Williams and Red Bull closing the gap to Mercedes

2014 F1 season

Posted on

| Written by

Five races into the season, Mercedes were enjoying the largest performance advantage over their rivals any team has had since 1998.

Since then the other teams have been chipping away at their advantage. Williams and Red Bull have taken the lead and have chiefly done so on tracks which suit their cars best – Red Bull on high-downforce tracks and Williams on circuits which reward aerodynamic efficiency and top speed.

Red Bull remain the only team to have beaten Mercedes to victory, thanks to Daniel Ricciardo’s opportunistic wins in Canada and Hungary. And Williams are the only team to have deprived them of pole position, locking out the front row in Austria partly thanks to Lewis Hamilton’s slip-ups during qualifying.

That explains why Mercedes no longer have an unbroken record of turning up at every race with what is quantifiably the fastest car, at least in terms of lap time. However the high number of rain-affected qualifying sessions this year may have tipped the balance in favour of other cars at times – such as the Red Bulls.

2014 car performance at mid-season

This graph compares each team’s fastest lap time from every race weekend (including all sessions) as a percentage of the quickest. Mercedes set the quickest time over a single lap in ten of the eleven rounds so far:


Red Bull1.130.970.930.51.240.520.
Force India1.791.531.251.452.882.
Toro Rosso1.891.792.11.363.292.041.721.062.21.862.32

FRIC ban a boost for Sauber

The banning of Front Rear Inter-Connected (FRIC) suspension ahead of the British Grand Prix has had some consequences for the competitive order within the field, and may even have helped Mercedes’ rivals chip away at their advantage.

But it’s had a more appreciable difference at the back of the pack. Sauber had endured a torrid and thus far point-less campaign with their heavy C33, but since the field started running without FRIC they have been much more competitive compared to their closest rivals Lotus and Marussia, both of which admitted they have been impaired by the removal of FRIC.

We only have two races of data on which to judge the consequences of the FRIC ban, but at this stage it appears not to have as profound an effect on the teams as, for example, last year’s mid-season change in tyre construction.

Though we can still take Mercedes’ competitiveness at all circuits for granted, the upcoming races at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza are likely to play into the hands of Williams, particularly at the expense of Red Bull. It will offer them an opportunity to reclaim third place in the championship from Ferrari (who they have been quicker than in four of the last five rounds) and, they will hope, substantially reduce Red Bull’s lead in second.

As you would expect, most teams’ positions in the points standings correspond closely to how quick their car is. If you rank the teams based on their car performance and their points tallies, no team differs between the two by more than one position, with both Force India and Marussia punching above their weight:

TeamAverage gap to fastest lapPoints
Red Bull0.89%219
Force India1.94%98
Toro Rosso1.97%17

Over the remaining half of the season many teams will inevitably turn their attention to next year. But as there is a great deal of consistency between the rules for this season and next, much of the development work can be done on their current cars, so we can expect the development race will continue to affect the championship until the late stages. The prospect of double points in the final race provides an added incentive for the teams to keep bringing developments to their cars.

However those without Mercedes power know they have the most to gain from their engines and hybrid systems, much of which they cannot alter until 2015.

2014 F1 season

Browse all 2014 F1 season articles

Image © Williams/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...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

52 comments on “Williams and Red Bull closing the gap to Mercedes”

  1. Looking at the graph I really don’t see RBR closing the gap, seems like they fluctuate around the same mark depending on the track demands. As for Williams, they seem incredibly inconsistent.

    The races of course are a different story, mostly due to the unreliability.

    1. I agree there is no evidence in these data that anyone is “closing the gap.” The true measure of performance is time over a stint and stint length, in a race. Here we see Mercedes dominating completely, even when there is rain scrambling the order or other bad fortune putting them back, they come screaming through the pack virtually unabated. Their dominance is such we have only seen the actual full potential in only a few races—Bahrain, part of Canada, parts of Hungary. Even using the simple metric of quickest weekend lap, in aggregate, the peleton is where it was before. In the latest results, McLaren and Ferrari have lost ground; if you erased the Austria outlier, and drew a trend line over RBR and Willaims I don’t think those lines would tilt down much if at all. Some in the pack move forward, some move back, but the break-away is not in any danger.

      1. Agree with you, guys.

        Fastest laps through a race is could be a good measure to indicate the form of teams so far, but there´s a lot of variables to undermine the value of a fast lap in a race — something like the safety car messing up teams tyre strategy.

        For me, the first laps of a race, when those guys have fresh cars and tyres, and are pushing hard to gain places — or to be in or out of DRS range — could be much more representative of form.

        To be more specific: until the safety car, Rosberg were 1.2 second faster than anybody else on the firts 9 laps of Hungarian GP.

        That was a trend that he carried from Germany, when he was 0.7s faster than Williams in the first stint, in a track very engine dependent.

        So, there few evidence that Red Bull or Williams are closing the gap, only some variation related to the track demands.

        1. @becken-lima If I’m understanding your comment correctly you are treating the data as if it’s based only on the fastest laps from the race, which is not the case, as it says in the article.

          1. I bet I´m not going to spoil your post with my arguing in a ‘broken english,’ Keith, but isn´t that (all fastest laps through a weekend) a lot of variables to suggest that Mercedes are losing ground to RBR and Williams?

      2. It would be more useful to have a metric such as median race lap time, however, looking at the metric used here, the trend line for both Williams and Red Bull is down, even removing the Austria outlier (and if you treat that as an outlier, you should also treat Monaco as an outlier in the opposite direction for Williams). Based on the trend for Williams, they have cut their gap to Mercedes in half, Red Bull have taken about 15% out of their smaller starting deficit.

        It would be interesting to repeat the exercise with a median lap time comparison.

        To other comments regarding whether or not Mercedes have been showing their true potential, I don’t think such speculation adds to the debate, Mercedes may very well be able to go much faster in race conditions over any given set of laps, but could they continue to do that for an entire race without burning out tyres, running out of fuel, wearing out brakes or breaking the power unit? Given that both Wolff and I think Lauda have both stated that they aren’t holding on to huge untapped reserves, and the fact that Mercedes have proven fragile at times this year, I think it’s more reasonable to assume that Mercedes are in fact fairly close to the limit they feel they can safely exploit during races.

      3. @dmw For an example, look at Williams over the last five races compared to the first six races.

        1. I will have to disagree with @keithcollantine, this time.
          It’s hard for me to see how they’re closing the gap, when you see one mercedes starting from the back or from pitlane and finish in the podium a few laps from challenging for P1.
          I know, there were SCs and rain and other variables, but in the end I guess you just see one car managing (ROS) and the other one “easily” going through the pack till the end.
          There are just minor gains for the Williams and Redbull.. that’s my view on that. ;)

          1. @kobe08

            It’s hard for me to see how they’re closing the gap, when you see one Mercedes starting from the back or from pit lane and finish in the podium a few laps from challenging for P1.

            That doesn’t tell us anything about how the relative performance of the Mercedes against the Williams has changed. Yes Mercedes are clearly the quickest team – of course I’m not disputing that – but Williams are getting closer.

            On average they were 1.5% slower than Mercedes’ best time over the first six races; over the last five that figure fell to 0.66%. That’s a substantial gain – they’ve more than halved the original deficit. Even if we make a generous allowance for situations like Austria where the Mercedes drivers’ qualifying laps were compromised, it’s clear Williams have got closer.

  2. I think the gap would be a bit larger if Hamilton had smooth qualifyings since Monaco.

  3. Gideon Hadi (@)
    11th August 2014, 12:21

    probably, 2nd half of the season may will promise more interesting races

  4. It does not seem to me that Red Bull are closing the gap. Mercedes are still miles ahead of the pack. Maybe Williams are chipping a bit, but in races they are still far behind. Mclaren are definetly making progress, they said they will be bringing major upgrades to Spa and Singapore, so a major upgrade every other race, so maybe they are reclaiming their development intensity from previous years. Hope they will be title contenders next year with Honda.

    1. @osvaldas31 The problem for McLaren is that for all the will in the world and competency with their chassis design, the PU is one big question mark until it’s driven in anger.

      Even if they basically clone the Mercedes PU, they’ve been out of the game long enough that reliability will probably be a significant issue.

    2. I don’t really see much progress for McLaren, at least in terms of raw speed. Beside a few fluctuations (both ways), they have been sitting on 5th fastest car most of the season.

      In terms of distance to Mercedes, Hungary was their 3rd worst race, with Britain their 4th.

      Of course it looked a lot better in Germany, but that could still be a one-off.

    3. Mercedes are still miles ahead of the pack

      I still remember, last year at the Singapore GP, when Vettel pulled a 30s lead after the safety car restart, Lewis suspected Vettel might be aided with TC. Infact most of the of the drivers gave the car as the reason for Vettel / RBR’s success. I wonder how Lewis is taking the situation right now, where in every race, they are 2s faster per lap than the rest of the field.

  5. It will offer them [Williams] an opportunity to reclaim third place in the championship from Ferrari.

    This has reminded me, after the German Grand Prix, Claire Williams was interviewed by, I think, Lee McKenzie who referred to the team achieving their aim of overtaking Ferrari a week early. It was just a little amusing that they forgot the position could be retaken in Hungary, which it was. Obviously there is a good chance they will take that back for the rest of the season in the next couple of races, but still, don’t count your chickens!

    1. There is X factor at Ferrari his name is Fernando Alonso , he can literally drive the freaking wheels off the car to perform 10-15% better than what the car on paper is capable of . The Ferrari is very consistent in that they produce car , that like clockwork requires every year to play catch up with the leading team(s). Alonso just pulls out incredible race speed on Sunday .

  6. those gaps have a lot to do with one factor, the power unit. if the teams had equal power, the chart might read redbull by 0.5% then Ferrari, then Mercedes. torro rosso would be fighting with Williams.

    1. And yet, the top 3 teams (in the WCC) have 3 different power units.

      You might as well say they the factor is aerodynamics, or suspension, or….

      There will always, and should always, be a difference between the cars, whether in aero, power unit, or something else. This is part of the competition. If there wasn’t this difference, we would have a spec series.

      1. @drmouse, yes, and we should thank our lucky stars for those differences, RBRs domination over the last 4 years may well have been a lot less prominent if we had not had the ” engine power equalisation and development freeze”

    2. Mr win or lose
      12th August 2014, 12:32

      As far as I know, the Mercedes engine/power unit is about 30 (b)hp more powerful than the Ferrari engine and about 60 hp more powerful than the Renault engine. Based on a total output of 600-700 hp, the relative differences are nearly 5 and 10%. Given an average engine-power elasticity of 0,15, this translates into a performance loss of about 0.7 and 1.4%. So corrected for engine power, Red Bull would indeed have been the fastest team by 0.5%, followed by Mercedes, Ferrari, Toro Rosso, Williams, Lotus, McLaren, Force India, Sauber, Marussia and Caterham.

  7. From the graph above, I see no ¨closing of the gap¨ by anyone. There is no appreciable trend towards a tapering of MB’s advantage.

    However, I bring here an excerpt of Toto Wolff’s interview in which he lets an ominous Deus ex machina loom over the WDC:

    quoted from Formula1.com

    Q: And if your rivals catch you, does that change how free Rosberg and Hamilton are to fight against each other?
    TW: Yes, we have already started to change our approach when we saw how near Williams are. We don’t need to push our cars to the absolute limit if we see our two cars have an advantage; they can still race each other on a level that still has a tiny bit of a security margin in terms of temperatures, pressures. You don’t need to hit the car hard if you are only racing your team mate. So that is an approach we have changed and recalibrated after Spielberg. But in a situation like Spielberg where Williams are close you need to go flat out.

    First it proves that MB is way above the field at most tracks. Then it proves that the pit wall can and does turn the wick in a direction it chooses. It explains why Nico burns more fuel -the wall gives him more power-. More power to Nico levels the NIco-Lewis field as it seems Lewis does more with less power, which boils down to better lines around corners, more precise bracking points, smoother acceleration exiting corners, etc.

    So there it appears, Toto Wolff plays GOD. WDC will depend on who catches his fancy.

    1. “First it proves that MB is way above the field at most tracks”

      I don’t think it does (at least not any more than is actually demonstrated on the time sheets). Look at the wording used in the quote:

      “We don’t need to push our cars to the absolute limit if we see our two cars have an advantage; they can still race each other on a level that still has a tiny bit of a security margin in terms of temperatures, pressures”

      Those words don’t suggest huge additional reserves of performance, rather they suggest a little extra in hand at some (perhaps most) tracks.

    2. First of all, there is no way for pitwall to be able to “turn the wick in a direction it chooses”. If there was, the standard electronic unit would show them up, and its data is logged and reviewed after races. The only way to change settings is by telling the driver to turn knobs on the steering wheel.

      The difference in use of fuel has most likely been 1. when Rosberg is behind he needs to use more fuel to catch up. while Hamilton can run his own pace in clean air (and can select regimes that save a bit more fuel). And 2. it seems Hamilton has worked a lot to get his driving to be a tad more easy on fuel use.

  8. Looking at this graph, it says that Ferrari are faster than Williams. This is not an opinion many would have at this stage of the season. Now, is this really true? Or is it the drivers? Alonso is that much better than Massa and Bottas. Its a stretch, if you ask me.

    1. Gideon Hadi (@)
      11th August 2014, 15:09

      it based on Free Practice times if the Qualy was wet. and Williams usually not really quick on Friday, while Ferrari does

      1. I think it is based on the fastest lap of the weekend irrespective of when it occurs. So, it includes race too.

    2. The graph shows Ferrari were faster than Williams in five of the eleven race weekends so far – but Williams were quicker in four of the last five.

      1. @keithcollantine So claims that Ferrari ‘only have the fourth best car’ aren’t quite as true as it seems, especially as Ferrari are the only team yet to suffer a technical retirement (bar Force India, who had one DNS) so far this season?

        1. @craig-o, reliability is a great advantage over a season but it does not equate to “fast” or improve lap times, in fact that reliability may be flattering Ferraris pace.

          1. @hohum where exactly did I mention anything about reliability improving lap times or the word “fast” at all?

          2. @craig-o, maybe I mis-interpreted your post.

      2. The graph shows Ferrari were faster than Williams in five of the eleven race weekends so far – but Williams were quicker in four of the last five.


        So claims that Ferrari ‘only have the fourth best car’ aren’t quite as true as it seems, especially as Ferrari are the only team yet to suffer a technical retirement (bar Force India, who had one DNS) so far this season?

        One lap pace and race pace are not synonymous. There have been more races so far this season where Williams have been faster than Ferrari than vice versa.

        Williams were faster than Ferrari in Australia, Bahrain, Spain, Canada, Austria, Silverstone, and Germany.
        Ferrari were faster than Williams in Malaysia, China, and Monaco. I declare Hungary to be a draw.

  9. if you want to be more specific about how the pace of the cars correlates to championship position, you can use this Spearman’s rank calculation. =1-((6*∑d^2))/((n^3)-n)

    basically, the strength of the correlation is 0.977 (very well correlated) and there is less than a 0.5% chance that it occurred by chance (p<0.005).

    1. Yes, and my auntie thinks London cheesecake should just have icing on top and no grated coconut.

  10. Force India 1.94% 98
    Toro Rosso 1.97% 17

    That is pretty interesting to see… You have to wonder where Toro Rosso would be if their car wasn’t exploding constantly… Nine mechanical retirements compared to zero.

    1. That also fails to take into account that FI are relatively poor in quali pace compared to race pace, and vice versa for TR

      1. @jleigh I don’t think that’s quite as true as it seems. Force India have had some very strong top 10 starting slots, notably Perez in P4 at Bahrain. Also, the average qualifying says otherwise really:

        HUL 9.0
        VER 10.5
        KVY 10.6
        PER 11.5

        1. To make Nico Hulkenberg’s qualifying look even more impressive, his qualifying average is .27 and 1.36 higher than Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen respectively, both in faster machinery. Not to mention 2.5 higher than his team mate. His average qualifying is just .45 less than Felipe Massa’s Williams!

  11. Interesting thing to do is to compare all Mercedes powered cars : They follow the same pattern compared to Mercedes, showing probably that Mercedes have better aerodynamics than the rest… As showecased by red bull, whose line is more or less parallel to that of Mercedes. (so probably just separated by power deficit)

    1. True, the Mercedes powered cars move together! At least until Canada. Williams though deviates massively from the other Merc’s from Canada onwards, and prior to that performed very poorly in Monaco, consistently with the aero peculiarities of their car. I look forward to seeing what they will be capable of doing in Monza.
      Toro Rosso disappointingly underperforming.

      1. Well in fairness, Toro Rosso team seems to forget to attach the bolts.
        I’m more concerned by Sauber. On one lap (Sutil or Guiterez lap mind), they are faster than Marussia by the same gap than Mercedes to Mc Laren, yet trail both Marussia and Lotus (who aren’t that far) in the championship…

        1. @tango Do you reckon that is a case of the Sauber drivers underperforming or just excellent performances by Grosjean and Bianchi (the latter having troubled Saubers on more than one occasion)?

          1. I’d love to credit Grosjean and Bianchi but both were well aided by failing Saubers on their way to point scoring (Monaco especially springs to mind)

  12. Geoffrey Osborn
    11th August 2014, 18:02

    Don’t forget , in the second half , expect more and more Lewis type failures. Some of the teams and drivers are on or over the limit now for PU components . To come first , first you must finish as Dan has proven twice. Lewis is overdriving as can be seen by all the carbon trailing in his wake. This season is a long way from being a done deal.

    1. It could be argued that some of this ‘overdriving’ is partly due to issues out of his control, especially at the last two rounds.

  13. I don’t think that an analysis of one single lap gives an accurate picture. There’s not really enough data to give firm conclusions.

    A better analysis would be a comparison of the mean time of each team’s top 10 laptimes (regardless of when they were set).

  14. Sauber’s performance still low. :(

  15. While Red Bull do seem to keep up the pace of development to not lose touch with Mercedes, its likely that they will start to run out of engine components soon and have to replace some of them and take grid penalties. I would hesitate to bet on them staying close or doing a lot better (results wise) than they have been doing so far.

  16. I don’t see this happening.
    Mercedes lost 2 races so far. On the first one, they were already around 30s ahead of the pack with just half the race. And then both cars failed.

    This last race Rosberg was pulling away easily even with some mistakes and the SC blew it.

    What has made Mercedes seem weaker is Hamilton’s awful saturdays, be it for unreliability, be it from himself, and they are seeing themselves constantly in the middle of the grid which wasn’t the case on the beginning of the year.

  17. It would make more sense to compare the fastest laps of each car. Now the data is slanted too much in the direction of under performing team mates (ie Vettel and Raikkonen)

  18. the illusion that the gap is being closed is due to the incompetance of the Mercedes team to deliver cars that don’t break down left and right. It might be nice for ratings, but in all seriousness, if Mercedes were not fking it up left and right right now, Lewis would be long gone, and Nico would be a good ways up the road trying to catch him, and the TV ratings would be slumping. Toto power in effect at Williams, but it’s gonna take a lot more fires and brake failures for Williams or RBR to catch up Mercedes.

    Maybe Pirelli can bring in weaker rear tires, sigh. A shame the tire maker is more interested in TV ratings than performance.

Comments are closed.