The Spanish Grand Prix threw up a few interesting comparisons from last year to this, not least in the relative pace of the cars and the improvement in speed of the pit stops.
At one end of the spectrum the Mercedes was 2.3 seconds faster in qualifying than in 2012, while the Williams was a second slower than Pastor Maldonado’s pole time from last year.
But in the pits there has also been progress; Ferrari set the fastest stop on Sunday, a clear second faster than its best time last year (when it was again fastest) thanks to the many detailed changes like the new spoke pattern and detail around the wheel nut – which works for enhancing thermal management of the tyres and brake cooling system as well as to speed up pitstop times, with faster on-off access of the wheel gun.
Fastest pit stops, Barcelona 2013
Taken from the time the car passes the pit lane entry line to the exit line – this measures the contribution of both mechanics and drivers
1. Ferrari 18.471s
2. Red Bull 18.606s
3. McLaren 18.810s
4. Sauber 19.324s
5. Mercedes 19.352s
6 Force India 19.481s
7. Toro Rosso 19.498s
8. Williams 19.723
9. Lotus 19.743s
10. Marussia 19.830s
11. Caterham 20.734s
Fastest pit stops, Barcelona 2012
1. Ferrari 19.456
2. Red Bull 19.624
3. Lotus 19.777
4. Force India 19.867
5. McLaren 19.888
6 = Mercedes, Toro Rosso 20.059,
8. Williams 20.218
9. Sauber 20.381
10. Marussia 20.669
11. Caterham 21.275
12. HRT 21.471
Progress on track
It is always instructive at Barcelona to draw comparisons with times from last year to see how much progress a team has made. As the best all-round test of an F1 car, Barcelona is a good yardstick, especially as the teams know it so well from testing.
The picture from this year is fascinating.
2013 Qualifying vs 2012 Qualifying, Fastest car
Force India 2.1sec
Red Bull 1.2sec (based on Q2 times, RBR didn’t run in Q3 2012)
Toro Rosso 1.1sec
Williams 1 sec
A lot of the update work on the cars at the moment revolves around improving aero dynamics in low speed corners, particularly on corner exit. Low speed corners (up to 130km/h) account for on average 40% of the lap time. And around 60% of the time spent in these slow corners is spent on middle of corner to corner exit.
In other words around 25% of the typical lap time is spent in low speed corner exits, making it the most important single phase of the lap.
So you can see how this is where time can be found and why the exhaust blowing into the diffuser to generate downforce is so important.
The Mercedes and Red Bull were the best in the low speed final sector in Barcelona, featuring the chicane. The Mercedes had a 0.3s advantage over the field in this sector on Saturday and that bodes well for Monaco, which is all about low speed corner exit.
The problem for Mercedes is that it is overheating its rear tyres in the race. The car overstresses the tyre which is good for low speed corners in qualifying but is a problem over long runs in the race.
What F1 engineers are looking for with these cars and tyres is not peak aerodynamic loads, but having load at all points and a stable platform.
The plot below shows clearly the relative degradation experienced by Mercedes drivers in comparison with Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Alonso’s degradation is fairly linear (in red), showing that the car has the degradation under control, where the Mercedes is more extreme and peaky. The vertical axis is the lap times with faster times at bottom and the horizontal axis is the number of laps. Alonso’s five stints are clearly identifiable. He backs off in the final one, but note the Ferrari’s pace on the opening laps of the 2nd and 3rd stints. That the Ferrari can push that hard on the tyres and then also maintain linear degradation is impressive
Additional input: Mark Gillan, JA on F1 Technical Adviser