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:
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.
2014 F1 season
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Image © Daimler/Hoch Zwei