Analysis: The pecking order after the most unpredictable F1 winter tests for years
Analysis: The pecking order after the most unpredictable F1 winter tests for years
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Mar 2014   |  12:18 am GMT  |  414 comments

The winter testing is over and now the teams have just over a week to prepare for the new F1 season which kicks off in Melbourne.

It’s been clear throughout the three tests in Jerez and Bahrain with the radical new hybrid turbo power units that we are seeing a different competition in F1 from recent years with Mercedes looking strong and Red Bull struggling, but what is the pecking order going into the first race and what trends are there to consider?

As ever, with the help and input of JA on F1 Technical adviser Mark Gillan, formerly chief operations engineer of Williams and Toyota, we have detailed analysis backed up with graphs based on lap times from the final test, to share with F1 fans, eager to know who’s hot and who’s not.

Frank Williams in Bahrain this week

A clear picture at the front

Mercedes are clearly out front as the new season starts, there is no doubt about that. It’s hard to say by exactly how much, but in both low fuel and high fuel running (race preparation) they have the edge in pace and the reliability is generally good, although they have suffered problems. Gearbox issues restricted running this week in Bahrain, for example.

Behind them it’s close between Williams and Ferrari with Williams probably having the edge. Considering how bad Williams was last season, they have reason to be the happiest of any team after the tests, as Frank Williams’ smile in our top image shows. It’s close with Ferrari, but Williams look as though they shade it, although Ferrari didn’t really do low fuel headline laps. The high fuel running is comparable between the two teams. That said there will be new development parts coming for Melbourne, so it may swing back to Ferrari, but that is the top three at the moment.

Behind them, with a gap, it’s the two other Mercedes powered teams, McLaren and Force India. It’s hard to tell in which order; McLaren was certainly more competitive in the early testing, but hasn’t showed as much recently, while Force India did only high fuel running at the end of the week with Hulkenberg after Perez had topped the time sheets on the first two days.

Behind them it’s very hard to draw any conclusions, beyond the obvious point that Renault engined teams are struggling to do mileage and appear to be running the engine below full power in order to get some mileage done to learn about the chassis.

[Click on graph to view enlarged version – Vertical axis is the lap time in seconds, horizontal axis is the number of laps in chronological order]

The Mercedes engined cars

Consider the graph above of Mercedes powered cars on Day 3. Mercedes runs and groupings show consistency and pace and the tyre degradation is pretty low. “Mercedes engineers looking at this graph will be pleased with where they are so far,” says Gillan. “Day 4 wasn’t so great as they had some problems, but Day 3 with Rosberg was very consistent. They are the team to beat in Melbourne.”

This is no surprise, the picture has been this way for some time during testing.

Williams is perhaps the surprise package. The car looks quick in both low fuel and high fuel specification. They didn’t do much high fuel running in the last two days of the test, but Massa set the fastest time of the test with a lap which caught the eye.

This little grouping of laps with Alonso in red and Bottas in blue, shows a comparable trend in high fuel running between the Williams and the Ferrari. They look quite evenly matched for race pace.

The team has not however been showboating this week; the lap times have come and the car has been very reliable, but it has been doing a lot of detailed correlation work, as the image below shows, measuring the vortices coming off the inside shoulder of the front tyres and off the front suspension to compare to wind tunnel data. This indicates that they have done a lot of meaningful work and haven’t just been headline grabbing with an eye on sponsors.

[Click on graph to view enlarged version – Vertical axis is the lap time in seconds, horizontal axis is the number of laps in chronological order]

Renault teams unlikely to score points in Australia
“There is nothing there, even in the short runs to get excited about,” says Gillan of the Renault engined teams graph (above). “It looks like they have wound the engine back to be able to get some laps on the board. It is dangerous for us to read much into the speed trap times, but the teams have sound analysis equipment at the track so they will know exactly how many revs the Renault engined teams were using. It looks to me as though the engines were turned down, though.”

Toro Rosso was doing some laps with not disastrous lap times but it’s hard to draw conclusions without a consistent showing from Red Bull as a reference.

Lotus and Red Bull have done very limited mileage and seem to have a number of problems to deal with. Lotus engineers don’t sound too hopeful of finishing in Australia.

“With the first four races all long hauls and the equipment on a plane, it is very hard to get to the bottom of the problems over these first weeks of the season,” says Gillan. “If I was in their situation I would be very concerned. You would want to have done a race distance or, failing that, at least blocks of long runs.”

Red Bull managed a 17 lap run towards the end of Day 4.

In contrast Mercedes and Williams have hit the target of 5,000km of testing, which is what engineers aim for from three four-day single car tests.

Pirelli tyres look more durable

One thing we can say with reasonable certainty is that tyres will not be the main talking point this year. The Pirellis used in the test appear to be more durable and there is no sign from our graphs of the severe tyre degradation we saw at this stage last year. This is Pirelli’s fourth year in F1 and they have learned a lot. The situation appears to have normalised and although the difference between compounds will add strategic interest to the races and the drivers will still need to take care not to ruin them with wheelspin from these high torque engines, they shouldn’t be the focus of attention.

The talking point will be reliability at the outset of the season.

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Mr.Allen, there is one question I would like to ask you? Because Mercedes is winning the first race. Will you think Mercedes can dominate until end of the season or Red Bull will bounce back at second half of the season?


It’s hard to say at this early stage but the margin is big for Mercedes and they will keep developing their car.

A lot is in Renault’s hands. It’s a very fast Red Bull chassis, it needs a power unit to compete with Mercedes’

If Merc get points on the board in these early races and Red Bull fall some way behind it may be tough.


Redbull is just sandbagging like last year. They will have solved all the problems before Melbourne.


Stefano D must stop about the reliability drivel in first place. Stefano pontificates too much about the car’s realibility and the performance or pace of the car is always poor ever since 2009

Yes reliability is important to finish the race (old cliche). However with poor pace what the team will achieve ?

In fairness i applaud and like the way newey works. Pace is the most important component in F1. Teams have to take their chances at the cost of reliability to improve the pace. Ferrari’s platitude based on the reliability will not win them even 1 WDC. This attitude needs to be changed at maranello. Ferrari need to bee more aggressive with development rate. sadly with stefano D at helm Ferrari cannot compete and win WDC.

Tornillo Amarillo

Cannot believe this, … I imagine Massa in pole and in Sunday in the third corner closing the door to Hamilton, please Noooooooo!!!


It would be unwise to write off Redbull… The car looks fearsome. Only a matter of time till they get issues sorted… Till then its about damage limitations.

Kimi is re-acclimatizing with Ferrari… I’m sure he’s got 30% to 40% in reserve.

Its good to see Williams back on front…. If any team deserves it is them.

Mercedes the Redbulls of 2014 Season…. the Chase of the Rest is on.

Hulk… ah’ yes… I’d like to see Hulk Win this year.

Mclaren have to get it right this year and the car holds potential and promise.

Among the mid pack I’d like to see Sauber win a race this year.

Interesting to see how Lotus would fare without Kimi and Eric.

Bring on 🙂


Hi James,

As always great work with the guys on the site better than anything out there forsure.

A quick question, are they enforcing the 107% rule in quali for the Aust GP? If they are even with the engines turned back up do you think the Renault powered teams will actually make the quali cut and go racing next week!


Red Bull will probably want double points for the whole of the second half of the season.

Michael Powell

This was always to be the year when Mercedes English engine supplier pulled the covers off the winning package, and Lewis earned his excessive salary. So far, so good.

The other Mercedes runners have a bit of a chance too, but nobody can believe that McLaren and Williams have enough muscle.

Ferrari will be the bridesmaid again, and it looks like Fernando will continue to be the Main Man there.

Renault runners will have the best engine, but that wont stop them shooting themselves in the foot. The Renault back markers will probably score more points in early races than Red Bull because they will finish, while Red Bull are cooking their engines in poorly packaged bodywork.

So the fun comes from determining whether the clever and hardworking German driver will beat the rather less bright, but super-confident British fellow. Its Hunt and Lauda all over again.

Perhaps I won’t bother to watch this year.


That first picture says it all, great to see old Franky smiling again, really hoping for a ripper year from Williams, Formula One needs them fighting at the front. Massa and Williams deserve results more than any other team at the moment.


Really cool analysis! If Williams(and to some extent) is able to run this well in spite of not being a factory team, what are the reasons? Practically every non-factory team(without own engines) seem to be struggling. Could it be because Williams have a considerably better understanding of these hybrid systems? I remember they had a sizable business in “Flywheel” technology.


How big was the Gap in Race simulations between Ferrari and Mercedes?


Approx 1 sec second a lap between Rosberg and Alonso (Rosberg faster). However the simulations were done on different days. Actually Rosberg’s was done in Bahrein 1 if I am right, were he also did a lap on 33.2 on softs, compared to Hamilton’s 33.2 on supersofts in Bahrein 2, which means the track was quite slower in Bahrein 2. Alonso’s simulation was quite weird, with fluctuating times, and he afterwards reckoned that he had to do a lot of work on the steering wheel to complete the full race distance, hinting to problems. Domenicalli supposedly admitted to Sky Sports that they were not running at full power most of the time during testing.

Taking all this into account, I wouldn’t read too much on pure pace from race simulations. However, it is clear Mercedes is ahead on the understanding of his PU, and they are apparently running it at full power most of the time.



Any news on how Red Bull’s filming day with the RB10 went yesterday? Did they do many laps and have many problems? How much could they have learnt and/or changed within that 100km and are there any restrictions on what they could do (other than having to use demo tyres)?



Alonso is a bad way to measure the pecking order of his own team. I tell you a “secret”: when the Spaniard has a difficult car to drive or a new one, he is able to increase the differences much more than any else. Said that I dont think Ferrari is the third team, and worse if we talk about qualy.


@ Sergio

What else you expect alonso to say ?

Again Ferrari are in very poor shape when the season is about to start in a week’s time. They tried to play catch up with RBR and failed in the recent seasons. Now this pre-season test clearly confirms they are behind Mercedes, williams, Mclaren in tha order May be row 4 start a possiblity.

Do we want alonso to praise Ferrari for the work which they have done in the pre-season or tests. Ferrari are also down on power when compared against Mercedes engines.

Alonso is spot on with his prediciton Ferrari will end up somewhere between P5 to P9.


Don’t be surprised if Redbulls poor start (if it turns out to be) turns out to be irrelevant at the end of the season due to the double points in the final race in which if they are sorted out by then they will likely win, just don’t be surprised other than for the engine issues (which im sure will be sorted out by Melbourne so some degree) I can’t help but think there is maybe a little confident sand bagging going on let’s just see.


No sandbagging. Sandbagging is what Red Bull did last year during testing, by deliberately not setting fast times. A lack of running could never be sandbagging, not to talk the multiple barbecues Red Bull cars suffered… They are in trouble, believe it or not.


Reliability will be a major factor. Apparently the cars take longer to fix. I expect a record number of cars to be starting from the pits.

McLaren are lower than they should be. Their trick suspension may be creating too much drag which may result in excess fuel consumption. If they slow down to conserve fuel, their suspension creates more drag and burns more fuel. They may have dug a hole for themselves.


Through all this uncertainty one thing is certain I can’t wait for the first race. It’s going to be fascinating and I bet all the predictions will be in the bin by the end!


While the pace of the cars is as described, the wild card is the issue of reliability which was only touched on in passing.

Even the “reliable” cars, those with non-Renault power plants, have suffered repeated failures. It seems extremely unlikely that more than ten cars will complete the race in Australia. If we had a betting pool on the matter I’d guess only six cars will finish. And if that’s the case it makes the issue of performance rather unimportant … Caterham may have the slowest car on the grid but if they can limp across the finish line they could still collect a decent haul of points.


With all the troubles redbull are having it will be nice not to see Vettel waving that finger this year…. Well I hope.

James, any competitions planned for the first race?


There are so many people talking about Williams doing the same thing they’ve done for the last 4 or 5 years over the winter. Everyone needs to remember, NEW ENGINE! Not only a newly homologated “Power Unit”, but Williams is in their first year with Mercedes.

There were no teams sandbagging this year. The teams what missed tests or stayed in the garage weren’t doing what they’ve done in the past. (Choosing to miss a test to give them more wind tunnel time, a-la Red Bull a year or so ago). They all were DESPERATE for track time. The teams that didn’t get that track time this winter, in my opinion, are now in a bad way not just for Melbourne, but for possibly all the fly-away races.

Consider this: Williams look to be ready to hit the ground running at Albert Park, along with Mercedes & Ferrari for sure. Say they can score strong points at all of the fly-away races, while the runners with difficulties at present are still waiting to get back to Europe, where they can get back in the game.

If they get some strong points in the bag early on: P6’s & 7’s, maybe a couple P5’s and a lucky podium, they could head to Europe with as many as 65-70 points. Just that alone would guarantee them MILLIONS AND MILLIONS in TV money from the Constructor’s standings at the end of the year. Regardless what the other teams do, those points in the bank can not be taken away. Even if the other usual suspects get it right and come on strong later in the year, they’d have that advantage out of the box. Let’s face it, Williams do not have the sponsorship or the budget they did in the 90’s or 2000’s. So an extra $10M in prize money at the end of the year, from what they’ve been earning the past few years would be money well earned, and more importantly, well spent in the future!

This is how a team in a rebuilding phase can really get that critical hand-hold they need to pull them up to the next level, with their goal of returning the team to the greatness and glory it once experienced.


I would be very glad if there was a Williams resurgence. Only hope they come up with a beautiful livery to match those that they had in the 1990’s. May be this is the year that it all comes together for them. Felipe may yet prove some doubters wrong. Wishing all the best to the Williams team. F1 has not really been the same with Williams out of the top end for more than a decade now.


YES indeed a big toast to Williams. Correct me if I am wrong, are they still ranked as the second most successful team in Formula 1 based on the number of Constructor’s championships after Ferrari?

Martin (England)



They look like they’re in good shape and hopefully you’re right and they get a good start. All the best to them 🙂


Agree, could their best season in years.


With only 5 pts scored last year they haven’t had to pay the FIA much for 2014 entry!


Straight from one of Frank Williams motivational speeches? 🙂


James: I’m wondering how close a relationship exists between Mercedes and Williams, and whether Williams will soon become Merc’s Toro Rosso, seeing that Susie Wolff is now pegged as a Friday driver.


i think still big sentimental links …

toto was minority owner of williams (almost took over), and only left because there was this big chance of a buy into mercF1 (together with lauda).

williams was almost austrian .. (now it’S merc LOL)


Please show some respect for the drivers, it’s “Hülkenberg” not Hulkenberg.


We are writing in English so it is proper to use the English spelling, if we were speaking German it would be lazy/incorrect.


Settle down


Just as it’s Räikkönen, not Raikkonen, but for those of us with a standard ASCII keyboard (and given James’ fan base I’d guess that’s quite a majority) it’s understandable why the accented characters would be replaced with standard English letters.

It is respectful to make the effort to get it right and it can be done reasonably easily with copy and paste or even Windows charmap, but considering even even the official F1 site does the same thing at times is it really that big a deal?

Of course that’s just my own opinion, but if you want to talk about things that are disrespectful when typing driver names then misspellings bug me: Not directed at you but for starters it’s Vettel, not Vettle and don’t even get me started on Ricciardo…


Random, that’s why I use nick-names or shortened names – I’ve got one of those bog standard ASCII keyboards, you know, the old V8 generation ones………

I remember somebody replied to me because I said Finland was a Scandinavian and a Viking country. I accept I was probably being ignorant, and yes I should have done my research, but like yourself I wasn’t going out of my way to offend – remember the old cliche, you can’t please all the people all the time.

Now, 2 weeks and counting………..


Or to put it another way, whatever you do and whatever you say you’re always going to offend or upset somebody.

Not much you can do except to try not to do it intentionally 🙂


Totally agree that for some it is hard to find the alternative characters, especially if you are on a mobile tablet or worse, a smartphone.

And driver’s names are hard when auto-correct wants to cut in…


in german there are alternative characters ..

ü=ue Huelkenberg

ä=ae …

but it doesnt matter, i think everybody knows who is meant with hulkenberg 🙂



Hi James,

Great Analysis and very fast After the end of Tests. Where do you get the data like lap times or Top speeds? Can you post a link where to get These data?

Thank you for your answer.




James and Mark, thanks for your thorough and in-depth analysis as always.

Even though Mercedes looks strongest, followed by William and Ferrari and RBR is still behind the game. Still, it emerged that RBR looks having a very good aero car with pretty good speed through high speed corner in testing.

Is it possible from your analysis to tell the pecking order of the cars in aerodynamic-wise? I think after Renault sorting out their PU issue in a few months(?), RBR will be dominant once again if they have the best aerodynamic efficiency.

I’m sorry that English is not my native language. I hope my saying is clear to you. Many thanks James.


“I’m sorry that English is not my native language”

Are you kidding? That was perfect! 😀

More than that you might be right about Red Bull coming back strong 🙂

Hang on, it’s Red Bull, so that should be: More than that you might be right about Red Bull coming back strong 🙁

Wait a minute…Ricciardo drives for Red Bull now, so really that should be: More than that you might be right about Red Bull coming back strong 😀

I’m sorry, I seem to be very conflicted these days…


If Russia comes under EU or UN sanctions for invading Ukraine what happens to the Russia GP? Sochi squashed, hello Mexico?


Almost no chance, 1st, after speaking with family in East and West Ukraine we find there aren’t any “troubles” in Ukraine for the normal people. It is in the best interest of the west [EU/US] to continue to fortify trade relations with Moscow. Putin is a chess player, didn’t make the “troubles” but will find a way to use the situation to the benefit of Russia. G8 Summit will be in Sochi, so will the Russian GP of 2014.

now back to F1…


It’s a difficult situation. The problem is the European Union, United States/Canada and Australasian countries are tired of conflict and don’t want a war as such – however, the NATO countries can put pressure on Russia in different ways, such as telling their sports people to boycott Russian sporting events.

Might this happen with Sochi? It’s a long time until October, so anything can happen.


PS The United States and several other countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics – so a boycott of Russia does have historical context.


The EU is way too weak to handle Russia. America doesn’t want a war. Europe depends too much on Russian Oil and gas. Also, I doubt Bernie will be busy with Ukraine considering Ukraine is bankrupt, and that means Bernie can’t take advantage of it.


Richard – I’ve posted a reply below agreeing with your sentiments – however, doesn’t most gas to Europe come from Qatar? I stand to be corrected, but although Russia supplies a significant amount of gas to the EU, I thought it was dwarfed by the amount supplied by Qatar?


Ha Russia dwarfs Qatar in terms of oil and gas


To answer my own question, I’ve just checked and you’re right Richard – most of continental Europe receives most of its gas from Russia, particularly the old eastern bloc countries.

Britain and Ireland (and possibly France and Spain) are slightly more fortunate they do indeed import a good chunk of gas from Qatar – so only the UK from an ethical/moral point of view could boycott Russian gas.

I also see the United States and commonwealth countries are not very pleased with Mr Putin, so a boycott of Sochi? Depends what happens next, but don’t discount it out.


Nothing. F1 historically runs to the mantra of not reacting pro or con to domestic affairs or world events, especially if Bernie is still the Supremo. If it’s safe to run, i. e. no rioting or troops in the streets, B.E. will take his 20 or so million entry fee and keep smiling.

Alberto Martínez


I´ve followed the tests at detail and calculated the average of some race simulations and, in my view, Force India where faster than Ferrari in race trim. In fact the race simulation done by Perez on Friday was extremely impressive, with a incredible consistency and clearly faster than the one Alonso was doing at the same time. As an example, look at the consistency is his 3rd stint with Mediums:

Out lap














Could you share this with Mark Gillan and tell us what are his view on this? How is he sure Ferrari is in front of Force India?

Many thanks James


That’s true. But I believe Ferrari’s pace should not be deduced from his two race simulations. I explain why I believe so in a replay several post further down.


He has looked at all the timings and plotted graphs.

But I’ll pass your comments on

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