F1 Performance Insight: McLaren vs Ferrari and the real picture behind Williams team orders
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Apr 2014   |  4:10 pm GMT  |  86 comments

Why was McLaren faster than Ferrari in Melbourne, but slower in Malaysia? And how much faster was Valterri Bottas than his Williams team-mate Felipe Massa in Sunday’s Grand Prix – enough to make a pass on Jenson Button ahead, as the team believed?

With the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan we can attempt to answer these questions, thanks to the latest performance graphs.

NB – The vertical axis is the lap time in seconds, with the faster lap times lower down and the slower ones higher up. Click on the graphs to enlarge them.

McLaren vs Ferrari

The two graphs from Melbourne (Fig 1 above) and Sepang (Fig 2 below) tell a very clear story. They compare the fastest McLaren and the fastest Ferrari in the two races. In Melbourne McLaren was faster, and in Malaysia it was the Ferrari.

This will be disappointing to McLaren as the team brought an update to the second race, but didn’t seem to get a benefit from it. The team has indicated that part of the reason for this is that their car struggled in the hot conditions. This is partly due to having to open up the bodywork for cooling. This hurts the aerodynamic efficiency of the car, which in turn hurts stability. That means the tyres slide more, overheat and then grip is lost.

However, another key point is that it highlights the risks of bringing updates to cars in these early flyaway races without sufficient opportunity to test them. If you are not able to get a clear read from Friday practice then it is hard to say whether an update is better or worse. Some teams prefer to only run updates when they know for sure that they make the car faster. There is a danger in throwing new parts at a car at this stage of the season, as it can make it harder to understand where the problem areas are if the car is changing and so are the conditions, from hot tracks like Malaysia and Bahrain to the normally cooler conditions experienced at the Shanghai International Circuit.

McLaren will this week have carried out a deep analysis to understand what happened in Malaysia and it will be interesting to see their response at another hot venue this weekend. The car lacks rear downforce and that hurts the corner stability and in turn makes the car slide more on the tyres.

Williams team orders: Was Bottas fast enough to pass Button in Sepang if he’d been allowed through?

There has been a huge amount of talk this week about the controversy at Williams last Sunday when the team asked Felipe Massa to let team-mate Valterri Bottas through to have a crack at passing McLaren’s Jenson Button. Both drivers have now said the matter has been resolved, with Massa saying the team has apologised to him. The question remains, however, did Bottas have the pace to pass Button?

The graph above, taken in conjunction with the race history chart (below), shows that in the last stint Bottas was significantly faster on tyres that were two laps fresher than Massa’s and four laps fresher than Button’s.

Button pits on lap 39 and Massa picks up his pace by half a second on lap 40 and another half second on lap 41, before pitting on lap 42. Bottas stops on lap 44 and from lap 46 onwards he pushes his tyres hard to catch Button and Massa. By around laps 49-50 he is much faster.

It is here that he has the pace to attack Button but isn’t given the chance. Looking at his traces it appears that his tyre degradation is higher than Massa’s (look at the upward curve in his second stint above, compared to Massa’s), so there was a narrow window in which to make the attack, but after that the pace is not there. He catches Massa on the sixth lap and Massa turns the speed up a little, as does Button, looking at lap 50 in particular.

Looking at his approach speed at that moment, when the tyres were in the sweet spot, it is understandable that Williams’ instinct was to ask Massa to let Bottas through but once the degradation kicks in it is not quite as night and day in terms of pace as one might have initially thought.

The conclusion is that for Bottas to have had any chance of passing Button he needed to be allowed through tyne moment he caught his team mate, early in the stint when he had the pace.

After that the moment – and the opportunity – were lost.

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Massa did the right thing. He needs points just as much as Botas needs them. There is a natural driver battle going on in the team. Way too soon in the season to start pulling ‘Felipe, x driver is faster than you’ cr@p. Also, Bottas actually hit Massa from behind so why would Massa yield? And what kind of tyre falls of the sweet spot as soon as you catch up with another car? job well done pirelli!


Just about everybody seems to ignore the fact that VB couldn’t overtake FM because they both had DRS. However if VB had got ahead of FM, he would have had DRS advantage over JB. If VB was faster than FM and had the same DRS advantage over JB, then there is a chance that he might have been able to overtake JB even though FM had failed.

Nevertheless, I think FM was justified in refusing an instruction that was delivered in such a crass, insulting fashion. He would need to be a total wimp to concede a place in those circumstances. And the suggestion that VB would have been ordered to give the place back is surely nonsense – he could have been attacking JB right to the end, in which case the team wouldn’t have called him off.

Williams have since said that there was a problem with FM’s engine overheating – if they had simply told him that and nicely said that he would have to turn it down to preserve it and unfortunately this would mean conceding a place to VB, then he would have had no excuse not to do it. Hopefully the team has learned something from this about how best to deal with racers in the heat of battle.

kenneth chapman

the team have been caught out in their own duplicity by stating, apparently after the event, that if bottas couldn’t make the pass on button then he would’ve given the place back!!! what a load of old garbanzos.

this kind of game is what is slowly driving me away from a lifetime of support. pit wall goons moving cars/drivers around like pieces on a chess board. if that doesn’t drive a nail through the heart of what was once a ‘racing series’ i don’t know what will.

quite frankly i am becoming just so disenchanted with the entire mess. this so called ‘pinnacle’ is fastly becoming one big joke.


James, offtopic question:

Which of the “lightwight” drivers are blocking wightincrease? If their names came out, they would not be very popular I reckon:)


if you think about it good bottas overtaking figures are due to him crashing and pitting in race one and being put back on the grid in race2. You can go through all the slow undeveloped cars quite quick. Gets harder at the sharp end. Massa missed the first race. Lets see how the season goes.


As Murray Walker used to say ….”catching up is one thing…passing is another” Since Team Orders are allowed the teams should be DECISIVE and just come out and say to their driver ” MOVE ASIDE FOR YOUR TEAM MATE ” if that’s what they want. None of these bullshit about your team mate is faster crap. If the team mate is faster then he bloody well should just breeze past.Is not a good look for the pinnacle of the sport when a driver behind a team asks team to move him aside.

Your thoughts James?


at risk of Claire calling me emotional, I thank her for her apology. I expect she will be standing as she watches Nasr do his thing and perhaps she will remain standing for the rest of the weekend. Bankers and sponsors have their ways of making it so and smart business leaders anticipating it make the right calls in the first instance …. and earn the right to sit in comfort.


Look at how much faster Massa was than Button after his last stop; more of an up-angle than Bottas on Button at the end. If Massa couldn’t pass Button then, how was Bottas going to?

and I still say if Massa’s car was overheating, how was it going to be better behind TWO cars rather than one? he’d have had to stay in touch if there really was a “switch-back” plan.

IMO everyone’s decision was understandable except for the utter insanity of using the “___ is faster than you” phrase on him, not once but about 3 times. If he had obeyed that it would have ruined what’s left of his career, so when they worded it that way they guaranteed he could not follow the order.

Blame the whole thing on whatever complete IDIOT decided to address the request in those words.

Adrian Newey Jnr

I was at the circuit, sitting at turn 1. My observation is that the lap times do not accurately reflect the battle between Bottas and Massa that was taking place in the turn 1 complex. It was obvious that Bottas was being held up by Massa. This was due to the lines that Bottas was taking to pressure Massa. If Bottas had taken the optimum line in clean air, I feel that he would have been quicker. His lap times were also slower due to not being able to run in clean air, which benefitted Massa.


Whoever put their own interests ahead of their teams are not great drivers. The reason why Messa can compete on track is because the team gives him that oppotunity. The team knew better n wouldnt risk damaging their drivers feeling if they didnt have a sound base.

This is however different from the famous multi 2-1 in redbull as the ultimate teams interests remained the same — maximum points gained, regardless whether vettle passed webber or not.

kenneth chapman

oops again! should read ‘possible outcomes…..’

kenneth chapman

interesting point is that massa stood up for his decision and has not altered his reasoning, at least publicly, from his original comments.

surely this vindicates his decision and the fact that williams have apologised and climbed down just cements this fact.

whilst, as i said earlier, i see the need for team orders sometimes but surely not at this early stage when the outcomes are so flimsy.

i do sometimes wonder about the logic of having two separate and sometimes conflicting C’s in the same competition.

hopefully what we’ll see now at williams will be some racing without restrictions until there is a clear points leader.


Does anyone know if Valteri actually did touch Massa on those opening laps? (we heard Massa, but didn’t see anything about it later) – Did he actually hit him?


Williams should have use the pitstop to jump Bottas. That way, there is no unnecessary hassle.

They need a Ross Brawn like strategist to put the faster driver at the best position to win.


I dunno, it does not look as if Bottas was faster than Massa at any point in that race. Yes he caught him but Massa was in Jensons dirty air.

Fact is he was behind and not close enough to even attempt an undercut.

I have to confess that the thing that put me off Williams all those years ago – late 80’s till this day was their treatment of the drivers it started with Mansel and total in disgust with Hill.

Funny thing is with the 2nd tier drivers they have had since 97 there has not been a peep from them. Now they have Massa (rate him or not he is a seasoned and well known name) and they do this.

I understand they are a private team but this is not the way to draw the attention of future investors.

The team got good points last Sunday and appear to be moving forward, this shameful behaviour has just pushed them back me thinks – the team was way out of order.


Can you imagine Williams asking Nigel to move over for Piquet? In the old days, drivers were allowed to view their teammate as another competitor.


Personally I think Massa knew that Button had the speed to keep up and didn’t pushed it. Bottas on the other hand, constantly pushes. Yes, it is good for him and for the sport, but I find him in the gravel soon. We saw it in melbourne. What he did there was driving a Hamilton style very hard, but quickly gotten fulled by his expectations.

On the mclaren side…they might have been slower and I have the feeling the car is not as fast as the merc,rb or ferrari, but I have a strong feeling that they were playing it safe not to overheat the engine mainly because they have a rookie in their car. There is something unusual with them happening, but they clearly played it safe this round.

On the other hand Williams is not the team to respect the experienced driver. They are in hunger for points and results and this is what you get when they see a window to get them. They go for it and then see the final picture.


Sorry, but the analysis is superficial and not as good as it could/should be!

For example McLaren closed the cooling openings on the back of the car as the weekend progressed….


Go write your own blog then. Wonder what your visitor numbers would be? Thanks James for the insight you give us into this sport.



I knew it, if Felipe had allowed Vatty past instantly, with his much fresher tyres he could have had a nibble at Jenson. If Bottas had hung Jenson out to dry on one of the hairpins, then Felipe could have sneaked past as well.

So mathematical analysis and analytical research has shown that Williams did have a cohesive point in asking Felipe to move over instantly.

Those potentially few lost points, even at this early stage of the season might – might – be costly for Frank and Claire. It’s clear the Williams has decent pace, and have to harvest as many points as possible in this early phrase before the likes of Macca and Prancing Horse get their act together and potentially out-develop Williams in the European summer season.


Very good post by all three of you – Gazboy, tickety and mercedess

Good thoughts, well said


If Bottas had the pace to overtake Button, then he could have gone past Massa without problems… By doing that he might have ruined his chances of overtaking Button, but, hey, he would be in front of his team mate. However, the fact was that he couldn’t overtake Felipe — and the rest is nonsense!


Proof that Williams needs to:

1) get better at how to inform their drivers about their strategy – not only while racing, but most importantly, before they get in their cars; and

2) be clear about their team expectations and ensure that those expectations are written in their contracts with the drivers…


It’s simple they tell them to race each other but if they collide and take each other off, Susie and the other Felipe get the cars for the next race 😉


Spot on Gaz Boy. FM evidently has delusions of grandure, I hope the comments of Williams having apologised to him are just a combination of hot air and his ego. I suspect VB has all bets off now, he has nothing to prove to Massa.



Yes, the thing about grand prix racing is you never know when you might need your team-mate to help you out.

Burning bridges and all that.

The other thing is that Vatty has been part of the Williams operation for a few years now, meaning that Mr Bottas has more inside information and operational “secrets” than Felipe. After Felipe’s display of petulance, Mr Bottas probably thinks sod it, why I should share crucial information with that [expletive]?



In the graph of the Malaysia race, comparing Alonso to Button, Alonso’s last stint seems remarkably better than his previous stints.

I note that lap over lap increase in speed, likely due to weigh reduction as fuel is used, but the last stint is drastically out of line, compared with the previous stints.

Is this because, after conserving fuel for the first two-thirds/three-quarters of the race, Alonso had to put the hammer down to catch/pass Hulkenberg?

Or other?

What do you think?


The first thing McLaren need to do is to take the parachute off the rear suspension. I still cannot see how it was allowed in the first place. Nobody has offered any explanation as to how it does not break the moving aero rule. It is clearly riveted on,thus not part of the composite wishbone structure.

I do very much hope the team has not apologised to Massa. He was clearly thinking only of himself and quite possibly cost the team valuable points!


Thanks for the update and Williams performance graphs as well as the analysis/comments. The question still hanging out there, however (unless it has been missed), is whether or not Massa was fully informed of the stated pit wall intent to re-establish the order if Bottas was unable to dispose of Button.

Based on Button’s comments he was managing the gap to the Williams duo and was apparently able (as pointed out above) to up the pace when needed. Not that McLaren’s ability to manage the gap makes much difference where the fundamental question is concerned – was Massa fully informed?


“Allowed to go through?” Thats not the kind F1 we expect to watch on sundays!


No that’s true, but it is also a teamsport.

Williams must have had a good reason watching all the data to think that Bottas had a bigger chance to attack Button than Massa so they had the right to make that call.

Maybe it would have been easier for Bottas to overtake Button then he could Massa because they both have the same car.

Who knows.

And for Williams it doesn’t matter in what order Massa and Bottas finish. Especially in the first races of the season. But Massa’s reaction is understandable too.


Massa was supposed to finally be a number one driver this season. He has the priority, especially in the first half of the season.


That might be, but Williams have the right to ask him to let Bottas pass if they believe Bottas has a better chance of passing Button.


Certainly it was confusing seeing Mclaren who had qualified P4 in Australian with MiniMag then go on to have a difficult qualifying in Malaysia under the same wet conditions.

And then the race came (at a conventional track this time) and their race pace wasn’t there >>> this can only mean Mclaren is somewhat in the same position they were in last season with only the Renault powered cars’ woes giving them a breather.

But it’s true in recent times Mclaren has always struggled in the hot conditions especially in this Pirell era and so Malaysia didn’t suit them.

What’s more worrying is that the team boss Eric says it may take a while before the team can become more competitive.

As for Ferrari, apparently the team has figured out their weakness mainly thanks to a fully functioning wind tunnel and thus Alonso believes upgrades brought for China and Barcelona will see the team begin to rub shoulders with Mercedes and Red Bull.

Regards Williams, I think the biggest lesson the strategists can learn from the episode is that it isn’t worth it deploying team orders when fighting for the lesser points.

In my view team orders should mainly apply when the win is in sight or at worst a podium.


One thing I noted in practice in Australia was the relative sector times. With the Ferrari and the McLaren the Ferrari was making time in sector 3. Historically this has been a good downforce indicator to me, which is not surprising since there are three fast corners, two medium speed corners and only one slow bend.

The McLaren was good in the slower corners, possibly where the blockers work best and in exploiting the Mercedes engine.


If Button also picked up his pace, did Bottas really had a good chance of overtaking Button? Also, Williams really didn’t learn from Ferrari. The way they communicated to Massa would have been taken the wrong way by Massa for sure. As a spectator, I perceived that Williams were looking at Bottas as the No. 1 driver.

The team said that they would reverse the order back if Bottas couldn’t get past Button but that was after the fact. For some reason, i have a feeling that they only said that so that they don’t look bad in front of the media and fans. I don’t see why they wouldn’t let Massa know this especially when he initially refused to let Bottas go. Did you hear anything regarding this?


Massa showing he’s NOT a team player really. Nor honourable. Thank goodness he’s washed up and at the end of his career anyway…


I bet this won’t be mentioned in four years time.. selective media reports!

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