Why was McLaren faster than Ferrari in Melbourne, but slower in Malaysia? And how much faster was Valterri Bottas than his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa in Sunday’s Grand Prix – enough to make a pass on Jenson Button ahead, as the team believed?
With the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan we can attempt to answer these questions, thanks to the latest performance graphs.
NB – The vertical axis is the lap time in seconds, with the faster lap times lower down and the slower ones higher up. Click on the graphs to enlarge them.
The two graphs from Melbourne (Fig 1 above) and Sepang (Fig 2 below) tell a very clear story. They compare the fastest McLaren and the fastest Ferrari in the two races. In Melbourne McLaren was faster, and in Malaysia it was the Ferrari.
This will be disappointing to McLaren as the team brought an update to the second race, but didn’t seem to get a benefit from it. The team has indicated that part of the reason for this is that their car struggled in the hot conditions. This is partly due to having to open up the bodywork for cooling. This hurts the aerodynamic efficiency of the car, which in turn hurts stability. That means the tyres slide more, overheat and then grip is lost.
However, another key point is that it highlights the risks of bringing updates to cars in these early flyaway races without sufficient opportunity to test them. If you are not able to get a clear read from Friday practice then it is hard to say whether an update is better or worse. Some teams prefer to only run updates when they know for sure that they make the car faster. There is a danger in throwing new parts at a car at this stage of the season, as it can make it harder to understand where the problem areas are if the car is changing and so are the conditions, from hot tracks like Malaysia and Bahrain to the normally cooler conditions experienced at the Shanghai International Circuit.
McLaren will this week have carried out a deep analysis to understand what happened in Malaysia and it will be interesting to see their response at another hot venue this weekend. The car lacks rear downforce and that hurts the corner stability and in turn makes the car slide more on the tyres.
Williams team orders: Was Bottas fast enough to pass Button in Sepang if he’d been allowed through?
There has been a huge amount of talk this week about the controversy at Williams last Sunday when the team asked Felipe Massa to let team-mate Valterri Bottas through to have a crack at passing McLaren’s Jenson Button. Both drivers have now said the matter has been resolved, with Massa saying the team has apologised to him. The question remains, however, did Bottas have the pace to pass Button?
The graph above, taken in conjunction with the race history chart (below), shows that in the last stint Bottas was significantly faster on tyres that were two laps fresher than Massa’s and four laps fresher than Button’s.
Button pits on lap 39 and Massa picks up his pace by half a second on lap 40 and another half second on lap 41, before pitting on lap 42. Bottas stops on lap 44 and from lap 46 onwards he pushes his tyres hard to catch Button and Massa. By around laps 49-50 he is much faster.
It is here that he has the pace to attack Button but isn’t given the chance. Looking at his traces it appears that his tyre degradation is higher than Massa’s (look at the upward curve in his second stint above, compared to Massa’s), so there was a narrow window in which to make the attack, but after that the pace is not there. He catches Massa on the sixth lap and Massa turns the speed up a little, as does Button, looking at lap 50 in particular.
Looking at his approach speed at that moment, when the tyres were in the sweet spot, it is understandable that Williams’ instinct was to ask Massa to let Bottas through but once the degradation kicks in it is not quite as night and day in terms of pace as one might have initially thought.
The conclusion is that for Bottas to have had any chance of passing Button he needed to be allowed through tyne moment he caught his team mate, early in the stint when he had the pace.
After that the moment – and the opportunity – were lost.