F1 even closer in 2012 than it was in 2010

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The performance data for the first four races of 2012 reveals the top eight teams in F1 are even closer than they were in 2010.

The three newest additions to the grid have also closed the gap to the leaders, giving us a close and unpredictable season.

Car performance in the first four races of 2012

This graph shows how far each team were off the fastest lap time at each race weekend this year, as a percent. Use the controls below to show/hide different teams.


Red Bull0.8580.2520.9570
Force India1.81.7231.2571.499
Toro Rosso1.7751.7291.9290.53

2012 much closer than 2011

When you compare the graph above to the same data for last season, it’s clear to see how much closer the teams are this year.

In the last two races we have seen the top five or six teams covered by just 1% of lap time. For much of last year the same gap covered half as many teams.

In 2011, the midfield were within 3-4% of the leaders’ pace. This year that deficit has shrunk to less than 2% – even closer than it was in 2010.

This is unfortunate for Caterham, who were 4-5% off the pace last year (when they were Lotus) and have cut that to 3-4% so far this year, but are still not quite on the pace of the midfield. They are planning to introduce an exhaust upgrade at the Mugello test to close the gap.

The true gap between the fastest and slowest cars may well be smaller – the lower order teams don’t get to run in Q2 and Q3 which usually see better conditions and faster lap times.

F1 gets slower

One striking details about the three races on tracks which also held Grands Prix last year is that F1 cars have been consistently slower by the same amount this year. Here are the fastest laps of the weekend for these three races:


This is despite Pirelli producing softer tyres compounds this year which should lead to faster lap times.

The slower performance of the cars this year and the tightening up of the field probably share a similar cause: the restrictions on exhaust-blown diffusers, which the likes of Red Bull and McLaren used to such great effect last year.

Ferrari’s performance

Ferrari diverted resources into their 2012 car early as they struggled last year.

Given that, their performance has been little short of disastrous in the opening four races, never getting within 1% of the fastest time. On two occasions they’ve only had the eighth-quickest car.

The raw data of Ferrari’s recent decline makes for startling reading. They were 0.48% off the pace in 2010, 0.83% off last year, and 1.5% off in the first four races of 2012.

They need to make a considerable step forward in this week’s test at Mugello and arrive in Spain well within that crucial 1% mark – ideally cutting the deficit to less than half a percent.

Sauber’s one-lap pace

Sauber improved their qualifying pace in rounds three and four as the graph above shows.

However this seems to have been accompanied by a loss in race pace. Their drivers slipped down the order in Shanghai and failed to score in Bahrain.

Have the adjustments they made to the C31 to make it more competitive in qualifying hampered them in the races?

Can Lotus last?

Lotus (who were Renault last year) began 2011 strongly, scoring podiums in the first two races. But their form dipped over the course of the season as they struggled to develop their unconventional front-exit exhausts.

The team have begun this season even more strongly, finishing second and third in the last race. It took them four races to deliver on the potential they showed at the very first round, when Romain Grosjean was only out-qualified by the two McLarens.

The question now is whether the team can sustain that form over the rest of the season. They’re third in the constructors’ championship at the moment, but will surely come under pressure from Mercedes and Ferrari.

2012 F1 season

Browse all 2012 F1 season articles

Images © Sauber F1 Team, Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo

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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49 comments on “F1 even closer in 2012 than it was in 2010”

  1. Very nice statistics comparisons here! Interesting to see how the % off the pace ferrari have been has increased year over year, at an increasing rate as well!!

    I think Lotus should stay in the hunt this season since it is less about the exhausts. I remember when they had their honey-bee livery, they brought a new front wing to almost every race!

  2. The performance data for the first four races of 2012 reveals the top eight teams in F1 are even closer than they were in 2010.

    No, that can’t be true! Everybody knows that the 2012 Pirelli tyres are bad and that the 2010 Bridgestone tyres were good, so how can the racing possibly be closer in 2012 than it was in 2010? Madness!

    1. @prisoner-monkeys : Yeah I can’t quite get why Pirelli is getting so much flak. Few people complained last year when teams were doing 4 stoppers and then the only criticism was that you couldn’t decide whether to film the pit lane or the track. Last year there was a pronounced cliff, a specific lap beyond which you would not have a tyre anymore. This year that seems to be more like a steady lap by lap degradation. Funny how if we get to a point where the Pirelli’s become new Bridgestones everyone will be up in arms protesting.

      1. Funny how if we get to a point where the Pirelli’s become new Bridgestones everyone will be up in arms protesting.

        Yeah exactly… You just can’t please everyone. OK i agree the racing has become quite tyre orientated, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. As the teams get used to the tyres the consistency will improve and normality will resume. Complaining to Pirelli is just a knee-jerk reaction and in the long run I don’t really think there is a problem to solve. The racing is fantastic, let’s keep it that way!

    2. Only if you assume that closer racing is a good thing. We can make the racing closer my equalising everything… would that be good or just a faster GP2 series? A reverse grid would make things closer and more exciting… is that what we want??

      Personally I’m not in love with the new random F1, but then again I know I’m in the minority so fair enough. Enjoy the show.

      1. i and many millions of others will, while you stew that your favourite racer isnt winning because he or his car can not get to grips with the pirellis while other teams and drivers are!

        1. dysthanasiac (@)
          30th April 2012, 20:03


          That’s a rather arrogant assumption. Some people, like myself and I imagine John H, have a principled objection to 2012-spec F1. For me, this isn’t the F1 I signed up for when I became a fan, and I miss that F1.

          But, like John H, I concede to being in the minority. It seems the short attention spans won.

        2. Well, I take issue with this obviously, it has nothing to do with my favourite driver… I’ve had quite a few of those over the years!

          I think the most interesting thing going forward is whether Lotus can develop at the same pace as Ferrari and McLaren. As Keith mentions, not having the front exhausts will definitely help this year.

          1. I’m not sure we are a minority, we are just not noisy one-eyed barrackers

    3. You forgot to mention that even with supersoft tyres only good for 1 qualifying lap that lap times are up, so slower laps and more pit stops is an improvement?! I don’t think so.

      1. You forgot to mention that even with supersoft tyres only good for 1 qualifying lap that lap times are up

        Really? When was the last time that happened? I don’t recall any instances of a driver taking the supersoft tyres and falling off the cliff after only one lap.

  3. This raw data gives a basic picture of the pecking order, but Toro Rosso and Lotus’ respective positions under Bahrain show that they are inherently flawed.

    What is immediately obvious from the races alone though is the tightening of the field. The chasm between frontrunners and midfield from last year has disappeared. The midfield is completely unpredictable itself and the front running group has become larger with each team throwing points away and taking advantage at individual races.

    This is what has added that extra bit of enjoyment to the races this season for me, the unpredictability. I thought we had lost underdog performances last year, I blamed DRS, but we have rediscovered it. I know I for one am loving it!!

    1. Yea lol the Lotuses were challenging for the win whilst the Torro Rossos were scrapping with Vitaly Petrov!

  4. i think the tighter field is caused by the fact that the tyres are a bottleneck now. we reached a point where different cars, with different levels of downforce and different pace potential end up being very closely matched because of the tyres. Over a race distance, even cars that have the capability to go much faster, must manage their pace more than in previous years. This brings the field closer together. Its like driving with a basket of eggs. You get a 10-second penalty for each broken egg. In this case, a zonda and a golf would lap a track in a very similar time. Obviously the driver in the Zonda would not be using the cars full potential (ie Schumacher’s comment from last week)

    1. But surely tyre management has to be a key to driving successfully? As PM said earlier (and I was thinking exactly the same beforehand) the tyres are the only part of the car in contact with the track, therefore they are probably the most important part of the car. If a driver can’t manage them, or has to go slower to manage it, then he has to balance the tyre degredation against speed. It’s the same with fuel, you often see teams telling drivers to ‘save fuel’, and it’s common knowledge that teams don’t fuel their cars to be driven fast all through the race… Backing off has been part of F1 for a while now, and no-one was complaining last year with Pirelli, or 2010 with no refuelling…

      1. agree. but the situation we are in is extreme. if i take your fuel analogy. imagine that the regulations state that the fuel tanks must be halved. this would force teams to use lower RPM and only use a fraction of the engine’s potential power. We would see very close racing indeed. But is this what we want?

        Yes tyre management is part of racing. But we are in a position that for all the teams out there, tyres determine how fast they are able to go. This was not always the case in the past. We used to have some variation in this sense. For example one team’s bottleneck was a weak engine compared to others. Another team’s bottleneck was low downforce; or a bad driver. Teams worked on these bottlenecks and tried to improve them.

        In 2012 it looks like tyres have become the bottleneck for everyone. And because they cannot fix it, and just accept what they are given, we end up with a very close grid.

    2. Over a race distance

      The graph above shows one-lap pace, so I doubt the tyres are a limiting factor there.

      1. unless you used qualifying laps, it does. I was under the impression that these were fastest laps during the races.

        If you have to make your tyres last a certain number of laps to stick to the fastest strategy, that will effect your one-lap pace.

        A driver after a pitstop cannot push as much as he would want because he knows that he must preserve his tyres and a really fast outlap would decrease their lifespan. So this logically brings the field closer together. (even by looking at one-lap pace)

        1. As it says in the article:

          fastest lap time at each race weekend this year

          For obvious reasons this is most likely to be lap times from Q3/Q2/Q1/FP3.

    3. thats a real lame way at looking at it. comparing a zonda and a golf is like comparing a mclaren to a hrt, the mclaren will still be near the front no matter what the tyres, and the hrt will still be at the back. schumachers comments are a strategy to change the tyres in the sport, because he is hopeless on pirellis and he knows that he has millions of fans who support him. if he was still a great driver he would have podiums like raikonnen in his fourth race back – and he knows mercedes have a fundamental flaw in their car as they stupidely did not take tyre waer into account when building their chasis. Schumacher in 4 races in a great car has how many points this year? 7 other drivers in top four cars have how many points? Schumacher is well past it and i cant believe so many people take his words as gospel truth. he has had it, mercedes are wasting their money with him, the reason they arent a top 2 team is because of his negative input into the development of their car, and because they pay him so much, money which would be better spent giving rosberg a championship winning car.

      1. @dkpioe, so you are a Schumacher hater, that is not a very balanced or sensible point of view and is certainly not the answer to this or any other question about F1. You might like planet F1, you will find many like minded posts there.

  5. Is the title supposed to say 2011 and not 2010?

    Because from what I remember, in 2010 the difference between Red Bull and others was more than in 2011.

    1. No, because it’s not just looking at the gap between Red Bull and the next team, it’s looking at the entire field.

  6. Oh HRT… is there any hope?

  7. i think formula1 was even closer in 2009

    1. yeah i remember seeing all 10 teams qualify within 2s of each other, brawn/button at the front and force india/sutil at the back… it was like that all season, and force india even got a pole that year in spa!! (and very nearly won the race)

  8. the lap times in Qualifying 2 have been the most incredibly close we have seen f1 cars in years.
    and being that 1/10th quicker in qualifying has proven so much more valuable this year if you look at the pole to win ratio.

  9. Oz was wet on Friday though this year, as for other 2, maybe EBD was more effective in Mal & Chi

    1. @georgedaviesf1 It’s unusual to see drivers set their fastest times on a Friday in dry weekends. Wet Saturdays can skew the data a bit though.

      1. Less dry running was point I was trying to make

  10. “This is despite Pirelli producing softer tyres compounds this year which should lead to faster lap times.”

    There is no irony here. There is obviously a declining return to making tires “softer.” It appears we are well onto the downslope here. I don’t even think these tires will sustain a 10/10ths performance for an entire lap. In fact, this is another alarm bell about what the tires have wrought. In fact, not only are the tires too soft to accomodate the cars’ performance, they degrade at a shocking rate, meaning that to sustain a competitie race pace, they must be driven to a delta time well under even their actual poor one-lap capability.

    1. @dmw

      I don’t even think these tires will sustain a 10/10ths performance for an entire lap.

      Have you got anything to indicate that is the case or is this more Pirelli-bashing for the sake of it?

      1. With so many variable changed all at once DRS-KERS-Pirellis. That can never be established. But just because something cannot be established it doesn’t mean it’s not the case.

        So @dmw is on the money IMO.

        Personally I have no qualms about the Pirelli behavior, my concern is the unpredictability of the performance loss, a tyre that falls of by 2-3 seconds from one lap to other is lottery. the degradation should be gradual rather than drastic, that way there is always a scope of strategy aspect of F1. After all strategy should also have some say in the F1 entertainment package.

        Merely 80-85 pitstops per race, neglect of one driver over other within a team, when both the cars start struggling on tyres (since a team can service only one car in F1) is not fair to the drivers and too tedious for fans to follow.

      2. No. I’m offering an explanation for the paradox you frame. And, no, I’m not bashing anything. I have qualms about the role tires have taken in the racing and I don’t think I am alone—among fans or drivers.

      3. Most people are probably “bashing” the FIA for making Pirelli generate the show tyres (well I have been doing). It’s not some personal attack on Paul Hembury or anything, Jeez!

        1. It is not Pirelli bashing, how many times do we have to say so. I and likeminded fans are concerned that racing is being adversely affected by a tyre that cannot stand up to spirited attempts to overtake another driver without ” falling of the cliff”. If we were talking about time trials, like a rally where the fastest time to complete the distance by cars spaced far enough apart not to interact, then it would not be a problem and we could applaud the skill of the driver who made the very best use of his tyres, but we are talking about car on car racing for position and these tyres are spoiling the basis of our sport.

          1. thatscienceguy
            1st May 2012, 11:06

            And yet we’ve seen huge amounts of overtaking this year. And don’t try to claim that’s just because of DRS, because there has been a lot outside of the DRS zone.

            I don’t buy that the tyres are preventing people from overtaking, the racing well and truly suggests otherwise.

  11. Keith,

    Great article. This is where F1F really differentiates from other websites.

    Would be fascinating to see same comparison with 2008 season, which I believe was the closest in recent years.

    Any idea how close 12 is compared to 08?

    1. I think 2009 was closer

  12. I really hope Ferrari can improve, it’s sad to see such a great team performing poorly (such as Williams did last year). I wonder if they’ll ditch the pull rod suspension.
    Interesting to see the statistics, it still appears that Red Bull & Mclaren are the quickest with Mercedes & Lotus closing the gap, I don’t think that’ll last though, in my opinion it’ll be a Red Bull Mclaren fight as it has been the last 2 years

    1. Think it will be 2013 before they ditch pull-rod if at all, as explained by John Beamer’s excellent recent article on this site: link

  13. I wonder how much of that performance is really about the “Car” and how much is really about the “Pirelli factor”??
    What we see for last two years in Pirelli induced spectacle. Not blaming Pirellis here, they have delivered what F1 community demanded and FIA regulated.

    1. I think it gives for exciting racing and further highlights what constructor can build the best car, as some can manage the tyres better than others

      1. Well RedBull did find idea to manage the “Tires” and maintain good grip on both front and rear, result FIA banned both their front wing and rear diffuser solution.
        So its not really as if constructor is free to build the best car to work around the limitations of the tires.

        1. I agree, the FIA are too strict with the regulations and dont allow designers much freedom for innovation. Back in the days of the great Colin Chapman when somebody would turn up with a huge innovation which would absolutely blitz the field, those were the days.

    2. As far as i’m concerned the way a car treats its tyres IS part of the performance. Like any other part of the car, it has to fit together perfectly and be finely balanced.

  14. I think McLaren, in terms of raw performance, is still the best car on the grid. Not by much though.
    On the tyres, I do see where Schumacher and many people are coming from. However, I do feel changing the actual rules (like the the top 10 not having to start on Q3 tyres) would improve the situation much more than reducing the tyre deg.
    Also, I don’t believe making a judgement after only 4 races is the correct thing to do. Look at 2011, we had 4-5 races, similar to this season, where the teams were struggling to work out how the tyres worked. Once we get to Monaco-Canada time, I’m sure we’ll be back to how it was towards the end of last year in terms of knowledge.

  15. Comparing the fastest lap times between 2011 and 2012 is fascinating. 1.4s off the pace. It just goes to show how much the EBD has really affected things.

    Does anyone know how much of a performance gap EBD has to the double-diffuser? I’d be interested to see if EBD has made up the deficit…

  16. I think Lotus definitely is in for a better season than last year. Partly because this year they have two truly great drivers who are able to deliver. Way different league than the two they had last year. And probably able to develop the car better as well. That, and the team seems more coherent and well put together and is a strong team now in my opinion. They’ve been there or thereabouts the whole season so far. Lets see after this test though which will prove crucial. If they’re strong in spain, I expect them to be the whole year.

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