Ferrari reduce their performance gap by more than half

2012 F1 season

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Ferrari have more than halved their deficit to the front runners since the beginning of the season, analysis of the teams’ lap times show.

Meanwhile Red Bull have usurped McLaren as the team to beat and Caterham are putting Toro Rosso under pressure.

Here’s how the cars compare on raw performance at the moment:

2012 F1 car performance

This chart compares the fastest lap set by each each teams in every session of the eight race weekends so far this year. The team at 0% set the fastest lap of that weekend and the other teams’ laps are expressed as a percentage of that:

Australia Malaysia China Bahrain Spain Monaco Canada Europe
Red Bull 0.858 0.252 0.957 0 1.441 0.108 0 0
McLaren 0 0 0.531 0.106 0 0.38 0.411 0.33
Ferrari 1.851 1.4 1.161 1.612 0.728 0.821 0.497 0.633
Mercedes 0.488 0.179 0 0.426 1.438 0 0.85 0.426
Lotus 0.447 0.252 0.818 0.634 0.878 0.455 1.143 0.411
Force India 1.8 1.723 1.257 1.499 1.735 1.503 1.159 0.441
Sauber 1.964 1.537 0.697 1.052 1.011 1.624 1.225 0.629
Toro Rosso 1.775 1.729 1.929 0.53 1.907 2.122 1.754 1.874
Williams 1.161 1.285 1.222 1.726 0.487 0.976 1.316 0.397
Caterham 4.026 3.208 3.513 3.54 4.369 3.011 3.36 2.04
HRT 9.646 6.49 5.49 5.832 7.157 5.108 5.025 4.165
Marussia 6.837 4.868 4.374 4.507 5.966 4.907 5.58 4.423

Ferrari join the front-runners

Ferrari showed up at the first race of the season with a car their drivers were struggling to keep on the track. The team insisted it would not be until the Spanish Grand Prix that they would be able to introduce the upgrades that would make them competitive.

The graph above illustrates how much progress they have made since then. Over the first four races of the year they were 1.51% slower than the quickest car, but have more than halved this to 0.67% over the last four races.

What’s more, the gap would probably be lower still had they given their drivers the benefit of two attempts on the soft tyres during Q2 in Valencia.

Ferrari play a canny game of expectations management, downplaying the extent of the progress they’ve made. But the figures show how far they’ve come and that they are now regular contenders for victory along with the likes of McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes.

Red Bull take over from McLaren as the team to beat

At the very sharp end of the field, the car we look for to take pole position is now blue instead of silver.

McLaren started the year as the team to beat on Saturday, but Red Bull have had pole position for four of the last five Grands Prix. Sebastian Vettel enjoyed a margin of a third of a second in the last two races.

But in the ever-evolving world of F1, that may not stay the case for very long. Lewis Hamilton revealed in Valencia his team are readying an upgrade for the British Grand Prix.

“The guys are working as hard as they can and pushing as hard as we can to improve,” he said. “We’ve not had the same size of upgrades as others potentially have. We’ve not really had an upgrade since Barcelona but we hopefully will have something very soon.”

Toro Rosso in Caterham’s clutches

Over the first four races of the season Toro Rosso looked like credible midfield contenders. Since then they have regularly qualified behind the top eight teams and have increasingly been threatened by Caterham.

Heikki Kovalainen out-qualified both STR7s in Valencia as neither of the Toro Rosso drivers could replicate their FP3 pace in qualifying.

Caterham brought upgrades to last weekend’s race and have more in the pipeline for Silverstone. If Toro Rosso’s slump continues, Caterham may soon be regularly beating one of their established rivals – a target for the team since they first entered F1 (as Lotus) in 2010.

The Valencia anomaly

The Valencia street track often sees the performance gaps between the cars close up. It was closest here in 2010 and was one of the closest last year.

This appears to be a consequence of the nature of the track. Valencia is mainly long straights and very low-speed corners, with little in the way of medium or high-speed bends to separate the great cars from the merely good.

2012 and 2011 performance compared

This table shows the average performance deficit (%) of each team so far this year compared to last year:

2012 2011 Difference
Red Bull 0.45 0.01 +0.44
McLaren 0.22 0.50 -0.28
Ferrari 1.08 0.83 +0.25
Mercedes 0.47 1.50 -1.03
Lotus (2011: Renault) 0.63 2.2 -1.57
Force India 1.39 2.51 -1.12
Sauber 1.21 2.75 -1.54
Toro Rosso 1.70 3.06 -1.36
Williams 1.07 2.76 -1.69
Caterham (2011: Lotus) 3.38 5.18 -1.8
HRT 6.11 7.86 -1.75
Marussia (2011: Virgin) 5.18 6.85 -1.67

Much has been written about why the 2012 season has been so unpredictable so far, with suspicion falling on likely suspects such as Pirelli’s tyres.

But the swings in performance between the teams points to a much more powerful force at work. The field has closed up considerably, with 2011’s midfield teams finding over 1% of lap time more than the front-runners.

The most obvious explanation for this change is the restriction on exhaust-blown diffusers this year. This has restored F1 to the kind of competitive level we saw in early 2010 – indeed, it’s even closer than that.

2012 F1 season

Browse all 2012 F1 season articles

Image © Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo, Caterham/LAT

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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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39 comments on “Ferrari reduce their performance gap by more than half”

  1. Felipe Massa’s poor (appaling?) performance this year distorts the truth about Ferrari’s improvement in the 2012/2011 chart.

    1. i dont think it matters.. since the table represents only the best times..& alonso was always there to mark it for ferrari whether this yr or last yr….

      1. Ah, ok, thanks.

    2. @damon As @fractal says, the data is based on the fastest laps set by either car in a team, there’s no averaging of the performance between Alonso and Massa, so Massa isn’t necessarily distorting this view of Ferrari’s competitiveness.

      1. Massa even set Ferrari’s fastest lap in Monaco (his Q2 time), right?

      2. Ergo, Ferrari (read Alonso) has reduced his performance gap.

    3. OmarR-Pepper (@)
      28th June 2012, 15:21

      But besides fastest laps that don’t score any points dor the driver / team (as IRL), Massa’s lack to deliver results means Ferrari is depending solely on Alonso’s efforts and that’s not a team. I’m not saying Massa is beaing unfairly treated as a second driver, it’s his real performance what makes this happen. You can see how Grosjean had a problem and Kimi was there (yes, it looks like Kimi was the second driver) and the same in Red Bull, after Vettel problem Webber went on to grab important points. What would have happened to Ferrari (as a team) if Alonso had suffered the problems.? Where was Massa to save the day?

      1. Kimi saved Romain from crashing out at the first swing by getting best start and not crashing with Maldonado :)

      2. Massa was effectively taken out of the race when Kobayashi smashed into him after the safety car restart. Massa has been doing his best it’s just he isn’t the kind of driver that can excel in a dog of a car. When the car became properly solid, Massa was visibly more comfortable in it. Spain he got a bogus penalty (him and Vettel did), Monaco he drove well, not quite the same pace as Alonso and not as consistent, but good speed. Spun in Canada but recovered well enough. Valencia, he was in a good points paying position until Kobayashi ruined both their races.

  2. HRT seem to have improved a lot! (9.65 to 4.17)…wow

    1. It’s not that hard to improve by a few seconds between races 1 and 8 if you start the season without any testing.

      1. But its nice to see it shows. and they did beat Marussia (who had only a tad more testing with their 1 filming day) on speed 2 races in a row now.

        1. That definitely is impressive. Good to see there’s a fight for 11th, instead of both teams being in no-man’s land.

  3. Hrt has indeed also impressed me by the improvement that they have made, quite impressive that they are nw on the same level as marussia. With regards to ferrari, wat seems to be really positive from valencia is that they have tremendously improved the biggest weakneses which was traction and speed. Positive stuff and looks good for the rest of the season.

  4. i still think Mclaren have the fastest car for this championship as a whole. there car is good on high speed tracks with fast aero corners. so not Bahrain, montreal, valencia or monaco. Hamilton was so much faster than anyone else at catalunya and this track is a good track to judge the performance of the car’s aero.
    the mclaren is also good at heating its tyres up so it should be good at tracks where the weather is not boiling hot-(ie. bahrain and valencia heat)

    with this in mind i expect them to do well at:
    silverstone, hockenheim (if its not too hot), hungary, spa, japan, korea and brazil

  5. I don’t think it’s really a fair comparsion, given that some cars have better race pace than others. For example, I would say that McLaren had the fastest car in Canada overall, but as Vettel was much faster in qualy it looks in the graph as if Red Bull dominated there. Having that said it’s a great way to see their qualy pace compared during the season.

  6. “The Valencia street track often sees the performance gaps between the cars close up.”
    Now I got how Force India and Caterham seemed so improved suddenly.

    1. @vickyy To be fair to Force India, they did announce some big updates in the way of a few new front wings to try and it seems to have paid off. Still, consistency is key, let’s see what Great Britain brings.

      1. Now I also see why Mercedes were struggling on a car-demanding circuit such as Valencia, but Schumi still got a podium.
        Red Bull to hire Schumacher to replace the underperforming Vettel? :D

        Oh btw, Red Bull only have the best car in the heat. When it’s cold, such as it was in China and Monaco, I rate Mercedes a little higher.

        1. Lol…yeah never mind that MS got the podium thanks to SV, RG, LH and PM having ‘issues’ that otherwise would have seen MS in the points but nowhere near the podium. So do you think that was the race, which SV dominated while his car was working, to be judging SV as ‘underperforming’ and MS able to do a better job? Surely you are being tongue in cheek. (I don’t know what :D means but I hope it means sarcasm)

          Also I think NR only struggled in the first two thirds of the race due to them trying a one-stop strategy…once they decided to pit him a second time with 10 or 11 laps to go he starting ripping up the track with purple times and ended up less than 10 seconds behind MS in the end, having passed some cars and also benefitting from the attrition of others. So I’m not sure we know who is better in the heat or the cool…I think it depends on the car, the day, the stint, the tires, the venue, and the timing of having the tires either switched on, or outside their temp window or their time limit and therefore off the cliff.

      2. Agreed @andrewtanner ,but I noticed the sector timings for Canada and Valencia, they were 0.3-0.4 sec down against Saubers and Williams in the sectors which required considerable downforce e.g. 1st sector : Canada, 1st and last sec: Valencia, although they were massive in straightline.
        Therefore I am skeptical about the teams pace in Silverstone unless they bring something very very effective in terms of upgrades.

        1. Lol…yeah never mind that MS got the podium thanks to SV, RG, LH and PM having ‘issues’ that otherwise would have seen MS in the points but nowhere near the podium.

          Well, Michael would’ve gotten a podium easily in China before his pitstop misery. Likewise, he was also running for a podium position in Australia before his gearbox issues. Whether he would’ve stayed there is a matter of debate. He took pole in Monaco, but had a penalty carried out from the previous race, and a hydraulic problem in the same GP when he had the pace to win from pole (he was catching the leaders before that). Yeah, if there’s one driver that deserves so much luck after the season he’s had, it’s unquestionably Schumacher.

          Surely you are being tongue in cheek. (I don’t know what :D means but I hope it means sarcasm)

          :D is a big grin!

        2. Agreed @andrewtanner ,but I noticed the sector timings for Canada and Valencia, they were 0.3-0.4 sec down against Saubers and Williams in the sectors which required considerable downforce e.g. 1st sector : Canada, 1st and last sec: Valencia, although they were massive in straightline.
          Therefore I am skeptical about the teams pace in Silverstone unless they bring something very very effective in terms of upgrades.

          Interesting, because sector 2 was where Rosberg was killing everyone the most in China. I guess Mercedes’s downforce package is only efficient in cold conditions, or is that down to they not making the tyres functioning properly in the heat?

          1. Fair comment @kingshark…there’s no question that averaging things out there’s not much between NR and MS and it comes down to bad luck on MS’s part with a small dose of self inflicted damaged from whacking Senna and taking a penalty for it that cost him in Monaco. On any given day, taking the technical issues out of it NR and MS both are capable of doing pretty much the same thing with the car.

  7. The Valencia street track often sees the performance gaps between the cars close up.

    So essentially what you are saying here is that a part of Red Bull’s advantage is still masked due the circuit… . get ready for a boring second half of the season then.

    1. @turboF1, I think being out in clear air cancels the Valencia factor, traffic is a critical performance leveler this year eg.RBR results look terrible in Barcelona, all due to Webber being unable to recover from not progressing to Q3, caused ironically by his 1st. run being so much faster than Vettels that the team did not send him out again.

  8. Ahh, how a graph can tell a story! The Caterham representation really does validate how ‘all-over-the-place’ they are. They’re moving in the right direction, but sporadically. For every improvement they make they seem to be throwing it away at a later date. They are out qualifying Vergne, which is good, but he’s a terrible qualifier! Plus, Toro Rosso are a bit of an anomaly on the grid. They’re there to serve the purpose of Red Bull and as a result perhaps they don’t push in the same direction (as far as development is concerned) as the other teams. As long as they can measure their drivers relative to each to other that’s half their tasks fulfilled. That’s a very crude way of looking at it I know but I’m sure that has something to do with it.

    As glad as I am for Williams, if they had continued their terrible performance from last year perhaps we could have measured Caterham’s development a little easier.

  9. @vickyy @andrewtanner Force India were quick in Canada too. But, they ran their tyres too hot as a result of which DIR dropped from 5th to 11th….so, their performance in Valencia was expected

  10. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    28th June 2012, 15:15

    The graphs show some AVERAGE performance, because as far as I can see, none of the teams have a perfect improvement line. And I imagine that has a lot to do with the damn tyres. Sometimes they “read” the tyres perfectly and then it comes the next circuit and nothing happens according to plan

  11. @omarr-pepper,

    none of the teams have a perfect improvement line.

    I suspect many teams do continually improve their car, it’s just that there is no team that continually improves faster than the competition, although Ferrari come pretty close.

    1. No team has a perfect improvement line because those lines are relative to the best team in each race, not absolute measures of performance.

  12. I wonder if Red Bull will manage to stay at the top of the pack. Their new upgrades have looked very good indeed and Vettel’s (and Webber’s to an extent) looked formidable in Valencia; he seems to have found the right balance and re-discover his qualifying mojo.

  13. What I take from this is that during the pre-season many had written Ferrari off because they were struggling for pace and setups, and even though they said they just needed time to learn about the radically different new car, most took that for code to mean ‘we’ve built a dog.’ But some of us said give them the time and then let’s see. And now look where they have come. F1 is moving all the time. What was yesterday’s truth is not necessarily the same reality today. FM seems to be getting more comfortable with the car and so I caution those chomping at the bit to slam him and see him replaced, that some of his bad days may come down to tire woes that have bitten all the drivers and nobody yet really knows when or where it might hit them. ie. I think FM deserves more time too, just like Ferrari did. Let’s judge him at the end of the season. Nobody has ever said FM was at FA’s level, ever, and at the same time FM did do everything right when the pressure was at it’s greatest and he owned a WDC for half a lap…that’s how close he came. And if the actual truth is he hasn’t been the same since debris hit him on the head, which I think the jury is still out on, then that’s not his fault either.

    1. I believe the lack of testing hurt them per-season; after all Ferrari were so dominant in the early part of this century due to the fact they could refine their designs to such a great amount of detail. They simply didn’t have time to refine the F2012, otherwise I’m sure a team like Ferrari would’ve managed to correct the major faults…

    2. If Alonso wins WDC this is going to be his best and out most deserved, unlike his first one. But I doub’t he will win this year.

      But then again, I said, I doub’t he will win another race after Malaysian frenzy due to circumstances, but circumstances decided to repeat them self :D

  14. Funny but performance may be overated when so closely match, in fact faster driver in the race is not necessarily the race winner. When has DHL faster lap Award been WDC champion ?, mostly never.
    Faster race lap car is not necessary WDC winner it seems, so prhaps is not single lap but race pace what counts.

    1. Well and this year tire performance more than ever, who is getting tires performance better will be more interesting

  15. Ferrari are still way off the leaders :/

  16. Statistics are just statistics describing certain trends or facts. Don’t necessarily to be interpreted or bent to one’s preferences. In this sense this is I think a very good and indicative analysis and bears a lot of points to note.
    But that’s also true that these stats are only covering half of the story because the racing day’s been fairly different from the qualifying stints.
    So one idea would be extracting stats from real racing lap data to read real pace of each cars – excluding some out-lying data points such as slowest 5% and fastest 5 points, for instance, and the boxing laps or incident laps…
    It would be boring work but would shed another light on reading how they are really changing over time and who is gaining etc., though still far from perfect…

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