Final analysis before the 2012 F1 season start at Melbourne Australia
So here we are again, about to start a new Formula One season. We did not publish any analysis on our previous post. Sorry about that, it was hard to meet with some friends on a sunday afternoon. Anyway here we have a complete analysis of what has happened and what could happen in Melbourne, Australia on March 18, 2012.
First, just one word on what preseason testing means, it just means ‘testing’. It is not a competition, nor a qualifying sesson, nor a race. F1 teams go the venue with a testing program, they put hundreds of kilometers into their new cars and gather as much telemetry data as they can. They get feedback from their drivers. Drivers can feel and tell a story about how their cars behave and based on all this data, F1 teams can go back to their designs and make them better or worst before the real event: A U S T R A L I A….
if testing means just testing why do we do this analysis? Because testing produces lap times which is a measure of performance. The caveat here is that lap times during testing sessions do not represent an equal performance factor throughout the grid. We do not know the fuel loads, DRS activation, tire wear, etc. etc. etc. But we do love the sports and the competition and as I mentioned in previous posts, I like to read behind the numbers. So, after this preamble (and again this is not an exact science), here is the final analysis.
To look at the overall picture, let’s look at the situation from the first Jerez testing session, specificaly the TOP 10 consolidated lap times:
(1) Rosberg Mercedes 1m17.613s (2011 car)
(2) Grosjean Lotus 1m18.419s
(3) Schumacher Mercedes 1m18.561s (2011 car)
(4) Alonso Ferrari 1m18.877s
(5) Webber Red Bull 1m19.184s
(6) Vettel Red Bull 1m19.297s
(7) Hamilton McLaren 1m19.464s
(8) Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m19.587s
(9) Vergne Toro Rosso 1m19.597s
(10) Raikkonen Lotus 1m19.670s
Now our conclusions from the Barcelona pre-testing at Catalunya Feb 21-24, 2012:
- Red Bull: consistent, raw pace with all type of tires.
- Ferrari: very close to Red Bull but 0.289 secs off pace.
- Mercedes or Force India depending on load fuels.
- Sauber or McLaren or Toro Rosso.
Okay, at this point some big F1 news outlet said that McLaren was looking very close to Red Bull, or at least very comfortable with their car… well… being comfortable does not necessarily mean being competitive. When we analyzed the lap times (even though we do not know the car set up, fuel loads, etc.), we did not find enough data to determine that McLaren was second to Red Bull. Actually we found that they are far behind… but maybe our analysis has many flaws. Of course, we can not speak to Hamilton or Button and asked them the big question: How do you feel with the new car?
So let’s run the compiled Barcelona March 1-4, 2012 lap times through the machine. So taking into account the best time set by each driver, here are the consolidated times… Fuel loads are unknown, DRS configuration unknown too… what we do know is that most of the best times were set in a short-stint (out lap, quick lap, in lap), at most 3 to 4 laps were run, we have indicated this next to each lap time when that info was available. But let’s say that this is the best performance they can offer, I would love to see a qualifying grid like this one (a bit of a change in the world order, huh):
- Raikkonen / Lotus 1m22.030s Soft short-stint Day4
- Perez / Sauber 1m22.094s Soft short-stint Day3
- Button / McLaren 1m22.103s Soft short-stint Day3
- Ricciardo / Toro Rosso 1m22.155s Supersoft Day3
- Alonso / Ferrari 1m22.250s Supersoft short-stint Day4
- Senna / Williams 1m22.296s Soft Day4
- Hulkenberg / Force India 1m22.312s Day4
- Kobayashi / Sauber 1m22.386s Supersoft short-stint Day4
- Massa / Ferrari 1m22.413s Super Soft short-stint Day3
- Hamilton / McLaren 1m22.430s Soft Day4
- Di Resta / Force India 1m22.446s Supersoft short-stint Day3
- Grosjean / Lotus 1m22.614s Soft short-stint Day2
- Kovalainen / Caterham 1m22.630s Supersoft Day3
- Webber / Red Bull 1m22.662s Soft short-stint Day3
- Petrov / Caterham 1m22.795s Supersoft Day4
- Rosberg / Mercedes 1m22.932s Soft Day3
- Schumacher / Mercedes 1m22.939s Soft Day4
- Vergne / Toro Rosso 1m23.126s Soft short-stint Day2
- Maldonado / Williams 1m23.347s +1.317 Day4
- Vettel / Red Bull 1m23.361s +0.747 Medium Day2
Interesting is that the new parts used by Red Bull in the last 2 days did not help them improve lap times. Either they did not see improvements on this upgrades or they need to make a few more tweaks to them. Webber was 14th and Vettel 20th. Another consideration is the fact that they were very fast at Jerez. So (assumption) maybe Red Bull used the Jerez session to determine their order, once they now they are first, they relax and they focus their time on something else (?). One thing for sure is that they need to re-tweak their last upgrade and Vettel signaled that when he went off-track in the last day. Well, even if they revert the changes they are fast, quick in Jerez, comfortable in Barcelona but if they want to dominate they need the ugprades.
Okay, so how fast a F1 car can run at Catalunya circuit with low fuel? Mark Webber got the pole position at the 2011 Spanish Grand Prix with a best lap time of 1m20.981s wow. Now keep in mind that this lap time was made with Red Bull hot blown diffuser so downforce was much better than the new cars. This indicates that Raikkonen is just +1.049 second off that time at 1m22.030s.
Our understanding is that Raikkonen needed to build confidence and he wanted to end at the top of the timesheets, build confidence, build the team and destroy the enemy (Ferrari), and he did it! when you compare Raikkonen with Grosjean there is a difference of almost +0.500 secs, so how much is worth Raikkonen? we will see that in Australia. Lotus could be the surprise of the season, they were also very quick in Jerez and even thought they missed one testing session, they were quick on this one. On the other hand, Kimi takes informed decisions, he also definetely learned from Schumi come back. Why the man that took the championship with Ferrari (at his first year with the scuderia) come back now? unless he has a very informed opinion that Lotus has a winning car.
So, if Raikkonen did an excelent time then what about Sauber? Perez did a great run coming second place, but how can Sauber challenge for a podium in Australia? was he just lucky that Raikkonen could not go faster? We think that Raikkonen went us fast as his current car configuration enabled him to go. Lotus will improve, they completed the testing program and will definetely apply tweaks to their current car. Sauber on the opposite side has less resources and will improve but not at the pace of Lotus. Perez needs results and why not showing a bit during the testing mode. or maybe they have a good suprise for all of us?
Button wanted to give a shot and came in third on a short-stint. McLaren did not want to show off all of their potential. Both drivers, Hamilton and Button, completed their programs, no surprises, no announcements, just following their method. The only car that has a decent nose, same colors, same drivers. Hamilton did a best time of 1m22.430 on soft tires but not a short-stint, and still managed to be just +0.400 seconds from Raikkonne. There is calm at the McLaren garage, no complains, no warnings. They have definetely improve and all major F1 news outlets have positioned them very close to Red Bull, maybe we can see a nice Hamilton versus Button versus Vettel championship race?
Ricciardo was 4th best but on super soft tires, while Vergne was almost a full second off the Raikkonen pace. Where does Toro Rosso sits? They are probably leading the pack in the middle field. They have improved from last year, but how much? only Australia will tell. They are not close to Lotus but very competitive against Force India or Caterham. The only risk now is that they have new drivers, so we shall see how they perform under the F1 pressure.
Ferrari tried super soft but not enough to put them first, the gap between Alonso and Massa is the same as last year with Alonso being +0.150 seconds faster. If they were competitive enough they could have blown away the times using the super soft, but this is where is tricky, the super soft runs away fairly quickly and Ferrari was one, if not the only, team to acknowledge that they took the wrong approach… based on the previous test session in Barcelona, Ferrari determined a direction to go with their exhaust sytem but it did not work out as expected. Pat Fry said that they probably has lost some time since the testing did not provide the positive results that they were expecting, so back to the drawing board and figure out how they can improve before Australia. Now, here is where is tricky, they have many routes for new development on their car, but they have to focus on the right one, if they choose the bad route they can loose precious time (2 or 3 races) or the risk of only being competitive at the middle of the championship. So here is something similar that is happening at RedBull, they want to improve but there is always the risk to take the wrong development path. For sure we expect an improved Ferrari in Australia… crossing fingers!
Where is Williams? They are not a Lotus and probably Sauber has the upper hand. Senna was 6th and Maldonado 19th, Senna was not on a short-stint so maybe there is space for improvement. We may see Williams fighting the Saubers for middle field supremacy and we expect no suprises from them yet, like wining the openning race. Probably later in the season.
Force India impressed many in the previous Barcelona test, but this time around other teams had grabbed the headlines still they manage very respectable lap times. With Hulkenberg 7th and Di Resta 11th, although Di Resta on supersoft, which worried us a bit. Still they will do well in the middle field but will face fierced competition from Toro Rosso.
Caterham F1, Kovailenen and Petrov, raised some eyebrows, they put a good performance with super softs that took them to 13th and 15th. It was a very nice surprise. Probably not enough to beat Sauber, Williams or Toro Rosso, but good to give some interesting competition and pressure on Force India.
Mercedes is now the big question mark. They kept a low profile ever since they late car launch and presentation. There were not short-stints that we recalled during the event, why? well their focus is on getting data using a very strict driver program, there is no time for a glory run. They have a good base and they want to make sure they take their program to the next level without compromising performance or development effort. Well here one thing of importance is that as Schumacher explained they are a very small operation when compared to Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari. They have the technical ability but time is against them. We may see a surprise from them if they can crunch the numbers appropriately. They looked very comfortable with their program and did not try a glory run.
OKAY, so the final ranking (prediction) of the pecking order then is as follows:
- Unfortunately first comes: Red Bull, we only hope we do not have a total Vettel domination year. We love competition and hope to see some of it.
- McLaren or Mercedes. Here probably we will see McLaren coming on top in Australia, they have a good base and great driver skills. Mercedes is a tricky bet, not enough data to compute their position. Just because Rosberg and Schumacher are in Mercedes together with Brawn, they deserve their chance against McLaren.
- Lotus or Ferrari. Lotus comes very hungry to turn the tables. They have Kimi and Grosjean, a perfect team to challenge for a win. Can they improve enough to lead the pack against Red Bull? Massa and Alonso will have to push and motivate the team since Ferrari acknowledge that they made a mistake (new parts that were taken to Barcelona did not provide positive results) and need to rectify
- Williams versus Sauber, who can get the most of the tires? Sauber appears to have an edge, but Williams is a formidable adversary they just need to figure out how to get the most out of their drivers.
- The best of the rest: Toro Rosso, Force India, Caterham. So far, Toro Rosso has an edge over the rest but they have to keep it up in order to maintain focus and speed. Probably with some effort they can be close to Sauber and Williams and with some luck maybe even Lotus and Ferrari, will some at Toro Rosso repeat history as Vettel did.
- Surprise element: Marussia or HRT? At this point we know nothing about them in terms of performance, they have not tested their cars like the other teams. We expect to see them running at full speed to recover. If they can catch Caterham, that will be something!
Good luck, let the race start. Comments, suggestions are always welcome, We are fans like you, passionate and like the competition. We expect to review our findings after the Australian Grand Prix, so feel free to come back the monday after the sunday race. Cheers!