Here’s how the cars’ performance in Australia compared to previous seasons.
The fastest lap time set during the 2014 Australian Grand Prix weekend – Nico Rosberg’s 1’29.375 – was over three seconds slower than the cars were lapping last year. Even taking into account the wet conditions which prevented significant improvement of lap times during qualifiyng, the drivers weren’t going to find that much time between final practice and Q3.
The more conservative tyre allocations being used this year will certainly have played a role in slowing the cars’ single-lap pace. And we are still in the early days of a new formula – teams will add more performance to their cars at a rapid rate.
They need to, because in Melbourne the F1 cars were lapping almost six seconds slower than they had been just three years ago.
This graph shows the race winners’ lap times throughout the Australian Grand Prix over the last four years.
2011: Sebastian Vettel won for Red Bull. Tyres: Soft and hard.
2012: Jenson Button won for McLaren, Safety Car deployed from laps 37 to 41. Tyres: Soft and medium.
2013: Kimi Raikkonen won for Lotus. Tyres: Super-soft and medium.
2014: Nico Rosberg won for Mercedes, Safety Car deployed from laps 11 to 15. Tyres: Soft and medium.
Fears that Sunday’s race would be dominated by the need to save fuel were not entirely realised. However the shortening of the race distance by one lap due to a false start, and a five-lap Safety Car period, will have helped teams stretch their fuel out.
Such was eventual winner Nico Rosberg’s advantage that he clearly backed off to a significant extent for much of the second half of the race. Prior to that in the laps immediately following the Safety Car he had been on a par with previous seasons in terms of race pace.
One respect in which the new cars are undoubtedly more impressive than the ones they replace is straight-line speed. The V6 turbos propelled the cars to higher top speeds in three of the four measuring points during the race.
The higher top speeds but slower lap times point to a rise in power and a fall in downforce. That much was clear to see from how the drivers struggled to get the power down coming out of Melbourne’s slow corners – Valtteri Bottas’s tap of the wall at turn ten being the most obvious example.
The rest of the season will reveal how quickly the teams bring performance to their cars, and how much of it comes from unlocking more performance from their engines, or recovering lost downforce. With some teams already talking about making half-second gains in Malaysia next weekend, a fascinating development race is in prospect.
2014 F1 season
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Image © Mercedes/Hoch Zwei