The eight days of winter F1 testing are over and the cars are being built up back at base, ready to fly to Australia at the end of the week. But who will travel out there with high hopes and who has work to do? After attending both Barcelona tests, we think we have a pretty good idea of the underlying pace of the cars and of the order at this point.
With the help of JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow, former Force India chief engineer, we can analyse the long run performance as well as the single laps and sector times to give a picture of the relative pace of the cars.
Overview – Mercedes vs Ferrari for wins and championship
The overview is that Mercedes continues to set the pace, but we think that the gap to Ferrari in underlying pace has roughly halved over the winter and that Mercedes is perhaps 0.2s-0.3s faster than the Maranello squad. But there are signs that the race pace is closer than that, with a couple of Kimi Raikkonen’s long runs in particular suggesting that Ferrari more or less matches Mercedes.
What we do not yet know is what the gap is when Mercedes turns up its engine to the maximum qualifying mode. Last season this was worth 0.4s. Ferrari has worked on its ultra aggressive mode too, but we won’t see that gap until both teams reach for the secret weapon on Saturday in Melbourne.
Behind the front two we have Williams, which looks very fast over one lap, Red Bull, Force India and Toro Rosso. All four squads left Barcelona feeling pretty good and certainly have set some very fast times. Red Bull appears to have excellent race pace and tyre management. Daniel Ricciardo did a long run on Wednesday afternoon with strong pace and very low tyre degradation, which suggests that in some races, where tyre life is key, he will rise to a strong result.
Further back we have Sauber, McLaren and Renault, who are struggling a little, relatively speaking. Sauber was late with its car, McLaren still has an engine deficit and Renault is basically 60hp worse off than last year after replacing a Mercedes engine with a Renault. That’s 0.8seconds at many venues.
Table 1: All teams, relative pace – Click to enlarge
Vertical axis: Lap times in seconds. Horizontal axis: Number of laps covered.
This table uses the lap time data from Day 3 of the second test, which was representative as the wind was fairly low that day. The wind was high and gusty on Wednesday and Friday, depending on when you were out on track and it destabilised the cars. It looks in more detail at longer runs in general.
The way to read this is to look at the bottom of the graph to see who was setting the faster times and then look at the top for who was setting the slower times. Consistency is key as is keeping the upward curve not too steep on longer runs, which would indicate high tyre degradation. Short bursts of laps low down indicate performance runs, usually on softer tyres. But the longer strings show the comparable race pace, as they do during a Grand Prix weekend.
It’s fairly clear the overall performance order: Mclaren, Renault and Sauber are still struggling, Mercedes and Ferrari quickest, Williams looks good over one lap but we didn’t really see their race pace. Red Bull is joined by Force India and Toro Rosso in the chasing pack. Sainz looks like he has relatively low tyre degradation on his long runs.
Table 2: Mercedes vs Ferrari – Test 2- Day 2 and Day 3 combined. Click to enlarge
Not a lot in it on the race runs, backing up the similar single lap pace. Perhaps Mercedes should still be slightly more confident based on Hamilton’s first and second stints. Raikkonen and Hamilton were running on Day 3 in the afternoon at the same time, so the conditions were identical. Rosberg and Vettel, who ran on Day 2 may be showing the effects of the strong winds, which caused problems with stability into Turn 10 and Turn 13 and gave a headwind on the main straight.
Another notable point is that the Ferrari is working the harder tyres more effectively than in 2015. In the Spanish GP Vettel stayed with Rosberg until lap 40 just 15secs behind, but that ballooned up to 45 seconds after the final 26 laps on hard tyres. That has been a Ferrari weakness for years, but looks like it won’t happen this year.
The improved performance is undoubtedly due to the increased downforce.
Table 3: Williams vs Red Bull vs Force India vs Toro Rosso – Test 2 – Day 2 and Day 3 combined. Click to enlarge
We don’t have proper race sim data from Williams, but estimating their fuel load as 50Kg and using a long run we can predict what a middle race stint might look like. Toro Rosso and Red Bull are quite close on performance and Force India is also in that area at a circuit that is normally not especially strong for them.
The standout here is Ricciardo’s long run in the centre of the table, which rises gently as the laps tick by. That is what you want to see on a race plot, indicating low tyre degradation – barely 0.08s per lap.
Snapshot of Progress since 2015 Spanish GP
All the cars are faster than last season. Pole on the medium tyre for Rosberg was 1m 24.6s, which he comfortably beat by half a second on the same tyre in testing on the first lap of a nine lap run. So adjusting for fuel, he’s more like 0.8s faster and we have the impression that there is more there on full qualifying engine map. For reference Raikkonen did a 1m 23.099s on soft, which equates to 1m23.899s on medium.
Mercedes’ race pace in 2015 went from 1m31s at the start to 1m29s at the end. Here they are running 1m29 to 1m27s. The conditions are more favourable at this time of year compared to May, perhaps a second faster, but it’s still a significant improvement.
McLaren and Manor are also interesting to compare. McLaren’s best lap of the 2016 test was 1m24.714s on ultra soft. If you add on 2 seconds for the performance delta ultra soft to medium (used for qualifying at the 2015 Grand Prix), the car is one second faster.
Manor’s best lap of the test was 1m24.913s on ultrasoft. Again that reads across to 1m26.913 on mediums, which is over four seconds faster than their 2015 grid time!
As for the new Haas team, their outright best lap time in testing was 1m25.255s on the soft tyre. Add 0.8s for the performance delta to the medium compound used last for qualifying last May in Barcelona and you get 1m26.0s. That lap time would have put the Haas 5th on the grid for last year’s Grand Prix.
Is this what you expected from testing? What are you particularly looking forward to and from which teams this year? Join the debate and leave your comment below