Le Grand Retour
Paul Ricard 2018
French Grand Prix
Who is the F1 front runner?
Who is the F1 front runner?
Posted By:   |  12 Mar 2009   |  6:06 pm GMT  |  36 comments

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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Well put H Robinson


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 ….


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.


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


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


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.


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


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?


The richer teams should just buy the brawn car.


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?


“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.


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?


Williams is behind, todays time was set on fumes.

And yeah…the Brawn car is realy that fast.


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


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.


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?


James! Will you be there in Jerez?


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?


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.


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


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!


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


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.


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


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.


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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