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Hamilton considers why McLaren’s race pace doesn’t match qualifying
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Posted By: James Allen  |  23 May 2012   |  6:23 pm GMT  |  55 comments

Lewis Hamilton has been speaking today about McLaren’s race performances and the mismatch with their qualifying performances, which has been one of the mysteries of this 2012 season.

Hamilton has qualified on the front row five times in five races, although in China he had a gearbox penalty and in Barcelona he was demoted to the back of the grid for a fuel load irregularity. And yet the race pace hasn’t matched up to the qualifying pace and it’s left them chasing the game on Sundays. Of course pit stop errors have played their part in him not achieving better results, but it’s been noticeable that the pace hasn’t been as expected on race day, regardless of the pit stop problems.

“Of course looking at the qualifying results we’ve had for the five races we would have loved to have finished further up and we definitely need to improve to make sure we stay where we are or we move forwards,” he said. “We’ve started high up and finished a little bit further behind from where we started so we’ve gone backwards a little bit in most of the races, but we’re working very hard to make sure that doesn’t continue.”

Although the finger of blame has been pointed at the inconsistent behaviour of all the teams on the Pirelli tyres this year, with Hamilton’s team-mate Jenson Button in particular complaining a lot during races about the handling, another explanation doing the rounds among engineers in the pitlane is that fuel consumption may have something to do with it. With higher fuel consumption comes a need to carry a bit more fuel and this extra weight slows the car down by around 0.35 seconds per lap for every 10 extra kilos carried.

The banning this season of off throttle blown diffusers (where fuel is dumped into the cylinder even when the driver lifted off the throttle for corners, to create exhaust gas pressure for aerodynamic gains) the amount of fuel being used by the teams has reduced up to a point. But there are suggestions that the Mercedes engine is still using more fuel than others and this accounts for the drop off in performance on race day. As the grid is so tight, even a few tenths of a second per lap makes quite a difference.

Nico Rosberg has also yet to finish a race higher than his starting position.

If this is part of the problem, it should be less of a difference in Monaco, where the fuel load is one of the lowest of the season, as there is so little full throttle running.

Track position is king in Monaco, which is why qualifying well here is so important.

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55 Comments
  1. Alain says:

    So that would mean the McLaren should be penalised in the first part of the race and as they use more fuel they would finish the race with the same time gap they enjoy during the qualifying…

    Reality does not confirm that

    Cheers

    1. Prateek says:

      Not sure if your Maths add up.

    2. Raymond YZJ says:

      It’s a double edged sword. By the time the fuel loads are similar among all cars (near the end) the Mercedes cars will have hurt their tyres more by running heavier.

    3. Richard says:

      No No! Time lost is time lost, and rarely can be made up unless other teams make mistakes or there is a safety car or temporary stop (red flag). The bottom line is that if it is the case then Mercedes powered cars are at a disadvantage throughout as they need to carry more fuel per lap than say Renault powered cars.

      1. Alain says:

        Not throughout, by the end of the race their total weight should be about what it is during qualifying which is the case for all cars then.

      2. Richard says:

        It’s the fuel consumption of the engine per lap we are talking about. It’s true that in the last few laps the weight of the remaining fuel will be be less evident, but still at a disadvantage to other more frugally powered cars that require less. Look at it another way if Mercedes were able to make their engine more fuel efficient comparable with Renault for example the Mercedes powered cars would be fractionally faster in qualifying than they are currently with less fuel. The other aspect at the end of the race is that tyres will also be well past their best so performance then is not comparable with qualifying even though most of the fuel is burnt off.

  2. Nigel says:

    There’s also Fernando Alonso’s interesting comment at the Monaco press conference that the Pirellis mask problems with traction out of corners over a single lap, but not over the race.

    1. Raymond YZJ says:

      Hi Nigel, would you mind providing a link? I must have missed that. Is it the FIA press conference?

      1. Nigel says:

        Sure:

        http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/99783
        Although one of his car’s weakest points is traction in low-speed corners, the Spaniard says it is not a big worry for this weekend’s race.
        “With new tyres and over one lap you can sort of mask the traction problems, so it’s not a big worry for us,” he said.

      2. Alain says:

        if traction out of low speed corners is not a problem in Monaco; where is it then ?

      3. James Allen says:

        It’s very important here

      4. Nigel says:

        One has to assume Alonso was referring to qualifying:
        “over one lap you can sort of mask the traction problems…”

        If you can start from the front, then it’s the one circuit where race pace isn’t always decisive.

  3. Charalampos says:

    Without digging further at the data to check, I have noticed that the maclarens are around 0.6 off their qualifying pace when it comes to the race. And I doubt that the mercedes engine cars would carry more than 10 kilos than the renault cars at the beginning of the race. That would explain only 0.35 seconds. But moreover if indeed Mercedes engine cars carry around 10 more kilos of fuel, then their pace should become better as the race unfolds and they start to burn their extra fuel. But I did not notice Maclaren or Mercedes becoming 0.35 second per lap quicker at the end of the race against the renault engine cars. So I find it hard to believe. This is something that would become clear by data comparison.

    1. Raymond YZJ says:

      How do you come to 0.6s?

    2. Matthew Yau says:

      As people have said, you have to account for tyre usage too. By running 10kgs heavier, they are using up their tyres more.

      At the start of the race/stint, but the problem becomes more exaggerated as the race/stint goes on.

      Furthermore, it creates aerodynamic problems too. By weighing 10kg more, your aero and suspension is set up accordingly, so this could mean that by the end of the race, the McLaren and Mercedes are riding higher than the other cars.

  4. Becken says:

    What really surprised me today in the press conference was Lewis’ take on Pirelli tyres and how have been enjoying the challenge this year:

    “…I really enjoy the racing that we have now, as I’ve enjoyed it every year, and every year is a new challenge and I think that’s what the rules are there to give us is challenges.

    It is a little bit different, where we’re not pushing 100 percent in the race.

    There are some points in the race where you can really push but not for very long and perhaps it is more about endurance, as Mark said, to try and make these tyres last, but it is still a challenge to extract the most out of the tyres for a longer period.

    It still requires skill and technique and finesse to do that stuff so we’re still all trying to – speaking for myself – I’m still trying to get that fine touch sorted. But nonetheless, it’s still Formula One, it’s still fun and there’s more overtaking which is what people like to see…”

    LINK: http://www.fia.com/en-GB/mediacentre/pressreleases/f1releases/2012/Pages/f1-conf-mco1.aspx

    1. Jezick says:

      Did you watch it on Sky? Fascinating how the printed word and live and provide two completely different perspectives.

    2. iceman says:

      Yes that is pretty surprising isn’t it, quite the opposite of what he’s said in the past. Playing the political game a little perhaps.

    3. jonnyd says:

      you quote the extract, conveniently missing out the bit where mark webber actually says that he prefers the sprint racing with refuelling, that him and the other drivers probably prefer that type of racing, and that they had to drive to the limit – and now they dont.

  5. Dan says:

    Mclaren have been a shambles this season, regarding times of pit stops and the actual pit stops.

    But I agree to a point with MSC, I want to see racing not F1 cars tip toeing around because of the tyres.

  6. goferet says:

    Interesting computations but what’s more interesting is the fact that even the F1 boffins that build these cars don’t really know what the hell is going on in 2012.

    My personal take on this mystery is Mclaren went all guns blazing during the winter break to produce a car that could match the Red Bull in qualifying with the belief, if their cars qualify well, it would be half the job done to secure victory.

    But as we saw in Silverstone 2011, Mclaren were the team that were going to be most affected with the banning of the off throttle burning of gases & it seems they haven’t yet figured out how to get back that lost downforce.

    Yes, I think Mclaren’s woes are much more serious than a tenth lost here & there for wasn’t Lewis losing a second a lap to Red Bull & Lotus in Bahrain. Also Jenson said after Barcelona, his fastest lap was 2.6 seconds slower than Grosjean’s fastest lap.

    So yeah, hopefully Mclaren’s upgrades in the coming races can address this problem for as we all know, Melbourne has a habit of hiding a car deficiencies and that’s why we had Jenson controlling that race.

    Thankfully, we won’t see any of this lack of pace issues in Monaco for I have already placed a bucket load of dosh with the bookies for a Hammy win.

    Meanwhile all these problems Lewis has been encountering (e.g. in the pits) will indirectly give us a close season kinda like how the penalties the FIA dished Lewis in 2008 = gave us a thriller in Interlagos.

    Yes, every year Lewis has had a decent car (e.g. 2007, 2008 and 2010) we have gone till the last race of the season.

    P.s.

    The funny thing about the Mclaren story is the average fan will always claim for all eternity that Mclaren had the fastest car in 2012 because of their qualifying pace.

    The same fans that claim Alonso walked on water with a dog of a car even though it was clear from the first race that Ferrari’s race pace (hell even in 2011) has been much better than their qualifying pace.

    E.g. There were phases of the Malaysian Grand Prix 2012 where Alonso was by far the fastest guy on track.

    But of course as always, people like to believe what they would like to believe.

    1. azac21 says:

      speaking for yourself there I assume….

    2. Andrew Woodruff says:

      Sounds like you like to believe what suits you!

    3. Raymond YZJ says:

      And a further irony is that in 2010 and 2011 people weren’t willing to accept that Red Bull oftentimes didn’t have the quickest race pace, either. And that’s coming from me – I’ve supported McLaren since I started watching F1.

      1. James Allen says:

        RBR race pace wasn’t as strong as their qualifying pace in 2011, that’s for certain. That had to do with DRS

      2. Raymond YZJ says:

        Yes that’s what I meant. Most people were taking their qualifying dominance as proof of RBR being the out and out quickest. It was at some circuits, but often their race pace was nowhere near.

      3. Mikee says:

        Yes but there race Pace was still quicker then the next team
        Maclaren though race pace is slower and qualy is just over a few tenths except in spain where Lewis hammered it to half a second

      4. JCC says:

        How do you guys qualify a car as “the fastest”?

        Q3 time? Fastest lap on Sunday? I think it’s not easy to determine, it’s even harder in a tight season like the one we’re seeing.

    4. Nathan Jones says:

      Couldn’t agree more that people have been overblowing Alonso’s efforts this season. No question, the Ferrari is certainly not the class of the field, but they have benefitted as much as anyone from the Pirelli lottery: sometimes the tyres make you look a sluggard, sometimes they make you look a rocket.

      It is plain that small shortcomings in the cars’ abilities are far out-weighed by whether the Pirellis are working for you that weekend or not.

      My opinion, and it worth as little as anyone else’s, is that the weeks where people have raved about how Alonso dragged a dog of a car around a track have certainly been heavily assisted by the pirellis ‘working’ for Ferrari that week. Devil take the car’s shorcomings, the Pirellis are with us today!

      And as for people saying the car must be terrible because look where Massa qualified. Well … I guess we should all feel a little sorry for Felipe. He ain’t what he used to be.

      1. MISTER says:

        So Ferrari were “lucky” in all 5 races with Alonso this year with the tyres? Is that what you are saying?
        Come on! You can hit the sweet spot once or twice, but to say that all his efforts are down to the tyres is bull.
        Then how come Felipe is so off the pace compared to Fernando? I know Felipe hasn’t been himself for a long period, but he almost won a championship now long ago. He can’t be that bad.

        If the tyres helped Alonso, that means they helped Massa too. And considering Massa’s results, I can imagine Massa finishing behind the HRT if the tyres did not work as you claim they did.
        You’ve got to wake up dude!

    5. hero_was_senna says:

      goforet, you really do entertain me with some of your ramblings.
      All those people that work for Ferrari, all impartial journalists and commentators, all team directors and opposition drivers who have said Ferrari are in a mess at the moment but they are still to be feared because they will improve.

      Everyone of them is obviously drinking something to bring them to a conclusion so far away from yours regarding Ferrari’s “dog of a car”
      Malaysia, my dear friend, was a wet race, and as we all know, all sorts of parameters change when that black surface is slippery.

  7. Kidza says:

    Judging by the quotes attributed to him, Hamilton didn’t actually consider “why Mclarec’s race pace doesn’t match qualifying”. You did James!

    Hamilton alludes to some race issue(s), but says nothing about “why” they are having those issues, certainly not in any of the comments in your article. Am I missing something?

  8. Justin Bieber says:

    Well, if that’s really the case that’s quite an handicap.. With the engine freeze, its not something they will be able to fix anytime soon.

  9. Chris Mellish says:

    It was actually 5 out of 5 but he had a gearbox penalty,

  10. Richard B. says:

    really want to see lewis win this one, wouldn’t mind if kimi did though, 6 different winners and cars.

    on a completely different subject, i’ve been told the cars will have onboard starter motors in 2014, is that true?

    1. Craig in SG says:

      5.18 Starting the engine :
      It must be possible for the driver to start the engine at any time when seated normally at the wheel and without any external assistance.

      1. Richard B. says:

        thanks

  11. Andrew Carter says:

    Its interesting, a few years ago it wa the Ferrari that was the thirstiest engine out there and Mercedes was considered almost on a par with Renault. Given how it’s only the periferals that can be developed, it’s interesting to see how much it’s all changed.

    1. Andrew Carter says:

      Periferals of the engine, that is.

    2. Ray says:

      They are allowed to make “reliability” changes to the engines. Of course, none of those changes increase performance or efficiency in any way at all, oh no.

      Every single on the grid is better than it was before the “freeze”.

  12. Joe says:

    James, last year it was said that the Renault was the best on fuel economy, Mercedes was OK, while Ferrari was the worst. Has this changed? I thought with the engine freeze, there was very little that the engine suppliers could do to change their fuel use.

  13. kp says:

    The problem for Lewis … he looks after his tyres and loses the race; he doesn’t look after his tyres and loses the race.

    In my book that makes him a bit of a loser. But time will tell.

    1. Nathan Jones says:

      [mod] I presume you are referring to Barcelona as the race he ‘lost’ whilst looking after his tyres. Well, he started from the back of the grid, so there wasn’t really a question of him winning the race, given the tyres that they are using this season. By the same token, the race was ‘lost’ before it even began, from the moment he took his grid penalty. Not by way of his driving style.

      I don’t think there are many people would refer to him as a ‘loser’ on that basis.

  14. Andreas Myrberg says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I have to agree with some of the comments that it does not really explain it all.
    I have however also though about the fact that the Renault seems to be easier on the rear tyres then the Mercedes. That, and the additional weight sounds like we are on to something.
    So if the Renaults has an advantage in Monaco in race pace (even if passing will be though) theory at least is good.

  15. sumedh says:

    I thought the fuel load in Monaco is least because it is a 260km race and not a 305km race.

  16. lethalnz says:

    interesting James, my take is McLaren have the fastest car, Hamilton proves that each qualifying, just how many times has his crew let him down???
    the lack of pace when behind seams to be the same for most teams when in dirty air, you only get a small window of attacking the guy in front before your tires start going off, then you are defending your own place on track.
    i hate Monaco due to the none passing opportunities on track, its like watching a procession of cars, opportunity are restricted only how many pit-stops you do.

  17. Hk says:

    Fuel may play a part in it but I feel a lot of it has to do with the DRS and the fact in qualifying they have free reign over when to use it but during the race they are limted to the DRS zone. A good DRS can flatter a car during qualifying but not in the race.

    Personally I would prefer if DRS is also limited to the zones during qualifying as well; that would give a clearer picture of who is fastest over a single lap.

  18. Guy says:

    On fuel cosumption.

    If we look strictly at the motors(fuel consumption) in terms of wins then Renault vs Mercedes is a draw in terms of wins.

    In terms of poduims its also a draw (6 each with ferrari motors on 3. Still no difference!

    Only interesting thing I picked up from this analysis is that in the last 2 races Renault has 5 poduims & Mercedes 0

  19. Ryan Eckford says:

    I think Hamilton would have won the Spanish GP easily if he had started from pole position.

    1. Nathan Jones says:

      Agree completely. Won, and handsomely.

      Lewis, look out! The FIA’s throwing books again!

  20. EJ says:

    Can KERS have anything to do with saving fuel in the race? By using it to gradually boost the pace. Or is if full on or off…..I wonder….

  21. Veena says:

    Wow, Nice explanation James. Make sense. Even though I am not a Hami fan, I love to see him challanging for the win. If Mclaren can stop the pit stop blunder he had a chance to win here. I love to see Hami and Kimi fighting it out.

    But I have a question, if the engine freeze is in place, then how come this has changed this year?

    1. Richard says:

      I think the Renault engine always has been more frugal than the slightly more powerful Mercedes engine. Perhaps as EBD has gone this is the effect we are left with, but pure guesswork.

  22. Veena says:

    *he had a chance – he has a chance

  23. Richard says:

    Yes that’s a good rationale James as the Mclaren’s have looked a bit sluggish on high fuel loads, and definately lack race pace. Are you aware of any moves by Mercedes to improve the situation with fuel consumption? If it happens the McLaren will become a fly machine, but sooner rather than later please!

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