The 2017 F1 season has started off with two teams fighting for race wins in the first three races so far. Most observers of the sport expected Mercedes to figure in the teams fighting for race wins after dominating the previous three seasons, however, Ferrari has surprised many in being the team fighting Mercedes during the early part of this season. The general expectation of Red Bull Racing being the dominant force in the new aerodynamics focused regulations has not yet come to fruition, and this too has been a surprise.
In this post, I’ll present some data I obtained from the telemetry overlays on the onboard videos from Chinese Grand Prix qualifying of the Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Renault cars driven at their ultimate speed during the race weekend. Why only these cars? Simply because I’ve only been able to find usable onboard videos from these cars.
This is an overview of the speed traces (click through on the image caption for a more interactive plot where you can zoom in):
An interactive version of the above chart can be found here
For Mercedes, it’s Hamilton’s pole lap. For Ferrari, it’s Vettel’s first hot lap in Q3. Vettel was around 0.3s slower than Hamilton’s pole lap (which was his 2nd hot lap in Q3), and some of that time was lost after he had a fairly big oversteer moment in the exit of turn 13 that compromised his exit speed and on to the 1.2 km long straight.
For McLaren-Honda, it’s Alonso’s Q2 lap that was some 2.7 seconds slower than pole, and for Renault, it’s Hulkenberg’s Q2 lap which was ~1.9 seconds slower than Hamilton. Hulkenberg’s Q3 lap was around 0.05s faster than his Q2 lap, but the video has most of the back straight missing, which has important information about how strong the Renault PU is, so I chose that over his Q3 lap. Unfortunately, the video for Alonso’s lap only starts from turn 7, so the data is only available from then on. Scroll to the end of the post for a description of the methods I used to extract the data.
First, let’s look at how the cars behave in the entry, apex and exit of some corners of interest.
Turns 1 – 4
Vettel had the fastest 1st sector time in qualifying, and it’s possible that he gained all of that in these sequence of corners. He brakes later and harder than Hamilton or Hulkenberg initially, but modulates to carrying a lot more speed into the corner and taking a later apex as a result. It was interesting to note that there was a big throttle spike from Vettel in the approach to turn 2, where his speeds reach a maximum of 131 km/h, much higher than anyone else. However, Hamilton and Hulkenberg are less acrobatic in the transition from turn 1 to turn 3, preferring to concentrate on a cleaner and slower apex speed so they can be back on the power earlier in the exit of turn 3 and towards turn 4. The Renault piloted by Hulkenberg is carrying better speed through turns 2 & 3 than Hamilton too.
A theme appears to be developing here. Hamilton is again, breaking earlier than the other two drivers, but is earlier back on the power. The minimum speeds from all three cars are evenly matched, however what Hamilton lost on entry, he gains in the exit of this corner as he’s able to maintain that speed difference to the Renault. However, Vettel’s Ferrari appears to be accelerating harder and so is catching up the Mercedes in the run to turn 7.
Turns 7, 8 & 9
This sequence is quite informative. The trace starts on the approach to turn 7, which is a long apex high speed corner where the minimum speed is maintained for some distance, so the cornering speed will be more car-limited than driver-limited. Alonso makes his appearance here, and the car is clearly matching Renault which is really encouraging, speaking as a McLaren fan. I would suggest that once Honda sort out the teething troubles early in this season, we’d be seeing regular Q3 appearances and points finishes, cementing the position McLaren were in last year at the top of the midfield. This is scant consolation, however, this is F1 and I expect nothing less in terms of the effort to get to the top and be there. Both Mercedes and Ferrari are well matched in turn 7, and this suggests that Ferrari are an equal to Mercedes in terms of peak downforce generated at high speed. McLaren and Renault lag behind at a speed difference of 4-5 km/h.