Posted on March 12, 2009
Who is the F1 front runner? | James Allen on F1 – The official James Allen website on F1

This has been a great week for F1 with a real buzz starting to build around the start of the new season. As predicted it has also given us a much better idea of where the teams are relative to each other in performance, with a few surprises, like McLaren and Brawn.

The key question is, who’s the pace setter? Well from what I’ve seen so far this week -and the picture has been clearing as the week’s gone on – there is nothing to choose between Ferrari and BMW, with Toyota and Brawn right there too. The one thing we have not seen is the outright pace of the Ferrari and BMW cars, ie low fuel flat out.

Of those teams only Brawn has more testing days, next week in Jerez. The others have finished.

When they do longer runs, the pace in similar. On Wednesday Felipe Massa did a 20 lap run with laps in the mid to low 1min 21s. His fastest time came on the fourth lap of a six lap run and he did a 1m20.168. Interestingly his two previous laps were 1min 20.4s.

Around the same time, Robert Kubica in the BMW was on a similar programme, setting a best time of 1min 20.217 on the third lap of a four lap run, so he was 0.05s slower than Massa, albeit his run was a couple of laps shorter. It shows that they are very close to each other on performance. There will be some places where the Ferrari has the edge and others where BMW has it. And we have yet to see which of the two is the better qualifying car, but it does seem as though the Ferrari still has the tendancy to have more difficulty getting heat into the tyres on cold days. We will see.

Meanwhile Toyota’s Timo Glock also set his time on the fourth lap of a five lap run on Wednesday and he was 0.25s slower than the Ferrari, so very close indeed, even allowing for the fact that they may have had slightly different fuel loads. As Jarno Trulli said on Monday night, Toyota is there or thereabouts.

Apparently technicians who have overlaid every lap by every car say that it puts Toyota and Brawn on Ferrari’s pace with BMW a shade behind. McLaren are some way behind.

Rubens Barrichello stunned everyone by dipping under 1 min 19secs today. Massa told reporters that his Ferrari would not have been able to do that lap time. The car is very sound aerodynamically and voices around the team are saying that the Mercedes engine is as much as 70bhp up on last year’s Honda.

It is shaping up to be one of the most eagerly anticipated starts to an F1 season in years.

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Who is the F1 front runner?
36 Responses

  1.   1. Posted By: Matthew
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:17 pm 

    What do you think as the reason that BGP001 has a such good qualify capability? It seems they are suddenly much quicker in low fuel run comparing to Ferrari or Bimmer…

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  2.   2. Posted By: Ollie
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:20 pm 

    Apparently technicians who have overlaid every lap by every car say that it puts Toyota and Brawn on Ferrari’s pace with BMW a shade behind. McLaren are some way behind.

    That is really interesting. To be honest, I’m quite astonished that Toyota and Brawn could have made up such a difference in pace over the course of a year. Fair enough, Honda said they started work on the new car early in 2008, but to suddenly come up with a cracker of a motor, especially with the little running they’ve done on track, is mind-blowing.

    Personally, I’m a bit suspicious of the Brawn pace, and also McLaren’s. But as you say, this is certainly building up to an exciting start of a Formula One season.

    I don’t think I’ve ever looked at a list of testing times prior to a season-start and scratched my head as much as I have this year. It really is quite an unknown still. My gut still says Ferrari and McLaren will be ahead, just.

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  3.   3. Posted By: Rob
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:24 pm 

    I was just wondering what you thought about williams times this week because no one seems to say much about them.

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  4.   4. Posted By: john g
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:25 pm 

    BMW have achieved every goal they have set out to so far, since taking sauber (even if the win was a lucky one) – their intention is to be fighting at the top this year, and i think they will be right up there, with both drivers (everyone knows Kubica is a rising star – Nick is very underrated imo). ferrari however, still look (just) to be top of the pile. Toyota have promised and failed to deliver several times before so i can’t see that happening, and i still have a doubt over the pace of Brawn, especially over the season. big question mark is mclaren to me, i have literally no idea if they’ll be near the top, hopelessly off the pace, or fighting in the midfield.

    despite the testing ban, i still fully expect upgrades to come out before Melbourne, and during the rest of the year so things can still change

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  5.   5. Posted By: James
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:34 pm 

    I was wondering if I could ask again about Williams, Massa said that there was no way Ferrari could post low 19′s even in qualifying, does that put Williams up there then?

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  6.   6. Posted By: Alan Dove
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:37 pm 

    Laps only tell some of the story. What no one seems to pick up on are the small differences corner by corner. For example today we saw Hamilton take a COMPLETELY different approach to the last chicane.

    Yesterday – firm braking, quick turn in, smash the kerb, land and then boot it

    Today – Gentle braking, smooth turn in, avoid the kerb and ease on the throttle.

    This isn’t just set up and aero this is a quantum shift in driving style.

    You would really need to spend the whole 4 days sitting at one corner with a watch doing splits for every driver on every lap to get an accurate conclusion.

    But these major changes in style of attack suggest McLaren are up to something. It’s either that or they really are just throwing everything at it trying to find some speed.

    Me on fence! :)

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  7.   7. Posted By: Peter
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:43 pm 

    I’m really shocked about the pace that Brawn GP have shown so far… simply unbelievable from the word go.

    How do you read Renaults pace James? 2/3 tenths shy of the front teams you mentioned? Hoping they can make some of that up next week to get Alonso up to the front of the field.

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  8.   8. Posted By: Shishir
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:48 pm 

    I’d call BMW the favorites at this point just because they seem as fast as Ferrari in testing trim so far but have also consistently kept running the KERS and seem certain to take it to Melbourne. Ferrari look quick but might have some reliability issues. Kimi’s problem with the KERS probably means they wont run it in Melbourne. As a complete package that looks settled, BMW have the edge.

    Brawn have been astonishingly quick so far but ignoring the qualifying simulation laps and looking at the race simulation laps they might be a shade slower than Ferrari and about as quick as Toyota. I would not be shocked if they won in Australia but i think they are sponsor fishing a bit here with the four lap qualifying stints (completely justifiable) without running an underweight car.

    McLaren are definitely in some trouble but they seem to have found a second in the last two days. I don’t believe they are as bad they look to be right now but I definitely think they will struggle to win in Australia. A points finish should not be a problem.

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  9.   9. Posted By: Dom Leste
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 6:53 pm 

    How much would 70 hp difference make at barcelona for example 0.5-1.0 second?

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  10.   10. Posted By: TSN
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 7:22 pm 

    Looks all very close, my feeling is that BrawnGP are running a little under the required weight, but they should be up front regardless on this sort of pace. McLaren look a bit lost which might be because they don’t have the 780 pages of Ferrari data to rely on this year hehe.

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  11.   11. Posted By: Dave
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 7:25 pm 

    I am not sure why people think Brawn are show boating or ferrari are just in front of them. Look at the situation… Jenson and Rubens have not had any 2009 aero experience, practice adjustment to slicks, new wings etc.. yet whithin 2 day each manage to put up lap times that are amazing and that does not mention getting used to a new car, having not driven for months, setting it up… They clearly are way infront… and I mean way infront… imagine how they would be with all the testing the others had.

    Which reminds me… James could you let us know exactly how many test days each squad used… I lost count as people like Ferrari abandoned days due to rain, sand etc… by my reckoning Ferrari have had at least 1 more day than McLaren

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  12.   12. Posted By: jim marpin
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 7:26 pm 

    70hp!! it’s like having the boost button on for the whole lap if it was honda engine!

    i think they’ve actually earned laptime from switching to mercedes engine given that this transition was smooth as ross brawn said!

    this car is a front runner!

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  13.   13. Posted By: Uppili
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 7:29 pm 

    Brilliant piece James! The best analysis of lap times i have read over the entire off season tests….

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  14.   14. Posted By: rpaco
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 7:32 pm 

    Well I will totally reverse my opinion and publicly eat the words I uttered a couple of weeks ago about Honda/Brawn, when I said that I didn’t see how a team that had failed over several years with one of the biggest budgets in F1 could possibly succeed with a half budget and half the people.

    Ok in fact they still have a full compliment of staff and a massive budget (for this year) but all hail Ross!!

    McLaren need to know that Brawn wood is on the move. (sorry for inept and incongruent parallel of McBeth let every man hew himself a bough etc its 45 years since I did GCE Eng Lit, back when we had proper exams, (which I failed))

    What a fantastic smack in the face with a wet fish for some who would be king! (Wake up Martin, Ron is still creeping around grabbing headlines :-) )

    And we haven’t even seen any Brawn tactics yet! But the strategy looks good so far. If only he and Jense can bond like he and Schumi, then my loyalties will be split (MBE or not) and we have a double shot at a UK title holder.

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  15.   15. Posted By: Darren M
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 7:54 pm 

    This has been an incredible pre season! I reckon every team, expect perhaps Toro Rosso and Force India, has at some point been touted as a potential winner at Melbourne. The first tests back in January seem a long time ago… remember when Mclaren seemed like the team to beat, or when everyone went crazy for the new Red Bull car? I’ve almost forgotten Richard Branson’s phantom bid for Honda… but I’d better not mention his company, I don’t want to give that prat any more free publicity.

    For me, the big question now is how beneficial will the Jerez test next week be for Mclaren, Renault, Williams and Brawn? Surely it can’t be a coincidence that 3 of the fastest teams (Ferrari, BMW and Toyota) are the those which have tested the most. Is there a possibility that if Brawn make more decent progress at Jerez they might leapfrog those 3 teams and head to Australia as the outright quickest team?

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  16.   16. Posted By: brawngphu
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 8:12 pm 

    James! Will you be there in Jerez?

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  17.   17. Posted By: Phil
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 8:18 pm 

    *yawn*, the whole “lolz…ferrari data made McLaren win” is getting really old.

    The FIA checked their 07 car (which anyway was developed WAY before the dossier found it’s way there) and also the 08 car before the season started and found no misappropriated IP. Also, you cannot just take designs/parts from 1 car and put them onto another – it just doesn’t work like that. If they had actually made use of the data to develop the car they would have been totally thrown out of the championship instead of “just” having their points taken and a 100mil fine.

    Finally, McLaren simply got caught, but don’t for a minute think that stuff like this (and more) hasn’t gone on for years in F1 I would wager.

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  18.   18. Posted By: Tomys
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 9:14 pm 

    James, very welll done. I will reserve my judgement on Brawn, but I believe McLaren is faster that it looks, however they will play catch up at the beginning. That’s for sure.

    Williams looks strange, not sure what to think about it.

    I wish well to Toyota. The firts win at last?

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  19.   19. Posted By: Rodrigo Lamas
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 9:41 pm 

    Brawn is by far the quickest team at the moment. Their longer runs were better than Massa’s and the brazilian’s 2008 runner up 1:20.188 was done at low fuel too.

    Brawn is in another league at the moment.

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  20.   20. Posted By: Toby
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 10:21 pm 

    I’d like to third the request for some Williams data! Please, Mr. Allen, give us the goss!

    [Reply]


  21.   21. Posted By: Mal
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 10:57 pm 

    Williams is behind, todays time was set on fumes.

    And yeah…the Brawn car is realy that fast.

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  22.   22. Posted By: Alex
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 11:01 pm 

    I agree with Darren M that it is logical for Ferrari, BMW and Toyota to be ahead since they have finished their testing regime. McLaren, Williams, Renault, Brawn still have Jerez to come. Certainly Williams is bring new Melbourne parts to that test according to their website.

    Whilst in season testing might be banned the one missing sub plot, which has been seldom mentioned recently is those who will run KERS in Melbourne and those who will not. The first four flyaways could therefore be somewhat different to those that follow when the ‘Barcelona’ updates are introduced.

    When something looks too good to be true it usually is. Remember the Prost team’s times in 2001 winter testing? That car was similarly sponsor-less. I know Brawn benefits from Honda’s largesse over the last years. And it wrote off last season in favour of this – but building a car around Honda engines and KERS. Is it really possible that a front running car could possibly be created from a radical re-engineering in three months flat?

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  23.   23. Posted By: Boston F1 Fan
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 11:28 pm 

    “there is nothing to choose between Ferrari and BMW”

    - BMW is slightly slower but I think that Kubica will be more consistent than Massa, so he has the potential to do some serious damage.
    - I’d also take the Brawn GP and Mclaren times with a grain of salt. One team on the verge of dying sets unbelievable times, one team that just won a Driver’s Championship is at the bottom. It is a tad suspect.

    [Reply]


  24.   24. Posted By: roadie
        Date: March 12th, 2009 @ 11:41 pm 

    Nice report, but I am sceptical that the Mercedes engine is 70bhp up on last years Honda with 1000rpm less. If that is the case, then the delta between the two is ~10% with supposed parity, as drawn up by the rules.

    Are Brawn using the same fuel/oil supplier as McLaren?

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  25.   25. Posted By: Anon
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 12:46 am 

    The richer teams should just buy the brawn car.

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  26.   26. Posted By: AC
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 3:37 am 

    interesting that the Brawn has a fundamentally different design than the rest of the field. It’s the only one with a low, broad nose. Guess they can stuff that nose with ballast?

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  27.   27. Posted By: RJ
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 6:51 am 

    James, you’re a life saver for all these stories your getting to us all. Something i bet we all look forward to when we get back from work/before work. If you have any info could you do a story on what you think is behind McLaren at this stage? Would be interesting to know if you have any inside info. As a McLaren fan Im getting a bit worried … in my head I like to keep it as they are just playing games. But are they? I hope so!! Cheers

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  28.   28. Posted By: Alastair
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 9:23 am 

    Before we all get too excited, here are the test times from the same circuit last year:

    http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/66658

    Pos Driver Team Time Laps
    1. Barrichello Honda (B) 1:18.928 77
    2. Fisichella Force India-Ferrari (B) 1:19.721 79
    3. Massa Ferrari (B) 1:20.283 113
    4. Coulthard Red Bull-Renault (B) 1:20.392 87
    5. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes (B) 1:20.452 96
    6. Alonso Renault (B) 1:20.616 118
    7. Rosberg Williams-Toyota (B) 1:20.800 115
    8. Glock Toyota (B) 1:20.870 112
    9. Heidfeld BMW-Sauber (B) 1:20.981 97

    and we all know what happened after that…

    It’s only testing, chaps. Honda have every reason to be setting fast times and drawing attention to themselves, in order to negotiate the best possible deal with their prospective sponsors. They are definitely quick, but it’s far too early to say that they are quicker than Ferrari and Mclaren. I am sure that those two teams are keeping their true speed to themselves, especially Mclaren.

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  29.   29. Posted By: H ROBINSON
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 9:31 am 

    Most things come to he who waits.! so just sit back until OZ. You can’t change things by worrying. QUE SERA SERA.

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  30.   30. Posted By: DanB
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 10:11 am 

    Read the article that goes with those times – Rubens and Fisi were running 2008 cars on slicks to set those times. Completely irrelevant.

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  31.   31. Posted By: anon
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 10:45 am 

    We all know that Felipe said yesterday that he couldn’t have run a similar time to Brawn’s even with zero fuel on board. Rubens was questioned about it and answered: “I could tell you that, without having to ask Felipe, for sure.”

    I think the Brawn will be another F2002/2004.

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  32.   32. Posted By: Alastair
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 11:01 am 

    Not completely irrelevant. Massa did a 1:20.392 on grooved tyres in 2008 and did almost exactly the same lap time this year on (1:20.677), with slicks and reduced downforce, indicating that he is just as fast with less downforce and slicks as he was with more downforce and grooves, wheras Rubens’ time on slicks with 2008 downforce is the same as his time on slicks with 2009 downforce.

    I’m not sure exactly what this all means, but my point is that performance during testing is seldom indicative of race pace, as you will see in two weeks.

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  33.   33. Posted By: Finn
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 11:44 am 

    The reliability of the Brawn with the newly wedded Merc engine is pretty incredible in itself …. no real teething probs to talk of.

    Maybe the pace is real.

    James, didn’t you mention in an ITV website article last year that one of Honda’s problems was that they didn’t have a real designer (or have I just imagined that?). Who designed this car for them? Looks like they have done a great job.

    I HOPE the performance is real but ….

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  34.   34. Posted By: VonSpeeX
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 2:30 pm 

    Well put H Robinson

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  35.   35. Posted By: Finn
        Date: March 13th, 2009 @ 3:26 pm 

    Oops, it was Max (TK), not you, who wrote about Honda’s designer.

    Apologies. I wonder, is TK is on this site as well? No one, so far, quite sounds like him.

    [Reply]


  36.   36. Posted By: Top Posts « WordPress.com
        Date: March 15th, 2009 @ 12:24 am 

    [...] Who is the F1 front runner? This has been a great week for F1 with a real buzz starting to build around the start of the new season. As predicted [...] [...]

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