Yuhki Nakajima, Super Formula, Suzuka, 2014

How fast is F1? Top championships compared

2015 F1 season

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The superlicence points system introduced by the FIA has put a new focus on how useful championships outside F1 are for preparing young drivers for grand prix racing.

And questions have been raised over whether some series are valued too low or too high in the points structure.

Which series has got closest to F1 performance levels – and which is losing out most in the FIA’s superlicence structure? Let’s see how their lap times compared in 2014.

Top single seaters

Start, GP2, Red Bull Ring, 2014GP2 and Formula Renault 3.5 have been the top feeder series for promoting young drivers to F1 in recent years.

The Renault cars were overhauled in 2012 but the V8 engines the series is named after have around 80bhp less than GP2’s four-litre units. However the performance of the Formula Renault 3.5 cars is boosted by a lower weight (623kg versus 688kg) and upgraded aerodynamics which include powerful venturi tunnels under the cars.

The result is while both categories would stand a chance of beating F1’s 107% rule at Monaco, GP2 cars would also have been able to do that last year at some other circuits where engine performance is more of a deciding factor.

The addition of DRS to GP2 next year – something Formula Renault 3.5 has had for the last three seasons – is likely to add a further performance boost. However there is at least one other single-seater championship which gets closer to F1 performance levels than this.

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Data based on fastest weekend lap times at tracks in 2014 and 2013.

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Mid-level single seaters

When GP3 was introduced five years ago the performance of its cars was close to Formula Three levels. However the new GP3/13 car introduced last year has upped engine power to 400bhp, so that even though F3 cars are some 65kg lighter, the GP3 cars are decisively quicker.

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Data based on fastest weekend lap times at tracks in 2014.

Closed wheel racers

Porsche 919, Motorland Aragon, 2014The World Endurance Championship is giving F1 a serious run for its money in terms of attracting manufacturers who want to develop high performance racing cars. Nissan are the latest to join alongside Audi, Porsche and Toyota.

The closed-wheel nature of the cars keeps a lid on aerodynamic performance but Toyota claim their TS040 produces 986bhp. As they are unencumbered by F1-style ‘designed to degrade’ tyres they are able to produce lap times not far off what GP2 cars are capable of.

Touring car championships are not considered worthy of superlicence points in the FIA’s eyes. But the performance of DTM cars is particularly eye-catching – despite weighing 1,120kg, their 500-plus bhp V8 engines gives them far superior performance to the FIA’s World Touring Car Championship, where the cars have around 24% less power.

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Which series is closest to F1?

Yuhki Nakajima, Super Formula, Suzuka, 2014The Japanese Super Formula SF14 car, which was introduced last year, may be the quickest racing car outside Formula One.

The only circuit the championship shares with the grand prix cars is Suzuka – undoubtedly a serious test of car performance. Last year Andre Lotterer lapped the track in 1’36.994, which would have put him 19th on the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix.

The cars use 2.0-litre four-cylinder inline engines supplied by Honda and Toyota, which produced around 542bhp. At 660kg it’s lighter than a GP2 car, and could certainly hold its own against the Caterham which Lotterer raced at Spa-Francorchamps last year.

Despite that, the FIA ranks six other championships, plus a to-be-announced Formula Two series, more highly than Super Formula when it comes to awarding F1 superlicence points. A total of 63 points are available in Super Formula compared to 173 in GP2.

Similarly, there are 93 points up for grabs in Formula Renault 3.5, whereas drivers can compete for the sane number of points driving much slower cars in GP3, or 124 points by driving even slower cars in European Formula Three. And forget about Auto GP – the FIA doesn’t award any points for that at all.

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But what about…

Start, Formula E, Buenos Aires, 2014Making like-for-like comparisons such as this only works when the same cars can be compared on the same tracks.

IndyCar, for example, races in America, Canada and Brazil but doesn’t visit the Circuit of the Americas, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve or Interlagos so there’s no potential for comparison.

However it’s clear these cars, which qualify at an average speed of 371kph on the daunting Indianapolis oval, are one of the closest matches for F1 machines out there. And with aerodynamic development returning to the championship this year, their lap times should fall too.

Newcomer Formula E has not yet raced on any circuits shared by other cars. It is scheduled to do so later this year, with events at Monaco and Long Beach, which are also used by Formula One and Indy Car respectively.

However in both cases FE will use slightly shorter versions of these tracks. Nonetheless sector times and trackside perspectives will give the best impression yet of just how wide the gap is between conventional and all-electric single-seater racing cars.

F1 set for a performance push

The gap between F1 and other championships closed up last year, largely due to the new engine formula F1 introduced. The shrinking performance margin may explain why we have seen younger and less experienced drivers such as Max Verstappen making the leap up to F1.

As teams develop their V6 turbo hybrids this year and beyond we should see F1 lap times fall. But in the meantime we have seen some single-specification categories introduced higher-performing cars, and manufacturers in series like the World Endurance Championship pushing ahead with racing car development outside of grand prix racing.

Formula One bosses are now agitating for a rapid increase in engine performance to 1,000bhp – a 20-25% increase on current power levels. As these figures show, it could be a timely shot in the arm for the F1 racing spectacle.

2015 F1 season

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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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44 comments on “How fast is F1? Top championships compared”

  1. The gap between F1 and other championships closed up last year, largely due to the new engine formula F1 introduced.

    I’d say it was more down to the reduction of downforce, Engine performance was fairly similar & top speeds were for the most part higher.

    1. Add harder tyres to it.

      1. @jcost

        Exactly.

        2004, which still has a lot of records, not only had V10s but the crazy tire wars as well. (Crazy good, in my opinion.) They weren’t full slicks and the dimensions weren’t exactly the same but both Bridgestone and Michelin were making new tires for every race it seemed. Multiple new compounds and sometimes new constructions. It was fun to watch.

  2. Very interesting! But to me sheer speed is just one factor to decide how much Superlicence points a series deserves, the level of competition is another. For instance, Formula Renault 2.0 Euroseries is slower than the German F3, but the level of competition is higher in Renault. So, I think it’s fair that a driver earns more points by winning the FR2.0 than the German F3.

    1. I don’t disagree with you but the FIA clearly disregards level of competition, after all the best drivers are more likely to go to their series which have the most points and provide the most direct route to F1.

      1. If these rules go ahead then it will boost the competitivness in certain series as good (rich) upcoming drivers will flock to the series that provide most points.

    2. @matthijs And sadly German F3 will now not run next year, after not being able to call it F3 hit the series hard. British F3 is also defunct.. and Formula Renault BARC in the UK will now try to run an ‘all chassis can run’ series in a hope to hang on to having a series.

      I looked up Eurocup FR2.0 as a matter of interest and it seems to be 23-26 seconds back at Hungary and Spa this year – so the step up from that to FR3.5 is a very big one indeed! Maybe it could get a little faster, to fill the niche left by the loss of national F3, and then F4 will be behind it and far enough removed to be a threat to the series?

      Apart from that, GP3’s repositioning of itself as distinct from FIA F3 has worked – I didn’t know AutoGP was caught up in the same location, and that is now struggling, merging with Formula Acceleration 1 for 2015. In truth, I thought AutoGP would be a little ahead of GP3, making a smoother curve in that section, with DTM between GP3/F3. But I can now see why so many drivers are taking in GP3 after F3, before moving up to GP2/FR3.5.

      1. OK, BRDC F4 is about 30 seconds back at Silverstone. So a theoretical F2 would be exactly the same speed as FR3.5, making 30, 20, 10 seconds off F1 (30, 19, 9) in an FIA ladder, and cheaper than GP2 in exactly the same way… unless it was a little slower, like the recent FIA F2, and cheaper again. Similar speed to WEC?

  3. I’m surprised FR3.5 is so slow compared to GP2. :O

  4. The addition of DRS to GP2 next year

    Which will be the death of the series.

    I’m certainly not planning to watch GP2 this year (Having watched every GP2 race since it started in 2005) in protest & know many others who will also not be watching.

    The racing in GP2 has always been some of the best pure racing in any category, Its always been some of the most competitive, hard fought & exciting racing in any category & that is a big part of why for 10 year’s i’ve loved every race.

    GP2 doesn’t need DRS, Its completely unnecisary & totally unneeded to throw it in when there was nothing wrong with the racing without it. The massive outcry of anger & disappointment from GP2 fans to the official GP2 twitter account (As well as many other places) when they announced it shows that the huge majority of GP2 fans don’t want it.

    They say its been introduced to teach young drivers about F1, But why the hell do you need to implement DRS to teach them how to use DRS?
    You get within 1 second at a line, Reach another line & then push a button, You don’t need to be taught that in GP2.

    1. You are so right, COTD for me. GP2 produces so much tension and so much action at the same time in a, like you said, very pure way. Complete joke to introduce DRS.

    2. Right on, these feeder series are about letting the driver’s true ability shine; how do they handle being held up and use their skills to make the overtake? It was nice to see some lap-after-lap battles between GP2 cars, with tension building up and leading to some great overtaking. DRS really isn’t necessary for spec GP2 cars.

  5. Nah, those extra bhps will be dedicated to produce some extra noise through exhaust trumpets.

  6. The other day I watched Rd 1 of Superformula in Suzuka (and IT’S ON YOUTUBE!) and it was way more interesting and skilled than many F1 races in recent years. It shows DRS is a totally unnecessary gadget.

    1. More skilled than many F1 races? The current Super Formula champion (and the 2012 one) is Kazuki Nakajima. This is the same Kazuki Nakajima who, in his last season in F1, finished with no points compared to his Williams team-mate Nico Rosberg’s 34.5. In the present-day scoring system, Nakajima would have been outscored 96 to 5. Nakajima finished ahead of Rosberg precisely once in the 14 races they both finished.

      And everybody else is presumably approximately on his level or lower. The low standard of competition in Super Formula is why I feel the FIA’s low rating for it is justified.

      1. @ilanin Very good points there. The level of competition can drastically affect how difficult it is to win a certain championship.

        To be honest though, I imagine that the FIA’s point system should partially sort itself out over the next couple of years anyway – if a series is given a high super licence point reward for winning, then, logically, you should get a larger volume of good drivers deciding to join that series.

        Although there is a potential problem – as a series gets more popular the seats might become more expensive… it could just end up being so expensive that the field is full of pay drivers and we’re back to square one again.

      2. @ilanin I disagree with you for the following reasons:

        1) You cannot make a direct comparison like that. Nakajima of 2014 is not Nakajima of 2009. As he is a young driver he continued to develop. Just recently he was named as Autosport’s p5 driver in WEC 2014 rankings ahead of many illustrious names

        2) The presumption on which you base your conclusion that everyone is at Nakajima’s level or worse is also wrong. There are two engine manufacturers in SF, and there is a discrepancy between cars performances far higher than in some purely spec-series championships which SF clearly isn’t. Have you checked the drivers list in SF before writing this? at P3 for example is A. Lotterer who hadn’t exactly disgraced himself on his Spa outing and the challenge of arriving on track, getting into an F1 car and going fast straight away should not be underestimated. Also drivers like Loic Duval, Liuzzi, Rossiter, Karthikeyan are there. On the subject of Liuzzi just to prove the point: he finished P16 in the standings, last of the point scorers. Do you assume then that he’s slower than Hiroaki Ishiura?

        3) You assume that drivers who compete in the much slower GP3 or F3 cars are better by default? In GP3 for example there are a select few very good drivers and the 20 others out of 27 are journeymen with money whom Kazuki, Andre, Loic, James and Tonio would run rings around at any time they like. And certainly a GP3 car is much easier to drive than SF which is the fastest racing car outside F1. So, any small deficit in competition is offset by much faster machinery is it not, as means of preparation to F1? Otherwise you could say, “wow in this karting WC the level of competition is very high, let’s rank it above that stupid GP2 full of no-hopers with money who stay there for 5 years on the trot”…

        4) You single out the SF. But what about Indycar? Also low level of competition? What about DTM? What about WSR being ranked lower than GP3? The FIA is clearly a joke, and judging by their record in this, then on balance of probabilities, they’d messed up with their ranking for SF as well

      3. @ilanin I agree, it’s always easy to forget that even if one driver completely shines and dominates the competition in a particular series it’s much more difficult to do the same in F1.

        I said the very same thing 1 year ago when Magnussen was promoted, its one thing to beat the FR 3.5 guys but it’s very different trying to do the same to a world champion like Button, let alone Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel, etc.

    2. The Japanese Super Formula looks pretty interesting. I’m gonna give it a shot someday :)

      1. I watched the race you mentioned. It’s good fun indeed, with a nice battle for the last podium spots. It reminded me a lot of the 2008 F1 season, especially with the ‘Shark Fin’ (like on the the Red Bull RB4), the refuelling and the durable tires. Also, there was a train of about 5 cars in the middle of the race, something that has become quite rare in modern F1 (with DRS there is no time to form a train, except maybe in Monaco or at the Hungarian GP).

        Is the racing better than in today’s F1? Meh, I don’t know … but people who believe the F1 from ten years ago was better should check it out (you even get Takuma Sato, Kazuki Nakajima, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Narain Karthikeyan to make the nostalgia complete). There are also some good ex-F1 drivers like Andre Lotterer and Kamui Kobayashi too. A season is only 8 or 9 races and they are doing Suzuka twice, because it’s Suzuka, duh!

        I’ll end with a quote of Lotterer:

        I have the purest and fastest race cars around the corners in the world, in Super Formula. They’re so precise, and you don’t want the race to end. The cars do exactly what you want. The combination of both things, sporting wise, are really good. … F1 is another dimension in terms of media. For people who don’t know that much about racing, many think it’s the only thing.

        But in terms of racing, F1 isn’t what it used to be anymore. I got to feel that when I did my race. There’s not much grip from the tires and not much downforce in the corners. You can’t go flat out. But it was still a good experience.

  7. ColdFly F1 (@)
    23rd January 2015, 12:54

    F3 on average 20% slower than F1.

    Good news for Max; he’ll now be home before bed time!

  8. Rui Pedro Moreira
    23rd January 2015, 12:56

    FE will run in Monaco indeed, but in a shorter version of the circuit.
    http://www.grandprixtimes.com/news/cache/images/fe-monaco-layout.png

    1. Wow, didn’t realise it was that short! I had to look up an image to work out where that road is at t1, it cuts across the normal pitlane exit and looks pretty narrow.

    2. I wonder if the cars will manage to go uphill towards Casino Square.

      1. Only if they take a wrong turn.

  9. THE most important thing is that the super licence imposes strict guide lines regarding who is allowed to race in Formula 1. Why so? Well the number one reason is safety. if a driver can complete a season in the higher echelons on the F1 feeder series then this should guarantee they are safe enough for F1. Of course the new regulations place more emphasis on drivers winning in the lower formulae where the cars are more equal. I think reading between the lines the FIA are hoping this means talented drivers rather than just competent ‘pay drivers’ find their way into F1

    1. If they purely wanted to do that they’d have treated other series fairly and used objective criteria like power, laptime and licence points.

      As it is they’ve brazenly biased it in favour of their own series. They were so focussed on this that their new rules would have excluded some of the greatest talents ever!

      This is what happens to pseudo-democratic institutions like FIA and FIFA with a small, buyable electorate – they become self-serving and corrupt. It’s all of a piece with spending other people’s money trying to gag their critics. I hoped things were improving post Max, but the institution itself is the problem.

      1. In all fairness, Gp2 is faster, has better engines and has actual Pirelli tyres.

    2. should guarantee they are safe enough for F1

      Hmm, Maldonado and 2012 Grosjean come to mind. Both GP2 Champions. The racing in that series, whilst exciting, has at some times been overly robust and of late the stewards fairly toothless. Don’t know if GP2 helps them iron out the hot headedness or encourage it.

  10. I’d have never thought WEC is so slow. Or the feeder series so fast.

  11. Didn’t Grosjean come from Auto GP?

    1. I guess he did it in 2010, after being ditched by Renault at the end of 2009. But I’m certain that in 2011 he competed in GP2, conquering the title and re-entering F1 with the Enstone team. @mantresx

  12. I’m suspicious that the FIA is deliberately boosting its own series by how F1 license points are distributed. By limiting the points earned in non-FIA series they are forcing drivers who aim for F1 to race in their series. A bit of anit-competitive activity that the EU should take a look at perhaps?

    1. In that case you should report it to the European Commission!

      “You can report your concerns by e-mail to comp-market-information@ec.europa.eu. Please indicate your name and address, identify the firms and products concerned and describe the practice you have observed. This will help the Commission to detect problems in the market and be the starting point for an investigation.”

  13. Complaints regarding F1 speeds amuse me. You can see from the above that they’d destroy everything else out there by a country mile. We also have the FIA deliberately reducing laptimes with downforce reductions which achieved their goal.

    On the flip side we have critics calling for less downforce as it’s “spoiled everything” yet where do they think the lap time comes from? If it was all power based then we’d still have 1980s fastest lap times.

    With the forecasted jump in power and the teams usual aero gains hopefully this will stop being a talking point.

  14. In the case of WEC, I would maybe specify LMP1 and then optionally also look at LMP2 and GT.

  15. Very interesting article. Considering how much some WEC drivers were crowing at the start of 2014 how close their cars were performance-wise to F1 cars, I’m surprised to see them ~10% slower.

    1. Well, it is worth bearing in mind that an LMP1 car is substantially heavier than an F1 car – the minimum weight of an LMP1 car is 870kg for the manufacturer entries with hybrid power. Furthermore, the minimum weight regulations explicitly state that the weight of the driver is not included in that (whereas, in F1, the minimum weight does include the driver), so in reality an LMP1 car plus driver would probably be getting on for about 940kg (give or take).

      That, by the way, assumes that the cars are actually on the weight limit – Audi have admitted that they are on the borderline with the weight limit (they are stuck in the 2MJ class because they cannot reduce the weight of the car at the moment by enough to offset the weight of extra batteries), whilst Auto Motor und Sport have claimed that the 2014 spec Porsche 919 was actually over the weight limit.

      Equally, in terms of power, the ACO’s restrictions on when the hybrid power systems can be used (if you are using a hybrid power system to drive the front wheels, the system is disabled at low speed) means that, for at least part of the lap, the current LMP1 cars would suffer from a power deficit – the engines of the LMP1 cars only produce about 550bhp.

      Even once the hybrid power units kick in, only Toyota has a powerful hybrid drive unit to provide them with a raw power advantage over an F1 car – the peak power of the other two cars is probably only around equal at best.

  16. Was last year, with new regs, conservative tyres and a lot of the races won with no real opposition so the winners especially when it was a Merc and only one of their drivers at the front, they were generally cruising.

    I’m not that convinced it was a fair year to make comparisons. Hopefully this year with more experience of the cars, better tyres and hopefully at least one team that can keep Mercedes honest. Then a comparison can be made.

    1. Excellent point, hope you are right about better tyres, since their introduction the Pirelli self-destructing tyres have been a handbrake on racing.

  17. UNeedAFinn2Win
    23rd January 2015, 20:25

    It would be interesting to see someone like 5th gear or some other car show do a comparison of all single seater series cars racing this year. Get them all into say Silverstone and run a few laps each. I’d watch that

  18. GP2 and WSR deserve more points.

  19. Off topic but as it hasn’t been picked up on here yet… FOM are currently banning Twitter accounts with ‘F1’ or variations in their usernames. Absolutely crazy but there you go. Not sure how @f1fanatic will fair.

  20. wec has jumped up the queue i think going by the fastest lap time at silverstone, which was within 104% of the fastest lap at silverstone in the f1 race last year. indyar this year has sped up, and would probably be within 107% if it raced at montreal again.

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