First race shows Mercedes have pulled further ahead

2015 F1 season

The first race of the season left Mercedes’ rivals with the worrying impression that far from gaining on the team which dominated last season, they have been left further behind.

Lewis Hamilton lapped the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne almost 1.4 seconds than any of his teams’ rivals managed. Analysis of all the lap times during the race weekend indicates most of Mercedes rivals are further behind than they were at the same venue 12 months ago.

Which team has improved the most?

Albert Park lap time change, 2014 to 2015

Lotus

Sauber

Williams

Mercedes

Toro Rosso

Ferrari

Red Bull

Force India

McLaren

 

Lotus

Sauber

Williams

Mercedes

Toro Rosso

Ferrari

Red Bull

Force India

McLaren

Difference

-5.086

-3.555

-3.202

-3.048

-2.55

-2.39

-2.052

-1.77

0.877

 

Aside from Manor, who failed to run at all, the only team which turned up in Australia with a slower car than they had last year was McLaren. Honda opted for a conservative approach with its new engine, one which at least saw Jenson Button reach the chequered flag. However their best lap was the best part of nine tenths of a second off what they managed last year.

There is some encouragement for McLaren fans, however. With the chequered flag in sight Button pumped in a couple of quick laps at the end of the race.

He got within two seconds of the lap time he’d done in qualifying, which was much closer than any other team managed. The likes of Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams were all 3.7 seconds or more off their qualifying pace. It suggests McLaren have already begun finding their missing lap time, and perhaps chose to turn the engine up late in the race once they were assured of finishing.

Which team got closer to Mercedes?

Albert Park lap time change relative to Mercedes, 2014 to 2015

Lotus

Sauber

Williams

Toro Rosso

Ferrari

Red Bull

Force India

McLaren

  Lotus Sauber Williams Toro Rosso Ferrari Red Bull Force India McLaren
Difference -2.038 -0.507 -0.154 0.498 0.658 0.996 1.278 3.925

 

Mercedes were three seconds a lap quicker at Melbourne this year compared to last season. Part of that will be because it rained during part of qualifying last year, so the cars never lapped as quickly as they could have done. That was true for all teams, however, so by factoring out Mercedes’ three-second improvement we can get a sense of which of their rivals have done the best job of cutting their deficit.

Unsurprisingly Lotus, who endured a dreadful start to last season with their unreliable E22 but reached Q3 this year with their new Mercedes-powered car, have made the biggest gains.

While Ferrari appear to have closed the gap to Mercedes, and qualified fourth and fifth this year compared to sixth and eleventh last year, this has been achieved at least in part because the other teams have not done as well. The clearest example of this is Red Bull, who fell nearly a second further behind in Melbourne compared to last year.

That no doubt goes a long way towards explaining their frustrating with Renault and Christian Horner’s calls for the FIA to step in and clip Mercedes’ wings.

Top speeds

Intermediate 1 (kph)

Speed trap (kph)

 

Intermediate 1

Speed trap

2014 Mercedes

279.7

317.5

2014 Ferrari

278.1

311.4

2014 Renault

271.9

309.4

2015 Mercedes

286

329

2015 Ferrari

281.9

327.6

2015 Renault

278.2

319.1

2015 Honda

270.6

312.8

The graph above shows the top speeds registered by each power unit in qualifying at the Albert Park speed trap, which is shortly before turn one, and at the first intermediate point, located shortly after the quick turn five. This gives a sense of the cars’ maximum speeds and how much speed they were able to carry through quick corners.

Since the new engine regulations were introduced last year, power unit performance has played a far greater role in defining overall car performance. As noted after qualifying, it’s clear Ferrari has made considerable inroads to Mercedes over the winter.

However Renault are barely at the level Mercedes was 12 months ago. And Honda’s conservative approach sees them lagging well off the pace.

The coming races will help us develop a clearer picture of how successful the rival manufacturers have been in closing on Mercedes, and how much more progress they can make this year, Mercedes having already used more engine development tokens than anyone else.

 

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