How the F1 field has closed up in 2012

2012 Australian Grand Prix

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Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix showed F1 fans can expect a close season of racing in 2012.

The field was much more tightly-packed in today’s qualifying session than it was 12 months ago. Several drivers were covered by just a few tenths of a second.

Last year Sebastian Vettel took pole position by 0.778 seconds. Today the top seven cars were covered by less than that.

While the top ten were covered by 2.28 seconds last year, a smaller gap covers the top 16 this year.

This chart compares how far each driver was off pole position in qualifying (in seconds) at Melbourne in 2011 and 2012:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
2011 Australian GP grid 0 0.778 0.866 1.25 1.445 1.718 1.876 1.892 2.07 2.283 2.353 2.433 2.574 2.716 2.741 2.769 3.21 3.71 5.725 5.813 6.329 7.293 9.449 10.764
2012 Australian GP grid 0 0.152 0.38 0.414 0.547 0.729 0.746 0.986 1.26 1.392 1.397 1.507 1.572 1.674 1.741 2.164 2.575 2.836 3.757 4.096 6.001 6.748 8.573 8.721

This offers some consolation for Ferrari, who struggled for pace and failed to get either car into Q3.

As Fernando Alonso pointed out: “Here, at the end of qualifying last year, we were 1.4s off the pace, while today, in Q2 it was 1s, therefore hypothetically one could say we are more competitive than we were back then.

“Sure, there are other teams that have made progress, but I think we have plenty of room for improvement.”

It’s an encouraging sign that we have an exciting season’s racing ahead, with more closely-matched cars making the difference between the drivers more important.

2012 Australian Grand Prix

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    Image © Pirelli/LAT

    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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    41 comments on “How the F1 field has closed up in 2012”

    1. I just hope McLaren can remain at the head of that pack for the majority of the season. Well overdue a drivers/constructors double.

      1. Amen!!!

        1. Agreed

            1. Hope not. Be great to see them both off 1st corner. Anyone but them

      2. As impressive as it was to see a car and driver getting everything right last season –

        I’d like to see a closer contest this year, with the likes of Mercedes, Lotus and Red Bull giving McLaren a real run for their money.

      3. Agree, and with both of their drivers being competitive it would not mean any driver necessarily dominating the championship.

        I think its also great to have Webber start with beating Vettel in qualifying (and having one extra set of tyres left and having the upper hand from knowing he had to do it without KERS), if he can keep ahead in the race, it could give the team quite a different focus this year.

        1. I’m pretty sure the team is still Vettel oriented and that would take some results to putt him as “first” driver or at least on the same foot as Vettel (It’s so bad they advantage Vettel so much, that quite annoys me)

      4. Even though I’m rooting for McLaren success, I don’t want it to be like last season. I want more competition.

      5. A dominating McLaren might be the spark for a cracking no holds barred championship. Button and Hamilton will genuinely be head to head in ways Vettel and Webber never could be. It could be ’88 all over again.
        There was a comment (from Crofty, I think) that this is the first time two champions have shared a third season together. Reason? The last two years they’ve never really been fighting each other much. Give it 6 months and neither BBC or Sky will be able to get them in the same VT.

    2. It must be said that if Sebestian Vettel wouldn’t have set a time in 2011 and the no.2 got pole in the end, the two =lines become near identical. Thus the real difference between Qualy 2011 and 2012 is that there isn’t a dominant driver anymore: this promises to be a fantastic season!

      1. My thoughts exactly, 2011 would be have been a great season without Seb! Never take stats at face value.

      2. well, the gap between McL-Fer, Fer-Merc, Merc-the rest was a lot bigger than what we saw today.

      3. @andae23 I don’t think it’s so easy to say that there isn’t a dominating driver so far. No one has scored any points yet. There i plenty of time to assert dominance, it may not be from the very start but it’s very possible.

    3. Just a relief to not have the prospect of Red Bull’s blown diffuser on ‘turbo setting’ capturing qualifying for Vettel every Saturday. I can see this year being a development race between McLaren and Mercedes with Red Bull (led by Webber) and maybe Lotus snapping away at them. Ferrari look set to implode.

    4. .3 tenths between 10th and 16th. The midfield is tight this year, perhaps more so then last season. They just look quicker and I wonder if they’ve actually gained on the top teams a little rather then the top teams falling into them (being the most obvious answer with the lack of EBDs and engine maps).

    5. would it be possible to show the difference by car / manufacturer, so the relative increase / decrease vs the pole time, the last 6 being in the same rough order show the relative performance increase of Caterham and even HRT vs last year, where as Marrusia show little actual improvement, the performance of the midfield would be interesting to see

      1. I was interested in this myself, so I’ve done some number-crunching and worked out the differences based on the fastest lap set by each team:

        Red Bull – 2011 gap: 0.000s – 2012 gap: 0.729s – Net: 0.729s loss (-4 pos)
        McLaren – 2011 gap: 0.778s – 2012 gap: 0.000s – Net: 0.778s gain (+1 pos)
        Ferrari – 2011 gap: 1.445s – 2012 gap: 1.572s – Net: 0.127s loss (-5 pos)
        Mercedes – 2011 gap: 1.892s – 2012 gap: 0.414s – Net: 1.478s gain (+2 pos)
        Lotus – 2011 gap: 1.718s – 2012 gap: 0.380s – Net: 1.338s gain (+2 pos)
        Force India – 2011 gap: 3.210s – 2012 gap: 1.529s – Net: 1.681s gain (+1 pos)
        Sauber – 2011 gap: 2.097s – 2012 gap: 1.668s – Net: 0.429s gain (-3 pos)
        Toro Rosso – 2011 gap: 3.537s – 2012 gap: 1.397s – Net: 2.140s gain (+3 pos)
        Williams – 2011 gap: 2.741s – 2012 gap: 0.986s – Net: 1.755s gain (+2 pos)
        Caterham – 2011 gap: 5.725s – 2012 gap: 3.757s – Net: 1.968s gain (= pos)
        Marussia – 2011 gap: 6.329s – 2012 gap: 6.001s – Net: 0.328s gain (= pos)
        HRT – 2011 gap: 9.449s – 2012 gap: 8.573s – Net: 0.876s gain (= pos)

        1. Sorry, Force India 2012 gap should actually be 1.392 as Hulkenberg set a better lap in Q2 than Q3. This makes their net a 1.818s gain and means they actually move up 2 positions, with Toro Rosso only moving up 1.

          1. Make that Toro Rosso moving up 2. I wish you could edit posts instead of having to reply to yourself lol :)

        2. Thanks for that, there are some fairly large net gains floating about in those numbers, so the sequence (of gain is) is TR, Caterham, FI, Williams, Merc, Lotus, HRT, Mclaren, Sauber, Marussia, then Ferrairi and RB who are net loss. i guess the development race should sort some of those out over the season, disapointed with Marussia, but hoping with some more mileage they can get this down a lot more,

    6. The gap between Caterham and the rest was been shortened dramatically!

      This looks a lot more balanced than before. Hope it’s the same in the race! Can’t wait! it was a heck of a qualy session!!

      1. I was going to point that out. The Caterhams were 19th and 20th last year as well (as Lotuses). Kovalainen, in 19th, was over two seconds behind the car in front of him, but that gap has come down to less than a second now. It must be a little disheartening for them to still be stuck between the midfield teams and the backmarkers, but at least they’re making progress. They’ll need to keep at it if they are going to score the points many have predicted of them though.

        By the way, does anyone remember which car was in front of Kovalainen on last year’s grid, in 18th? It was… Nick Heidfeld. In a Renault. In his first race for them. With his team-mate making it to Q3. Coincidence much? Heidfeld went on to finish 12th in the race, so that doesn’t bode too well for Kimi.

        1. Yeah, I had thought of that coincidence within the Lotus/Renault team as well.

        2. 0.9 tenths is still nothing for a team like Caterham. They will be closer in the races and hopefully closer at certain tracks. Maybe they’ll beat one of the others at one qualy this year.

          It all turns very exciting for them!

    7. I suspect there’s even more drivers there or thereabouts – Perez, Raikkonen and (I hope, for their sake) the Ferraris would’ve been quicker, if they’d got a quick lap in on soft tyres.

      Ricciardo too. Poor effort by his team, not letting him having a shot at row 3 or 4 in front of his home fans. (or was there too much danger of him beating Webber and Vettel?!)

    8. Things pack closer, especially between pos 4-22. McLaren and Mercedes are a bit sticking out to my opinion and HRT falling back. Gonna be a very exciting season, can’t wait for it!

    9. Wow, just wow.

      McLaren had it coming, it’s a shame that i didn’t post my prediction ’cause it was Hamilton on Pole with 1:42.250 (yeah, optimistic i know) and race result of Button, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Rosberg, Vettel.

      What a tight grid, it bodes very well for the season, i’ve got my friends excited about the prospects of a full F1 season and so far my hopes are coming true indeed.

      I’ve never thought i will say this but i am very happy with HRT’s miserable qualifying, it took me all of 10 minutes in Q1 to grow to despise Karthikeyan for his ridiculous and needless blocking, i won’t miss him during the race or indeed the whole season.

      1. In Narain’s defense, he was trying to set a time within the 107%. Inevitably he’s going to hold up much faster cars in the process.

      2. @randy

        ridiculous and needless blocking

        He needed to set a lap time as well – and driving the slowest car out there that means people are likely to catch him while he’s doing it. He couldn’t jump out of the way immediately for all of them, or he’d never get a time in.

        1. True. The track is too short to rule out “traffic” in the busy first session. The Melbourne track very much exposes the car’s weaknesses, so the speed differences are usually huge. I think it’s positive that neither of the hrts has qualified, so traffic will be less of a problem in the race.

      3. I think both HRT drivers did a solid job actually. Sure Narain should have probably made room more right at the start of his outlap. But after that he was just another car giving it all to qualify as high up as possible.
        And the results showed that they needed every inch they could get. The fact both were really close to each other and they are closer to the fastest time then they were last year shows they got as far as it went.

        Don’t forget that Marussia would have had enormous benefit from having done a lot of miles at least in the McLaren simulator to have a solid baseline setup, while HRT were just getting their feet wet with a car that had done some 130 in total before the race.

      4. I don’t think any driver can stop another driver from setting a fast lap time just because he is slower than him. It does not matter if it is Red Bull or Ferrari. In fact if it was not for the safety argument I am a firm advocate of removing blue flags for races.

        I can’t understand why so many people dislike HRT as a team. True they are not setting the track on fire but I can see that they are making progress. I am sure they are even more devastated to not be able to qualify. They got their car ready for the race and could even do a shakedown. I feel that this team will get better as the season goes on.

    10. This is exactly what F1 needed, this could be such an amazing season. I love it!

    11. What would be really interesting is some speed trap data Keith, i’m sure you’ll use it for your Race preview later but I’d like to see if the Merc DRS and Duct stuff is noticeable

    12. Not really, they’re up there among the fastest in a straight line, but not clear of McLaren, Sauber or Toro Rosso.

      What stood out for me was how slow the Red Bulls are – again. It was fine last year once Vettel had done his mega opening lap, but how will it work from 5th and 6th on the grid?!

      (I’m looking at the FIA press releases: Apologies if it’s elsewhere on F1 Fanatic already Keith!)

    13. Personally I’m taking this on a race by race basis.

      I don’t believe it’s possible to categorically say that this year won’t be a dominant one for Driver X at Team Y, nor do I think it’s possible to declare the opposite. We’ve only just got qualifying out of the way for the first race and sorry to bring up a cliche, but points make prizes and none of those have been awarded yet. There is still plenty of time to assert dominance if it’s going to happen.

      Remember Brawn in 2009. They dominated the first half of the season then struggled to cling on to their championships towards the end. Things can change rapidly, especially during a development race.

    14. Did anyone compile any numbers of fastest qualifying lap from 2011 to 2012? To see who lost more time since last year?

    15. My newborn hatred for HRT aside, this should be a perfect result for most of F1 fans, the most elegant solution (nose-wise at least) proving to be the fastest. If McLaren can hold their dominance through the season the MP4-27 will become my all time favourite F1 car.

      I’m lost for words at what i’m witnessing, really. Of all the driver pairings, for me this promise of a close fight for the championship between Button and Hamilton is as exciting as it could ever be.

      What is the record for most front row lock-outs for a team in F1 season?

    16. Yes, it should be interesting racing, with all the gimmicks like queered tires and passing zone flaps, but it will be so hard to watch because this year’s cars are so UGLY. Admit it, F1 rules produce the ugliest cars in the world, but now they are egregious.

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