Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes closely matched in race distance simulations

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Three of the top teams of 2010 went head-to-head in race simulations in Spain
Three of the top teams of 2010 went head-to-head in race simulations in Spain

Tomorrow is the final day of F1 testing before the first race of 2010 and the question everyone wants to know the answer to is this: Who’s got the fastest car?

Ferrari have been rumoured to be the favourites for some time but the race distance simulation run in largely dry conditions at the Circuit de Catalunya this afternoon shows rivals McLaren and Mercedes are right up there with them.

Massa, Button and Rosberg race distance simulations, 27th February
Massa, Button and Rosberg race distance simulations, 27th February

Three of the teams tipped to be among the F1 front runners this year all ran race distance simulations at around the same time at the Circuit de Catalunya today.

With no red flags until the very end of their runs the simulations were largely uninterrupted. Only a brief rain shower drove Nico Rosberg into the pits briefly but he returned to the track within a few minutes.

Rosberg, along with Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, each completed 65 or more continuous laps of the track. They will have to complete 66 laps at the Spanish Grand Prix at the circuit in May.

The graph above shows their lap times throughout their stints. Rosberg began his stint slightly early, but after his long pit stop due to the rain he returned to the track and more or less synched up with Massa and Button’s race simulations. You can see Massa and Button’s graphs peak earlier at around the same time (slowing down because of the rain) while Rosberg has a later, much higher peak.

Each driver pitted twice during their stint though Button made his first stop quite a bit later than Massa. Massa did a long and impressively consistent middle stint.

Late in the simulation Button’s times dropped off, which was at least partly due to traffic.

There is a considerable degree of overlap between the three lines which suggest the three teams are fairly close on performance. Massa’s long middle stint suggests to me that the rumours Ferrari has a slight advantage over the others are accurate.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to see exactly how far each car could run for. The simulations ended when Rosberg’s car stopped, causing a red flag. Given how quickly the team were able to get the car running again afterwards it seems likely the W01 simply ran out of fuel.

We wait to see what the likes of Red Bull can achieve over a similar distance. And of course there will be further changes to the cars between now and the first race of the year.

But I take this as an encouraging sign that three of the leading teams are near to each other on pace, and we could be in for an excitingly close-fought championship in 2010.

What’s your take on the race distance simulations? 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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40 comments on “Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes closely matched in race distance simulations”

  1. Nice work Keith. Really appreciate the effort you’ve gone to with testing especially when testing is so hard to read at times. You’ve really shown why this blog is the very best for F1 in the past few weeks.
    I read somewhere (sorry I really can’t remember where but possibly James Allen’s blog or autosport) that it’s thought the RBR is quick but heavier on tyres? And that Merc was perhaps suffering with balance issues?
    If the Mclaren is best for outright pace then it will be interesting if they finish ahead on qualifying but come race day Ferrari are the stronger force until maybe the end when fuel has burned off but then it would also come down to tyre wear. I’m dreaming slightly with all of that perhaps but this season is shaping up to be a close one… hopefully!

    1. Well, the RBR was quite punishing on tyres last year, and Ross Brawn did make some comments about the weight distribution not being quite as balanced as it could be, so that would seem fair. I think Mercedes were pretty cool about the balance – they seemed to think it would be easy enough to put right.

  2. sometimes these small advantages have a huge result on race causing big difference in race gaps i dont expect 2010 being so close in terms of pace then 2009

  3. Excellent piece Keith – showing where Testing times are telling you something, and when they’re just random garbage. Even at that, with aero changes for all 3 teams at the first race, this could all change again – assuming the teams can get the changes bedded in.

    Mercedes’ variable reports about their issues and speed are a good reminder of something Button said about his move to McLaren: “I moved here because it would give me a better chance of retaining my World Title”. At the time, and given his comments about being less motivated staying in the same team, most people put this down to him being energised by the new environment and having to beat Lewis – his best racing last year happened when he faced into the abyss at Brazil and had a massive gulf to fill, after all. Facing Lewis across Lewis’ garage is a similar sort of abyss. But so far, Red Bull and Brawn(merc) have had reliability problems and performance mysteries that they haven’t been able to pin down, just like last year. Jenson has seen the inside of the Brawn team for many years now – at their worst, and at their best. At their best they were world champions, but did he see in their inability to solve the tyre problems last year the limits of the team’s abilities, even under Ross? Whereas across the paddock McLaren were grinding away at a much worse car, and solving problems on a weekly basis. I think Schumacher is going to find his new team are lacking the instinct that Ferrari under Todt and McLaren have of getting the most out of all parts of the F1 operation. And perhaps that’s also why Davidson’s test role wasn’t renewed…..

    1. Thats a very interesting take on the team. One I’d agree with. After Tyrell, who wern’t doing great the company suffered under BAR with only a brief reprive of a few years. Then it sunk again and Honda with their coparate attitude made things worse at the team. Coprate F1 teams just move too slowly to solve racing problems. Brawn is definatley helping though, an Mercedes, although they could go either way, seem also to know what an F1 team needs to sucseed. On the other hand, even the half billion pound BGP 01 had front tyre problems, and the aero department produced those two intensly awful Honda’s. Under Ross the operation is comming good, but it’s not going to happen over night. 2009 was an bit of a blip, though part of an upwards trend. It’s not that suprising the car is slightly off the pace though, it must have suffered as Brawn GP started to run out of Moolah.

      I think this suits Michael fine though, he just wants to win races this year, prove he still got it, establish himself within the team an possibly above Rosberg, the team may choose to focus on 2011 quite early though.

  4. Well, I didn’t understand Rosberg’s ‘peaks’ at laps 31 and 39… were they due to driver erros? See that Button and Massa only had two ‘peaks’, which, I suppose, were theyr pit stop laps… but Rosberg peaked five times… also Massa’s last lap ‘peak’ is intriguing… was it due to Rosberg’s red flag or a miscalculated slow down lap?

    To me, it seems Ferrari is slightly ahead of Mercedes, that, on the other hand, is slightly ahead of McLaren…
    Anyway they’re so close to each other that driver’s raw speed could well decide a race…

  5. Keith, I am assuming you are referring to Button, not Hamilton, in today’s race sim?

    1. Yes I was – fixed it!

  6. Interesting but remember this is only a test, teams never turn up the wick until the time counts and thats in quals or the race. I also think that though Rosberg is good he isnt as good as the other two drivers in the time sheet. In any case great article, Ive been watching for some full runs like this.

  7. Even though pit stops will only be for tyre changes remember no one has ever bettered Brawn and Schumacher on race stratedgy and even with starting the season with a below par car their skills in that area could prove instrumental in a higher than expected placings

  8. Fernando is gonna run away with the title this year no problemo!!! The rest will be fighting for the scraps!! #:)

    1. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do agree that Alonso is the favorite. I think RBR (means Vettel) will be Ferrari’s main competition this season.

    2. red bull tastes like crap
      28th February 2010, 8:11

      what about massa? don’t you rate the brazilian?

      1. yes i rate Felipe, but he has periods in races where he seems to drop off the ultimate pace for a few laps here and there, and that has always cost him….tho Im pretty sure Ferrari are sandbagging and we havent seen their real qual speed yet. #:)

    3. Don’t agree that Fernando will walk it. Felipe is strong and the ‘in-team’ angst may prove devisive to the greater benefit of the team. But yes, expect Alonso to be the target to beat at Bahrain. And yes, he is a brilliant driver. Suspect he will adapt to the heavy/light situation quicker than Massa.

      McLaren are there as well. Have been a huge fan of Button from his baby-steps in F1. Would love him to romp it. But truth be told, I think Jenson likes the car to feel right to hit that ‘in-the-zone’ moment where he becomes untouchable. By the very nature of this year’s challenge, that can’t happen for more than 15 laps per race.

      All this rather makes a Hamilton/Alonso showdown the rather fun conclusion. Red Bullies will keep them both honest, as will ze Germans, but my money is one a locking of horns once more between Lewis and Fernando.


  9. Aleksandar Serbia
    28th February 2010, 0:29

    This shows nothing, who will reveal fuel loads?
    A lot of teams are just impressing sponsors, the real thing is the race, but the effort is appreciated ;)

    1. Given they all did race distances without adding more fuel we can safely assume they start on full or near-to-full tanks.

  10. Keith,

    The times look close from your graph, but then I got interested in it and looked a little closer. 0.5 secs is enormous in F1, but the cars are lapping with differences sometimes greater than a second in that graph. I took the image into Photoshop and put in lines representing seconds to check it out.

    If you added up the time it took to do the runs, and maybe subtracted out some of the slow anomalous laps, what would the time gap be between the cars over the race distance?

    1. The problem is filtering out the ‘slow anomalous laps’ – it’s very hard to detect times when a driver was caught behind a slower car, for example, just by looking at the data.

  11. Nice work,I do agree with you on certain points but I think Red Bull is also there with these big teams & also SAUBER they can surprise a few people in the paddock.

  12. I think Ferrari is clearly ahead at this point. Michael has already said Mercedes is not ready for wins yet. Lewis has said that MacLaren needs a few tweaks. Alonso on the other hand sounds entirely positive about the car. I think RBR may be a bit faster in Q trim but Ferrari has been designing this car since mid-last year and you would absolutely expect them to be at the front at this stage.

    1. I’m not quite sure about Alonso’s declarations. At the end he has spent 2 years in a dog of a car, and he will probably be quite excited about Ferrari’s car.

      My personal guess:


      Up: Speed. Strong in qualifying.
      Down: Reliability issues.


      ??? They are theoretically hiding another surprise with the diffuser for Barhain. Who knows how much they are going to surprise us. I think even them don’t know.


      Strong but maybe a small step back behind the others. In any case, strong car and fast recovery (if needed), matching the rest quickly.

      Ferrari: Looks like the best option overall.

      Up: Race pace/reliability.
      Down: Speed in one lap.

      That could be a problem for Fernando, he is not fast in one lap. The other question is how good he will be at the start, if he’s not able to be on pole.

      After his winning seasons with Renault and the exceptional launch system they had at that time, it seems to me he’s not quite good at the start. Maybe last years are not the best ones for making any comparison or analysis.

      Anyway, I guess also we will be surprise in the first race. Hard to make any accurate prediction at this stage.

  13. Top-notch revealing analysis as ever Keith.

    I’m glad that the data suggests what it does. Not only does it suggest any advantage Ferrari has is slight (rather than the bold exaggerations made by some), meaning things will be close from the off and we won’t see any Brawn domination like last year (I remember the races being called Yawn GP, which to be fair were going that way by Turkey), with everyone trying to catch up, but I’m pretty pleased it suggests Mercedes are in there too, when they’ve been portrayed as the weakest of the prospoective Big Four (even by themselves). Given that Renault, Williams, and Sauber have impressed too, we may very well see an 8-way tussle in the first half of the season, with those 8 fluctuating quite a bit. Maybe the new points system won’t be such a bad thing after all!

  14. I’d love to see williams pace, but as someone said above Sauber are pretty close to Ferrari in the long stints.

    It’s going to be a very interesting season

    Thanks Keith

  15. thanks keith 11111111111111111111111 times for such informative article.

    Of course 23 ones is an interesting prime number but not as interesting as 123571113171923 and 231917131175321 are :)

  16. Excellent article and awesome analysis.

    The Ferrari looks as if it could do just a 1-stopper.

    Rosberg’s times seem to go upwards from the start of a stint to the end of a stint.

    Whereas Felipe and Jenson’s times seem to stay constant, the degrading tyres and lowering fuel load balance themselves out.

    Felipe’s times in light rain are much much worse than Jenson though.

    Bring on 2010!!

    1. “Felipe’s times in light rain are much much worse than Jenson though.”

      You know: “Felipe baby” does not stay cool on wet tracks!

  17. I’m not sure that Massa’s 40 lap-long stints was his second stint, instead I believe Ferrari tried a simulation with a very long first stint and then a brief last stint on softer tyre.

    When Massa started his 40 lap-long stint, his times didn’t improve as it should have been the case since he changed tyres indicating that Massa’s 10 lap-long stint before the 40 lap one is not included the race simulation, thus Massa did a race simulation with his short stint on soft tyres -in this case it must be super soft as his times immediately dropped of as was in Australia 09- at the end inturrupted by the red flag.

  18. Keith I hope you read this,

    Maybe this is a non issue but ive just thought there could be a safety issue that no one has noticed so far.
    with the development of the anvil engine cover/shark fin, in the event of a rear end accident when the rear wing is removed and a car rides up onto the other i fear there is a danger even if small that a driver could be impaled by the long sharp object that is a shark fin. What do you think?
    Just for such a needless piece of bodywork is it worth the risk?

    1. I think they’re far too thin for that to happen, they’d just shatter.

    2. I believe that something like that happened with Trulli and Kubica at China last year, and the shark fin on the Toyota just broke.

  19. Informative as usual – Thanks :)

  20. love it when you bring out the graphs!

  21. possibly, just thinking if one came into the cockpit at speed its a potential issue, obviously no one would listen to me but wondered if you could see what others in f1 think?

  22. Look how the lap times go up for Rosberg. They might have similar times, but that Mercedes still loses a lot of time at the ends of the stints. They are really hurting that that are so late with their 2010 aero package.

    Lets hope for their sake that they can still catch up and get their tyre wear under control.

  23. Is it possible to do a graph like this on the ‘mid-field’ cars? If you want to play in F1 manager games most of the times the top teams are unaffordable to start. So you must pick the low-price mid field cars that actually are better then the other midfield cars.
    They have to urn your way to the top.
    So do you have a graph for Williams-Renault-ToroRosso-Sauber?

  24. Hi Keith & F1 fanatic readers

    This is awesome information isn’t it! & great for my fantasy league predictions, i hope its not to late to post but I was wondering if you have Red Bulls race distance simulation information in comparison with the the other three? & did Sauber or any of the other teams complete race distance or single lap distance simulations, I know you have covered a lot of data over the last test sessions and prior posts & other posters are asking the same questions but a single graph of the two different simulations would be awesome & informative.


    On a side note

    In my fantasy league ( i am picking

    Cars: Redbull, Ferrari, Mclaren, Sauber
    Drivers: Webber, Massa, Rosberg, Kobayashi

    pad up people i am sure some of us may be fighting against each other in public leagues but if your comp is set out similar, i would like to see what some other people came up with i went for 3 of the top teams & 1 dark horse Sauber for some sort of consistency and i picked the B drivers (except Webber ha)& once again a psychotic dark horse Kobayashi, i tried this method in 08 and got burnt by Kovi as he was so cheap and had a championship winning car bring on Bahrain! I love F1

  25. Where can I find long runs times form other teams. Iam specially interested in reanult .Thank you for any info.

  26. I hope this bodes well for a close seasons racing…

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