F1 test analysis: Is Ferrari really ahead of Mercedes? Here’s what to look out for
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Posted By: James Allen  |  12 Mar 2017   |  5:29 pm GMT  |  312 comments

Today is the 70th anniversary of the first Ferrari car being driven out of the workshop by Enzo Ferrari. And the signs from the winter testing are that the newest Ferrari F1 car, the SF70H, is set to race at the front in 2017.

But it’s not the headline lap time of 1m 18.634secs, set by Kimi Raikkonen on the final day, which makes F1 insiders believe that Ferrari is able to challenge for wins from the first round.

Single lap times in qualifying simulations during testing are smoke and mirrors; main rivals Mercedes are notorious for masking their one lap pace in testing and practice but then for pulling out stunning times on extreme engine modes for qualifying when it matters.

So is the Ferrari really a Mercedes-beater? Or is it all hype and conjecture?

Ferrari F1

Rather than single lap analysis, it is the study of the long run pace of the Ferrari that provides the real insight into how strong they truly are relative to their main rivals. And that also tells us the pecking order of the field as a whole after testing.

This is because the teams are obliged to run the maximum fuel load at the start of a race distance simulation and from that we can work out the underlying (fuel corrected) pace of the car. Mercedes could be running with some extra weight and with the engine slightly turned down and we would expect some of that. Ferrari tend to be under pressure to look good at this time before the season. But whether Mercedes are masking 0.3s or 0.6s is impossible for anyone outside the team to say with certainty.

But even so, the numbers here say that Ferrari is ahead by a good 3/10ths on long run pace after the second test. So in all likelihood they are very close on pace in reality, even if Mercedes is sandbagging on the upper end of the scale.

Red Bull has some work to do, as it trails Mercedes by an easily identifiable 4/10ths of a second per lap on long runs, so that is six or seven tenths to Ferrari. But their aerodynamics have been sparse so far, so there is likely to be more to come and they have opted to leave it to the first race to reveal their ideas, rather than let other see them with time to react.

Here is how it looks when the lap times from the best race sims for each team are plotted together.

A plot like this is exactly what the F1 engineers will be studying now as they assess the performance from testing.

In our race plots above (click to enlarge), you can see the relative pace of the cars in action. These are generated using the best long runs of each team during the tests (Key: Purple = Red Bull; Red = Ferrari; Green= Mercedes). We can see that Hamilton is the faster Mercedes driver, Verstappen heads his team mate at Red Bull, while Vettel had a faster race run than Raikkonen at Ferrari. The vertical axis is the lap time (faster times lower down on the plot). THe horizontal axis is the lap number in the stints and the race distance as a whole.

What is particularly interesting here is the parallel line between the Mercedes and Red Bull, using the same tyre order, that shows the Red Bull 4/10ths slower per lap. It’s harder to read across from Mercedes to Ferrari as they use a different tyre order; Vettel uses medium tyres in the final stint and softs at the start, where he is extremely quick.

Nevertheless, this is the plot that teams will be looking at when they tell you that Ferrari really was the fastest car in testing, whatever games were going on over single lap qualifying pace.

The equivalent plot to this 12 months ago showed Mercedes clearly ahead, despite the headline lap times showing Ferrari with the fastest single lap. The Scuderia had a chance to win the 2016 Australian Grand Prix, but gradually fell away as the season went on and they ended up winless.

In the second plot we include some other teams, like Williams and Force India for comparison (also as they use the Mercedes engine) and Toro Rosso (which uses the same Renault engine as Red Bull).

Comparing their best runs from week two, it is important to note that the tyres are used in a different order (look in the legend at the bottom) – so Perez and Vettel are on soft in the middle stints when the others are medium. This makes them look particularly fast at this point but the flipside is the others pick up in the last stint on soft tyres, when the Ferrari is on medium. You can see that the pace increases significantly; it looks like the soft is over one second per lap faster than the medium.

Worth noting here is that the Red Bull doesn’t look great in the middle stint on medium tyres. However the Red Bull is on Mercedes pace in the final stint on softs. Considering some of the comments from Daniel Ricciardo it is possible that this is because they are generally a bit on the knife edge with balance. If we are reading this correctly it is something they will be working hard to rectify before Melbourne, where they are expected to bring a revised aero package.

There is real encouragement again for Ferrari as the car seems to work well on all the tyre compounds available this year. In recent years they have been weaker on the medium and harder tyres than Mercedes. That seems not to be the case any longer.

Ocon Force India

Esteban Ocon did a strong race run on Day 3 for Force india, using different tyre choices, like super soft tyres on the first stint, while Sergio Perez did do a more ‘normal’ race simulation on Day 4 which started on Soft then soft again in stint 2 and this has enabled an easier comparison to the rest of the midfield.

From this we can deduce that the Force India is a quick car, very close on pace to Williams. It’s just that they haven’t run on low fuel like others, and so are beneath the radar somewhat. Williams is a shade faster at this stage, but it is noticeable that Lance Stroll had obviously been given strict instructions to drive more calmly in week two, after having two incidents in week one. He was not pushing hard and aiming for consistency so he could get his and the car’s mileage up.

Some way back Renault are hard to place as they didn’t seem able to recreate in week two the pace they had at the end of week one. We believe that they are in the very tight midfield battle with Toro Rosso and Haas. We cannot separate them.

The further down the grid you go, the more the tyre become a problem, for the teams with less downforce it is very hard to ‘switch on’ the larger format Pirelli tyres. The Italian company has selected soft, medium and hard for the Spanish GP, despite the fact that we are looking at one stop fewer anyway due to the tyres than last year. This exacerbates the gap back to the teams with less downforce.

Sauber are very slow, while McLaren are the real surprise of testing. They covered just over one third of the mileage of Mercedes and were slow.

Fernando Alonso

Instead of taking a further stop on from 2016 and moving into the space behind the top three teams, as they were targetting, they are two seconds a lap off the pace of the Williams, which is the benchmark for the front of midfield. As most of the problems are in the Honda engine, which is both underpowered and unreliable, they will not catch up quickly and it is set to be a very frustrating season for the team.

Other notes from week two were that Valtteri Bottas improved his pace relative to Lewis Hamilton on the longer runs and we will see in Melbourne how far off he is in qualifying trim.

Conclusion
The conclusion is that Ferrari has an innovative car with low wishbones, high sidepods and deeply undercut bodywork that is working aerodynamically, while the engine has improved and did not miss a beat in testing. The single lap pace looks promising, but it has been a Ferrari weakness for many years and we will only find out where the car stands relative to its rivals for qualifying after the first four rounds, using a variety of tyre compounds. It is no use having strong race pace if you qualify behind your rivals on a tight track where the strategy is likely to be one-stop.

Red Bull has work to do, but will improve a lot over the season and we expect all three teams to win races. One suspects that the weight of history will weigh on Ferrari, who tend to go strongly in testing, but fall away as the year goes on, while Both Red Bull and Mercedes will be powering on with development. Can Ferrari buck that trend in 2017?

Both with also be studying the Ferrari aero solution closely – Mercedes will have an advantage there because new technical director James Allison oversaw the concept of the 2017 Ferrari and its development up to July.

Whether the concept is easily copyable is open to question.

Everyone will have updates in Melbourne that will affect their competitive situations somewhat, but this is the way we believe things stand after winter testing.

What conclusions have you come to after testing? Leave your comments in the section below

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1

Here’s hoping mclaren get a nice mercedes engine in the back by Silverstone. Then we can finally see how good that chassis is.

2

You are an absolute legend James! Great insights! I have been searching for a ‘complete’ summary of F1 2017 testing since it ended, finally found it. Its going to be a hotly contested development race this year alright. Forza Ferrari!

3

all what i’m hoping for is lot of wheel to wheel battles (not only between team mates), some car crashes (minor) and lot of drama… and let the show begin!!! agree???

4

Interesting. With Ferrari, as many have said, I’ll believe it when I see it. They often flatter to deceive in testing. And I think we’re so desperate for someone (anyone!) to look even remotely capable of challenging Mercedes that we will sometimes look for a signal where there is only noise.

If, however, Ferrari’s long-run pace is decent then maybe, despite their added resilience, tyres will still be a factor. If consistent long runs means Ferrari can run longer stints, maybe even have fewer pitstops, than Mercedes, then that might add an interesting dimension. Also interesting about which teams is stronger on what tyre compounds and how that might influence racing and strategy.

5

we heard lewis and Niki saying that Merc is trying too many things and some are working some are not is this effecting their car because what we saw last year whatever Merc were trying seemed to work . I think when I look at the car of Merc and Red Bulls . Merc has too many things and trying too many new things that has made them confused Red bull in other have very simple car they plan to study and put new parts the risk is that if their new part dont work they may fall behind and they got poor engine and all in these Ferrari have innovative car which according to autosport hard to copy their idea also the best part of Ferrari is they are perfecting their part which already their in the car also we should forget their engine has improve a lot .so I think out top three team Ferrari have right balance of innovation and keep it simple.

6
Jonathan Deitrick

Hi James, my question is about the new tires. I know theyve been made more durable and less prone to overheat especially when trying to follow and make a move. Do you think there will be enough speed difference and durability this year for a driver to run a two stop softer all out strategy where the norm would be a one stopper? Or will these new tires last too long and everybody pretty much use the same strategy?

7

James, I know that James allison started designing the Ferrari SF70H, but we also know he was out ferrari in July and Binotto is now the technical director. So who really designed this car? is ferrari gonna be in trouble for 2018?
Thank you,
Dani

8

Great article!

Thank you.

Does any one know how much of this year’s car is James Allison.? ..I can’t imagine their new TD had enough time to create a car to these regs since james left, we assume they’ve been working on this for a cpl of years now…I’m thinking it has to be the 1st clean 100% James Allison car they wanted & have been focused on since he joined,..even tho he has left

9
Tornillo Amarillo

Sorry a little off subject, I was asking if PUs are louder and some people say they are 6 decibels louder, better but not being enough yet.

James, is that a good answer?

10

Yes I didn’t really notice a difference sadly

11

Whatever happens in 2017 F1 WCC, congratulations to James Allison . Wish him all the best in his new team !

12

I so hope this is going to be accurate and that the Ferrari is not only fast, but reliable as well…and that they don’t stuff up the strategy.

Not long now till Australia, so we will soon see (my fingers are tightly crossed).

13

The Ferrari is a James Allison car but now he’s gone will the team know how to develop it during the season?
Mercedes seem to know where it has issues and will no doubt resolve over time.
Red Bull always develop and improve.

Smacks of a very close and competitve top 3 as Mereceds and Red Bull inevitably catch up and over take Ferrari.

Williams car looks simple and clean to me which makes me wonder if there is little scope for improvement. I expect the Williams to start the season well but fade.

The rest of the mid-pack looks to be very competitive this year with Sauber and McLaren bringing up the rear.

Unfortunately I can see McLaren locking out the back of the grid for most, if not all, of the season.

In hindsight Zak Brown must be cringing at all that hype over the car being orange.

Should’ve painted it lemon.

14

In hindsight my post could appear down beat! Not the intention and I should put that right!

I think we are in for a treat in 2017 with a tight top 3 and Ferrari fending off an advancing Merc and RB.

Plus the midfield looks extremely competitive. Am expecting some choice radio broadcasts from Alonso too.

Roll on Aus!

15

“James Allison oversaw the concept of the 2017 Ferrari and its development up to July.”

I am not so sure he was that involved before July in that his wife was sick as early as April according to some accounts.

16

She died as he was on his way home from Melbourne in March

He had some compassionate leave but was very much involved until he left in July

17

Starting to get excited again! Hopefully Ferrari are genuinely quick and can take the fight to Mercedes. I don’t doubt that Mercedes are reserving their warp speed engine setting for Melbourne. That got me thinking, Mercedes have had the ability to do this for the last two years anyway, surely Ferrari and Renault must have been thinking, we need some sort of quali mode that can rival this? I just hope there is still plenty of scope for overtaking with all the new aero rules. Redbull have historically been good sandbaggers too so hopefully they have something up their sleeves. Fear with Ferrari is that even if they have a good car, with Allison going to Merc I doubt it will be very long before Merc catch up. Also fear their operational capabilities, they have been very good at shooting themselves in the foot recently and will need to improve if they are to capitalise on a good car.

My prediction is that Hamilton will win but he will have a fight on his hands and the season will end with people having much more respect for Nico Rosberg…

18

Hi James, do you have the speed trap times for each team?

19

Varied from day to day. Will add in to the post

20

This comparison might interest you in & many others on here:
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=uedec5NkO5o

21

Too bad we couldn’t flip flop the positions of Ferrari and Mclaren. It is funny, we may have a more competitive field at the pointy end, yet we will likely have a lot less passing due to the change in regulations.

22

I’m taking Ferrari’s performance with a pinch of salt. They flattered last year in testing and it led to one of the most disappointing seasons I can remember.

I’d love to see a true battle between Hamilton and Vettel. One of the big problems with F1 is how it has managed to keep its top stars away from each other due to the performance differences between teams. Other sports don’t seem to suffer this issue and it has really hurt F1.

23

Question James. While I know that an F1 car comes apart and goes back together on many occasions and of course all the parts wont be the same,especially the PU and gearbox after testing but do you know who in each team gets the test car chassis etc… or are they effectively retired and each driver gets everything new?

24

Great question. No I believe they build up one more complete car at the factory and then a spare monocoque is shipped also to Australia.

As for who gets the test car and who the chassis #2 that’s a great question and I suspect it varies, but I’ll ask my team of ex-chief F1 ops engineers

25

the only missing ingredient is how accurate last season’s predictions were.

26

As an F1 fan, this promises to be an awesome season!

As a McLaren fan, this promises to be a nightmare! Ferrari at the top and Macca bottom of the pile!

27

Yeah man hurts me to see mclaren suffer like this .. and I am a ferrari fan . hope you guys are at least in a respectable position by the summer break.

28

With potentially only one stop races and cars harder to follow each other and overtake qualification will be very important and Mercedes does have that extra quali mode, they will win a lot of races just based on that.

29

James
Do you know how many engines each team used for both the tests? I read somewhere that McLaren used about 9 or 10?

What about Mercedes? Do they use 1 engine per test?

30
The Grape Unwashed

Ferrari is astonishing, how can they have produced something so good after such a chaotic and shambolic 2016? If James Allison can claim credit for the new car, Mercedes will think they’ve won the lottery – will Ferrari revert back to their usual form, come 2018?

I’ve got high hopes for Red Bull this season, it’s got the strongest driver pairing and Newey is apparently fully committed to the project at the moment – I expect them to be challenging for the title after a shaky start.

I assume Mercedes will ace qualifying again this year, so even if Ferrari have a small advantage on race day, they will struggle to beat their rivals. With that in mind, I think Hamilton will earn his 4th title this year – but it should be a thrilling three-way fight this year. Can’t wait for it to start!

31

I was very much looking forward to this article and l am very please with its conclusions. I hope that Ferrari will be competitive in the one lap department on all occasions as well as Red Bull. I am not much of a fan of Mercedes but even if they were to win it all comes the season end,if it is against real competition, l would not mind it much. what l would dislike is a repeat from them or the over 2 possible contenders to win it in the fashion of the past 4 seasons (2013 was a bit tedious as well even as a fan of Vettel.).
So we can also look forward to a good battle between Williams and Force India if we follow this analyze. I like the thought of it. The article does not say whom of the 2 Force India drivers seems to have the better of the other during the tests. It seems clear in Williams, at least for the time being. I would really love to see Massa having a big season and a return ticket for 2018. Going back to Force India, I believe Ocon is going to be this year surprise and that he will outdo Perez.
I hope that Renault will be able to join the above twosome later in the season or that they will at least top Hass and Toro Rosso in the category they are put in now based on testings.
Sauber will be impaired by too small a budget to develop their cars as fast as all the other team but still wish them to do well enough that they will still be on the 2018 grid.
McLaren. Too sad a situation to comment on. Let just wish them luck. lots of it. Marc

32

To paraphrase Ron Dennis – I bet Mclaren would love to be winning the winter testing World Championship right now…

😂

33

James I think if Ferrari & Mercedes are close then Bottas will be key. If Lewis has to battle two strong cars he’ll drop too many points when they win, and pick up small when he wins. Good luck Ferrari! 🙂

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