted at that Ferrari had to turn down their fuel flow, how much of their deficit could be attributed to that?

    Bit of a joke of a season if cars are just going to randomly suffer performance advantages between races because of the new fuel flow regs with these faulty sensors and sad that this particular side of the issue isn’t being exposed more clearly.

    Cop a faulty sensor? Sorry guys, gotta turn down your engine!

  7. Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 20th March 2014, 17:01

    I was re-watching the 1998 Australian GP today while doing the ironing (as you do), and it was striking just how dominant the McLarens were on that first race weekend of that season. Hakkinen was more than a full minute ahead of third-placed Villeneuve after just 19 laps and the two McLarens lapped the entire field. The entire field.

    While I might have been expecting something similar last weekend with the Mercedes, it was still a phenomenally dominant showing. We know that Rosberg was being very cautious from the radio transcript and who knows how quick Hamilton could’ve been without his engine problems.

    It’s going to be really difficult for anyone to really challenge the Mercs at this early stage of the season.

    • Red Andy (@red-andy) said on 20th March 2014, 17:35

      Yes, I was thinking about Melbourne 1998 the other day, in the context of Mercedes dominating this weekend.

      Worth noting, though, that it was only two races later in Argentina that a non-McLaren was able to win, and the championship eventually went down to the wire between Hakkinen and Schumacher, so there’s hope for this season yet.

    • Kazihno (@kazinho) said on 21st March 2014, 1:36

      I thought of the dominance of the McLaren in that race too. But as @red-andy said perfectly, the title still went down to the decider in Japan, although the major factor that year determining races was Goodyear/Bridgestone tyre war.

      Interestingly, I found the 1999 Australian GP a little better as a comparison. McLaren fast but fragile, Irvine won from 6th on the grid without having to pass a single car. I think we may see a few race winners from off the front row who have victories drop in their laps.

      As far as the championship goes, Rosberg & Hamilton fighting each other and reliability concerns WILL allow a third driver who can continually and consistently be the next best in the order to have a shot at the title. Example: let’s say 1 Merc wins and the other breaks down and that alternates between drivers, that is an average of 12.5 points per race. Anyone who can scrape up 2nd (18pts) and 3rd (15pts) in every race will finish ahead of both Merc drivers.

      Despite the quite transparent speed advantage, IT IS STILL A LONG TIME UNTIL NOVEMBER.

  8. mr ROSSI (@mr-rossi) said on 20th March 2014, 17:55

    After the pre-season tests, red bull really surprised me with their pace and ability to finish the race (ricciardo) anyway. I know mercedes has the upper hand at the moment but i feel that its a little ominous that with all RB`s troubles in pre-season that they were able to show such a good race,and bodes well for them in the future when they get a grip on the renault powertrain/installation problems they have.Other than that i`d like to congratulate mercedes for the win, just a pity it wasn`t lewis that claimed the victory !

  9. Tim M (@tim-m) said on 20th March 2014, 18:11

    I just realized that all of the Ferrari powered cars finished the race(counting Bianchi). Who knows; this season may come down to matters of reliability. I also suspect that Ferrari didn’t quite show their true pace, but I also suspect that it would still be slower than Mercedes.

  10. Stephen (@stabel91) said on 20th March 2014, 18:22

    After finally getting a “slight” glimpse of where everyone is after Melbourne, I can’t help but feel some deja vu to the last season of the last turbo era. I’m not saying the Mercs are going to be lapping the entire field, and I’m not saying the Hamilton and Rosberg are the same as Senna and Prost. But the similarities are not hard to see. Hamilton, widely regarded as the outright fastest man on one lap, and Rosberg with the technical prowess who, when the car is there, is a formidable match for anyone on the grid. We could be seeing the beginning of a fierce intra-team battle for the championship. If this season does turn out to be a Merc runaway (and it certainly looks like it will), I don’t necessarily think that is such a bad thing, judging from the last time this sort of thing happened. One can only hope.

  11. Mr win or lose said on 20th March 2014, 19:17

    Remarkably, McLaren and Force India haven’t improved compared to Mercedes. Only Williams has reduced the gap a little.

    • Baron (@baron) said on 20th March 2014, 19:37

      Eh? McLaren is showing a slight improvement and Force India showing a further deficit (on 2013 average). Which graph are you referring to?

      • Mr win or lose said on 20th March 2014, 21:42

        Mercedes has improved more than McLaren (from 0.3 last year to 0 compared to 1.33 and 1.27). The only Mercedes-powered team that has improved more than Mercedes is Williams (from 2.19 to 1.73). So, actually, compared to last year nothing much has changed. However, one race is a little too early to draw conclusions (especially since Albert Park is a pretty tough track).

  12. I honestly can’t see a truly representative pecking order being established until Spain, when the teams will be fully familiarised with their machines and have some handle on their reliably issues.

    It is a track which really tests aerodynamic efficiency and will be the greatest test for fuel economy on the calendar on the basis of last season’s data, so if Mercedes romp to victory in Spain it may well signal their true advantage.

    Though some consolation could be taken in the fact Alonso comfortably won in Spain last year, and by the end of the year Ferrari were nowhere in relation to Red Bull (well, Vettel’s Red Bull anyway).

    • Kazihno (@kazinho) said on 21st March 2014, 2:06

      Ferrari was clearly the fastest car on the grid (in race trim) until the secret tyre test after the Spanish GP.

    • Hamilfan (@hamilfan) said on 21st March 2014, 7:21

      @vettel1 Take 2012 for example . Till Singapore , Vettel was playing catch up . But then , updates….and he won almost everything remaining ( well , except for Brazil I think….that was a different story ) . It can change any minute if a major upgrade is brought to the table by any team .

  13. Kazihno (@kazinho) said on 21st March 2014, 2:20

    Everyone is talking about Mercedes walking away with every race, but I’m expecting (reliability excepted) Red Bull to have a good chance of being near the pointy end of the grid in Malaysia. Their excellent cornering speed and stability shown in Australia will be magnified on the long radius corners in Sepang. What they lose on the front straight, they should recover in T1/2/3. They will own S2 and S3 should mirror S1.

    Case in point: qualifying last year for Malaysia, Vettel was 3rd slowest through the speed trap despite ending up on pole. It’s not a track where straight line straight line speed is key, which is good because Red Bull’s is terrible – they were well down (by between 8-15kmh) in Australia in all sessions.

    • Chris (@tophercheese21) said on 21st March 2014, 6:23

      Yes, but, it’s not as if Red Bull are the only team who know how aerodynamics work. The Mercedes car also has a very strong aero package, combined with a much more powerful engine.

      • Kazihno (@kazinho) said on 21st March 2014, 11:31

        Yes, Merc have a good aero package, but it’s not at Red Bull levels of downforce – they didn’t have the corner speed of Red Bull.

        There is direct link between Red Bull’s downforce and their reliability. Newey has sacrificed cooling for aero. The back end is crammed so tight in order to maximise air flow to the rear wing (it’s far narrower than the Merc across the gearbox) that it was initially causing the overheating issues.

        Maybe he knew Renault were behind in development and went for broke knowing they were going to have reliability issues at the start of the season?

    • Todfod (@todfod) said on 21st March 2014, 6:55

      I think the Renault engine might be facing teething and reliability issues, but they seem to be capable of keeping a Mercedes powered car behind them (as displayed in Dan’s defense on Kevin) .

      If you ask me, the worst engine of the year is probably Ferrari. It’s rumored to be a fuel guzzler (requiring 18 kgs more fuel than it’s rivals), and doesn’t look particularly quick either – as displayed by the performance of the Sauber and Marrussias.

      I feel Alonso’s performance masked the poor state that Ferrari are in now.

      Just a shot in the dark…. but the teams that look capable of really challenging Mercedes will be Mclaren, Williams and Red Bull.

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