2009 F1 cars quicker than in 2008

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Brawn's BGP001 is faster in qualifying than last year's cars were

Speed is part of the essential attraction of Formula 1. But containing the ever-escalating cornering speeds of F1 cars has been a major goal of the FIA for safety reasons.

The new rules introduced for 2009 were not just aimed at improving the spectacle of the racing in F1, they were also intended to keep cornering speeds under control. But already the teams have got their performance at or near the same levels of performance they enjoyed this time last year.

Here’s how the lap times compare – and how they vary for cars equipped with KERS and the controversial ‘double decker diffusers’.

2009 vs 2008 lap times (click to enlarge)
Laptimes (s)200820092009 (best KERS)2009 (best non-DDD)
Australia qualifying85.187 (Hamilton)84.783 (Barrichello)85.319 (Massa)85.121 (Vettel)
Australia race87.418 (Kovalainen)87.706 (Rosberg)88.488 (Raikkonen)87.988 (Kubica)
Malaysia qualifying94.188 (Raikkonen)93.784 (Button)94.456 (Raikkonen)*94.222 (Webber)
Malaysia race95.366 (Heidfeld)96.641 (Button)98.453 (Raikkonen)97.672 (Webber)

*KERS installed but not activated.

This year’s cars are already lapping quicker than they were in 2008 in qualifying. A significant factor here could be Bridgestone’s decision to bring a greater variation in tyre compounds – meaning softer compounds with better one-lap pace, ideal for qualifying.

They haven’t quite been able to match the performance seen last year in race conditions. But it’s important to remember we’ve only had two races so far, both of which had disruptions.

So far all the fastest times in qualifying and the race have been set by cars without KERS and with the controversial ‘double-decker diffuser’.

The legality of the diffusers will be decided at the international court of appeal hearing on Tuesday. After that, we will either see the diffusers banned or (more likely) declared legal, and then swiftly adopted by the rest of the field. However this will present more of a challenge for some teams than others, particularly Red Bull’s RB5/Toro Rosso’s STR4, with its unorthodox rear suspension configuration.

How much faster will the cars be after a few months of development? Flavio Briatore has some bold predictions:

With this [diffuser] solution you gain 14% aerodynamic load: give us a few months and we’ll gain 30-40%, and the lap times will decrease by two seconds.

KERS has not shown a great benefit for lap times so far, but that may not be the case later in the year when the technology has had further developments and the championship reaches tracks where it can make more of a difference – particular Spa, Monza and other tracks with long flat-out sections.

How much faster will the cars be by the end of the season? Is it inevitable the FIA will have to make further rules changes to cut speeds? Have your say in the comments.

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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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58 comments on “2009 F1 cars quicker than in 2008”

  1. If I wanted to slow down the cars a bit, I would make such changes that at the same time would improve the racing in F1 (which isn’t that great yet, as it’s been 30 years ago).

    My idea would be to make the braking disks smaller in diamater. (They could then be thicker as to avoid cracking)
    Longer braking distances would make overtaking more spectacular and safer as well.

    Increasing the minimum weight of the cars would also contribute to making them slower.
    This solution obviously bears other important aspect:
    It’d make heavier drivers less handicapped – especially in the KERS era.

    1. I like the smaller brakes idea

    2. no way FIA, FOTA,GPDA would be up for steel discs. Braking points would be longer, and they wouldn’t take up that idea on the grounds of safety.
      i agree with higher minimum weight, but the best way of making F1 safe and slow is to make rules that do not allow for different interpretations that gives you half a second advantage or more. non KERS designed car+DDD is clearly a far better solution than a KERS designed car. It is just stupid of FIA to allow someone to build a car without KERS and all the weight problems that come with it.
      there should be a rule, that all cars must be designed for KERS, no matter if they use it during races or not.

      Brawn GP clearly has an advantage, the FIA should increase the power of KERS to make things more even.

  2. If the FIA really wants to slow down the cars and make Formula 1 ‘green’ and more road relevant, it should then introduce a fuel formula. With such a regulations any engine configuration is allowed and the FIA will get a very effective and cheap instrument (lowering fuel consumption even further) to reduce speeds in the future.

  3. I think the sport has been crying out for less efficient brakes for a while now, it could greaty improve the racing. But while it would increase lap times it wouldn’t slow cornering speeds, so with that in mind, further downforce reductions sound good to me.

    Just no standardised parts.

  4. The breaks idea coupled with the diffuser ban and bringing back Grooved tyres would certainly reduces speeds significantly. Oh with the current Aerodynamic packages they have today.

  5. StrFerrari4Ever
    11th April 2009, 14:02

    Great article Keith I think late 08 when people saw some articles which suggested the cars would be slower I believe some of them were upset myself included but seeing these cars lap that fast and in some cases in qualifying close to 04 cars pace which is fabulous i truly believe by lets say mid season the cars could have knocked over a second or a second and a half in laptime with all the upgrades and tinyloopholes oh yeah Keith in 2010 did the FIA say a team can build their own specification engine as long as it doesnt exceed a certain price if so Ferrari bring that v12 back ;)

  6. The problem, I think is that they are trying to micro-manage the changes instead of specifying outcomes. For example, on aero you can do anything you want provided that, when another car is behind you, your aero does not cause greater than x% disruption in the downforce of that car. (measured using your own car in normal spec.). For cornering you can do anything you want provided that catastrophic failure of any one part does not decrease overall area by more than x%, thereby preventing massive sudden loss of grip.

  7. What the hell does Flavio Briatore know about engineering? What qualifies him to make a statement like “The diffusers and 14% more downforce to the cars.”

    Flavio is the most arrogant man in F1. Anyone who can dismiss Ross Brawn by claiming he has “never won a championship” because he wasn’t a Team Principal at Ferrari is stupid. Brawn has contributed much more to a championship victory than Flav has. This is a man who has disparaged engineers constantly throughout his career, and now proceeds to act as if he’s qualified to make engineering statements?

    To hell with Flavio Briatore. Straight to hell with him.

    1. Don’t forget, Flavio is only saying this to scare FIA out of approving the double decker diffusers. He’s predicting hell and damnation if these DDD’s are allowed to continue for a reason …

  8. This year the problem is that the rulemakers had several priorities, most of which conflicted with each other. So they decreased downforce by getting rid of winglets but negated the slowing effect by bringing back slicks. The trick diffusers have helped, too, in maintaining speeds and it seems likely that the WMSC will confirm that they are legal.

    Next year there will be further changes designed to bring down speeds, no doubt, and they should be more effective since there will not be a compensating rule change elsewhere.

  9. I have to ask, how much safer can F1 be? Racing incidents will always happen and they never tend to be in high speed areas anyway. Lower speeds and less lap distances is what the FOM and FIA are striving for all to the detriment of F1 in my opinion.

  10. Every time the FIA have change the regs aiming to reduce speed, they screwed up big time. With such wondrous facilities and safer cars, what’s the point to kill the sport? A modern car is the result of bright ideas tested with simulator, wind tunnels and i the track. Whatever the FIA does to cut speeds, science and engineer will come up with a better solution to make the cars fly…and that’s a good thing

  11. Keith
    A truly excellent basis for discussion. If cars without driver aids are lapping faster with no evidence of undue loss of control there can be no reason for the FIA to tinker. I agree with those who blame excessive brake performance for the lack of cut and thrust in the braking zone and fail to see where danger lies if less efficient brakes are specified. Drivers would respond as required. Briatore’s political remarks before the diffuser meeting have no significance. What does appear to be abnormal in a scientific sport is loss of ability to test updates. Now that does sound dangerous.

  12. controlling the speed should never get out of hand. F1 should be allowed to be slightly quicker each season. Thats just the evolution of tech. The cars get safer, the tracks get safer, and racing should be faster. This is still a high risk sport and there is no reason for the FIA to slow it down to a SAFE sport. Its the pinnacle of motorsports. Everything should be on the edge.

    Kubica’s crash in Canada really shows us how F1 has made strides in safety as well as speed. Had it happened in the early nineties it would have been a catastrophe. This is why I think cars should be allowed to naturally be faster while kept in check as to not start flying.

  13. Is Briatore using that as an argument to ban the double-diffusers, though? I doubt Renault can get 2 seconds out of their truck…

  14. Changing the brakes seems like a sensible idea, I’d just ban Carbon breaks though, almost every other series manages with steel brakes and so could F1.

    Reducing the size of the wings would be my other choice for reducing speeds.

  15. Hi! I am an Aerospace Engineer, especially i am an aerodynamicist.
    Some of you spoken about brake, sure the breaks power is very hight, the breaks are the most powerfull things in a racing car, but also in the road car. But breaks can slow down a car if the tyres are capable to slow down the car, i.e if they are the necessary grip. This grip is done by only two componets…the rubber and the dowforce; if you want to stretch the brake distance you have to reduce the dowforce or make tyres slower.
    I make some simulation program about the performance of a racing car, especially a F1 car on my computer, and you can see that at some level of dowforce the brake dimension is not so important. The brake disks in F1 is not so big, they are just bigger than a normal road car.
    If you don’t have downforce the equations shown that the hightest deceleration “in G” is equal to the grip coefficient of the tyres (from 1.8 to 2 in a F1 car), at the first chicane of Monza you reach 5 or 5.5 G….so the difference of 3G is done only by the downforce.
    To conclude, to really slow down the car you have to reduce the downforce (one airfoil in the front and smaller rear wing whith a single airfoil or at least 2 very very small airfoil for example, and smaller diffurser) and allowed one single change of tyres during the race, to force the tyres manufacturer to produce hardest tyres, is not normal that a compound in the first race was destroyed in only 8-12 laps…they are only 40-60 Km!!!

    Sorry for my bad english, i am italian, so i am not a “champion” in english language! I hope that i could send you my “messages”.Bye!

    1. yes, even with the new restrictions, downforce still dominates.

    2. Fede – thanks for that, your English is much better than my physics!

    3. Fede you make some good points that, I for one, was not that sure of, if your simulations are anywhere near correct, then downforce, and the way it is achieved, is an area where the FIA need to be clear if they are to reduce speeds, your English was certainly good enough for me…

  16. The cars already have 13inch wheels. How much smaller do you want to make the brake disks that they become ineffective.
    When you reduce the size of the rear wing area, you also reduce drag. Means cars will travel faster in a straight line. With the added mechanical grip from slick tyres, and diffuser magic, laptimes stay the same or increase.

    1. but it’s cornering speeds that are a concern which reduced downforce will impact.

  17. Exactly Fede, you just stated what I was too lazy to write although to a greater detail.

  18. Please don’t take the speed reduction to the extreme that F1 races start to look like Nascar road races.

  19. Ok but you can make car larger, and the front areas increase, or for example, increase the bodywork dimension, delete the airfoil section from the suspension, delete the brakes cover. Anyway if you reduce the downforce you reduce the grip during the acceleration outside of a corner….so the maximum speed is reduced much more than you immagin…!

  20. I don’t know if it is a bug of my programs, but if you use the the typical Monza dowforce in a track like Melbourne or Silverstone you reach speed lower than the usual.
    If you reduce the downforce the speed increase until a maximum and then decrease to a normal value, like the present speeds. It is umbelievable but is not impossible.
    The right way is to reduce the aerodynamics efficienty, so the rate dowforce/drag…but is not too easy, the most simple things is to put a little “wall” in the wings like the champ car on the superspeedway some years ago, but it is a very ugly solution…or increase the total front areas of the car, for sefety reason like the FIA has done for years…!

  21. I like the low-tech approach. Add weight to the cars; say 75-100 kg per car. I guarantee they’ll be going slower. Also have a spec bar-coded weight-plate or brick for each car that the FIA provides to the teams that needs to be returned intact after each race.

    The standardized weight could be made into, or incorporated within the shape of the driver’s seat shell (the rigid one they use to mold and hold the driver’s form-fitted foam insert. The curved, negative spaces under the seat formed by driver’s rear-end and small of the back form natural cavities where weight could be added.
    Knowing F1 however, I’m sure the weights will end up being machined from Titanium billet!

  22. Increase weight is another way to reduce the performance, but there are at least two problem: more weight means more energy to dissipate during accident, and the second problem, another umbelievable things, is that more weight is not equal less speed, or at least, not less speed everywhere.
    The equation shown that if you are in a very slow corner (like the Lowes at Montecarlo, or similar) the speed not depends by the weight…but only from the grip coefficient of the tyres, and this ‘phenomenon’ is the same at the braking and the acceleration at very low speed. From 60-70 Km/h (40-50 MPH) the weight become more important.
    Anyway the more important thing is the first, the bigger part of kinetic energy that must be dissipate during the accident.
    The reduction of the downforce will reduce the speed on the corner, increase the acceleration and braking distance, because of that you will not increase the speed on the straight line, or at least not so much.
    The brake are not the way, thinking about the 1999, Alex Zanardi used for some race (at least at Zeltweg) metal brake, but he was not the slower on the track, that means the brake are not so important right now, dowforce is more important.
    Another problem for the brake is that less efficient brake will be a problem during the “emergency” braking just before an accident; think about the Senna crash in Imola ’94: Ayrton make an emergency braking just outside the trak, he passed from 307 to 216 Km/h in some tenths of a second, if you reduce the brake power were been impossible.
    Less dowforce means less force braking, that’s rigth but if you talk with a driver, he will drive a car without dowforce, but not a car with less brake power…!

  23. so if the fia passes the “trick diffusers” as legal and all cars have them.The teams with the most money start going the fastest and the championship is fought out by ferrari and mclaren by seasons end what has changed.Why is there not a standard template for aero design why so much grey area and room for interpretation it’s obvious to a layman that there is a problem but not the stewards or fia.In a time when teams are supposed to be saving money there all about to dump sh@tloads to catch up.Sorry we have to make you redundant because we have to build a new diffuser because the rules are a little bit fuzzy in that area.Bit of leadership wouldn’t go amiss.

  24. This will all change next year. I dont think the FIA will worry to much about it. If they ban refuelling next year the cars wont be as quick, and fuel efficiency will be the key to winning a race. Less fuel equals less weight. Start an f1 car with 100kg of fuel on board and see how fast it goes. We will end up with cars going around a track slower then indy cars. Personally i dont see the fuss, yes the cars are quick, but racing cars are meant to be. Going around the parabolica or through eau rouge at 250km hr or 265 km will mean no difference to the driver or the FIA, because at the end of the day if he losses control at that speed it is going to hurt and the difference in impact and danger is no different. Why do the teams need the FIA and Bernie i dont know. They seem to me to ruin the sport more then anything. They should start there own series.

    1. Of course, refuelling will be banned. But we still have the ‘engine freeze’. So, fuel economy won’t be king really.

    2. Banning refuelling is a terrible idea. Pit stops are the most dramatic part of the race because anything can go wrong. And in this age of motorsport it is almost the only way of over taking. If you ban refuelling the fast cars will be at the front and slow cars at the back and overtaking will be dead forever.

  25. If we don’t already see it in Shanghai, later this year at Spa & Monza we might see relatively taller gearing on KERS cars come into play with high speed trap differentials (excuse pun).

    Already we have seen KERS rekated downforce differentials in setup with KERS cars playing to the straight line advantage and non KERS playing to higher corner speeds.


    Good lord people, my eyes, they bleed!

  27. Why the obsession with slowing down cornering speeds and speed in general??

    This is auto racing at the pinnacle of competition, let the driver’s drive and the designers engineer faster and safer cars.

    And for all of our sakes please rid the cars of this KERS nonsense! Please explain how an engine limited to 18,000 RPM benefits from a jolt of HP at the end of a long straight, when it should be maxed out at peak RPM already?

    Paragraphs just for you Andy:) I agree with your point:):)

    1. Lowering speeds because of safety. Safety because dead drivers and spectators is highly undesirable.

      The max RPM of an engine is irellevant. And using extra power at the end of a straight makes no sense. In racing, it is extra important to nail the corner(s) leading to the straight well, because your exit speed of that corner will affect how fast you travel down the entire straight. The longer the straight, the more the effect. KERS adds 80HP whenever you want. The RPM of the engine does not matter, as the power is added on top of that. The car with less power (no KERS) will accelerate slower and reach a lower top speed – the more powerful car will pull ahead for the whole duration of the straight. The longer the straight, the more time to keep pulling ahead.

    2. I agree with you, for me F1 cars have to go faster time after time, i would like engine without limitation on weight, RPM, materials, shape and number of cylindres, angle ecc….aerodynamics like last year (2008) active suspension, driving aids, variable aerodynamics configuration ecc ecc…with all of this you can go 8-10 second faster than now……but is a dream. Even if the level of seafty increase of 2 or 4 times…!

    3. Why the obsession with slowing down cornering speeds and speed in general??

      Exactly. Right now F1 cars should be traveling at 400mph, leading renewable energy technological innovation and bending physics. At the moment F1 generally flies in the face of technological development by implementing the wrong restrictions with the wrong emphasis. Slowing the cars down to make them safer does not equate in the more extreme competitive environment of F1 compared to say driving in an urban habitat. The general trend in F1 since the 1950s has seen speeds increase and safety improve this is due to a growing emphasis and innovation in the area of safety. If F1 put safety firmly at the top of it’s priorities, financially as well as conceptually, designers of both cars and circuits could be free to open their imaginations. This more than anything else this would provide great racing, more enjoyment, more competition, more mental and physical challenge, more technological innovation and relevance, better viewing figures, better revenues and more than any other solution “improve the show”. It’s unlikely but if you never dream you’ll realize a dream.

    4. I agree K – Jackie Stewart etc started the ball rolling with the safety aspects, since at the time the cars really were death traps (and the drivers were supermen).
      But I also remember after the Turbo era, the switch back to non-turbo did not see any slowing down of the cars for long, and even the more recent switches to less powerful engines and groovy tyres didn’t stop the designers and engineers working their way round it to stay competitive.
      As far as I am concerned, if its F1 it should be fast and innovative, and with the modern use of carbon fibre, speeds should only be limited by what the drivers and tracks can take.
      Otherwise whats the point?

  28. theRoswellite
    12th April 2009, 7:59

    Kudos to Fede.

    Cornering speed is the issue, downforce is the problem.

    Downforce can be micro-managed by adjusting the area of the inverted airfoil. This is also fairly cost effective when compared to other solutions. As downforce decreases the cars rely more and more on mechanical grip. Remember the 4-wheel drift?

    An added benefit, which I don’t believe has been mentioned, is that with a decrease in downforce you will reduce the huge loss of grip which results when a car’s wings “stall” from any major disruption in smooth airflow.

    And finally, adding weight increases accident duration and extension, plus decreasing brake effectiveness is working at cross purposes to the primary issue…which is safety.

  29. The faster laptimes does not exactly mean that they are faster in high speed corners. I would assume that we are indeed a bit slower, not much though, in high speed corners this year with the lack of downforce (compared to last year) but with the return of the slicks they gain a lot of time in the slow corners due to the higher grip from the tyres…

  30. Good point Peter. This was my first impression too, especially at Melbourne. We’ve also seen some great duels, with drivers holding their racing line seemingly “easier”, around slow corners. Unfortunately I don’t have the data to back this impression ;)

  31. Bear with me on this one, increase the wheel size (diameter) This would have a detrimental effect on the whole aero of the car, the biggest thing for aerodynamists to tidy up is the air created/redirected by the wheels. A larger wheel would compound the aero affects and slow the cars? I realise a larger rolling diameter wheel enables a higher potential top speed but they may have to try much harder to reach this speed. I may be hitting a ball right into the left field and barking up the wrong tree…..

  32. Well done Keith
    This has been an excellent discussion and we have all learned a lot from it. I can see no reason why anyone needs to change anything but many good ideas from contributors if change is needed. In the meanwhile more evidence is required but it would seem that we now have the basis of a good year ahead.

    It appears that the FIA is going in the direction of running two series as Formulas 1& 2 using standard engines lightly supercharged for the upper group which implies a reduced capacity for both. There will probably be an announcement of a standard chassis across both series before long. That will be much more satisfactory for an organisation largely controlled by the non-racing countries who appear to lack empathy with the current system.

    There is no reason why enthusiasts need lose heart. There will be more than enough room for a prime GP series run by most of the present contenders within a more satisfactory business model. Circuit owners will be able to survive on much lower fees and the many circuits which have lost their grand prix and testing business are available while contracts with those trapped in the current system run out. Television fees can be reduced too because the whole financial model will be lower geared without the high wastage of The Rights Holders charges.

    I would hope that manufacturers would be required to supply same spec customer engines to other chassis builders. No doubt the FIA would want Ferrari to be prime contractors for their series but can see no reason why they would not also run a team in the GP series rather than being written down as mere kit builders.

    1. Thanks CD :-)

  33. “How much faster will the cars be by the end of the season? Is it inevitable the FIA will have to make further rules changes to cut speeds? Have your say in the comments.”

    Would they really be faster? Relatively I mean? The 2008 cars were developed (at least by McLaren and Ferrari) till the end of the year.

    Do you think the 2009 cars will develop quicker, because the new regs are still so new? Or because you think the diffusers will make the bigger teams faster too?

  34. Stuart Hotman
    12th April 2009, 23:34

    you think the diffusers will make the bigger teams faster too?

    I assume you are referring to Mclaren and Ferrari. I suppose it depends what you mean by bigger. Honda (Brawn) and Toyota were quite easily the biggest teams last year regarding budget, and Williams were kings of F1 last time we were on slicks.

    I would guess there is some gains in the diffuser area but it wont be the magic bullet. I can’t see how they can ban double decker diffusers now that the results have been published for the first two races:)

  35. C’mon how fast can it be compared to the V12 and V10 engines. By the time my son grows up it will be Formula TAXIS.

  36. Oh by the way the definition for KERS….Killing Every Racing Spectacle.

  37. The fact that the lap times are close to those of 2008 doesn’t necessarily mean that the speeds are out of control. The 2008 times were still a long way of 2006 times (when we had ultra grippy Michelin and Bridgestone tyres). Even the 2006 times were a couple of seconds of the 2004 times as well.

    It’s all irrelevant anyway, because if refuelling is introduced next year then the lap times will stutter by 3 seconds.

  38. What about spec pistons and rods (read heavy)? That would keep the revs down, keep some of the costs contained and have an overall lowering of horsepower. These engines are hardly relevant to showroom engines anymore anyway. Let the development happen in the other areas.

    (Anti KERS)

    (Pro tyre war)

  39. I thought the main argument for a single tyre supplier was that it would be easier to control speeds in F1. So surely if the FIA think speeds are getting too fast they just need to tell Bridgestone to make harder tyres.

    Also is it still planned that tyre warmers are banned next year, and if so how do Bridgestone intend to solve the problem of the performance difference between new cold tyres and fully up to temperature tyres?

  40. I caught A1 racing a couple of weeks (3 weeks maybe) back on TV and it was about some of the best motor racing I’ve seen in years — and those guys are not even F1 racers. There might be something in forcing all the teams to use the same (primitive/basic) aero-packages (though that takes out a lot of fun in seeing what the F1 tech-wizards conjure up).

    Next year’s rules of allowing a team to have unlimited budget to develop this year’s car or 30 million to build a totally new car would make things interesting (if FIA doesn’t chicken **** and bow to whatever Ferrari demands next — am Ferrari fan btw).

    Personally, I just wish that the FIA had a fuel cap instead of a budget cap. Each team has a fuel budget of 150 liters to fuel both cars on race day (not entire weekend). That’ll see some real car innovation (and speed downgrade).

  41. I bet there be some better drivers too in the prix to handle these cars.

  42. Maybe they’re faster in the straights, but definitely not in the corners. Pity.

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