Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014

Lotus make leaps but no one can touch Mercedes

2014 F1 season

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Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Shanghai International Circuit, 2014The Chinese Grand Prix may have been another point-less outing for Lotus but the green shoots of recovery at the team are clear to see.

Romain Grosjean took them into Q3 for the first time this year in Shanghai. The fact he was frustrated at his eventual starting position of tenth shows his aim has been raised considerably higher since their miserable start to the season in Melbourne, where both cars were ejected in Q1.

In Sunday’s race Grosjean spent almost every lap in the top ten until his fourth gear failed, forcing him to retire. But Pastor Maldonado reached the chequered flag, underlining the progress made by the team who just three races ago had only managed a total of 19 laps during practice.

“Romain had been running reasonably well in the points and able to race his rivals, and a points finish was realistic,” said trackside operations director Alan Permane. “Pastor did a great job from the back of the grid to finish in fourteenth.”

“For Barcelona we have more upgrades for the chassis and engine so we should be more competitive there.”

The data below reveals the progress Lotus have made compared to their rivals. Having begun the season firmly at the foot of the field, they are poised to get into the battle for the lower half of the points finishes.

It’s a motor racing truism that it’s easier to make a fast car reliable than to make a reliable car fast. If Lotus are the former, Sauber are definitely the latter. The overweight C33 covered more than three times as much ground as the E22 in testing, but as Lotus have moved to the front of the field Sauber are left with only Caterham and Marussia behind them.

Based on their results, McLaren’s form appears to be the opposite of Lotus’s. They began the year with a double podium finish (after Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification) yet in China both drivers were lapped and finished out of the points.

But this was partly a case of McLaren taking advantage of their rivals’ problems in Melbourne: Red Bull and Mercedes each had a car retire, the Ferraris were slowed by electronic glitches and the Williams drivers were involved in incidents.

Racing director Eric Boullier says the team are confident of the gains which they will make in coming races and have an “interesting upgrade” planned for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Car performance in 2014 so far

This table shows how far each car was off the fastest lap achieved throughout the first four race weekends in all sessions (as a percent).

Red Bull1.130.970.930.5
Force India1.791.531.251.45
Toro Rosso1.891.792.11.36

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2014Note that wet qualifying sessions on three weekends so far (Bahrain the exception) will have had an effect on the data. In particular, as Mercedes have tended to disguise their true pace on Fridays, wet conditions on Saturday means the full extent of their performance margin can remain hidden in this data.

This is also true in the races, where they rarely need to stretch themselves to pull away from their rivals. A late race Safety Car period in Bahrain gave a telling glimpse of their real advantage, as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg streaked away from the competition by more than 1.7 seconds per lap, despite also fighting each other for position.

The sheer scale of Mercedes’ advantage in Bahrain shows why they were happy to let Hamilton and Rosberg race each other freely. But if their rivals close the gap, Mercedes may become too concerned about staying ahead to allow their drivers to risk losing time and compromising each other.

The table below gives the average values for the data above to give a rank of each team’s performance so far. Again this probably underestimates just how much quicker Mercedes are.

It also compares their performance against their current championship positions, making it clear which teams are getting the most out of their packages – and who isn’t:

AveragePerformance rankPointsPoints rank
Red Bull0.883572
Force India1.506543
Toro Rosso1.78787

2014 F1 season

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Images © Lotus/LAT, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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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 “Lotus make leaps but no one can touch Mercedes”

    1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
      24th April 2014, 12:07

      With Mercedes being a moving target, I don’t think anyone will be able to catch them this season. I think Red Bull looks most likely to close the gap, but it won’t be enough to get on pace with them by the end of the season…. Unless of course they pull off a miracle.

      1. It’s too early to say that. Red Bull are not far behind and now have 3 weeks to test in the wind tunnel and progress.

        1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
          24th April 2014, 12:55

          Sure they can improve their aero package, but that’s not what they need to do. They need to improve their engine power output and efficiency.

          And with the engine homologation in place for this year, they can’t redesign their power unit layout to mimic Mercedes until 2015.

          So I doubt they’ll be able to make up much of the deficit, and if they do I fear it’ll be too little too late.

          But hey, I’m a Lewis supporter so I’m all good with that haha :)

          1. Yes, Engine homologation is on the design and hardware of the engines. However, Renault is saying that their problems lies with a software problem, unable to harvest energy properly from the MGU-H and K thus easily causing overheating.

            Whether or not if it’s a software problem, right now Renault claimed it to be a software rather than a hardware problem and we can only take their words for it.

            1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
              24th April 2014, 13:54

              Software may be the only way to ease the pain, because with a layout like that of a Mercedes, you can harvest a lot more power from the MGU-H (which is where the vast majority of energy recovery comes from this year) if you place the compressor at the front of the engine, and the turbine at the rear. This means less of the electrical store is used for spooling up the turbo, and more can be used for power to the rear wheels.

            2. @tophercheese21 @ialtair there’s a good column from Edd Straw in this week’s autosport regarding Merc’s performance advantage. Obviously they have a good chassis and the class of the field PU, but this isn’t the only advantage. Back in 2008 when KERS was brought in (Yes, I know it wasn’t raced until 2009, but manufacture began in 2008) Merc kept all the development in house rather than allow McLaren to develop it. Renault also developed it with their F1 team whereas Ferrari gave the job to Magnetti Marelli. However, when KERS was dropped for 2010 Merc continued to develop the technology whilst Renault and Ferrari dropped it. So when it came back in 2011 Merc were already ahead of the rest with development (Straw called it KERS 2.0) whilst Renault then gave Red Bull the responsibility of developing KERS themselves and Ferrari again went to MM. So, because Merc kept all the development of energy recovery in house they’ve got years of R&D experience over both Renault and Ferrari which is why their engines are both more powerful and more efficient than the Renault/Ferrari packages. That’s not something that can be gained within a few months of competing, especially as Renault and Ferrari both have other issues to solve at the same time.

              In terms of downforce, yes Red Bull will be the pick of the field again, but Mercedes were hardly poor in this area last year and I expect they’re not far behind RBR in aero this year either. Merc are a moving target themselves, whilst everyone is playing catch-up, they’re moving forward too. I wouldn’t be too confident about any of the teams catching up enough to win races on merit, rather than because one/both of the Mercs DNF.

        2. Redbull need a new engine/power unit to catch up, their aero is already better then Mercedes. I read recently it is mainly to do with how the turbos work, Mercedes are getting more cool air because of turbo position. Renault are stuffed, their software updates will not make the 100hp that they are estimated to be behind Mercedes. Redbulls hope is high downforce tracks and ditching Renault for Honda next year (I am sure they have enough money to exit a contract and pay Honda to be a customer)

          1. Honda are entering the sport with McLaren as their factory team. They don’t have the time now to entertain another customer, plus McLaren have probably negotiated a veto on who can take customer engines when they offer them (something they won’t be required to do until 2016).

      2. Considering the start for Redbull in testing its the way they pulled off at Australia is nothing sort of a big achievement and most of the time for RBR needs to come from Engine than Chassis, That will dictate the Way of updates as well

      3. RB10 is a good car, they lack power and that’s up to Renault to step up. Lotus G. Lopez said Renault is taking a significant update to Spanish GP, let’s wait and see.

        1. Renault said that about China, and that teams will have new software maps. their significant upgrades are not enough at all.

      4. Fuel and efficiency changes could yet see a fairly big jump from Renault, which will inevitably be exploited to the full by RBR, so by the mid point the races could be a lot closer. However I would imagine even RBR would look at the gap Mercedes already have in the championships, let alone what that gap will be by then, and decide to focus on 2015.
        That sounds like a defeatist statement this early in the season, but the reality of making up 1.7s a lap on Mercedes, with a good proportion of that coming from an engine specification that can’t be copied during the season, is pretty harsh.

      5. I am pretty sure that Renault will discover reliability problems with their direct coupled turbocharger and change to an uncoupled setup a la Mercedes for reliabilities sake, any improvements in power output would of course be entirely coincidental.

        1. …..uncoupled read; indirectly coupled.

    2. Glad to see Lotus joing the party again.. Romain is an exciting driver now that he’s not a 1st lap nutcase!
      Maldonado is consistantly inconsistant and altogether reckless, there’s no denying his pace though.

    3. I can see the gaps increasing a lot for Spain as they normally do, but whether Mercedes can be caught after that is another question all together…

    4. Interesting upgrade from McLaren; Are they going to borrow a chassis from Mercedes and race it as McLaren? :)

    5. The fastest lap graph offers hope for Ferrari and Red Bull fans. Bahrain was a bad track for Ferrari and they suffered the most. But either due to the track or upgrades, they have closed the gap to Mercs assuming Mercs were running as fast as they reliably can.

      Alonso can still hope for something this season if Ferrari are able to extract maximum out of the car without the development issues that plagued them in the past.

      1. The sad thing is that Ferrari’s results are so good only because of Alonso. Kimi’s performance is putting them down on the teams ladder.

        1. Kimi has still been quicker than Mclaren.

    6. Nico Hulkenberg: in the 6th fastest car, so you would expect him to be getting minor points, wrong. He’s finished 5th twice and 6th twice and is fourth in the championship standings. He’s really delivering really consistently despite having an off weekend in Bahrain.

      1. more like 4th or 5th best car with 1st best engine = regular top 6 results to be expected every race. even his teammate came 3rd. force indias car matched to the Mercedes engine will see them harassing Ferrari and Red Bull many races.

        1. You didn’t read the table, did you? The Force India, on average, is the 6th fastest car. Yet, Hulkenberg seems to be fighting with Ferrari and Red Bull every time, despite them being notably quicker.

          1. That table clearly isn’t a perfect indicator as it’s just fastest laps, according to qualifying, or practice (due to wet qualifying), being slower over one lap certainly doesn’t mean they have an inferior car over a race distance, you certainly can’t say that mclaren or toro rosso were quicker than force India in Shanghai… Not to take anything away from hulkenberg as he still had to fight off the williams

            1. Exactly. Also they would be probably a bit higher if not all these wet quali sessions when Perez is struggling to get the car when it deserves to be.

    7. Don’t forget that Mercedes aren’t a static target. They too will make progress.

    8. lovely work with the data again Keith. Really shows how much FI is fighting above its weight while both Williams and McLaren have let too much potential go to waste.

      1. MALLI (@mallikarjuna)
        24th April 2014, 17:29

        forceindia is much better than mclaren and williams on race pace, easily the 4th best team.

    9. MALLI (@mallikarjuna)
      24th April 2014, 17:34

      what about race pace kieth? forceindias pace looks much better than williams and mclaren in race than qualy.

    10. These graphs are useful but limited in value in the current situation—the most important evidence of whether anyone is closing the gap was the last ten laps of Bahrain. China was a cruise for Lewis and Rosberg didn’t break a sweat coming from 6th to a secure 2nd. Neither RBR nor Lotus nor anyone else is “catching” Mercedes right now. They are in fact very far behind and likely falling further behind. The raw pace gap is at least 2 seconds. Lotus-Renault is an exception, but they have only basically made the car reliable enough to run it hard enough to join the peleton. They are only catching themselves, really.

      The solution for RBR is not simply to increase the power. The reason MB has left its customers in the dust is that they have adapted the whole car to the remote-intercooler design. Ferrari and RBR soundly beat every other Mercedes team in China—it’s not the output, though, clearly, Renault and Ferrari are not yet running their engines at full power. As has been reported, the overall design have been optimized for the PU design. Less frontal area, less weight, more efficient intercooler plumbing, everything. RBR may eventually find more downforce, but the basic package of the RBR and Ferrari have immutable disadvantages. They will need to come up with something radical, as an aero-concept, or introduce and test new tubs, or find some new loophole, to make actual gains.

    11. GB (@bgp001ruled)
      24th April 2014, 21:39

      if people hated the red bull dominance, they are gonna hate this season. merc is going th massacre everyone. their advantage ir ridiculous. i dont think F1 has ever seen what this season is going to bring. and respect to them: they simply did it perfect, its deserved! itll be boring in the long run, but its deserved! four wins, three P2, four fastest laps, every pole and winning with huge margins! amazing!

      1. Again, it’s not a comparable situation. Red Bull’s domination was a single-driver event. We basically knew that unless something startling happened, it was going to be Sebastian up front – Mark Webber hadn’t been 100% comfortable in the cars since mid-season 2010. Lewis has the advantage & momentum at the moment, but we know Nico is both hungry and capable of winning in the car – this is a Prost/Senna season, not a Vettel or Mansell ’92 season.

        Of course, horses for courses…

        1. That remains to be seen. Lewis has so far won all the races where he didn’t retire, and he would’ve likely won Australia too. It’s certainly closer than Vettel/Webber, but so far it seems that Lewis will always have the upper hand unless something happens.

    12. Bahrain gave a telling glimpse of their real advantage, as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg streaked away from the competition by more than 1.7 seconds per lap, despite also fighting each other for position.

      Bahrain was a very impressive display, but I think it’s easy to read too much into it. Just like last year in Singapore, at one point Sebastian Vettel was driving away from at 2.5 seconds per lap from the pack, led by Rosberg, but it did not mean that Red Bull always enjoyed a 2.5 second race pace advantage. In China and Malaysia, there was certainly no evidence that Mercedes were that much quicker (otherwise Rosberg would have been P2 before the end of the first stint to hunt down Hamilton).

      I agree with Niki Lauda then that Barcelona will be a very interesting race to review the competitive order, as teams will bring both aerodynamic updates and improvements to their power trains. I’m not saying Mercedes will be caught – but I’m not ruling out that they can be caught, either, or at least that their advantage will be substantially reduced. The latter could also influence the title fight. In the first four races, Mercedes’ advantage was such that a Chilton Performance (i.e., bringing the car home ;-) was sufficient to guarantee P2, but with a closer field a scrappy weekend might mean losing more than 7 points.

    13. AMR (@aiera-music)
      25th April 2014, 2:24

      2014 is kind of reminding me of 2009 in a way, where Jenson won the first four fly-away events in the Brawn Mercedes and left the others scrambling to catch up. In that case Brawn were too consistent and too far ahead when Red Bull finally starting outpacing them, but I feel like Spain will be the tipping point this season, where teams have their three weeks to finalize upgrades and begin sealing off the gap.

      Just going by the graph, I feel like the gap will close much faster than in 2009 and we will end up with a three-way scrap for the title going into the second half of the season!

      1. Sorry Ryan, but it isn’t anything like the 2009 season. Brawn was a team which had to fight each race to keep its head above the water, which is why they fell off after the midseason break. They had no development budget to keep improving their car. That’s the reason why Red Bull could catch up.

        I have the faintest idea that Merc will bring updates and will keep developing their car, if needed, beyond the midseason break. Whether that will be enough, that remains to be seen.

    14. I like the performance table, good stat, in the end despite all glitches it’s quite reliable.

    15. i feel performance wise Merc are way ahead second is Red Bull next its Ferrari then Force India & McLaren.
      nobody will catch Merc guys.

    16. It’s promising that the Rebulls and Alonso were making Rosberg work for 2nd place, but the telling number was how much less fuel Hamilton had used – looked like he had over a lap’s worth left at the end.

      1. I didn’t see any “work” going when Rosberg blew by both of them like they were chained to posts. The fuel is the telling number, indeed, and also that Rosberg’s fastest lap was about .8s faster than Hamilton’s quickest lap. This suggests that Hamiton was quite at ease, and had at least an *additional* 1s over the field at his disposal, i.e., the 2+s showed at Bahrain. Unlke Vettel, who was keen to drop a super lap at the end of his blowouts for show, over Horner’s loud objections, Rosberg and Hamilton don’t see the need to showboat, so in China we did not see any evidence of their ultimate pace. There is absolutely no eividence to suggest that China showed any “catching up” by the main pursuers. RBR and Ferrari need to start some radical changes. a “log” exhaust manifold, redesigning their arrangement of rads and intercooler—they better think of something really big real quick.

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