Jenson Button, McLaren, Hungaroring, 2012

Top teams remain close as McLaren peg back Red Bull

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Jenson Button, McLaren, Hungaroring, 2012Who has the quickest car in F1 at the moment?

This was a much easier question to answer during the last season. This time 12 months ago Red Bull had set the quickest lap at every race so far.

After the first few races of 2012 it was clear how much things had changed. The top eight teams were clearly much closer together.

But what its perhaps even more surprising is that over halfway through the season we are yet to see any one team take a clear lead in car development.

Over the course of last year the top four teams – Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes – were covered by 1.5% of lap time. So far this year twice as many teams – the same four plus Lotus, Williams, Sauber and Force India – are covered by a lesser margin of 1.2%.

2012 F1 car performance chart

This graph shows the percentage difference between the fastest laps set by each team on each race weekend this year:

Red Bull0.8580.2520.60901.4410.108000.2750.9250.561
Force India1.6391.7231.2571.1771.7351.5031.1590.4411.0670.7640.865
Toro Rosso1.6451.7291.9050.531.9072.1221.7541.8741.6341.0871.763

One-lap wonders vs race pace

Taking a simple average of the quickest lap times seen so far McLaren are leading the way, having been 0.22% off the pace on average so far this year. Red Bull are second, 0.46% off.

McLaren’s upgrade at the German Grand Prix appears to have delivered a step forward in performance which has moved them back in front of Red Bull

But this is only part of the picture. As we have seen repeatedly since refuelling was banned at the beginning of 2010, one-lap pace and race-stint pace can vary significantly.

Some clear examples of this which stand out from this season include Lotus, who are reliably quicker in race trim than they are in qualifying. The same usually goes for Sauber.

The reverse tends to be true for McLaren. In the last race Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position by 0.413s (0.5% faster than Romain Grosjean’s Lotus). But in the race both Lotuses were clearly quicker than the McLaren and put Hamilton under sustained pressure for the lead.

Wet weather on Saturday at the British and German Grand Prix weekends muddies the picture yet further. Ferrari and Red Bull shared the front row of the grid at Hockenheim yet the limited dry running left them fourth and eighth respectively in terms of overall fastest times.

Ferrari’s fightback

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2012Fernando Alonso made some interesting remarks in Hungary about Ferrari’s progress having started the year so poorly:

“We knew that in the first three or four races when we were in China, Bahrain, the car was not doing what we were expecting and when we arrived in Barcelona everything became a little bit more normal for us and from that point all the updates was fine-tuning. But the Barcelona one was to make everything back to work.”

As noted here the last time we took a look at this data, the progress Ferrari made around the time of the Spanish Grand Prix was unmistakeable.

They may not have the outright fastest car at every race weekend, but this year no-one does. Over the last five races they’ve been 0.454% off the pace on average, matching Lotus and only trailling Red Bull (0.352%) and McLaren (0.287%).

These figures are slightly abstract so let’s attach a notional value to them: Over the last five races, the average performance difference covering Ferrari, Lotus, Red Bull and McLaren has been approximate to 0.15s over a typical 90-second lap (0.167%).

Furthermore, while they may lack the fastest car on outright single-lap pace, Ferrari have shown good race pace and, unlike McLaren, their car goes well in the wet. The F2012 has developed into a good all-rounder, one that Alonso is using extremely well.

Under-fire Red Bull slip back

Red Bull have scarcely been out of the headlines for one reason or another in recent weeks, usually concerning some complaint the FIA has had about the team’s creative approach to the rulebook.

They’ve had their engine maps tweaked, they’ve been asked to change how their suspension can be adjusted and they’ve had to alter their rear bodywork. It bears repeating that the team’s car has not broken the rules, however vexed the FIA might have been.

But having to take these pieces off the car can only have impaired their performance. After the European Grand Prix, which Sebastian Vettel was dominating before his alternator packed in, the scene looked set for a Red Bull resurgence, 2011-style. But it hasn’t happened.

It’s doubtful the changes forced on the car accounts for all of their drop in performance. The difficulty of mastering the 2012 tyres and the sheer closeness of the field will account for some of it. But what had briefly looked like turning into a Red Bull benefit has not materialised.

Caterham’s upgrade disappoints

Another team who seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough after the European Grand Prix was Caterham. But they also haven’t delivered.

The team bolted a major upgrade onto the CT01 at Silverstone but wet weather there and in Germany meant it took them a while to get the most out of it. Having looked set to break the 2% barrier a few races ago they slipped to over 3% off the pace again in Hungary.

With that, the prospect of them scoring their first point before the season is over has faded.

2012 F1 driver performance chart

This graph shows the percentage difference between the fastest laps set by each driver on each race weekend this year:

Sebastian Vettel0.8780.4310.95701.4411.222000.2750.9250.561
Mark Webber0.8580.2520.6090.2331.5540.1080.7621.851.3360.9960.737
Jenson Button0.1790.1550.8630.3131.5141.5751.2140.4850.1661.0750.778
Lewis Hamilton000.5310.10600.380.4110.330.3360.5260
Fernando Alonso1.8511.2060.9051.0610.7280.8710.4970.63300.4240.797
Felipe Massa3.0321.5711.1611.6122.1260.8210.9230.7081.6350.7560.718
Michael Schumacher0.4880.1790.5991.4871.46500.9430.6971.4051.3121.832
Nico Rosberg0.6440.46200.4261.4380.1980.850.4261.6990.391.164
Kimi Raikkonen2.1370.2520.8181.4790.9551.2091.2880.4350.31100.778
Romain Grosjean0.4470.4560.8220.6340.8780.4551.1430.4110.2071.3110.51
Paul di Resta2.5481.7231.2571.1771.7351.9071.1590.4411.3020.8711.062
Nico Hulkenberg1.6391.7371.7071.4991.7991.5031.3070.6151.0670.7640.865
Kamui Kobayashi1.4841.8270.6971.4971.4561.6241.2250.6290.9541.0411.664
Sergio Perez1.9711.3070.7461.0521.0112.4351.81.0170.8390.0441.164
Daniel Ricciardo1.6451.7291.9050.532.1232.1221.7541.8741.6711.0872.178
Jean-Eric Vergne1.7752.5162.4942.7641.9072.5913.8191.9891.6341.3851.763
Pastor Maldonado1.1611.2851.2222.3990.4870.9761.3160.3970.4940.6450.681
Bruno Senna2.051.6861.2281.7263.3071.8951.6411.1431.1930.9680.919
Heikki Kovalainen4.0263.2083.5132.6294.6513.0113.362.042.3122.5463.24
Vitaly Petrov4.4513.483.7383.684.3694.1763.3672.4172.8363.7493.97
Pedro de la Rosa9.6466.495.495.8327.1575.1085.0254.1655.7095.3976.131
Narain Karthikeyan9.827.446.1816.3757.9556.5225.974.5285.5365.9946.454
Timo Glock6.8374.8684.3744.5076.5174.9075.584.4234.8154.7535.587
Charles Pic7.4225.2294.8325.2425.9665.6196.064.6795.3094.665.276

This reveals some insights into the comparative performance between team mates:

  • The Red Bull team mates began the year very closely-matched. Vettel then gained the upper hand and although the gap between them has reduced again, he remains fractionally ahead
  • Hamilton has generally been ahead of Jenson Button and the gap ballooned when Button hit his rough patch in Spain, Monaco and Canada
  • Felipe Massa has not out-qualified Fernando Alonso all season but he did lap quicker than his team mate at Monaco and Hungary – on both occasions he did a quicker lap in Q2 but was unable to repeat it in Q3
  • More often than not, Romain Grosjean has been the fastest driver over a single lap in the Lotus
  • Jean-Eric Vergne’s one-lap pace is improving and he is increasingly on a par with team mate Daniel Ricciardo

Who do you think has had the quickest car so far this year? And which drivers are getting the best out of their equipment? Have your say in the comments.

2012 F1 season

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Images ?? McLaren/Hoch Zwei, Ferrari spa

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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34 comments on “Top teams remain close as McLaren peg back Red Bull”

  1. Keith, the colors for Button and Hamilton should be reversed.

    1. looks like their lines were indeed mixed up @keithcollantine. Now its as if Hamilton had the slump in speed instead of Button!

    2. @adrianmorse Fixed, thanks.

  2. I think Hamiiton and Button are mixed up in the last chart.

  3. If point would be awarded for the above driver chart instead of race positions, then Hamilton would be having a good season indeed: 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 4, 2, 2, 6, 5, 1, for a total of 202 points! Sadly for him, neither McLaren’s consistency nor its race pace have been able to match that impressive form.

    Judging from the car performance chart, it is interesting to see that 2012 has only gotten closer as the years wears on, although this is the opposite of my intuition that the midfielders have had their fun with a couple of podiums early on in the season, but are now once again fighting for the last couple of points-scoring positions in the top 10.

  4. Great analysis @keithcollantine !

    It’s weird, as the season progresses you start to get a feeling of the order, or lack of and you can start to piece certaint things together, hazard a guess who has the upper hand and which drivers are performing the best. When you then see data like this it vindicates your ideas and feelings and validates your understanding of the sport and all its intricacies. It’s a pretty satisfying feeling!

    Honestly, I don’t think anyone has the fastest car at the moment but I believe McLaren are the best placed moving forward, Good results in Germany and Hungary seemed to just erode any previous doubt I had about them being able to perform. I don’t think there is any other team in the sport capable of developing at such a rapid pace. Having a good car from the off is one thing, adapting to your surroundings is another. We saw it in 2009 with them.

    1. I completely agree with the last but one paragraph.

      If one follows F1 very very closely, he or she could spot little things which are indicative of the big picture. I also have this kind of feeling sometimes. I’m often wrong though, especially when I think I follow it closely – and I don’t.

      As for the improvement, I think Alonso & Ferrari once again have their cliff to climb, although much smaller than the one they successfully climbed by Spain. They once again are behind McLaren and Red Bull and possibly even Lotus. That’s what Hungary and Valencia suggested – despite Alonso winning the latter, and of course discounting the GB and especially the Germany improvements on the McLaren. While Alonso made good use of every opportunity he got, wet weather often played into his hands, especially in Germany. Maybe, maybe in GB, Ferrari had the fastest car. That is a good sign for Spa, a similar track to Silverstone, nonetheless.

      Anyway, I think Ferrari has to up their pace for Alonso to retain his healthy 40-point lead.

  5. Lovely job with this analyses Keith, I will have a look at the details to finally make my view on the driver ranking for the first half of the season soon.

  6. Yeah I am pretty baffled by Caterham. In Valencia, they didn’t have any upgrades, but were really close in qualifying and in the race they were up against both Torro Rossos on merit.

    Then the upgrade comes, but I understand the rain made it difficult in the following 2 races. But in Hungary, why were they so far off? Was the upgrade in the wrong direction?

    1. The thing about Valencia is that the nature of the track makes the cars very close together – it’s mainly point and squirt, and a great aero package will give you less time there than, say, Silverstone. It’s why the qualifying times were so close, and why it gave a false impression of Caterham being close to the midfield as it effectively masked the deficiencies of their car.

      1. surely Hungary is a tight track like Monaco and Caterham shud have been closer to the midfield. Remember Arrows in 97 with Hill in Hungary and Jerez qualifying. Have to say I am disappointed with Caterham and they will be lucky to hold onto Heikki

        1. Point and squirt is very different to tight and twisty.

          I agree with Dan that the nature of Valencia closes up the field, however Hungary is not like this. A driver / car combo that gets hooked up can really sail off into the distance… kinda like Hill with his Arrows in 97:)

          Caterham have been disappointing this year though.

    2. Timo Glock told Motorsport-Total that Marussia’s Silverstone aero package has been worth 0,8s-1,0s. Toro Rosso probably got some upgrades as well between Valencia and Hungary.

      Caterham hasn’t been able to beat their closest competitors in the development race this season, and that’s why they aren’t currently beating Toro Rosso on the track either. Caterham is now moving to a new factory in Leafield, where they will have improved CFD facilities. They also need to hire more aero experts of John Iley’s caliber, and maybe next year they’ll do better in the development race.

  7. Mclaren is the fastest car and vettel is the fastest driver basing on the charts buy Fernando being on top on the first half is what makes this season more interesting. It’s been a close 1st half and I can’t wait for the 2nd half to come. Hoping for a kimi win to mix up with the front.

  8. There is no doubt that Fernando Alonso will win the battle this year. Though the field in the first half is evenly matched which was largely influnced due to understanding the tyres; Ferrari will have the edge during the second half since the development of the car for the rest of the year will be based on one driver’s input, that is Alonso.

    1. I don’t think this is evident. I think Ferrari have slipped behind McLaren by the German GP, was more or less always more or less behind Red Bull, drawing level with them in Silverstone. As for Lotus, I think they own everybody on race pace, but only in hot conditions and on twisty circuits, but so far could not make it count due to reliability issues/bad luck/bad one-lap pace or any combination thereof. Their lack of penetration on high-aero downforce tracks and even on certain medium-aero downforce tracks, like the Hockenheimring will soon rule Kimi out of contention.

    2. The Ferrari have fallen behind in the last few races as their new parts they brought did not work. Thats a set back and could end up destroying their chances.

      1. I don’t agree with you. It is clearly to see that most of the people in this web page want mclaren to win and they sometimes don’t take into account FACTs. Yes Ferrari has had some very small upgrades that they have been testing on the last few races and according to Alonso they did not helped and for that reason they didn’t put them on the car. Alison also said that the car. It was basically the same car since Barcelona yet he was one or if I’m not mistken the only driver that score the most points since the bar Leona upgrade that was 5-6 races ago. Mclaren introduced a big upgrades in the last race it helped them to be fast in qualifying but Hamilton was very lucky to have won the race since the lotus and vettel were faster than him and his winning was due to luck and also to the fact that in the racetrack it was impossible to pass the other cars. By the look of things mclaren will shortly windup behind the Ferrari and the redbul and even the lotus because all of those three team will have big upgrades for the next races. Based on what I reado and what fry said, the Ferrari will have a really big upgrade for the next race while mclaren will have only small changes to the cars. All my comments are based on what I read and on facts , I’m not distorting the truth or want to say and see what. I want instead of saying /seeing the truth like the people who are saying that Ferrari is in bad shaped. To me mclaren is the one in bad shape, how long did it took them to come up with a big good upgrade? And they even weren’t the fastest! Ferraris has big upgrades coming for spa and a special package for Monsanto, while lotus will incorporate to a really fast car the double s duct and red bull also will have some updates. And by the way it seems to me that lotus will be taking a lot of points from the. Mclaren and the redbul and even the Ferraris since the car looks to best the best of all.

        1. Here’s a few more facts in support of Alonso’s championship chances.

          Alonso has scored an average of 15 points per race this year. This of course includes the first 4 races when Ferrari really struggled. If he continues this form for the rest of the year he will end up with about 298 points.

          For Hamilton or Raikkonen to better this they will need to score an average of more than 20 points per race for the remaining 9 races. Webber and Vettel will need an average of about 19.5 points. It is highly unlikely anyone will score like this. As a comparison Vettel scored an average of 20.6 points per race last year.

          To compare this year to 2010 (which at the moment seems to be a fair comparison) Vettel won that year with 256 points, or 13.5 points per race. Considering there is one more race this year, Alonso would need 270 points to equal this tally. This means he needs to score 11.7 points per race, or an average of 4th place each race for the last 9 races.

          This all means the championship is very much Alonso and Ferrari’s to loose from here on in.

  9. Great analysis! But I find a few things pretty weird! Red Bull was the fastest car in Canada, really? And the difference between Felipe and Fernando is highest at Silverstone. They were closest on that particular weekend if I remember correctly

    1. But yeah, the final graph illustrates why this season is so amazing! Only in three of the eleven races has the fastest driver won the race! China, Bahrain and Hungary.

      1. I thought the fastest driver in Hungary was in a black & gold car.

    2. The graph doesn’t show what the fastest car is, but which car drove the fastest lap of the weekend. I’m guessing the fastest lap in Silverstone was in FP3 (where Alonso was fastest), so if Felipe wasn’t that close to him there it doesn’t mean anything. As for Canada, Vettel convincingly put in on pole on Saturday, but there was no evidence of any car advantage on Sunday.

  10. I found it interesting to compare the competitiveness of the 2012 F1 field with the one in 2011. I went through the F1F race results section and got the following results. These are the gaps (in seconds) at the finish between the winner and the 10th place at each of the first 11 races. The figures are very well comparable, only Bahrain replaced Turkey in 2012 and the German GP took place at Hockenheim instead of Nurburgring this year. The 2011 gap is in the brackets.

    1. AUS 39.7 (1 lap)
    2. MAL 50.0 (91.5)
    3. CHI 38.7 (63.2)
    4. BAH* 71.5 (78.0)
    5. ESP 1 lap (1 lap)
    6. MON 44.5 (1 lap)
    7. CAN 25.3 (47.0)
    8. EUR 36.0 (1 lap)
    9. GBR 44.4 (79.1)
    10. GER* 48.9 (1 lap)
    11. HUN 51.2 (1 lap)

    This shows that the gap between the 1st and the 10th decreased significantly in every single race in 2012 (the ‘1 lap’ gap in Spain is actually 1m30s vs 2m23s) and mostly the difference has been approximately halved this year.

    And this is what makes 2012 such a great season.

    1. Interesting data. I think the shrinking of the gap between 1st and 2nd, let alone 1st and 10th, has also contributed significantly to a more exciting season.

      1. Defenitely @estesark, the field is close enough that relatively minor things can make a day. It mixes up the grid nicely and means that in races no car has a gigantic overall speed advantage.

  11. The first chart shows why much of the criticism of Toro Rosso’s rookie driving pair that I see in comments on this site is, in my view, misplaced. The car they are driving is stuck in a no man’s land between the mid-field and the tail enders. In that sense, they are in a similar position to the Williams of last year, where Barrichello (over 300 grands prix) and Maldonado (who has never been accused of being slow) managed just 5 points between them.

  12. I’m not seeing the logic in this article

    Qualifying and Fastest race lap don’t tell you anything about the performance gap between teams. This year with the tyre management would tell you more or consistancy of results. In which case Ferarri have shown gigantuan improvement and now reign supreme.

    That is when Alonso is at the controls.

    Analysis like this doesn’t really tell you anything about car development over the first half of the season, just as it doesn’t give an indication of who will likely have the upperhand in the 2nd half of the season.

    1. I’m not seeing the logic in this article

      Qualifying and Fastest race lap don’t tell you anything about the performance gap between teams.

      The data is based on the fastest individual lap set by a car (or, in the second chart, driver) over an entire race weekend (see paragraph six). This is because at some point during the weekend a car will be run at the greatest of its potential over a single lap and therefore give us the clearest indication of its true performance.

      Logically, this will most likely come during qualifying. But final practice can also yield useful data, particularly if there have been wet qualifying sessions as we have seen recently.

      I’d have to go through it all to check but I’m almost certain that on no occasion will a driver’s fastest lap of the weekend have come during a race, for obvious reasons.

      That this serves best as a guide to a car’s pure one-lap pace is noted and expanded on in the article. Of course teams need to keep an eye on tyre management more than they used to. But this does not mean they have stopped trying to build the fastest car.

      Analysis like this doesn’t really tell you anything about car development over the first half of the season

      Yes it does. The Alonso quote is an example of that (see the linked articles in that section for more).

      1. @keithcollantine Thanks for the explanation. I still think that there’s a gap in the logic. What you’re attempting to do is illustrate the relative overall performance of each team, but I don’t think you can show this using qualifying and fastest race lap.

        I have an example to illustate my point. The olympics! Could you take Mo Farah’s qualification time in the 5K heats as an indicator of his performance, he finished 4th or 5th in a relatively average time. No, he was obviously setting himself up for the race and didn’t put the same value on qualification as other atheletes.

        Then in the race itself, if he had a poor start and was basically out of contention for the win, he then decides to run the fastest single lap of the race. Could he then claim that because he ran the fastest lap he had infact superior fitness? Of course not.

        Infact this fastest lap logic gap is magnified by the fact that the fastest lap is considered an acolade and a luxury that the winner cannot afford (unless you are Vettel in 2011). Whereas the trailing cars will take this as a consolation as per the Mo Farah race example.

        My point is simply that these stats don’t reveal the true competitiveness of the cars.. The only true judge this year in particular is consistant results, into which driver competance factors cannot be seperated.

        1. @mw

          I don’t think you can show this using qualifying and fastest race lap.

          As I said in my last comment, there is almost certainly no fastest race lap data in here.

          In fact, I’ll do you one better: I’ve just pulled up my worksheet and I can tell you not one of the data points above refers to a lap time set during a race. But as I said in my previous comment the reasons for this are obvious.

          I think if you can understand that and appreciate what the data shows you’ll be better placed to appreciate what it tells us about the competitive order and why things like your comparison with athletics bear no relation to the data we have here.

          (Though if you want to discuss this with me further I’d avoid analogies, particularly ones involving long-distance running, because what I know about athletics wouldn’t fill the back of a postage stamp.)

  13. Ok ok, the penny has dropped @keithcollantine this has nothing to do with fastest lap of the race and it is clearly outlined in your article that you have taken the fastest lap of the weekend which is not generally achieved in the race.
    And actually it’s suprising how often the fastest lap corresponds to the race winner. And often the fastest car has been denied the race win through unfortunate circumstances (eg. Vettel in Valencia).

    While there is no perfect barometer for car performance these stats are as good a guide as you’ll get.. My appologies.. Good article Keith :)

  14. I think the FIA’s constant nit-picking at Red Bull’s car has seriously impaired their development, more than they lead us to believe. Now however they have 4 weeks to make new gains, and in Spa I imagine they’ll be right on the pace (even for a track that doesn’t particularly suit their car).

  15. Michael Brown (@)
    9th August 2012, 18:16

    Look at how inconsistent Mercedes has been. Up, down, up, down, up, down.

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