Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2016

How Mercedes were even further ahead in 2016

2016 F1 season review: Car performancePosted on | Author Keith Collantine

Last month, after Mercedes has already put a lock on their third consecutive constructors’ championship title, executive director Toto Wolff said there was little more performance to be found under the current regulations.

If that’s the case, their rivals were still a long way off reaching that point in their third year of trying to catch the flying silver cars in 2016.

In fact, Mercedes enjoyed a greater margin over their closest rival in 2016 than in either of the previous seasons.

Teams performance in 2016

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Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, Albert Park, 2016
Ferrari was Mercedes’ biggest threat at the start of the year
Over the opening four ‘flyaway’ races of 2016 it seemed as Ferrari were going to be Mercedes’ closest challengers, as was the case last year. The red cars were closest to the silver machines at each round with the exception of Shanghai, where an inspired lap by Daniel Ricciardo put his RB12 on the front row.

However a Renault power unit upgrade at the Monaco Grand Prix helped propel Red Bull into contention. Routine upgrades helped edge the RB12 closer to the front of the pack as well. Ferrari’s development programme did not run as smoothly and the team parted company with designer James Allison (partly due to personal reasons) at mid-season.

As was also the case in 2014 and 2015 there was only one race all season where something other than a Mercedes produced the quickest lap time. It had been Ferrari in last year (as Mercedes struggled in Singapore) and Williams in 2014 (when the Mercedes drivers fluffed their qualifying runs in Austria).

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This time Red Bull did the business in Monaco. Those hoping for a competitive season could draw some encouragement from the fact the silver cars had been beaten, and without a special reason why they should have lacked pace. But it was never repeated again all year.

The season was a crushing disappointment for Williams. Having been the closest team to Mercedes on pure performance on five occasions last season they were never as close this year. Force India deposed them as top Mercedes customer team in the constructors’ championship.

Teams performance trends in the new turbo era

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The extent of Mercedes’ superiority over the three previous seasons is clear from the data above. But it also reveals some interesting trends in Ferrari’s performance.

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Sepang International Circuit, 2016
Red Bull won twice but Ferrari were closer to Mercedes
The red cars’ performance was much ‘peakier’ in 2016. They were often closer to the silver cars than they had been the year before, other times further away. After the summer break Red Bull were a more consistent threat.

Had Ferrari shelved development of their SF16-H to concentrate on next year’s change in regulations? Not entirely: The team continued to bring new parts for the car in the latter stages of the season.

Nonetheless Ferrari narrowly beat Red Bull to be the closest team to Mercedes on average throughout 2016. Yet Mercedes enjoyed a greater margin over their closest rival than in either of the previous seasons: 0.87%, or just under eight-tenths of a second on a typical 90-second lap.

This is partly reflected in the scoreline. Mercedes lost three races apiece in 2014 and again in 2015, yet over this year’s longest-ever calendar they were only beaten twice. But there’s more to it than this as well.

Because two different teams were vying to be the closest threat to Mercedes this year, the silver cars usually had closer competition than that 0.87% figure suggestions. Their average margin over whichever was the closest car on any given weekend was 0.64% which is virtually the same as it was last year’s 0.65%.

The size of Mercedes’ performance advantage is also exaggerated by the high-performance engine modes they typically activated in Q2 each weekend, giving them vital extra tenths of a second for those qualifying pushes.

Sergio Perez, Force India, Baku City Circuit, 2016
Baku was made for Mercedes – and Force India
Another factor which increased Mercedes’ margin over their rivals this year was that the newest addition to the calendar ideally suited the W07. Baku’s immense straight and stop-start configuration saw Mercedes record one of their strongest qualifying performances of the year.

It was also the only track at which their closest rival on pure pace wasn’t a Ferrari or a Red Bull, but their engine customer Force India.

However it was a poor season for the midfield. The ‘big three’ teams increasingly edged clear of them, particularly in the second half of the season. One point of encouragement is that for the first time since 2009 all the competing teams were close enough to the pace to score a point.

Notes on the data

The above performance data is produced by comparing every lap time set by every car in every race weekend and identifying the fastest.

2016 F1 season review

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19 comments on “How Mercedes were even further ahead in 2016”

  1. Can this be compared to the Ferrari’s of the early 00’s? Would be interesting to see the difference

    1. Mercedes is even better.

      1. No, I think the 2004 Ferrari is still probably the car to beat in terms of outright performance– Most of the lap records that are being challenged are from around 2002-2005, and I don’t think any of the 2004 Ferrari records fell this year.

        1. I think he means better by comparison to the rest of the field, which there’s little question that they are. We have genuinely never seen dominance like this in as long as I have been watching the sport, which is around a quarter-century. Yes, there have been periods of dominance, but not dominance by the same margin, nor for as long, and definitely not with rules that prevented rivals from catching up.

  2. Mercedes got it right the first time, “all” they had to do was to optimise their machinery and converge to the maximum performance possible under the regulations.

    Ferrari and RedBull for example weren’t so “lucky”, and throughout the last 3 years they are not only looking for optimisation but still trying new things and see if those things work or not. This may be the explanation for the different peaks in performance from Ferrari. Surely they have a lot to do, especially compared with RedBull, which may have located the source of the lack of pace, while, in my opinion, Ferrari has to work in all aspects of the car

    I think the biggest problem with RedBull lives outside of the team, and it is their engine partners Renault, reliability improved drastically but it is still very far from the Mercs.

    2017 should be interesting, as it offers a chance for RedBull to deliver in what they are considered to be the best at, aerodynamics, which could allow them to close the gap. Regarding Ferrari, I have no idea what to expect.

    There is only one thing that I don’t agree with, and that is the last sentence in the article, did they really closed the gap or the situation played out in their favour? It might seem that Manor is closer, but I think that idea comes from the fact that Sauber is actually worse than it was in 2015, Renault as well, and Haas fitted in a gap that wans’t occupied by anyone really.

    1. I think that most fans are going to be shocked to discover that the Mercedes chassis isn’t that far off the Red Bull in terms of aero (and in fact, might be better under variable conditions, not being so reliant on extreme rake), and is probably the best chassis out there in terms of mechanical grip.

      While the Mercedes power unit is indeed an awesome piece of engineering, Manor, Renault, Force India and Williams have all been unable to win races with the same power unit, and this past season, had difficulty keeping up with both Ferrari and Red Bull.

      The other question is, what can Mercedes do with their power unit now that the token system has gone out the window?

      1. The real question is how hard will it be for the non factory Mercedes team to adapt to more fuel consumption when the factory Mercedes team has the best fuel efficiency. Or rather, how long will it take someone to say that the FIA are handing championships to Mercedes via the 100kg fuel per race rule.

  3. It’s interesting that Seb could win so many races with that car (reference to the last table).

    1. Lots of factors to consider and none really give a conclusive answer to was it the car or was it Vettel.

      First look at Webber’s results. On the one hand credit to Vettel for how much more performance he got out of the car than Webber. On the other hand unlike Hamilton and Rosberg who invariably had to show their hand pace wise fighting each other and pulled away from the field, Vettel rarely had to fight Webber so could cruise to victory without unleashing the car.

      And for the 2013 tyres, performance for all teams was actually really lose limited by the outright pace of the tyres, a hugely better car and driver was only finding small margins over the rest of the field as they hit the performance ceiling of the tyre. The Mercedes in 2013 was actually very fast on one lap pace, but if the drivers didn’t nurse the cars at a snail pace it chewed through tyres so the performance stats aren’t reflective of the cars potentials but rather of the fine margins they managed to eek out of the toy tyres they were using.

      From my recollection of the races though, I don’t remember many instances of the latter races where Vettel was being hussled from behind. He just managed to get out front and hold station. Still impressive consistency and an embarrassing margin over Webber though.

    2. @andycz
      The 2013 column looks pretty small, that’s true. But it doesn’t really represent the gap Red Bull had over their closest competitors. The analysis is based on single fastest laps of the weekend, i.e. virtually always qualifying laps. The 2013 Mercedes was a great asset in qualifying, allowing Hamilton and Rosberg to clinch a total of 8 pole positions (against 11 for Red Bull). This is why the calculated average advantage in single-lap pace for Red Bull is so small.
      The races were a completely different story, however. The W04 had a bad habit of killing it’s tyres, which regularly forced the Mercedes drivers to make an extra pit stop, or to silently and hopelessly slide down the order. Because of that, there were only very few races in which the Mercedes could challenge Red Bull for the victory, and they struggled badly to beat Ferrari in the Constructors’ championship, even though the Scuderia drivers were nowhere near Red Bull’s or Mercedes’s qualifying times.

      To sum it up:
      – 2013 statistic heavily distorted due to Mercedes having an excellent car in qualifying, but a horrible one in the races.
      – If one were to compare the relative performances of Red Bull and Ferrari instead (only finished 6 points behind Mercedes in the championship, being consistently off the pace in qualifying and races), the bar would be indistinguishable from the 2014-2016 years*.

      *I looked up the 2013 statistics on a different page, where I had a look at the average percent of pole position time statistics. According to their numbers, Red Bull had an average of 100.415%, compared to 100.621% for Mercedes (obviously not identical with Keith’s analysis). Ferrari was a distant third at 101.274%, so their average gap to Red Bull was 0.855% – and they were just as much of a threat to Red Bull as Mercedes were.

      1. Nase: Thank you! Now I see more sense :-).

      2. @nase: Those are very interesting stats. Can you tell us where you got them?

        1. @alonshow
          http://www.motorsport-total.com/ (German website, really poor journalism, but decent statistics)
          You can find the relevant data atr http://www.motorsport-total.com/f1/db/results/year.php?y=2013 under “Durchschnittliche Prozent der Pole-Position-Zeit” (23rd row) and “Team” (2nd column).

    1. Huh buh du wha?

  4. Nico has retired from the sport altogether!

  5. Mercedes don’t just turn up with the best car they race it well too. The drivers are very consistent, very fast, they seem to have the best understanding of the tyres, and the strategy is generally spot on.

  6. @keithcollantine Can you send me the average gap for each team? :)

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