Which F1 car is quickest now? Leading drivers try to work it out
Scuderia Ferrari
Posted By: James Allen  |  25 Jul 2011   |  8:02 am GMT  |  119 comments

The German Grand Prix seems to have been a real crowd pleaser because it gave us three of the top F1 drivers all in closely matched cars and it came down to a straight fight on the track. It was driver versus driver and that’s what F1 fans want to see.

As with all the best F1 races it is the details that make the difference; for example the tyre warm up up issue on the Ferrari meant that even though Alonso managed to jump Hamilton for the lead at the second stop, he couldn’t resist him in Turn 2 when the McLaren driver on his second lap on new tyres, attacked.

All three drivers made fascinating comments after the race, trying to work out what the race means in terms of the relative competitiveness of the cars. So which is the quickest car in F1 now?

It’s a curious season in many ways because on the one hand Red Bull has dominated qualifying and hasn’t been beaten to pole in 10 Grands Prix, while Sebastian Vettel has six wins and a huge lead in the championship, which indicates Red Bull dominance.

But on the other hand most of the ten race days have been competitively fought out with Hamilton winning China and Germany, Vettel under intense pressure at the end of the race in Barcelona, Monaco and Canada (where he lost the win to Button) and then in the last two races, Red Bull has been beaten on race pace by Ferrari and now McLaren. As Mark Webber said, “Sunday’s are more of a handful for us at the moment. I think we were more dominant last year than we are this year. It’s just that we always put things together and we’ve always been there at the end. Seb had a good run, but close victories, not winning by twenty seconds.”

This is undoubtedly true; Red Bull had a bigger race day advantage last season. This year Vettel has used their undoubted qualifying advantage as a platform for his six wins and three second places and he’s managed it very well. But the performance gap from Saturday to Sunday, where they lose the edge they get from engine mapping and the DRS wing is becoming more pronounced relative to McLaren and Ferrari.

Lewis Hamilton was bemused by his car’s competitiveness this weekend. There were a few updates on the car and a lot of work was done on braking by McLaren with new brake ducts and changes of brake disc material to give Hamilton what he needed to nail the key braking zones of the Nurburgring. The three changes of engine map rules from Canada to Valencia to Silverstone and then Germany has also complicated their life more than the others, it seems. But the new standard clearly suits them,

“We didn’t really think we would be so fast and I’m not quite sure what we’ve done, because we’ve not really brought much here. I don’t know if it’s the conditions. I think we were competitive in Montreal and in Monaco and in Valencia, in hot temperatures, we are less competitive. We obviously went to Silverstone with the rule changes which was a big problem for us, and then we come back here to where we were, really, in cool conditions. I think we’re there or thereabouts but I do still feel that the overall performance of the two guys here, particularly the Red Bulls, is slightly better than ours.”

How much of Sunday’s win was about the McLaren and how much was Hamilton? There does seem to have been an element here of Hamilton being inspired. He outperformed team mate Button comprehensively and seemed afterwards to suggest that he had been on a mission to put right some of the things which had been said and done in recent months, “My Dad always told me when I was growing up to do my talking on the track and it is very difficult to stick with that because sometimes you want to let off steam off the track, which I have. But today I did all my talking on the track.”

As well as soaking up criticism of his aggressive driving, he has also been publicly critical of the team’s tactics and lack of development, “letting off steam” in a different way. And then there was his meeting with Christian Horner which didn’t help team morale. He described this win as “payback” and clearly means that on a number of levels, including perhaps paying back the team as a kind of apology.

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh has taken all this in his stride and was quick to praise his driver on both Saturday and Sunday nights for performances which exceeded anyone’s expectations, “What can I say? Lewis was perfect in qualifying and perfect in the race, and the result was perfect too,” Whitmarsh added.

Mark Webber took pole position for the second race in a row, but again lost out to a rival both at the start and at the chequered flag. The starts are becoming a real problem for him, he’s lost 13 places on aggregate now over 10 races, but the race pace wasn’t there and neither was the tyre life,
“We weren’t quick enough today,” he said. “I did everything I could. I was happy with how I drove. I think these guys just had that little extra margin when they needed to do it, especially at the back part of the stints. A little bit more range and that made us a little bit exposed on strategy.”

Webber stopped two laps before Hamilton and Alonso first time around and at the second stop he came in a lap before Hamilton and two before Alonso. Red Bull has tended to anticipate stops this season, but lately they have appeared to be taking a little more out of the tyres than the other two teams on Sundays.

Red Bull is the more consistent car across the different kinds of tracks and different weather conditions, whereas the McLaren works better than the Ferrari in chilly conditions and vice versa. Part of this is getting the front tyres warmed up quickly in qualifying and straight after a pit stop, something which the Ferrari doesn’t do as well. This was decisive yesterday in Hamilton’s battle with Alonso, as the Spaniard admitted,
“One thing that we maybe missed this weekend,” said Alonso, “In the pit stops, when we were very close to overtaking them, especially the second pit stop when I was first in the first corner and I lost the position in the second and in one lap I think I lost two seconds so the warm-up on the out lap was very, very bad, so that’s something that we need to keep working on.”

Alonso is deligthted that the Ferrari has now been competitive on three totally different types of track; Valencia, Silverstone and Nurburgring and he has a win and two second places to show for it.

He’s clear what is required for him to have any chance of fighting for the title and that is a continuation of what we saw yesterday, with two strong teams taking points off Red Bull, “If we have a small chance to recover the gap in the championship, if we do races like today, we are on the podium and he (Vettel) isn’t,” said Alonso.

“To have that combination in our case, we need the best possible performance from our teammates, as I said yesterday, in my case, we need the best McLaren performance as well, to see the McLarens very, very strong and taking points from Red Bull.”

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Personally I have no problem with paying Sky to watch F1, the only reason I dont have a sports subscription now is that I dont watch football. So as long as Sky can make their shows tasteful and not follow the Fox route of having 2 cretins in a studio massaging their own egos then fine. Certainly I would like to keep Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz; I have nothing against DC for that matter. It’s clear from the BBC shows Jake Humphries lost insterest in F1 some time ago and will be off doing the Olympics anyway.

What really annoys me about this is the BBC’s half coverage, what a joke, a decision clearly made by an accountant and not by someone who has any vague understanding of the audience they serve. I for one will not be watching the BBC’s coverage.

BBC you should be ashamed of yourselves.


Anyone backing anyone other other Vettel for the title is a fantasist, pure and simple. The Red Bull remains the fastest car in qualifying and I see no reason to believe this won’t continue. This will mean Vettel continues to be near the front. As we all know if he gets on pole then he usually follows this through for the win. Given his large lead lets not forget he needs to finish out of the points three times at least for others to be snapping at his heals. Now that might not be so impossible but what is less likely is that the same driver will capitalise with the win on these three occasions.

Vettel has this in the bag a la Button in 2009. All he has to do is play it cool and be happy to bag points every race.


This is the 2nd race in a row that Webber has out polled Vettel. Is this because of the new rules for engine mapping?

Or is Webber just happier with the car at the momment.


Red Bull is by far, the best car in the field, but that doesn’t mean it will be the faster to the rest of the season.

Although RB have good facilities, they don’t compare with the likes of Ferrari or Mclaren, in size or money they have to spent in updates. That’s the only reason why they are catching up, and it’s also easier to copy something that exists, than to create something new.

The only disadvantage I see in RB, is the engine, that I don’t think it’s as good as the Mercedes

I’m a Mclaren fan, but for them, Ferrari and Mercedes to look at RB, a team with only 6 years in F1, as their prey to hunt, is the biggest compliment they could ever have


so i was looking into the weather at budapest and looks like it is going to be wet



Ferrari is driving me crazy with their pit stops!! They never take the initiative to stop first! They always wait to see what Red Bull and Mclaren are going to do! They should be using Massa differently but they’re too Italian to think outside of the box!

I feel bad for Alonso because he has no chance of ever winning a championship with Ferrari without a major personel change in the team!

The Massa pit stop also proved how much slower they are than the red bulls…..in pit conditions!


The undercut doesn’t work for Ferrari due to the tyre warming issues.


I agree totally. They have never used the undercut to their advantage. Always waiting on others to pit first.

In Germany, the undercut was a little unpredictable, as per Webber, but McLaren showed how to use the under cut to their advantage during the last pit stop. I think Abu Dhabi 2010 has made Ferrari nervous of taking too many risks.


I share your thought about their pit stops but in a different direction. I would not blame them for not being first to pit. They don’t need to. Their car is maybe the softest on its tyres, so they still have life in them.

They do pit to cover others, due to the fact that on fresh rubber, the others will go much faster.

What annoys me at Ferrari, is that they keep messing up pit stops and never have a problem free race in terms of pitstops. They have been outmatched by Mercedes, RedBull and I’m pretty sure even by McLaren. Ferrari to me it looks that they are the slowest at pitstops.

I wish they could improve on that.


based on season averages this is what i believe the current order is to date;

1. Ferrari. based on recent performance on all types of tracks Valencia, silverstone and nurburgring. Their development to date has been by far the best in field.

weakness is cold temps.

strength is good quali pace, downforce, and straight line speed and kers

2.Mclaren. based on all tracks except Silverstone and Valencia.

weakness is hot temps

strength is straight line speed, quali and kers.

3. RBR’s overall pace is overestimated due to its 6 of 10 race wins.

weakness. straight line speed and high downforce

strength. high downforce

Their high downforce is their achiles heal, when in clear air they are able to pull gaps in high speed corners, and straight line speed is negated. However when behind other cars, they can not use high downforce to their advantage as their is generally 1 racing line in high speed corners, therefore it is very difficult to move off line at full throttle at 250 km/h.

They have played to their strength and maximised results, when other teams thought at the beginning of the year that ‘qualifying is not important’.

This is the reason why their only real overtaking chances are on low speed corners and cannot make moves on straights or into turn 1 etc.

People underestimate the advantage straight line speed and kers gives to Ferrari and especially Mclaren over red bull. RBR is a very difficult car to overtake in.


It’s clear that RBR is the best car on qualify thus their race pace is compromised. But I think that’s because of their aero design which seems to be very sensitive especially when running behind other cars. They set their car for running in clear air and when they dont, the car is difficult to follow the car in front hence cant get close enough to make a move, even the DRS setup is effected by such setup so they cant really cut enough drag.

Macca on the other hand seem to be more sensitive to picth change, look at how their car behaved in Silverstone. The over heating of their rear tires killed their pace.

Ferrari seems to have only problem at this stage is the warm-up issue which has been the car’s DNA for years.

Each car has its own design problem and at this stage where cars are more close to each other in term of pace I think it’s RBR to loose and Macca and Ferrari have better chance to beat RBR than before.


Webbers race pace was there James. For at least half of the GP. So he was just as quick as Hamilton and Alonso. The question is what’s happening with the starts. A few are asking if you could analyze Webbers starts ?

On the coverage you could see his engine revs drop suddenly before launch. The commentators said something about the clutch. Can you shed any light ?


I think that was down to a sound issue in the transmission, and Webber’s start, altough not perfect, wasn’t that bad. What happened was that Hamilton’s start that was very good


RBR undoubtedly have the fastest car on a Sat. Sun seems to be down to track and climate changes and is between RBR, Maclaren or Ferrari.

Can’t help but wonder whether that would still be the case if DRS use was restricted on a Sat.


Sorry – that should have been ‘McLaren’. Damn spell checker…


One of the questions after Silverstone was how would Hamilton have done if he didn’t have a fuel issue. The question I have that no one seems to know is, was Alonso forced to slow yesterday because he was low on fuel. He was told to shut the engine down after the finish line so that there was enough fuel for the FIA to take a sample, but was he told to save fuel before the end of the race?


Alonso said his pace wasn’t affected with fuel issues, that issu was only brought up when the race ended


No one except for ferrari may know that for 100% sure but having to stop the car before returning to the pits… I presume they have managed his fuel consuption during the race thus compromising his race speed except maybe at crucial moments like just before and after a pitstop.

Toast and Marmite

Despite being chuffed to bits with Hamilton winning, I have to say it has been an absolute pleasure in recent races to see Alonso wringing every last drop out of that Ferrari. Obviously, he wants to win, but we now seem to be seeing the guy who likes to go racing on a Sunday.

Certainly appears to be much more cheerful and, frankly, likeable than before. Let’s hope we get more races like this one, and more outstanding battles between these guys.


This is why I have never respected Button as a WDC. It was 100% the car – which makes his WDC worthless.

F1 severely devalues driver skill, buts its the only thing that make it exciting and worth watching…

Get rid of the excess aero, and every race will become exciting to watch – it really dooesn’t matter who wins, but the cream will put on a masterclass of driving skill…

Why doesn’t F1 wake up and smell the ashes on this one?

And thank good that god aweful device DRS was not so relevant this race – that is pure garbage technology and pure cheating.


Sure, that’s why Barrichelo with the SAME CAR ended up in 3rd position, almost 20 points behind Button!!!

Button’s Achilles Heel is his Qualifying, otherwise, he’s a top notch driver


Great article James.
You must increase technical analyze on your blog.


Quite a “what ever it takes” statement by Alonso… encouraging his enemy McLaren to raise their game.

He’s a real “I will chew it all” competitor.

Schumacher used to be good a playing psychological games, making statements in the press that would put the competition under pressure.

Alonso is the best among the current crop of drivers for making comments that put the pressure on his adversaries.

Mike from Medellin, Colombia

Isn’t it really just a case of Vettel’s lack of racecraft?

a) He can quilify on pole with little trouble

b) If he starts from the front and has to reel off 60 qualifying type laps then he is fine. If not, he is in trouble.

If i was forced to put money on it, I would still say that Red Bull has the fastest car.


So, what can we expect for Hungary? Things have changed since Monaco, so we can’t really use the experience from back then. First impression is that Red Bull is going to be very strong, especially Vettel, but will the tyre compounds and temperatures be enough for Ferrari to catch up? And will McLaren perform under the heat? I think the tyre/temperature situation kind of blurs the situation with the track types and what suits each car.


“Things have changed since Monaco, so we can’t really use the experience from back then. First impression is that Red Bull is going to be very strong, especially Vettel…”

Are you not contradicting yourself there mate? Since Monaco, Vettel has only won once, so if you we can’t really “use the experince from back then”, how do you reckon Red Bull and Vettel will be strong in Hungary?

Looking at the current weather prediction for the weekend (on formula1.com), it looks as if the expected hot conditions this weekend may not materialise. It may even be wet.


Yeah I mean Red Bull is supposed to be strong there because of the layout, but this is just what we can assume with what we know from last year and this year. As for Vettel, I believe Hungary suits his driving.



You always seem to have a lot of stats on how many places drivers have won/lost on aggregate at the start.

Any chance of getting the stats on who has performed the most overtaking maneouvres this season? A lot was made out last season about Hamilton’s compared to Button’s at the start of the season.

It would be really interested to see how little overtaking Vettel has done, bearing in mind of course that he has started on the front row most of the time.

Tables for both places won/lost at start and overtaking throughout the race would give a really good picture of who the best racer’s are…(Hamilton, Kobayashi…)


Tables about the start are coming up.


With Ferrari and McLaren winning 3 out of the last 4 races, I wonder wether Red Bull will be forced to sacrifice some of their qualifying pace to have a better race car (by reducing the effectiveness of their DRS)?

I’m sure that Mark Webber said something to this effect in a post-race interview but I can’t remember exactly what he said.



Do you think that this is the reason why Ferrari finally agreed to reverting to pre-Silverstone mapping rules? That they needed a strong McLaren for them to stand a chance in the championship as McLaren appeared to be the most hurt by the blown diffuser ban?


Qualifying: Red Bull

Race: Ferrari


I agree. Ferrari in cold weather came a close second. This is with blown diffusers allowed. I expect Ferrari to win many more times this year!

Lewis spoke about his engine mapping setup being the key to his success during the quail press conference. We also saw a small puff of blue smoke coming out of Lewis’s car during the race. Lewis also ran out of fuel during Silverstone so they were probably experimenting then as well. If the pace was due to engine mappings, expect McLaren’s to be right up there and more consistently as well.

In fact Newey bemoaned about the power of the Renault engine. I believe RBR have extracted as much as they can from the car, aerodynamicallye. The Renault engine is holding them back.

Thus my order would be Ferrari, then McLaren then RBR.


I think there are 2 causes of the result:

1 Lewis’ brilliance

2 Cold conditions

Thank goodness, because it was getting boring with Vettel winning most of the time. However most of the remaing races will be hot, so I hope MaClaren and Ferrari have some good mods coming!


The last most dominant car on the field was MP4/20 of 2005, but reliability issues have impacted KR’s real chances for WDC. Actually it was quickest at any track, layout and temperature, perhaps thank to A. Newey’s design. Although today’s RBR is fastest, it doesn’t have such advantage.


The Red Bull is the best but is hampered by drivers.

Hamilton and Alonso are showing their skill, and I say tihs even as a Webber supporter.

Button has been nowhere, the only reason he won in Canada was because he and Hamilton used a setup with more aero. As noted by the commentators. Massa has been no where as well.

Vettel can’t do anything if it involves overtaking and Webber can’t get a clean start to save his life… last good one was probably Spain 2010.


Yeah, seeing Vettel languish behind Massa was very revealing. If that was Lewis of Fernando in the Red Bull, they surely would’ve had a go and probably would’ve got past.


Last time I checked, Vettel has a significant lead in the WDC, and while the kids would probably love to see him go “Lewis Monaco” and wind up in the fences when he has a reasonable chance of passing Massa in the pits or taking solid points in 5th if he doesn’t is a very mature, championship minded move. The difference between him (77 point championship lead) and lewis or alonso who are teetering on 100point deficits is that if they bin it, really they are no worse off compares to what they can gain, so they are much likely to have a go, whereas Vettel has a lot to lose trying the same move. When you’re at the top the only way to go is down. As fans we can whine that he isn’t going 100% all the time but it speaks a lot to his maturity that he can keep his eye on the prize without going bumper cars when he isn’t at the front. I imagine if we see Vettel start a race out of the points we will see more than enough fire from him as there is more reward for the risk of a DNF. For now though, comparing Lewis in his current position to Vettel in his current position is pointless and mere speculation at best. If they were on equal championship footing then you could better analyze how they are driving compared to each other. Admittedly it is much easier to just write Vettel off.


I think we are seeing Vettel play it safe. You are right, Hamilton would have gotten by, but then again he has no choice but to be aggressive at this point. Vettel trying to pass Massa was tricky because Massa has NOTHING to lose so he would at all cost not let Vettel by even if it means wrecking in the process.

I had no problem with Vettel being cautious… 6 1st, 3 2nds and 1 4th is nothing to mess with and get a ZERO for no reason


Please, keep for yourself comments like these.

Vettel and Massa are professional drivers and to imply that Massa has nothing to lose and would’ve crashed into Vettel is stupid.

Yes, stupid! When was the last time Massa took anyone out of the race? Get real. Just because Turkey last year when Vettel messed up rly bad, doesn’t mean that other drivers don’t know how to avoid each other.

Just look at Massa with Button. That was rly good racing and both drivers were fair.

Just because you are a Vettel fan and he couldn’t pass Massa, doesn’t mean you have to make this look like Massa is a bad guy.



Should have added to my original post. The extra aero at the Canadian GP meant they had greater speed during the wet (i.e. a wet setup) which was shown by Button lapping 5 seconds a lap faster at one stage.

I highly doubt every single one of the other drivers simply forgot how to drive. That is car.


The stat is Vettel has only one GP (spain 2011) where he didn’t go into the first corner on the first lap first.

Admittadely Vettel had a small brake issue I believe with heat due to being so close behihnd Massa for ages, that he had to switch bias. But he couldn’t overtake before it and once resolved he still couldn’t.

Webber, I want to win but he keeps losing it at the most oportune moments. He failed to make a lead at the start of the year and the same last year. Lost it in Korea, couldn’t lap Abu Dhabi in 2010 despite a decent performance in 2009. And then mix in a whole lot of bad luck and you see the problem.

Interestingly, Newey has worked with many drivers yet the only driver to win a championship in one of his cars as well as any other is Prost.

Hill, Villneuve, Vettel?… Not saying Villneuve = Vettel at all, Villneuve had balls of steel and crashed ALOT through being an idiot. Wait.. actually this is getting irily similiar.

But I think Vettel is a bit faster than Villneuve, but the point still remains, for a designer as great aws Newey he really hasn’t worked the best drivers…

Prost exlucded, and probably Raikkonen and maybe Mansell too. Rest over 20 years… hmmm


Button was that many seconds faster because of a good car, being confident enough under those conditions (as he always is) plus DRS. Almost every lap he was able to use DRS because he was overtaking people, but to use DRS you have to catch the guy in front first so you need a good car, be able to drive on the edge in dring conditions where others are perhaps more conservative plus DRS helps.


Setup HAS to have made much of the difference.

It is said that a great driver can add a couple of tenths in quali over a good driver and someone like Senna could find close to a second according to Brundle

I highly doubt that Button could somehow find 5 seconds others just couldn’t on pace.

And the overtaking showed that. He had the grip when he could get the speed up and he could use the still wet track to overtake rather than sticking to the dry racing line.

In non of the other races that Butotn has won, he has ever been anywhere near 5 seconds a lap faster.

Setup is key mostly. Then add some great driving and you can get success. I think it was Alguersari who qualied low, changed to a wet setup started in the pit lane and ended up in a torro rosso starting from the back IN THE POINTS! 8th from memory.


“the only reason he won in Canada was because he and Hamilton used a Setup with more Aero”

I think you will find Button was 5 seconds a Lap quicker when the track was almost dry not wet and hence if it was pure setup the Mclarens would have been quickest in the full wet conditions. Add to that the 15+ cars he overtook. In wet going to dry conditions he’s hard to beat as shown in Australia last year and in his first win for Honda in Hungary when catching Alonso when Alonso was in the champion winning Renault. Wet conditions can make different drivers do remarkable things, think of Hamilton in Britain in 2008 3 seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field.


One thing everyone has failed to take into account is the track condition at the end of the race, teams were surprised at the speed of the harder of the two tyres at the end of the race when the track was rubbered in and fuel levels were low.


In Spanish TV living race commentaries, Pedro de la Rosa and Marc Gené were anticipating that some cars would perform better than others with the intermediate tires on a rubbered track at the end of the race. In particular, they remarked that McLaren performance always improves in rubbered tracks.


What would Pedro De La Rosa know about how the McLaren would perform…. oh wait 😉

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