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Why Red Bull is strong in qualifying but McLaren is close in the race
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Why Red Bull is strong in qualifying but McLaren is close in the race
Posted By: James Allen  |  21 Apr 2011   |  8:03 am GMT  |  176 comments

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.

It’s been pointed out to me by a senior engineer from another team that McLaren go into the races in good shape relative to Red Bull due to the differences between their adjustable DRS rear wings.

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.

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Hi James, great article. Really interesting.

Please keep the analysis coming as frequent as your schedule allows over the coming weeks until the next race, I can't take going cold turkey!

I love the new rules, I have to say. The DRS can still be tweaked, and after this season they will have a full body of data to make the gain the perfect amount. I enjoy the variability of the KERS race too as I'm a McLaren fan! I admire Red Bull, but if they can't get to grips with their idea for the KERS design it may keep costing them. As for the tyre degradation? Love it! I was gutted when no re-fuelling was put in place but now see that it was probably necessary for health and safety. But Pirelli's brave work, has given us back that fantastic grid leveller; strategy.

Cheers James!


It's not so much that the RB7 has a steep upper element (or flap), it's due to being shorter. Since the rule states a maximum slot gap rather than a maximum angle, a shorter flap will obviously sweep more of an angle than the longer flap.

The result is that when the DRS is open, the Red Bull's shorter flap is almost horizontal, whereas the McLaren's longer flap still has a relatively steep angle of attack.

But when it is closed, the RB7 suffers because that slot gap is further back in the chord, and therefore has a slightly smaller effect on generating more downforce. The longer flap of the McLaren helps generate more downforce for less drag as that slot is now closer to the front, thus speeding up the airflow under the main element that little bit more.

Interesting stuff!


it also goes to highlight, a point that was raised in a post on Pitpass, that aero design is even more crucial than it ever was. Rather than reduce aero and increase mechanical grip, the aero gimmick of DRS is needed to reduce the impact of aero.

Without the tyres, almost all overtaking would be in the DSR zone and the rest of the lap would be back to follow the leader.

Don't get me wrong, am loving the racing, but tyres alone would have been enough for this seasons change. No need for DRS and KERS.


Agreed. KERS should be a full-time part of the drivetrain, not push-to-pass.


Yea, ill agree with the need for just tires.

But who thought the tires would bring such a great show. Guess they needed insurance.


exactly my opinion!

Tires made the show!

KERS - ok we can talk about that, it's "green" and a challange for the teams, but

DSR is to much ... let's wait a few more races, but now i hope it's gone next year.



are you the driver Malcolm Strachan with the website ?


Yeah, that's me... 🙂


No racing since 2009, however... hard to find sponsorship, whether it's for NASCAR or sports cars!


Share your website?


just brilliant. if you are not currently working in F1, you should be!


Great explanation! Thank you.


James - having read this it just reminds me that every thing in F1 is 100s of times more complex than first meets the eye!

Can you explain one thing though - slightly off subject. It's starting to look like the RB gets its front wing closer to the ground due to the rake of the car being more aggressive. However I always thought that there was a minimum distance the front wing was clear of the ground which I assumed would be regardless of rake. What am I missing here???


in china it was good to see, when the cars went through turn 2-3 slightly downhill. The cameraangle there was very low.

MCL and Ferrari's floors where "even" on the ground - almost same difference at the front of the floor and the rear of the floor to the ground.

RedBulls floor - the back end was almost 3 times higher from the ground then the front end.

its a part of how the car is setup



This shot explains it all. Even vettel and webber cant understand why:

(from pre-season testing, during the debut of the car)


I don't think it's rake related. Rake makes the front closer to the ground even when the car is still which is not the case.

Someone posted here a link to a blog where the author explains that maybe it's the nose which bends due to aero-load. By bending it brings the front wing closer to the ground without the wing need to flex.

On Ferrari form, Filisetti explains ( that they lack mainly downforce at the front end of the car. Is he a reliable source James ?

christos pallis

The Redbull runs more rake than any other car on the grid, the point about the reference plane being an imaginary line that goes under the ground due to rake is completely valid. Also the fact that the wing runs so much closer to the ground means at high speed there is more pressure on the wing therfore more visible flexing hence all the talk of a Redbull flexi wing. I.e if the McLaren's or Ferrari's wing were attached to the redbull we would see them flexing more due to the higher pressure on them. The lower you can get a front wing the more airflow you can direct over the car to the rear end hence Redbull negating the loss of downforce due to the higher rear hight cause by the rake as the extra airflow counters that. Very cleaver stuff by Adrien Newey. Can't understand why other teams havent copied but it is a whole car philosophy and can't just be copied by changing the rake on their designs.

Hope this helps clarify for all.

Great article on the DRS James, thanks

Chris Pallis


Rake also depends on damping and spring rates. Very stiff low-speed rebound damping would result in the front of the car dropping toward the ground and staying there for a while. By the time the nose would raise again, the car is already on the next straight and the front wing is pulling it down again. Parc ferme? No aero or braking to push it down, and the stiff damping slowly allows it to raise up over the course of the slow cool-down lap.

You are thinking of static rake, whereas I am referring to dynamic rake changes due to a softer front ride rate (mechanical balance compensated with a stiff roll rate, the limits of which were seen by the three-wheeling Webber in Korea), forced down by front-wing downforce and heavy braking (dive), and controlled/kept there by damping.

Just talkin' theories here! 😉

Tony: They also test on a rig, not on a chassis.


Yes. And Massa said it after Malaysia. I wrote it then


Do they test on a rig or on the car? Perhaps the nose cone flexes or the springs are dual rate?


Good point, I would also be interested in clarification of this

Damon Over the Hill

Hi Richard,

I belive the rule is '75mm above the reference plane'. This means they can angle the car (and ref plane)so the front wing is closer to the ground while remaining 75mm above said reference plane.

I hope that's right, people - please correct me if I'm wrong.



That's pretty much it. If the reference plane is under the ground at the nose because the car has so much rake, then it doesn't matter if the wing is almost dragging... it's still above that imaginary plane.


Would n't even having a rigid wing close to the ground due to extra rake add extra downforce? If so why aren't all the cars this year using loads of rake in their car to half mimic the Redbull with a low hanging front wing assuming one could do this?

I guess the issue is not so simple.


I know that you and everyone else commenting here has probably been over this same argument hundreds of times both this season and the last, but as you seem to know rather alot I thought i'd ask anyway:

Yes the wing probably remains above the reference plane, but; the rules also state that bodywork should not flex or move at all. Now obviously this is a very difficult rule to put into practice, as all materials will move at some point if enough pressure is applied, but since the parts are visibly moving rather alot, should that not be enough to get the FIA to issue a clarification? I know they pass all the revised load tests, etc, which i my mind means they are quite safe, but in terms of consistency has the FIA not banned aero parts before simply due to watching them flex on the track?


It's been an ongoing debate - Red Bull front flexi wing, which some say is illegal, but it still passes all the tests. I think there was a discussion here not long ago about the rake :).


Will not Redbull regain a bigger advantage again when they get their KERs working?


The 1st time RedBull feels the lack of an engine partner


I dont thinks it that. Please correct me if im wrong, but my belief is that they were offered the Renault system (as used by Renault Lotus or whatever they are called, the one with the fancy exhaust). However they turned it down as it would mean compromising their car in other departments too much, and hence chose to design their own.

Their problems would appear to be cooling related, suggesting they are cutting the bodywork packaging a bit too finely. So IMO they could easily fix the problem but they are trying to find the limit, as they all are at the end of the day.


Without question. KERS is worth between 3 and 5 tenths depending on circuit layout. Plus it has massive strategic advantage for defending positions. If RBR had functional KERS for China they'd have won, even on the wrong strategy. As it is the Strategy was wrong and KERS wasn't working correctly. Likewise we might have seen Webber take P2 in China had his KERS functioned correctly all race as for overtaking it's a massive advantage (as proven by LH on his pass of Vettel for example).


Good points as usual Paul. And I agree with most og them. But don't you think that won't take resources? They want KERS to adapt to the car rather than adapting the car to KERS which means where McLaren have great cooling for instance (even too much as Martin Whitemarsh said) RB are finding it hard to deal with the heat and other issues. And even if they get it working it won't be as efficient as the McLaren's. That RB7 is an incredibly fast car though. Just wish they don't fix their KERS before getting caught lol.
Got an off topic question here. What do you think of Vettel wavings at the start? He changes lines more than once and always gets away with it. That actually annoys me a lot. Hamilton got a penalty for less than that. Cheers.


MB covered this in the BBC commentary. He said the stewards noted that there was so much going on at the start, it would be impossible to police, so therefore said the "one manoeuvre" rule did not apply "at the start" and then went on to say he did not know how far "the start" lasted in this context.


Hi Jean Christophe,

Starts are harder to judge than some other cases. If it is the guy in front and he is blocking in several directions that is pretty clear, but if a driver has another car to follow to pick up a slipstream that can cause a driver to chase the aero benefit and move again.

In the case of China, Vettel moved, but Hamilton came out ahead. In Malaysia Hamilton blocked and stayed ahead.


Hamilton's pass on Vettel was not a KERS pass, it was purely to do with the relative tyre states.


Hamilton said in an interview with the BBC post race that he saved his KERS and used it on the exit of the corner which allowed him to pass Vettel so easily.


Have you seen any evidence that Hamilton didn't use KERS on that short straight? Vettel was obviously slow out of the corner with limited grip, but Hamilton got alongside very quickly.


The fact that he got that CLOSE to "The Magic Finger" was undoubtedly due to KERS however.


If Red Bull finished one two in China that would've been it, people wouldn't bother watching the next race. Hopefully RB won't fix their KERS just yet.


Hi Paul,

Good to see you here. Why do you keep talking about Redbull kers not working as if they were not responsible? their design is responsible for kers not working. If they wanted it to work like the renault GP one for instance, they'd have to compromise their aerodynimics hence losing elsewhere what kers would bring and negating the gain. Besides, if kers is RB weakness, McLaren has got room for progress as well. If RB fixes their kers issue without losing downforce and McLaren make progress on those areas where RB have an advantage what do we get? Would love to see that.


I'm not suggesting Red Bull aren't responsible for their KERS not working, they and they alone are at fault. The question posed by ajay was "Will not Redbull regain a bigger advantage again when they get their KERs working?" The answer to that is yes, but it's not just lap time where KERS benefits it's vital in the 'racing' aspect too. It should be noted that getting KERS to function correctly is likely to be significantly more simple than the amount of man hours to increase downforce of other cars to Red Bull levels. Additionally KERS should be taken into account during wheel to wheel racing, at which point having KERS or DRS or both is a massive advantage. The only reason i've mentioned it is that overtakes such as Hamilton on Vettel utilised something the other car didn't have, and whilst it's his teams fault it's most certainly not a driver fault or conversly a massive driver talent by the overtaking driver, as his talent doesn't just magic up 80bhp lol.

As Mario says below RBR not having fully functional KERS is actually great news for the sport at present, although I can see them fixing it PDQ.


Commenting on the last part of your article: I don't know if DRS was working "more" than the MercedesGP team was expecting, but Michael's gear ratio setup was not properly fine-tuned in the race in China. You can hear the rpm limiter hit at the end of the straight for several hundreds of meters, even at times when the DRS is not enabled. Check it out!


This has intrigued me and I have mentioned it in the past but so far no illumination: If the max rpm is 18,000 then do you set up the gearing so that you hit 18000 on the pit straight with DRS enabled and maybe KERS as well? If so this means that you cannot use/achieve max revs on the rest of the track without DRS.

I suppose it depends upon the ratio of straights to bends and the car parameters through each. Then the torque curve will be critical, is it's zenith before the max revs or at the max revs? In my day they were quite different curves.


Yes your right I think. It is basically a compromise based on what your strategy is. You either go for absolute top speed so it only hits the limiter with DRS and KERS (giving you an advantage in quali) or you go for hitting the limiter without DRS (meaining that DRS will not give you much of an advantage).

If you go with the 2nd option your top speed will be less but you will be able to hit it every lap and not just when overtaking with the DRS enabled. So it goes back to what I initially said, it depends on your strategy. I doubt any team will be using the two extremes I mentioned, they will all be somewhere in the middle, based on what they think is best / plays to their strengths / predicted grid position I would imagine.

Hope this helps!


It wasn't only Michael. It's a deliberate choice where you go for either better overall pace or better overtaking ability.


Brilliant article as always! Hopefully this season will be another classic.


Happy Easter to all. While it is good to see 2 teams fighting it at the front. To add to the enjoyment, I hope that over the next few races, Ferrari, Mercedes and hopefully Renault with mix it at the top as well. A lot to ask I know, but one can always hope. 3 weeks without racing gives all the teams, time to find performance and reability, so if all goes well, Istanbul will be tight. Are we going to see Montoya's lap record beaten? Anyone, Rally blog, good one, please?


Not quite on topic but I want to be the first one here to predict that a piece of tyre rubber/marbles will lodge itself in an open DRS preventing it from closing properly. This will either result in a dramatic overtaking manouevre, spin off next corner or collision under braking.

This will also be used by a team to defend why a DRS was open in an area where it should be shut, probably Ferrari!!

Just a thought.


The marbles won't be very big, and even if you get a mammoth one, it will still be quite soft and compress between the elements. Any change in downforce will be negligible.

GT cars can generate bigger marbles because the rubber can pack up inside the fender and then fall out, but in F1 you'll only ever get smaller, quite soft marbles.


I remember that Barrichello (in the days where Schumacher was faster than him and he understood the message) got a problem where a something get stuck into his rear wing and reduced massively the downforce with Ferrari sensors detecting that loss.

I think it was a marble but I'm not sure. Can someone give a clarification ?

By the way, your contributions are great (almost as good as mine, you're approaching perfection)



I could see a marble causing a bit of downforce loss (if it's a bigger one, clogging up a cm or two of slot-gap can't help things); however, it wouldn't cause a massive drop in downforce where the driver would spin off dramatically like Ralph Firman's wing failure at Suzuka.

Not good, but not catastrophic.


Anyway James, do you think the reason Rosberg was able to hit those good lap times during the middle part of the race was due to the fact he had less fuel onboard?


No, it will have been a small advantage but won't have been a huge amount


James, I'd just like to say, your quote on the top speeds:-

"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."

Is a little misleading really, because, the final top speed spreadsheet will be taken from when the cars were at their fastest in the race. When Hamilton was at his fastest, he was on much fresher tyres than Vettel and therefore he will obviously be faster around all parts of the track.

To really see the advantage McLaren have on none DRS straights, we'd need a comparison from the first stint in the race where the cars will have comparable tyre wear.

It is an interesting point you make though - so essentially, Red Bull are getting more in qualifying from their DRS, but then the rear wing, with DRS disabled, is not as effective in the race? I think Red Bull also gain more advantage from the DRS in general because they have inherently more downforce than any other car and are thus able to enable it during qualifying more often.

I think one of the reasons Hamilton was only 1 tenth away in Sepang was because McLaren ran a higher downforce setup compared to Red Bull and the commentators noticed Hamilton enabling DRS even before Vettel. What this shows though is that cars trying to catch Red Bull, by adding more downforce, will not only gain a benefit from that additional downforce, but also being able to use the DRS more in qualifying. Therefore, maybe the gap Red Bull has, isn't as big as it seems?


Could this also be the reason that we dont see the McL overtaking in the DRS zone much?
My feeling is the DRS zone works well in that it enables another car to get close enough to put a move on the car in front at the following corner or even shortly afterward as Lewis demonstrated several times during the race. I am wondering though if its really necessary this year... With the Pirelli doing a great job (gradual drop off rather than the cliff would be a bit better) and the KERS (of which Lewis seems to be the master) i just feel it would be good to try a race with out it too. Thoughts?
I felt that DRS didnt contribute a huge amount to China. We know that that straight already enables passing like Webber on Schumi but Alonso got stuck behind Schumi and also Lewis never got close to Button in opening stint nor Vettel on Lewis. All these were cars on similar pace...


Yes you have access to insiders James, but to me from the couch which has a huge armchair, it just looked like RBR screwed up Vettel's strategy.

None of Hamilton's overtakes were exciting because they felt fake to me because of the tyre advantage.

In fact the vast majority of overtakes lookes fake as it gets so how so many claim this to be a classic becaise of the overtakes I cannot understand.

I think in the race RBR is way ahead too, they just didn't have to show it in the 1st 2 races and in this one they screwed up the strategy of Vettel.

Grayzee (Australia)

I don't get this "fake overtake" claims business. If a car passes another because is has a different strategy and is on different tyres etc then that is simply a part of motor racing. Always has been!

Besides, to watch Mark Webber overtake so many cars on Sunday had me rivetted to my seat, and was far better to watch than some of the processions we have seen in previous years.


sorry - actually i wanted to post here my "tires unlimited". pushed the wrong button 😉

because i agree - with grayzee


CJD (Austria)


Do you think that Prost or Senna's overtakes on fresh rubber when they were fighting were fake too? Tyres and strategies played a big part back then.

Senna also stayed in front in the European GP at Donnington by keeping on changing tyres (7 pit stops?) to make sure he was on the right tyre at the right time; was that fake?


Biggest difference is (which is the thing that makes it fake, to me personally) is that in those days the tyres were made for optimal performance. Unlike Pirelli now artifically lowering the quality to get more graining and drop off to help overtaking.

Just my feeling, I know most disagree and love what they are seeing now. Tough luck for me I guess.

But the main point I wanted to make was that RBR screwed up Vettel's strategy, is why they lost and Mclaren looks like they are close.

Look at Webber. 5 laps more he would have won the race. There is something very artificial there with the tyres and he by chance (or bad luck in qualifying) tapped into the loop hole.


Quali tyres were made for ultimate performance.

What pirelli are doing now is trying to do what Goodyear did. Produce tyres that last within parameters that last x laps. And what you see as a result is you can run different strategies 2,3,4 stop races).

In the bridgestone era you could pretty much do a race distance on softs. Why bother having pitstops at all...

Your comment saying they are making lower quality tyres is just I'll informed I'm afraid.


i have no problem with the degration of the tires

THE problem is, that the teams only have a limited amount of tires

- give them the double or even unlimited of those soft, then qualifing an also racing (mayby with 5 stops) is back again.

THEN it's not artificial. but now - one takes only one qual round to safe tires, that is horrible

TIRES for all, and a lot of them, then we dont mind how they work



Not quite. Prost changed tyres 7 times. Senna I believe just 3 times.


Thats how my play book reads, Senna was The School Mater that day. Sorry for the off topic, any word on the Senna movie dates for the US? Thanks James, very Interesting as always.


I believe that F1 is getting very technical that it wouldn't attracting new fans into sport the likes of DRS and KERS have increasd competetion on the track whic most fans like to see.
I believ that in Turkey mclaren will come up stronger with their qualifying pace and maybe flexi wing but watch out for that redbull beast to solve its KERS problem.


F1 has always been a technical sport. from moving engines to the rear, monocoque chassis, carbon fibre, turbos, the list is endless.

It's what makes f1 exciting. A car that is behind at race 1 can be developed over races to be a winner.


The rate of development during a F1 season is incredible and to a certain extent allows teams to close the gap, as Ferrari did last year. At least set the scene for a mouth watering finale.

Is there any further talk of standardizing certain components, for example brakes, front/rear wings, or have the 2013 rules already been finalized?

Aero is probably only one of a number of advantages on the McLaren and Red Bull cars. What are the others?


Standardisation is just what we don't want, we need innovation and development, new ideas.

Anyone who craves standardisation should remember what happened to A1GP (RIP.)

It is extremely frustrating to hear teams and journalists mentioning the new rules, but if the FIA run true to for they wont actually publish them to us fans, until five minutes before the first race of the season, as they did this year.

Whilst this provides a winter of speculation and blogging it is very annoying, if the FIA read this then please "get yer finger out" and publish at least the tech regs summary asap.


Very interesting comments about the back wings of Mc L & RB. Thank you. Every day being able to have my coffee and check up on F1 like this enriches the F1 experience. Back in the 70s I'd rely on Motorsport magazine which arrived a few weeks late here in Canada. It's a world of difference.

Also, James you wrote, "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."

Can you or anyone else say how many km/h difference between cars starts making passing really possible. I understand that it will vary depending on the length of the track and whether it's Monaco or elsewhere, but still ... ?


Great insight, thank you James.

Would with this knowledge it not make sense to have different wing packages for different races? For example in Monaco you must qualify well, so would/could Mclaren have a similar wing as red bull? Or is it so tied in with overal design and aero that the can't change this depending on which circuit?



They do, don't they? And for Monaco they have stronger suspensions arms too, so they tailor all they can to the circuits


I know they do that. I'm talking about changing the entire wing/DRS packadge as Mclaren clearly had a packadge in first 3 races that does not maximise DRS use in quali


how come other websites never give us this type of crucial and enjoyable to read insight?

😀 so clear, so insightful! thanks James!


One question: from the FIA and rulemakers in the entire DRS rulemaking when was it decided that DRS for qualifying was going to be fully enabled?

If I remember well, there was in Barcelona testing still discussion among FIA and teams as to whether to have full or restricted DRS during qualifying.

Was the decision for full DRS during qualifying not taken late?

I ask because building your car for full or restricted DRS... seems - after reading this article - to be a big decision.

Newey seems to have gone for full DRS, while McLaren took the restricted DRS design option.


Great article James.

I agree that RBR seem to have opted for a very effective DRS, the cost is less downforce in "High drag mode" (this is a price only RBR can afford).

Surely Newey could produce a DRS with better "High drag mode" downforce, but at the cost of the effectiveness of the DRS.

Maybe the reason they have not done this, is that they don't need to because the other cars are not matching them for race pace, They have only gotten close/ahead due to a combination of unrelated mechanical faults in the RB7 and strategy calls on the pitwall.


All the teams will be varying their DRS for the different circuits except for the fact that FIA are not deciding where the DRS zones are or their size until the race weekend.


Do we have the top speeds comparison for qualifying, which would presumably demonstrate how RB gain more than McLaren relative to the 291km/h vs 273 km/h?


i think maybe the 291 kmh is from when hamilton was in the slipstream of button on lap 36 plus using his kers. maybe im am totally wrong tho.


Surely it's difficult to judge where Red Bull are in race terms because when Vettel is in the lead he's bound to be doing the minimum required to maintain the gap to the 2nd place man. The reason being he has to save fuel, engines, gearboxes, tyres, etc. If Vettel had been on a 3-stop strategy like Webber, surely Vettel would have won.


Don't forget the extra pitstop that would have cost Vettel aprox 21 seconds. Not sure he would have won here.


Yes but he'd have been faster throughout the race. He would have won on three, was only a few laps from doing it on two


IF Rosberg had a few kilo of more fuel on board, LH may have stuck behind him for aDditional lap or two.


This article confirms what I had suspected; namely that Red Bull's DRS gives them an edge over their competitors in Quali.

To be honest, even before the first race, I was completely at odds with the decision for DRS to be used freely around the track during qualifying and practice - I thought the whole point of it was to simulate slipstreaming (i.e. slipstreaming does NOT occur without a car in front). Its application in the race, which most people have had something to say about, is far less of an issue than its unhindered use in Quali! As far as I am concerned, DRS gives much-needed encouragement for cars to stay within one second - funnily enough the sort of time gap we were used to hearing the term 'dirty air' paired with over the last decade, along with drivers following each other around at 4-second intervals and only attempting to pass via pitstops.

As shown with Hamilton, if situated at the start of a sequence of good overtaking areas, DRS can be the catalyst for good, close battles between similarly paced drivers.

I think DRS being enabled for all of practice and quali is overkill, it means there is huge disparity between race pace and quali pace, and let's face it, DRS is, like KERS, just another button that every driver presses at the same place every lap. The only reasons I can possibly come up with to justify it being used so freely, is so teams can refine it, or for there to be one more thing to go wrong during quali to 'spice up' the order, due to driver error or some kind of malfunction. I would prefer:

Option 1: No DRS at all until the race.

Option 2: DRS 'race conditions' all weekend i.e. 1 sec gap activation.

Option 3: DRS for all on straight only during any combination of Practice sessions and Quali.

Option 4: Same as above, plus non-activation if a following car is within 1 sec behind!

Option 5: Set number of laps where DRS can be used (straight only) for Practice and/or Quali.

PS: I would thoroughly recommend a lot of the people that are whining about 'unexciting' or 'fake' overtaking try and track down some of the season reviews from the mid-80's. I am currently getting through them, and 90%+ of the passes have been a result of turbo boost or tyre grip as a result of strategy, and are just a drag race or driving around the outside.


Good article James and raises a point I hadn't thought about...

I too was of the opinion that 'full' use of DRS throughout qualifying was pointless given it is supposed to be for aiding overtakes only but...

having read about the potential differences between how RBR and McLaren have implemented DRS (mainly DRS qualifying benefits vs race benefits) it would now seem to me to be yet another significant differentiator between teams' design approach that can surely only be a good thing for racing?


Precisely, I'm sure RBR probably had a more Macca-ish rear wing as a backup in case DRS was not available for all of quali, but the point still stands, a different take on the same problem, and shouldn't we be rewarding that sort of innovation?


DRS in qualifying is the easiest way to allow the teams to gear for both qualifying and the race. Any other solution would have people choosing a massive compromise for one or the other.

In anycase, racing in F1 should be about compromise, finally drivers and teams are needing to make decisions on Sunday afternoon, rather than locking it in on Saturday morning.


For quali, if the DRS was limited to ONLY the area it is using for in the race, the main straight, there would be even less compromise... wouldn't it be consistent?

Or are you saying that quali and the race SHOULD have different DRS characteristics to CREATE compromise?


I'm not really saying that they should be forced into a DRS compromise, just that the current situation is the most easily manageable for all the teams, considering there is a DRS limit in the race. Open slather in quali


James, this is very good information, thank you.

Slightly off-topic, but perhaps equally important is the Red Bull KERS situation. It is easy to say that if they had it Vettel would have won (as he would have won on the correct tyre strategy, etc.). It seems they are having many problems, not only related to cooling. Do they, themselves, and the rest of the paddock feel confident that they can make it work? Why did they not get it with the engine from Renault?

Grayzee (Australia)

My question for you and your readers is simplt this: Just how good is Nico Rosberg? It seems to be generally accepted that the reason Michael is not beating him is because Michael is "old" and not as good as he was. However, could it just be that Nico is better on his own merit. He seems to have adapted better to the new regs. I wonder you think.


I think Nico could be like Mikka who wins championships in late 20s. But a lot of people forgot about what Michael can do back in the day.

Classic JA's commentary "four tenths of a second faster than anything we have seen so far in the last sector". God I love that.

I mean out of current top drivers, can we name anyone who can take a second off a driver that was employed by Ferrari for six years?

And no, "the contract" doesn't make you one second slower Rubens.


Nico was Webbers team mate at Williams time back. I believe Webber out performed him then. Although he was only in his first or second season. I don't think Michael's racecraft is as sharp as it used to be...


Nico is good, no doubt but Michael is not the same as he was 10 yrs ago. Just my opinion but I don't think Nico would've been beating him in the same car back then.


I really do think Nico Rosberg is up there with Kubica and Vettel. Thats my two cents. Apart from Webber I thought Nico was the star of the race. I think that last season we saw that Nico was consistently quick (Which is something Vettel was not last season) and while Michael is old, I still think he is very capable.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Michael is old. Just remember what he used to be capable of:


Great article James! Please keep them comming for the next weeks.

I have a question about the Ferrari.

James, what are your thoughts on the Ferrari if they manage to sort out their problems? At this stage, Ferrari looks reasonable good in the race, but how fast do you think this red car could became if they get things sorted? Can they became the fastest car in the race?



Just look at what they did last year, won races in late summer etc. Of course they can do it, whether they will is another matter


i think if you look at mark webbers awesome savage pace in 2nd half of sundays race maybe the headline of this post in not right tho maybe malaysia it was closer. red bulls pace in china was just insane and i dont agree with people who say the mclaren make there tyres last better than red bull as can clearly be seen in the opening stint on sunday when vettel easily overtook hamilton. the ferrari seems to make tyres last longer in heavy fuel first stints.


Absolutely agree. On heavy fuel the McLarens seem to eat tyres, whilst the Ferrari's are the opposite. Yet on light fuel the McLaren can make the tyres last. Red Bull seem to be in the middle ground.


Interesting. What could explain that? Wasn't obvious in Australia but in China their 1st stint wasn't as good.


Hi James,

Is there any data on when and where drivers are using their KERS? Are they all using it in the same place or varying it depending on where they are in their race?




I think that most of them will use the KERS when they are at slow speed coners. At that time, they need to boost the car as powerful as possible to get their momentum. And especially when they need to overtake the car ahead between the speed at 200-300km/h. But After 300km/h, the KERS does not give them more momentum or speed. Sorry for my English :P...


There are two things to think of. With DRS its boost is velocity dependent. It is worth up 70 kW at maximum speed, but the power saved by the drag reduction at 200 km/h is more like 30 kW. KERS give 60 kW all the time.

Once a car is beyond the point of wheelspinning with out KERS (apparently about 100 km/h) the speed benefit is best used as soon as possible. This increases the average speed down the straight.

The time to use KERS will vary with tyre condition as corner exit speeds and braking distances vary the effective length and time on a straight. KERS can also be used to bring a driver into range of a car so that the DRS can be deployed.


Button said during F1 Forum of the BBC not this time, that even during the race he was tweaking the use of his KERS to optimize laptime.

I guess it's not easy or straightforward


Also near the end of the first race Petrov said that he started saving KERS for parts of the track where he needed to defend his position.

For sure it can be used strategically in a lot of different ways.


Good question. I'll ask


Thanks James, for the explanation about the different wings. I had a feeling that Red Bull had 'geared' their whole race strategy this year to being on pole - since in most recent seasons, the pole sitter has won the race.

I guess they just didn't factor in enough the significance of the Pirellis and KERS in particular. The last two races have proved that you're not safe at the front even though Vettel defended superbly for a number of laps. It will be interesting to see if they shift their strategy around - particularly after seein what Mark did, in China.

On the 'fake' overtaking debate, IMO some viewers are comparing DRS and KERS to the buttons they push on video games. These have an instant effect - usually successful. But racing a real car on a real track is something completely different.

The talent, teamwork and technology it takes to allow a driver to be in the right place at the right time and then successfully pull off an overtaking move is being severely undervalued every time someone says an overtake is fake. Just think of how a superb driver like Alonso mucked it up in Malaysia.

I could add Temperment to my list of requirements. Not getting frustrated when the driver in front is defending well or when you are stymied by a back marker etc is not exactly easy. I really wish viewers would give these guys some credit for how they use the 'tools' they are given.



This is exactly what I've been trying to say but, as English is not my first language, I couldn't put it into words. They all have KERS and DRS but don't all use them as effectively.

Michael Prestia

I read an article where Hamilton said McLaren's turnaround is a "miracle" considering where they were in winter testing. I agree... I am amazed at how they went from mid field to top team in a span of 2 weeks.

My guess is they are using a different photocopy supplier then then one used by Mike Coughlan.


Let me break out my small violin for you.

Did you have a similar view when everyone else copied the f-duct last year?

F1 is about an arms race. If someone has something that works, why wouldn't you investigate and use it.


Jaded Ferrari fan by any chance?!

Don't worry, they'll win races this season. Im sure. Ish.


You'll find yourself in news of the world very soon mate


The fact remains, the way the rules are at present the man on pole (or first into the first corner) has a massive advantage.

Had Vettel led into the first corner in China he'd have won no matter how brilliant Hamilton was as he'd able to use the full pace of his Bull & stretch a lead and hence put him into a position where the team could react to others as needs be.

To me the move of the race in China was equal the pass on Vettel at the start and Hamilton's overtake of Button,. that's what won it, I don't be.leive any other current F1 driver would have passed so quickly as Hamilton did and completely unexpected by Button.

Hats off to Hamilton for being Sennaesk.


Hi Dale,

noting your Hamilton favouritism, your last line is still interesting. Hamilton makes it clear that Senna is his hero, so trying to make parallels is an obvious thing to do.

The situations are different, but it is hard to imagine Senna going for Lewis' qualifying strategy. Senna much preferred to be first - lead from the front and then manage the gap.

Lewis' first stint on the used softs was pretty ordinary, but you couldn't fault the rest without staring at telemetry (and there might not be anything to see). Just as a reminder, Lewis was dropped by Button and Vettel and passed by a Ferrari in the first stint.

You can believe what you like about Hamilton's pass on Button. Button defended more than he needed to into the last corner and any driver with better tyres could use that to get a run. Lewis might have used more KERS than normal for that part of the to get ahead from there. The pass wasn't an example of Lewis's excellent skill under braking as basically none was involve being a such as fast entry.

The other thing is that Lewis and Senna have quite different driving styles. In my view Lewis would have an advantage in slow corners and Senna in the quick ones. I think Lewis's race pace is more remarkable than his qualifying speed. The tyre strategy in China shows how big a difference the Pirellis are making to the thinking as in 2007-2009, Lewis generally went for an aggressive fuel strategy to get track position.

So rather than Sennaesque, I would just go with a demonstration of continuing development of Lewis Hamilton - the polishing of a diamond (you can pick the colour).




Hi Martin

Nice considered reply - respect.

Having been an F1 fan & supported since the late 60's in my opinion Hamilton is as close to Senna I've seen with his attacking attitude, daring overtakes supreme late braking control and total inner belief in himself.

Of course he's some way to go to matching him as he's still learning and true it's impossible to make like for like comparisdons as todays cars are way more easy toi drive, changing gear alone has changed F1 beyound anything the old days knew.

On qualifying, Senna was the master for sure in the days when records meant something, To see him grab pole so many times, I'd swap todays qualifying any day for a return to the Senna/Prost/Mansell qualifying days with qually tyres all on track at the same time, brilliant, todays' F1 watchers don't know what they missed.

Anyhow don't you just love how passionate true F1 fans get become?


Hi Dale,

You predate my following F1 by nearly 20 years. I came across it in an Australian car magazine. The January 1985 issue of Modern Motor had the last two races of the 1984 season. Prost won both giving him seven wins to Lauda's five, but he missed out by 0.5 points. As a seven year old he seemed to be the guy to follow. In the last race of 1984, Lauda was second and Senna was third in the Toleman, and that was noted as a great result.

As kid I didn't see many races until to the 1990s as the timezones put the races on too late, so I read much more about the drivers than seeing examples of it. McLaren was a team I followed at the time - the link antipodean link to Jack Brabham didn't hurt. The whole Senna-Prost fued, the winning everything for four years and games Honda would play to favour certain drivers, put me off them a bit.

While I wouldn't claim to have your history of watching the sport and Senna in particular, I will make a few points. The comment about the current cars being easy to drive comes down to two things: the gear change and the traction. A modern F1 car with KERS has more power than Senna raced with since 1987 when the boost limits came in. The nature of the engines is that the torque comes from gearing and that makes the throttle management a bit easier.

The thing that Senna never had was the total downforce of the current cars. Power steering is basically mandatory due to the shear forces involved. The g-loading beat up the drivers to a totally new level. You may recall the banning of ground effects was in part based on what FISA thought the drives could handle. Today's cars are well beyond that with the aerodynamic development and the tyres. The current seating position doesn't help - lying flat in a car with basically no springs except for the tyres these days.

The fitness demands are at an entirely different level. Senna built on what Prost learnt from Lauda, but Schumacher took it to an entirely new level. The parallel great increase in reliability, particularly with the brakes, meant that cars could be driven at the limit all the time. (James Hunt's commentary on the end of the 1982 Austrian GP "Rosberg took that corner on the limit" was relevant as De Angelis didn't and it was a bit rarer then).

With refuelling, the cars ran at a completely different level of pace, much closer to qualifying. This has elevated the standard of the entire grid. The high grip levels mean that some drivers just don't have the "brain speed" to cope. Sebatien Bourdais is an example. I believe that he would have been quite good in an 1980s F1 car given his results in other series. Where he might have been shown up could have been in situations such as qualifying where picking where to go without lifting or losing time.

I just laugh at comments on this site where someone says "I could win in a Red Bull". The idea that computer games give the visual cortex the same work out as the real thing is an interesting one.

Back on Senna and Hamilton, Senna largely did what he needed to for the era in terms of training, but I don't think he would match the current guys over a race distance. The demands will fade without fuelling, but I think we are at current all-time in terms of drivers who can do 90 minutes flat out without notable errors.

I worked out at one point (bored teenager) that Senna was involved in car contact or an off-track excursion in more than 25 per cent of his races. An that is just what was reported in the magazines. Minor blips probably weren't mentioned. I haven't done the sums on Hamilton, but it would be less than this, and this is running at closer to the limit for longer and without a boost button or significant power advantage to make passing a common event.

My memory of qualifying in 1980s is that cars had two sets of tyres for the session of an hour's length. The results showed there was a wide variation between those drivers who could handle the extra grip and may be 300 kW extra power with little prior practice and those who couldn't. The grid variations were huge. The correlation between qualifying and race results was not very strong. Senna made it a psychological point to say he was the fastest, but I'm not sure the others cared that much until they were his teammate.

In the races it was usually Mansell who pushed the limits more consistently than anyone else. This led to him having quite high tyre wear as he kept going for it in fast corners.

So, in today's era I would Alonso or Hamilton to be my race driver over Senna. With 1000 kW in qualifying it might be a different call. I think for many this would be sacrilegious (or whatever the atheist equivalent is).




Hamilton wasn't on pole and hasn't led after lap 1

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

While we're on Red Bull, anyone here read the article this morning on Vettel being quoted as the best driver since Senna by Ascanelli?!!

Berger also says that Vettel is the most complete driver in F1....more so than Alonso.

Take away that flexible front wing and I think we'd get a proper picture.


Psssh...I'd just like to note that both of these guys have a connection with Vettel, and naturally would gain something from comparing him to Senna. Why does every new guy who is any good get compared to Senna? My opinion is there really is no comparison because Senna had a fight and eloquence that made him a star above driving. Sebastian Vettel certainly doesn't have those traits. And he isn't partnered with Prost...he's got a team fully backing him against Webber. No offense Webbo!

I'd almost bet everything that Alonso is a more complete driver than Vettel. We just haven't seen him in the fastest car in 6 years. The ban on testing compared to previous years has also reduced Alonso's strength in improving a car with a team (apparently I'm one of the few who thinks that). I'd actually put Hamilton and Kubica as up there with Vettel...I'm rooting for any of these top guys to get equal equipment before making the final call 🙂


I see a lot of people talking Vettel up and down, but of the recent driver it is very obvious that Lewis Hamilton is the better driver in a struggling car. just look at what he was upto last year in catching and overtaking. Anyone who says that we need KERS, DRS etc should watch this video and see real overtaking in exciting races.

For your enjoyment Lewis Hamilton pushing the limits.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Just look at Vettel's superb overtaking "skill" in a very much superior car:


Given that James has shown in this article that the difference between the Red Bull and the McLaren where it MATTERS, i.e. not winter testing, free practice, etc. but (to a lesser extent) qualifying -and more importantly the RACE is very small - I wonder if the following posters bothered to read the article?

Mario, 'Anyone, including me and you would be the best driver in the world in that Red Bull.'

>> Why? McLaren is on level terms with it / has the better of it in certain aspects of race - i.e. tyre wear. The Red Bull advantage in qualifying doesn't amount to much if race strategy is compromised. This year qualifying won't matter as much - like the golf idiom - 'Drive for show, putt for dough'

Mike from Medellin 'Take away that flexible front wing and I think we’d get a proper picture.'

>> JA's analysis goes through where the relative performance advantages of the Red Bull and McLaren in the race/qualifying come from. This front wing-gate is a red herring. It's not the be-all and end-all of RB.

Tom in Adelaide 'I think there is a tendency to downplay Vettel’s performance due to the obvious superiority of the red bull car'

>> Obvious superiority? Do you mean in qualifying? Race? Agree that Vettel's performance is downplayed - but because of a FALSE perception of superiority, not because the car is somehow streets ahead.

I'm glad that James has explained in plain terms that this year is not about a 'dominant' Red Bull and an 'underdog' McLaren but two evenly-matched cars promising some exciting racing. I imagine we'll see more wins from Vettel and Hamilton, but also by their team-mates too. Wins by Ferrari and/or Mercedes might come later in the year if development is rapid.

The idea, for example, that the average fan/family pet/grandmother would win in the Red Bull is so laughable it's almost worth humouring.

The main gulf in performance this year, and what has been noticable in its absence from analysis and commentary, is that between Red Bull/McLaren and the rest - Ferrari mainly, Mercedes/Renault also. Why aren't we hearing more about this? It matters not if McLaren are 1 tenth or 5 tenths behind Red Bull if Ferrari + the others are still further behind.

I know we British like underdogs, but McLaren aren't underdogs!

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

I feel that if you

a) put Hamilton and Alonso in the Red Bulls

b) put Vettel and Webber in a McLaren and/or Ferrari

it is doubtful that gap to the Red Bulls would be as narrow as it is right now

Vettel has performed well, but these comparisons with Senna just seem to be OTT. Apart from Monza 2008, where have the Senna-esque performances been?


i agree. To tell you the truth i think hamilton is the one with most talent at the moment. Comparing any of today drivers with senna is nonesense. Today's cars are much easier to drive with better tyres and less power. The top five is a done deal Senna schumacher clark fangio prost. You can put them any way you want, but in my opinion that's never going to change.


How about Ascari?

I'd go

Prost - not as fast as senna but more complete

Senna - speed, poetry in motion, but also crazy and took many risks that backfired and couldn't work the team for him

CLarke - much forgotten



(6) Schumacher



If I'm correct, in Monza, Torro Rosso went with a wet set up, while most other teams were betting on a dry race. Sebastian Bourdais put the other Torro Rosso on the front row.

So while Vettel's performance was impressive, it was in anything but an inferior car.

Vettel has had phenomenal results the last 1 1/2 years to be sure, but in a phenomenal car.

I'm not saying he won't prove to be a truly great driver, just that we can't really say yet, how good he is, given the car he's had.


people always think that monza was vettels only good drive before he joined red bull seniors. he had a very impressive 2nd half of season in 2008 finishing up passing lewis after lewis done his usual late season turd himself. i think the rate of maturity vettel is showing at the minute is very good. compare his defence of kubica in oz 2009 till china the other day with hamilton. parking himself on the apex of turn 14 was class to see. think he will end up as most succesfull driver of all the current field apart from michael. i think he is under rated technically and is also very hard with his engineers and team. we are actually pretty lucky with the class of the field we have at the minute. all time best.


Correction. I meant Bourdais was on the second row.

Michael Prestia

I agree 100%. Remember what Schumacher did with the Jordan in his first race? or what he accomplished in 1996 with the inferior Ferrari. Those types of drives define a driver. To mean Jenson is an average of the mill driver... but he is a world chmapion cause of the car not cause he beat a competitive field. He will always come second to Hamilton when you total up the points at the end of the year. I think Vettel is a great driver but he needs to prove more before he is compared to Senna.


Anyone, including me and you would be the best driver in the world in that Red Bull. Take away this car from him and he is not better than your P. di Resta for example.


Not so fast. Laura told me in Melbourne that he thinks Vettel is the best in F1 at the moment


I can't buy into seb being the best in f1 at the moment.

He clearly has pace, and a very good car. And it has to be said he's developing still but not the finished article.

I'm still to be convinced he has the talent of alonso or Lewis for passing. Or handling the pressure.


Lauda typo? Either way I think Vettel has the potential to be a great of the sport.


do u mean lauda or who is laura

Tom in adelaide

I think there is a tendency to downplay Vettel's performance due to the obvious superiority of the red bull car. That's natural, but we have to remember that he won in a torro rosso. Has anyone achieved a comparable feat in the past 5 years. The kid has mastered the machine given to him - what more can he do to win people over I wonder?


If you actually recall the race and quali you will remember that he only qualified higher up becasue other teams got their stratergies wrong.

Bourdais (his temmmate) in the sister car qualified 4th. Bourdais has since been dropped from the jr team.

I think that says it all. Sure it sounds impreesive saying he won in a torro rosso.

Added to that the Torro Rosso with Ferrari engines was recieving the full aspec engine support to help stick another 2 drivers up higher into points to slow down Hamilton from scoring points and catching/beating Massa.

So Vettel, while on pole, was only a bit ahead of his teammate who we know as fact wasn't fast enough for F1 and then he won from pole in a car set for teh conditions.

I don't call it that big of a deal. Hulkenberg sitting on pole during the wet quali at Brazil last year similiar. His car was more set for the conditions and it was shown in the dry race were he came 10th or so.

The reaosn why people doubt his ability is because

1) He makes lots of mistakes... sure sure 'he is only young'.. but he is an F1 driver. And that is like putting a baby into an F1 seat and when the baby crashes because he can't stand the g force at the age of 1 you then say he was so good, but babies can only take a certain amount. Vettel crashed and made heaps of mistakes, Webber, Button, sutil, liuzzi etc...

2) He is barely beating Webber, who until 2009 was pretty underrated, and most don't think Webber is exactly tier 1 and some wouldn't call him tier 2. And so Webber is used as a board for marking Vettel then Vettel is beating a long time averagely successful driver.

I personally think WEbber is a bit underrated and Vettel is still lacking a bit and hence why they are similiar, but most people can't stand the thought of being wrong about WEbber or don't believe WEbber is good enough to beat Vettel on pace many times each year and run him close in teh championship. Only solution for some is Webber isn't fast, Vettel is just slow.


Berger, Lauda? and the red bull sister team director fairly unbiased sample!


Kers not working, slow straight line speed, wrong strategy and Vettel still took second. Kers not working, slow straight line speed, started from 18th and Webber still took third.

No one is anywhere near Red Bull if they get everything right. The others have to work 10 times as hard just to get similar results.

Rosalind Boycott (PR for Mobil 1)

Hi James -

Thought you might be interested to watch NASCAR Champion Tony Stewart and Formula 1 Champion Lewis Hamilton as they ponder the idea of swapping cars.....

This video is also available as a .wmv or .MP4 file if you would like to host it on the James Allen on F1 blog.

Hope you enjoy it!


could the teams not gear the cars for just 6 gears in the race and leave a very long top gear just for the drs in the race and quailying rather than bouncing on the limiter. or wud that cause your car to be slower in acceleration and cause damage to the engine and higher fuel consumption. i have wondered about this from the start of testing.


actually it won't harm the engine and it will result in lower fuel consumption

Edward Valentine


Surely the best driver/car combination on the grid would be Jenson in a RedBull? The best tyre manager and most consistent driver (arguably) combined with the fastest single lap racecraft.

What do people think?


I'd love to see jenson in the current redbull. I believe he'd walk the wdc.

In terms of single lap racecraft, I've always thought that is in the hands of a few natural talents. Vettel, Hamilton, senna just have something. Other very good drivers get near, but guys like that will edge it more times than not.

Senna was the best qualifier I've ever seen. Some of his pole laps were so much quicker than his team mates (even Prost who is in my top two drivers ever with senna).


Alonso is generally pretty good at getting his tyres to work, able to generate heat when needed and make them last when required too. Most experts that I've read seem to pick him as the best race driver out there. This year he could do with getting better starts.

We don't have a lot of evidence that the Red Bull drivers are hard on their tyres. Melbourne seems to be primary evidence for Webber, but we don't know the true impact of the suspension problems. Malaysia could have been a pure strategy call.

Jenson did better on the first set of tyres than Lewis when they both had used softs, but Lewis was a lot better on hard tyres at the end and that was with a one lap difference between the two of them.

Edward Valentine


Thanks a million for that! I was really only expecting one or two lines of a response. But it was so detailed.

I’ve often thought about specific corners creating increased tyre wear and perhaps this year we might see Turn 8 at Istanbul causing some real problems just like the banking on the exit of the final turn at Indianapolis. Imagine the tyre deg this season if there were to be a GP at the brickyard!

Cheers, Thanks again!

Edward Valentine


Would it be possible to say that because the RedBulls carry greater speed through the corners than the other top teams that there is a greater strain on their tyres?


Hi Edward

Most definitely. If two cars are both well balanced then the one with more downforce will wear out the tyre faster even if the cars are going around the corner at the same speed.

When a car turning the contact patches are being twisted as the tyre rolls. The greater the force on the tyre, the more it is going to wear.

If a car is sliding at one or both ends then that will increase the wear level. Regardless of the downforce level, if the limit is exceeded then wear will go up. A low downforce car might encourage a driver to push harder in the corners to keep up, but it is myth that comes up that low downforce eats tyres. Taking downforce and unbalancing a car will eat tyres.

As the load is greatest in high speed corners, this is where wear is greatest. Turn three at Barcelona, turn eight at Istanbul and Phouhon at Spa are corners where a well balanced car across the fuel load will be extremely valuable for the race.

Other factors that can increase tyre wear include toe-in for increased stability and camber. Camber and toe-in will increase the heat in the tyre even when going in a straight line as the tyre has to distort to keep going straight ahead. I'd be speculating, but this could be a key the difference between the McLaren and Ferrari tyre wear variations since 2007.

I hope that makes sense. I don't think you'll be able to reply to this, but if you have any queries please reply to the earlier comment.




Maybe he'll make another trip to the Red Bull garage in Turkey and we'll find out... Sorry, couldn't resist!


Lewis told him he could get a drink there.


So funny, had me and my wife in stitches reading that comment.


I have not looked at any figures since Australia, but qualifying was a distinct DRS disadvantage for RBR because of being able to deploy the DRS throughout. The difference in top speed gain was less for RBR than all major competitors. This is why Vettal and Webber were complaining about unrestricted use of the DRS during qualification. Maybe things have changed with RBR, but it was not the case in Australia.


i think, that this "mess", with almost to much overtaking, kers, dsr is FIA's fault because of overreacting.

couple of years ago the "overtaking" task force developed those beautiful looking (harvesterlike) frontwings with tiny wings at the back.

Those ideas maybe really worked - nobody knows because Ross brought us that nice doublediffusor that destroyed overtakingtaskforces ideas. We all know how the story ended.

but still FIA was not happy - so 2011 we got wide frontwings, small backwings, KERS, DSR and most important no DD.

but now we know - a new tire would have been all it needed (how much money could have been spared)

i still belive that the teams need MORE tires for qual and race (!!!!!!!)



I think you are fundamentally wrong about the double diffuser. There is no evidence that it made following harder, and theoretically it should make it easier. The diffusers work in a different way to wings and the aim is to return the air to as close to atmospheric pressure as possible, and that means minimal velocity and turbulence. The non-DD Renault was regarded as the worst car to follow at close distance in 2009 according to a journalist who surveyed the drivers.

It is not like we saw a lot of overtaking in early 2009 when only six cars on the grid had the double diffuser.


I feel at the moment that Ferrari are not going to get into the fight at the front any time soon. Even if they make up the ground by mid-season, it will be all too late to challenge for a World Championship.


I don't agree. McLaren in 09 came out with a car that was miles worse than the f150 % 🙂

They are not too far behind and did a very solid job mid season last year. There will be 3 teams fighting for the championship in my view.

Anand Jayaraman

Great article. Such articles infuse a better sense of understanding amongst us fans, of what is happening in the races. Keep it coming James. We love to read them.

That aside...DRS is too artifical overtaking. Racing this year would have still been exciting, with just the Pirelli Tires



James,first of all thanks for not only producing great articles but also attracting knowledgeable contributors.

I wander if F1 drivers of the past and the present post on this site.

I got one question.

Nico said "I saw a Red Bull in my mirrors and it wasn't coming closer. It was staying the same size, and I thought, 'what is going on?'"

The funny thing about that was that not only fans got confused even the f1 drivers themselves. I don't understand why Redbull wasn't faster than Mercedes at that point? It doesn't make sense.


Thanks. Glad you appreciate it.

Answer is because SV was driving to a pace to protect the tyres, not wanting to make the second stop earlier than necessary. In the end the third stint on hards turned out to be too long even as it was.


Thanks for replying James.

I had a discussion with my friend who wasn't an F1 fan. He raised very important question:"if the cars aren't equal whats the point of having driver title" . I think its a valid question. When we had Senna/Schumacher, it was kinda obvious that the best driver wins the title. But these days, we have a few guys who can win multiple championships. In other sports like Boxing for eg, we know you can't have a slightest weight adavantage and in F1, its all about find away to get advantage. To me its almost as if world driver championship is like world footballer championship. I wander what do you make of that.


As a new F1 fan, I think Hamilton is far better than Vettel. It is the performance of that Red Bull that's given Vettel the performance and speed that people see. Other than that, he's not much better than either Hamilton or Alonso.


I can see where you are coming from but the truth is no one can tell. The guy won a race with Torro Rosso, a back marker team. No legendary F1 driver has done it before.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Senna almost did it in a Toleman at Monaco (race cut short by biased French FISA official)

Damon Hill almost did it at Hungary 1997 (mechanical failure 2 laps from the end).

Torro Rosso were midfield, not backmarkers.


oh finally someone who agrees, Hamilton is far better than Vettel.


Great article. Sorry to nitpick, but I think you mean "principle" rather than "principal".


Great writing again James, I love this site, I'm a Planetf1 fan and F1 fanatic reader too, but your site takes the biscuit, better written, more in the know and for the F1 geek like me, essential reading. Fantastic analysis always fascinates me so thanks for all your work.


Thanks for appreciating it


Is there not something fundamentally flawed with F1 when it relies on a vital component (the tyres) wearing out artificially quickly in order to make the race 'interesting'?

The flappy rear wing is an accident-in-waiting, and a big one at that. It's another symptom of F1's fundamental problem, too much aero grip. Reduce this and you increase braking distances, the key to real, rather than Playstation-style overtaking.

Going off topic a bit, it's interesting to hear the replies given by both the team and race officials when asked about the legality of the Red Bull front wing. "It passes the test". Which isn't quite the same as "It's completely legal". Bear in mind the relevant rule forbids any movement, it's F1 that have come up with the limited deflection test.


Intresting article James, on the subject of the Red Bulls KERS system i heard Tony Jardine on Talksport earlier in the week saying the problem with the Red Bull KERS system is overheating due the tight areodynamic packaging of the car.

Would solving the cooling issue of the Red Bull KERS invovle Adrian Newey having to make some areodynamic compromises to solve the problem?


Is there something wrong about a system where it appears an advantage not to qualify on pole if you want to win the race - eg Webber comments post race, and Hamilton's strategy not to go out again in Q3, but accept third and preserve tyres, though he had to take the disadvantage of being on soft tyres at the start? In fact had Webber started from 11/12th on harder tyres he would have won easily - see his fastest lap time in the race which I think was the only one below 1:40 at 1:38.

Aside from the comments re "fake" overtakes ( and Webber post race seemed to agree that this situation wasn't very satisfying from his perspective as a driver - ie the overtake wasn't a demonstration of his driving ability)

If its a disadvantage to be on pole, then maybe consider awarding championship points for qualifying? Alternatively let the teams start on their choice of tyre, not the end of Q3 tyre. Bit difficult to generalise by extrapolating from one race but it does seem inherently wrong that qualifying on pole should result in a disadvantage.



"[MGP] 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."

Am I right assuming you meant predictable rather than efficient in that last sentence?

As you note in the paragraph leading into this, the MGP wing is already quite efficient at stalling the air flow, but rather 'on the edge' and not behaving as intentioned

Anyways, I wonder about the premise of the McLaren DRS being the cause for McLaren's relative gains. Are you saying that the RBR's DRS is so efficient that the team run the car with relatively too much rear downforce during FP and Q, only to suffer for it in the race?


The mercedes issue is that the air is stalling at points it's not meant to. And it isn't as stable as a result under deactivation.

I seem to recall they had similar issues with f-duct.


Ok you all need to understand this is a sport to attract viewers fans and in turn generate revenue for it to survive. The F1 gurus needed to up the action. KERS and the rear wing play are simple turbo boost buttons you press to get that advantage like when we play Daytona at the arcades. All 24 drivers we see are champions. To handle An F1 car takes skill they all have it but what makes one driver better than the next is the mind. When do you press these boost bonuses or do you preserve it go the next corner or use half now half later or use it before I make my move or during the overtaking move. This is how they are making F1 exciting with overtaking like F1 of the 60s and 70s similar cars but individuals at the helm. Technology has stopped this raw driving thought and craft to outwit your opponent. It adds another element of individual thought. They all have 4 wheels, a chasis and engines. F1 is trying to move away from my car better than your car to who is the driver with the instinct and the thinking mind. As for rear wing play and KERS during qualifying it is free play cause its easier to monitor like that and sometimes a driver will have no one in front to deploy the rear wing. So make it free for all. Could you imagine the protests after each qualifying session.


i forgot to mention pit stops . The enforcement of tyre changes was to add randomness. But the pit crew have perfected this with modern tools to eliminate error every car enters the pits and all take the same time its all perfect now. The excitement is gone no frantic moments apart from button's moment. Now didn't that give you a reaction. The F1 gurus have thought long and hard to make racing racing. One driver up another. Not the one who makes a mistake or the car fails allows the other driver to capitalise. This way its the driver who uses his available arsenal to fox and outwit the opponent to pass by


I'll keep it short and simple... The tyres - fabulous, really mixes up both the strategy, and accentuates the drvier skill application. KERS - ok, nice strategic ability for the driver when / where he wants it. DRS - totally artifial gimmick... utterly needless what with KERS and Pirellis.... DRS is not racing.


I would just like to say that whatever the technical ins and outs are, the racing this year has breathed new life into F1. Most of the tech stuff is hard to follow and I thank JA et al for explaining it in laymans terms, but what I do know is that the Chinese GP was fantastic to watch and there was more overtaking than in the whole of 2009 and 2010 seasons put together. Well done FIA and the teams!


Having read the entire thread above, several point come to mind.

Having followed F1 since the 70's and having been a marshal at numerous F1 races, I clearly remember the reason that ground effect was banned by the FIA - namely on the grounds of safety. The major component which gave rise o the ground effect was the skirts - primarily on the sides of the cars. The FIA view was that this provided for better traction (obviously) and that it also enabled significantly increased cornering speeds. If there was a component failure at a critical moment then a driver could find himself taking a corner at a speed which, due to the absence of the ground effect, impossible to stay on the track at. Their view was that such a dramatic and sudden change in the performance of the car would give rise to an uncontrollable situation which could far too easily result in a heavy impact with other cars of the barrier and cause significant injury.

Given the above position, it is hard to fathom why it is now perceive to be safe to have DRS on cars as there are two sides to the effect it causes. The first is that when (if) activated it reduces drag. If this were to fail to operate then there would be no reduction in drag and the otherwise increased speed would not be obtained - it fails safe. The other effect is that which occurs when DRS is deactivated - either by FIA control of the use of the brakes. In this case the drag increases and reduces speed - typically as the cars approach a bend. In the event that the DRS fails to cancel (or in the case of Ferrari operates spontaneously (allegedly) in an incorrect part of the track) then the result is a higher than anticipated speed as the car attempts to corner. It is hard to see how this situation differs from the skirt / ground effect situation.

On the subject of F1 being a technology proving ground one only has to look at the banning of turbos (due to speeds becoming unsafe for the tracks that existed), free development of engine management system such as launch control) in the past together with the artificial limits placed on the use of KERS (just how much charge do the batteries hold - and do all teams charge hold the same amount?) to realise that KERs is not being used to it's full potential.

The fundamental philosophy being DRS is sound - namely that of enabling overtaking to be achieved more easily. DRS seems to have been developed in response to the situation that had come about - namely the "dirty" air coming off the car in front disrupted the following car's air management and resulted in an inability to close due to the fall off in performance that resulted. However it seems that rather than fix the cause DRS is a system to mitigate it's effects. The implementation of DRS - particularly it's use in qualifying as compared to the race - is entirely understandable from the perspective of safety and entertainment however one should not lose sight of the reason for qualifying.

Fundamentally qualifying is there for 2 reasons (apart from the financial money spinning opportunity): Firstly to ensure that the supposedly fastest cars are on the front of the grid and (recently - then not and now once again) to ensure that significantly uncompetitive cars do not obstruct the race in an unsafe fashion. The advantage of the faster cars at the front of the grid is not only an advantage for the race but has its roots in safety as well - in as much as were if not the case (which occasionally it isn't even today) then there is the potential for significantly faster cars hammering through the field. All of this is predicated on the performance in qualifying being representative of the performance in the race which, given the wide variation in the permitted use of DRS, is patently not the case. As such this variation potentially renders the whole qualification procedure invalid from the perspective of safety. Also, theoretically, the following situation would occur between 2 roughly matched cars: Lap 3, B follows A and therefore can deploy DRS and overtake; Lap 4 A now follows B and so can deploy DRS and overtake; Lap 5, B follows A & overtakes; Lap 6 etc etc etc.

If DRS is to exist then it should be used in practice / qualifying in exactly the same manner as in the race. If DRS is safe on approaching corners then now permit full ground effect, and skirts. Then reduce the engine size but permit turbos and finally allow teams to make full use of whatever power they can harvest to their KERs - let them decide how big a battery they want to carry - the bigger the battery the more weight - but think how much less fuel you might need and the weight of the fuel....

Any then there's the idea of sprinklers ....

Want to make overtaking easier without DRS and KERs? simply have the longest straight on the track (if there is one) split in 2 - each being a mirror of the other - leader goes left, follower goes right. Then see who gets to the next corner first ...


You wrote, "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."

I don't think the RBR upper rear wing is any steeper than the McLaren's. It certainly has a shorter chord width, than the McLaren.

Do we actually know that the RBR gets better drag reduction with a short chord with upper plane?

And, isn't this a bit like giving with one hand, while taking from the other?

One needs to look at both planes that make up the rear wing. While the narrow chord width upper plane on the RBR may have less drag than the longer chord upper plane on the McLaren when activated, the RBR bottom plane will have more drag than the McLaren bottom plane, which has less relative chord length.

As for Schumi's issue with airflow not reattaching, that seems like something that should be easily fixable, though it seems odd. Their rear wing planes are virtually identical to the RBR's in chord width and apparent angle of attack.

They've got a Gurney flap, which should help with flow attachment. Maybe it's just a rumor.

While I was looking at images, here's a good droopy one:

As far as Horner's rake explanation, that's utter nonsense. Sure, the RBR is slightly more raked than the other cars, but one only need look at sideshots of the RBR under aero load to see he's talking rubbish. The floor of the sidepods should exhibit the same rake angle as the front wings. The wings show more rake under load than the floor, ergo, Horner is full of it.

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