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A closer look at the pace of the F1 cars post Melbourne
A closer look at the pace of the F1 cars post Melbourne
Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Mar 2011   |  5:55 pm GMT  |  152 comments

Over the winter we were told by teams and drivers that it was very hard to guess what the pecking order was simply from looking at testing.

With so many variables like the DRS wing, KERS and fuel loads, establishing a clear picture was difficult during the four official tests.

On top of that the McLaren car which turned up in Melbourne at the weekend was so utterly transformed, performance wise, from the one which stuttered through testing that it was unrecognisable.

This shows that the scope for rapid development with these new rules is significant, at least in the early stages of the season. So the gaps will change a lot in the next few races.

Most of the downforce on an F1 car is generated by the diffuser and with these being cut back from double to single diffusers this year, the pressure is on to get the exhaust gases blowing across them and to find every possible way to maximise the downforce of the car, efficiently, with not to much drag. Hence the exhaust arms race going on at the moment, which was started by Renault.

Red Bull has clearly got the most advanced car; Vettel was 17km/h faster through the high speed chicane at Turn 11 than Hamilton’s McLaren and more like 25km/h faster than the midfield teams.

The time sheets from the first Grand Prix of the season tell a partial picture, as not everyone was able to unlock the pace in their car; Ferrari and Mercedes in particular were not as fast as they expected to be in qualifying and at the other end of the grid, Lotus did not show the step closer to the established teams on Saturday they believed they had achieved.

Vettel was on pole by 8/10ths from Hamilton, with Alonso six tenths slower than the McLaren, Petrov three tenths behind. To me that indicates that the Renault is probably as fast as the Ferrari. Rosberg was a couple of tenths behind, with the Sauber there too. Williams didn’t show what they can do in qualifying or the race, really. It was a messy weekend for them.

However looking through the fastest laps from the race points out a few more important indicators about performance. Jarno Trulli’s fastest lap was a 1m 32.550, one second slower than the Force India of Adrian Sutil. This is still not as close as Lotus thought they were, but still a big improvement on their qualifying pace and on where they were last year.

Meanwhile Virgin’s pace in the race highlights just how far off they are, D’Ambrosio’s fastest lap was two seconds slower than Trulli’s. They are adrift at the back of the field, and judging from a comparison of the lap times that Liuzzi turned in his brief spell on the track, there is a danger that Hispania might actually be faster than Virgin, once it gets a chance to do some set up work, in Sepang.

Meanwhile at the front, Vettel and Hamilton were cruising on Sunday, Hamilton had a damaged floor and Vettel just maintained his pace to manage his tyres. He could have gone a lot faster if he needed to.

So the fastest race lap was the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, pushing very hard in the closing stages after a late pit stop for new tyres, Alonso was also quick after his third stop. Although these laps on fresher tyres do not tell the whole story, they do show that there is pace in this Ferrari. Its problem is high tyre wear.

Sergio Perez amazingly set the 7th fastest lap – fourth fastest team – on tyres that had done 16 laps and when the car was still heavy on fuel. The Sauber is quite a car it seems, capable of qualifying in the top ten and easy on its tyres, with plenty of raw pace. That’s a points scoring combination.

Toro Rosso were consistent; they qualified 10th and 12th and in the race set the 10th and 11th fastest laps.

However we must be careful, Melbourne often shows a picture which isn’t born out by the races that follow. KERS will be more important in Sepang and Shanghai and whatever system Red Bull has, it’s going to need some help from it at those two circuits. Tyre wise Sepang is smooth, like Melbourne, although with some higher speed corners, so the tyre wear will be slightly higher, but not back to Barcelona levels.

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Explains how Red Bull’s wing flexes so well.


I think there’s no regulation about not using KERS below 100 kmh. Actually, as far as I remember, the reason is that using it below some speed could make the car ‘undriveable’. Did anyone hear this?


1) Weight distribution percentages are fixed by the 2011 rules. The only advantage of not running KERS is lower CG. A lap time model will clearly show if it is every better to race without KERS.

2) KERS would not be of any benefit off the starting line. Lacking any aero down-force, the engines are not delivering maximum power for some distance beyond the starting line. Why would you want the extra power of the KERS until the engine is at max power?



What was the top speed difference between vettel and webber? would that be an indicator of any equipment differences ?


Just wondering if anyone has done any comparisons of qualifying laps to see how long each driver activated their DRS over the course of their hot lap? Are we not just seeing the qualifying speed of the cars, but also the extra capability of some drivers over others to cope with the balance changes activating this system causes the car’s handling? And did Vettel use this substantially more than the rest of the pack, and thus have a much faster lap, or is that purely just raw pace? DRS times or percentages of each lap would be fascinating.


An interesting question. I think I heard Martin Brundle say that Vettel was able to use DRS through some of the corners in qualifying. I expect the pole lap is available on the BBC website so with the on-screen graphic it would be possible to check.


The lap the BBC show is often not the actual pole lap from what I can see. This time it was as you could see Vettel’s dashboard had the time on it. But in previous seasons they seem to have just used a random flying lap, because I noticed this when in qualifying the driver had passed traffic to get pole, yet when the lap was played the next day there was no traffic at all.


He was able to ope the DRS in the middle of Turn 2 and earlier than others when exiting corners. We saw that all through practice


Another great F1 article and as others have said it’s (in the main) refreshing to read intelligent, reasoned and knowledgable comments from others.

Re Redbull and Kers, I agree we onl;y have the word of Redbull that they didn’t have it and let’s face it it’s their right to say whatever they say so long as there’re not breakjing any rules.

On the race, I was dissapointed that Vetel didn’t get a penalty for his liilegal overtake of Button, who knows how the race would have panned out if he was instructed to give the plkace back (as he should have done) and as for Brubles comments that the stewards didn’t look at it as Vetel had already overtaken Button that’s missing the point as Vettel’s speed was such it was impossible for him to stay on the track.

One would think with todays technology it’d not be too difficult for the FIA to have a system that alerted race control when a car (any car) leaves the track!



The next few races will show the real picture. Many teams have gathered valuable information on the tires behavior, so I expect closer gaps. Good KERS is needed in Sepang, I hope there won’t be any rain to ruin the race and watch slow laps. RBR’s rivals need to think about aero packages, because Vettel was gaining a lot in the third sector at Oz, and this is the only place where good aero is required.



I have a totally unrelated question, but thought I’d ask it here as it would be good to have your opinion.

I’ve been saving up to visit the Japanese Grand Prix combined with a 2 week holiday of Japan. Given that you have been going there for 20 years do you think that the current problems in Japan will affect the atmosphere at the race and the general atmosphere/experience of visiting Japan.

I don’t think I will be going north of Tokyo anyway.

Appologies for sticking this question in a totally random place.




Officials told me in Melbourne that at the moment, Japan is on. Of course the country has a lot to overcome and we hope it doesn’t happen again later this year. the track is 400kms at least south west of Tokyo. I’d fly to Nagoya via Seoul, if I were you


Thanks James, this really is a once in a lifetime (or at least till I retire in 30 years) trip and I really don’t want it to go wrong


Hope the situation in country will improve and all will go to it’s normal way, so that we will not miss Suzuka GP in this year.

But may it sounds little naughty but I guess who will not be much worried about, other TOP teams apart from Red Bull, Ferrari sooner..


I’m still angry about drivers leaving the track (all 4 wheels outside the defined exterior of the circuit) to make a pass, by going the long way around, with no reprimand. If you get a drive-thru for cutting a corner and gaining an advantage (rightly so!), surely the same should happen if one goes around the outside of a corner at a much higher velocity and thus gains an advantage!?!?!?

Anyhow, it would seem RBR still retain their cornering advantage over the other teams!


One thing that I “observed” during the race but I haven’t seen anyone pick up on was that after 5 or 6 laps into a stint, Hamilton started to catch Vettel. The in-car radion from Vettel was broadcast first saying his tyres were going off in the first stint, and Hamilton could stay out longer.

So, are the Red Bulls getting better grip from the tyres in the first / second laps, whereas the Maclaren’s are taking a few laps longer, but last that little it longer?

This would partially explain the gap that Red Bull got in qualifying and repeated in each of the laps following the start and certainly the first stop? During the race, Hamilton started to close slightly 3rd or 4th lap into the stint.

Could be that Vettel eased off, but I doubt that was the case, certainly at the start of the race.

Just a thought!


A friend of mine made the same observation during testing. He said that the drivers that warmed up their tyres at a more relaxed pace at first seemed to be able to make them last longer with not such a harsh performance drop off.

Your observation seems to confirm that theory to an extent. It might have been that Vettel pushed to hard in the first 2 laps and heated up the tyres to fast…


Interesting to read, James. I’m looking forward to your posts about Chinese GP next month.

I have a question and hope you could help me here. I’ve search jobs with Formula One racing, not the engineering kind of jobs, but the hospitality jobs that could make me travel with the tournament. I did a lot of searching, but with no luck. Can you give me some ideas? Thank you very much.


Write to the teams’ head of HR. Offer to help as a translator or even on their shopping runs during the GP weekend.


What must be worrying for Massa in particular is that the car is now having troubles warming up the tyres again, according to Aldo Costa.

So they have a worst case scenario – tyres that are slow to warm up and that don’t last long.


Like most people I suppose, I was both positively surprised and impressed with the pace of McLaren (and Hamilton in particular), Renault and Sauber.

Less so by Ferrari, Mercedes as far as teams are concerned; and Webber and Massa who underperformed their team mate massively.

I’m going to Sepang next week. What corners would you recommend we watch the Friday practice sessions?


In my opinion i feel as though the DRS system works very VERY well.

Without analyzing every lap, I noticed that a car that was faster was able to get close enough for a pass, even though it did not happen in turn one. Button on kobayashi is a good example and Vettel on Button is another one which without the pass, would have cost him the race win. I also noticed that cars with similar pace was not able to easily pass another, which was the fear of most in pre-season.

As a fan that has loved every race over nearly the 20 years I have been following the sport I think DRS is perfect, because it gives the oportunity if you are quick enough to get past a slow car and get on with the race. I applaude the FIA for trying something crazy like this and hope it has a similar effect on the remaining races.


Does the DRS really have any appreciable difference to the closing speed when a faster car is in a slower car’s slipstream? I’d be surprised if it was enough to make any huge difference.

Surely the biggest effect comes into play once the following car moves out of the slipstream to attempt the actuall overtake? Isn’t this why the 1 second rule was brought in, to make sure that cars would be in the slipstream anyway, and the DRS is to assist the actual overtaking manouvre?


Fast Laps give a distorted picture, now that refueling is banned, since most Fast Laps are set by drivers on new tires at the end of the race when the car is light. There’s much less info to be gleaned since refueling was banned.

Now, the Sauber is interesting. Last year, Kobayashi had some fantastic results by running ridiculous numbers of laps on a 1-stop strategy, and it seems like Sauber has tried it again. The speed of Perez’s car late in the race on old tires was surprising, and so the apparent lap-by-lap dropoff may eventually stabilize given enough laps. It will be interesting to see how teams respond. You would think the top teams would now try to see if they can run a 1-stop strategy.


It says that in the post, however you can make some comparisons


So waht do you think the chances are that RBR will have a rocket ship that eats tyres every few laps on some of the harsher circuits?

Turns out Renault were right with their predictions…. joining top 3… Amazing!


I love watching the coat turning of F1 fans. It would seem the very people that noticed Vettel for who he really was last year, have changed their opinions after his lottery championship win.

In 2010 the general consensus was Vettel is a spoiled, obnoxious little brat (this is concerning several pieces of behind the scenes footage), but when he did win it was all lollipops and rainbows.

Now we’re in 2011, and after the first race is screamingly obvious the little brat is being silver spoon fed by his team, I mean lets face it, Germans stick together right?

Swap the RBR cars around, and lets see how good a driver he really is.


I’m not a Redbull fan, or a vettel fan, but I dont think you could get wider of the mark on this one…

From what I’ve heard hes a decent young lad. Hes probably a little immature at times, but hes only just out of short trousers.

And as for your comment about Germans, I’m sure they look after their own, just like the brits would be expected to look after theirs and so on.

And how you’d reconcile that with Helmut Marko pushing Daniel Ricciardo is pretty difficult 🙂


Have you been watching F1 for the last three years?

I’m sorry for being procrastinating but… I’m sure most reasonable people would agree that Vettel is a golden boy.


I’ve been watching F1 for 25 years.

Whether they support him more than Mark isnt my point. That isnt his fault. He doesnt come accross as a brat, far from it.

Adrian Newey made the call on the wing didnt he, not Christian Horner, not Helmut Marko.

I’m a huge fan of Mark, and I wanted him to win the WDC last year in the absence of a McLaren winner.

I personally think a lot of this issue is dragged up by your friend and mine Mr Marko. But thats IMO… 🙂


It’s hard to believe RBR have provided both of their drivers with the same equipment.

A question to anyone who can answer,

How many times can a team fail to qualify before there is no place for them in F1?


Definitely not one….


I haven’t found anything about that on FIA 2100 Sporting Regs.

IMO, it would be a question of time. No sponsor could support a team that consistently fails to qualify.


Oooops! 2011 Sporting Regs… I’ve not been able to find the 2100 ones yet! 😉

Jake Holocointo

James, I’m curious; why are you going out of your way to avoid questions pertaining to the political situation at RBR?

Does your relationship with Mark preclude you from commenting on what is clearly now a dysfunctional relationship between Mark and Helmut Marko?

If not, are you able to comment on the rumour that a new wing was flown out for Vettel — and only Vettel — to use in Melbourne? If Vettel was the only one to receive the new wing, then it would suggest that things have become positively spiteful between Mark and the good doctor.




I’m not avoiding it. I know nothing of this wing and there was no talk of it over the weekend. Both cars were sustaining damage to the bottom of the front wing endplate through contact with the ground. As for politics, it’s very clear that the team is lined up behind Vettel now.


“Both cars were sustainin damage to the bottom of the front wing endplate…….” That’s interesting! Did other cars running on the same track and at similar speeds sustain similar damage? Or was it due to a RBR flex mechanism hard at work?


It’s (to me) becoming clear that the top 3 teams all now have a clear No 1 and I’m sure it does to you too.

Senna didn’t need to have the tile No1 at McLaren though he was (rightly) simply No1.

The likes of Vettel, Hamilton (in my view the fastest & given equal equipment more so) and Alonso don’t come along often and it’d just great that they’re all racing at the same time against each other (history would maybe tell a different story had Schumacher faced the same during his prime!



have you been able to gain any insight (for instance from Frank Dernie or one of your tech contacts) about how the Redbull front wings can hold the vertical load tests without problem, but can flex at will in the race and quali.

I’m fascinated, as I believe it may be something to do with the directional layering of carbon fibre.

Hats off to them…


Maybe it is not because of the wing. Maybe it is related to the geometry of the arms of the front wheels and the suspension system during the turning.


Virgin need to find a wind tunnel sharpish.


I posted on another forum (naughty me) that I honestly believe Hispania will be faster than Virgin by the end of summer! Nick Wirth just won’t admit that his CFD only design approach can’t deliver the goods in open an wheeled formula in the way that it has in the ALMS Acura car. Still lots of deveopment to be done to the software yet.


I’m convinced that a Geoff Willis led redesign, and a Williams back end will be right come race weekend.

So I share your view. But I’m going for the 3rd GP of the season! If I’m not right, come back to me 🙂


Could be sooner than that.


It strikes me that the RBR can carry more pace through the corners than any others car at present. And this it seems was evident in Australia. But we know the Mclaren has a more powerful engine and is not a million miles off the RBR with downforce. Once we go to Sepang is it not possible that we will see the Mclaren emerge as the ‘faster’ car?

My point is that if Mclaren can find some more downforce by perfecting the EBD then the advantage may swing Mclaren’s way quite quickly as their straight line pace wins out.



Did Red Bull still carry around the KERS in their car on Saturday and Sunday, so carrying the weight penalty, or remove it? With the system, they must have 0.5 to a second extra in hand?

Also, through simulation, has anyone worked out how much the DRS decreases laptime in qualifying? I realise it varies from circuit to circuit (Monza/Monaco), but then we could see how much the double diffuser ban and what the actual one lap pace of the Pirelli’s is compared to the Bridgestones.


The cars have to run at a minimum weight so there was no benefit weightwise. The benefit would come from being able to place more ballast in better areas of the car, improving the balance of the car


The Lotus Renault looks really quick (if it’s in one piece. The damage on Heidfeld’s car was fierce!), it’ll be interesting to see whether they can keep up the same development pace that they had last year.


Melbourne is an odd place. It’s described as a place where you can’t measure relative pace of the cars, yet in the last decade has proved an excellent indicator of the driver/car that goes on to actually win the championship.


I agree, in the past 5 years, 4 merlbourne winners won the championships. Strange isnit


Some interesting points to consider. Amazing speed diff at the chicane. Doesnt make good reading for the others.

On Sauber, I’ve said it towards the end of last season, and I’ll say it again now. James Key appears to be one of those people who can just make cars faster. Hes one to watch in the next period of time. Perez and Kobayashi are the type of driver pairing that will gain the team support from the neutrals (I always hppe for them to do well since Peter took back over)

In theory, the Ferrari back end is one of the best out there, and I can imagine its in the top 2 engines in F1 without a doubt. It was quite ironic that Sauber and STR were troubling the ferrari yesterday.

Mercedes seemed to be in the doldrums for race one, but maybe thats just a blip.

I’m delighted to see McLaren turn up with a decent solution to their issues. It was looking dicey to say the least.


Is James Key’s role at Sauber is the same as Newey’s role at RedBull?


Yes, he’s in charge technically. Not sure he’s as hands on in the design area as Newey


More than one way to captain a ship though James 😉

People who turn up at teams and those teams see an upturn in performance can’t be a coincidence.

My favourite quote of the entire weekend was someone posting about whether this whole Newey thing is hype. Not sure I buy that one 😉


I don’t think they were anywhere near Ferrari their customers. They troubled Massa maybe but Ferrari is all about Alonso now like in the old good days.

I hope you enjoyed your week-end with Macca revival. Hopefully they’ll find a way to mess it up.


Maybe a poor strategic call that costs one of their drivers the WDC?


I definitely enjoyed the weekend more than Barcelona a few weeks ago where the car was in a mess. 🙂

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