The first three races have given us much to reflect on in terms of the new style of racing F1 now provides, but there are some fascinating details emerging too about the relative performance of the cars.
One of the things to catch the eye has been the relative pace of the Red Bull and the McLaren in qualifying and in the race. And it’s not just about who has the newest tyres. When you look at it closely you see that there is reason to feel very excited about the competition between the two cars this season.
At the first and third races Sebastian Vettel had a margin of 7/10ths of a second over the closest McLaren, while in Malaysia it was much closer, just 1/10th.
But in the races, particularly the last two which have longer straights and more high speed corners, the McLaren has generally been very close.
Part of the reason for this, of course, is the efficiency of the Mercedes KERS on the McLaren, while the Red Bull has been struggling to make its system work and has been using it for starts and not much else. Webber’s KERS packed in after 24 laps in China, while Vettel’s was only giving him a 30hp boost instead of the normal 80hp and as he and the team explained, he didn’t use it throughout the race.
The Red Bull wing has a steep upper plane design, which gets a bigger drag reduction than the McLaren when the DRS is enabled. That gives Webber and Vettel an advantage in qualifying, because the DRS can be enabled everywhere, as we have seen on the TV pictures of qualifying.
In the race, when the DRS can only be used in one particular situation, McLaren have an advantage because their softer rear wing gives them a straightline speed advantage everywhere except for the DRS zone.
In Shanghai, for example, in the race Hamilton’s top speed in Sector 1 was 291km/h compared to Vettel’s 273 km/h. In sector 2 it was 269km/h compared to 267 km/h and in Sector 3 it was 258 km/h to 256 km/h.
Obviously the reason Hamilton was able to catch and pass Vettel was because he was on newer tyres due to the different strategies they were on, but the principal was the same in Malaysia where Vettel and Button did the same strategy. Although there again we saw that the McLaren had better rear tyre wear than the Red Bull.
It’s one of the reasons to feel pretty encouraged about the competition in the races ahead of us in the coming months. Now Ferrari have to work hard on their car to get themselves into the fight, because Red Bull and McLaren are in good shape.
Writing on his own website this week, Hamilton said, “China was great because we made it work out on the track – it’s always sweeter to win a race when you’ve overtaken the cars ahead. And in my final stint I got past Nico, Felipe and Sebastian for the win, which hopefully was great for all the fans watching.”
Incidentally the Mercedes problems with the DRS wing, which hit Michael Schumacher in qualifying in China, are believed to be aerodynamic in the sense that the air flow is not reattaching after the DRS wing is closed.
This was a problem many teams experienced with the F Duct wing last year. Mercedes has been very aggressive with its design this year and appear to have the biggest gain when the DRS in enabled of all the teams, at around 20km/h.
They will no doubt be using the three week break before Turkey to address their problems in this area, which may result in a less dramatic speed gain but a more efficient rear wing.