Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014

Latest cars likely to show a step forward in Spain

2014 F1 seasonPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014On the face of it, the new generation of F1 cars were further off the 2013 pace than ever before at the last grand prix in China.

However for the third time this year a rain-hit Saturday meant we didn’t get a realistic picture of just how quick the current cars are around the Shanghai International Circuit.

If this weekend’s race in Spain stays dry we should get a more accurate impression – and there’s another reason we are likely to see lap times get closer to the 2014 standard this weekend.

The Spanish Grand Prix normally sees teams bring their first significant upgrades of the season. McLaren have promised an “interesting upgrade” while Lotus and Sauber have also confirmed they will have major packages of new parts planned for this weekend.

So far the cars have been 2.7s slower on average than they were last year. However tyre selection can influence that difference, as was the case in Bahrain.

The result is the cars have been at their slowest for several years at each of the four venues so far. This graph shows the difference between the fastest laps recorded at every race weekend at each of the first four venues (negative is faster, positive is slower):

The lap times at Shanghai and Bahrain were the slowest seen at these tracks since they held their first F1 races ten years ago (excluding Bahrain’s one-off race on a longer configuration in 2010, which is not shown).

There’s another reason to expect this year’s cars are capable of lapping quicker than the pure laps times have shown so far.

China was the first time the cars have completed a full race distance without a Safety Car interruption this year on a dry track at the same was also true last year. It took Lewis Hamilton took just 25.9s longer to complete the same distance as last year’s winner Fernando Alonso (when counting the two laps which were deleted from the official race distance due to an error with the chequered flag).

Here’s how Hamilton’s lap times at this year’s Chinese Grand Prix compare with Alonso’s from 2013. Note Alonso made one more pit stop last year:

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2014drivercolours.csv

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56
Fernando Alonso 106.002 104.566 104.314 105.573 104.939 110.122 118.755 103.04 103.12 102.914 103.117 103.721 104.509 103.785 103.504 103.399 103.396 104.518 104.116 104.558 103.12 102.651 106.689 118.344 101.09 101.379 100.973 101.715 102.761 101.947 101.829 102 102.345 102.758 101.902 101.31 101.319 101.421 101.205 101.193 105.948 116.876 100.274 100.191 99.692 99.506 99.552 99.9 99.781 100.32 100.494 100.705 101.575 100.03 99.87 102.312
Lewis Hamilton 104.671 102.553 103.16 103.168 103.239 103.144 103.166 103.376 103.816 103.832 103.948 104.252 104.293 104.003 104.259 104.56 111.929 122.317 102.777 102.839 103.322 102.951 102.601 102.804 102.323 102.696 102.809 102.934 103.419 103.824 103.293 103.116 103.179 103.314 102.935 102.782 102.925 108.144 122.762 101.817 101.681 101.196 102.135 101.585 101.979 102.094 101.908 102.292 101.893 101.879 101.706 101.342 101.583 101.813 101.413 103.059

Hamilton was just 0.4% slower over a race distance despite the fact the cars are now using one third less fuel than they did last year – a significant achievement. And there’s good cause to believe Hamilton could have gone quite a bit quicker, but didn’t need to risk pushing his Mercedes any harder.

The second in-season test will be held following this weekend’s race, giving teams further opportunity to develop their cars. Some, such has Lotus, have already made rapid progress in their own right. It remains to be seen how quickly the front runners, particularly Mercedes, will regain the performance lost with this year’s dramatic rules change.

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Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei