Mercedes’ one-lap advantage still as big as last year

2015 F1 season

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The competitive order of the F1 field has been shaken up over the winter but one constant remains: Mercedes has by far the fastest car over a single flying lap.

What’s more the scale of their superiority is virtually unchanged. Over the first four races of the year Mercedes were 0.85% quicker than closest rivals Ferrari, compared to the 0.83% margin they had over Williams this year. Mercedes continue to enjoy a substantially greater one-lap performance advantage than the ‘dominant’ Red Bulls of 2010 to 2013 did.

Those looking for a close fight in F1 can at least feel relieved that Mercedes have not repeated the performance advantage they exhibited in the first race of the year in Australia, where their cars were a stunning 1.61% faster than anything else in qualifying.

And much more encouragingly, Mercedes cannot sustain that kind of lap time advantage over a stint. Ferrari’s performance on the softer compounds is a genuine threat to them, as Sebastian Vettel’s win in Malaysia and Kimi Raikkonen’s run to second in Bahrain showed. And with three of the next four races being contested with Pirelli’s softest choice of tyres, the pattern of Mercedes qualifying well but feeling the heat in the races looks set to remain.

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The table below shows how far each team was off the fastest lap time set during each race weekend so far this year:

Red Bull2.321.081.841.36
Force India3.341.573.262.03
Toro Rosso2.530.552.722.04

Ferrari appears to have halted and begun to reverse a four-year slump in performance which saw them drift further away from the sharp end of the grid.

Last year they were 1.14% off the pace on average. They’ve cut that to 0.85% over the winter, and while that may not seem like much, they have been aided by a poor winter for Red Bull and Williams. More is promised from an engine upgrade potentially arriving as soon as the Canadian Grand Prix.

Red Bull’s troubles with Renault have been well-documented. The RB11 was alarmingly off the pace at the first race weekend, and though modest gains have been made they remain far further behind than they were last year. However the team does have some hope in that Renault has more engine development tokens available than and of the other manufacturers.

Williams, however, can only feel disappointed in their start to the season. Their conviction that an engine customer team can take the fight to the manufacturers has been dealt a blow as the FW37 is further off the pace than its predecessor.

Average gap to
fastest lap (%)
Red Bull1.65
Toro Rosso1.96
Force India2.55

Not that having an engine manufacturer behind you is an instant ticket to success, as McLaren’s struggle continue to demonstrate. There are clear signs of progress here, however, much as was the case with Lotus in the early stages of last year. But while Lotus lost momentum at mid-season, hit hard by the ban on front-rear inter-connected suspension, McLaren can’t afford to stand still.

Bringing up the rear of the field some way behind is Manor, the only team still using a 2014 engine package. They intend to switch to a 2015-specification Ferrari as soon as possible, which should substantially cut their deficit to the other teams, all bar one of which are at least 4% quicker over a single lap on average.

Over to you

Will Mercedes use their performance advantage to take a clean sweep of pole positions this year? Will Ferrari continue to take the fight to them in the races?

And how much progress can McLaren make in their first year with Honda? Have your say in the comments.

2015 F1 season

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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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45 comments on “Mercedes’ one-lap advantage still as big as last year”

  1. I love how Helmut was getting paranoid that Mercedes have been helping Ferrari. That is gold. Now we just need Toto to feed Susie a few helpful hints on downforce :))

    1. @lockup Ferrari did hire some germans. RedBull used Merc to get the tyres they want back in 2013 and it’s normal that Merc is going to use whoever they can to get back at RBR, not to mention that this is an austrian battle.

      1. Yeah I think this was more than the usual staff poaching @peartree, Helmut was saying ‘I can’t prove it but…’. It seemed to be about recommending or giving Ferrari access to a specialist kers subcontractor. Agree I’m sure there’s an Austrian axis, maybe Niki’s old ties to the Scuderia.

        1. Dave (@davewillisporter)
          3rd May 2015, 9:54

          C’mon, seriously? Mercedes would help Williams before Ferrari. Can you really see a multi million dollar enterprise actively trying to help its competitors outperform its own products??? Too much downtime and not enough races for you guys methinks!

    2. i thought Helmut would have been worried more about Vettel telling Ferrari the in’s and out’s of RB???

      1. I guess in a sense they lucked out that there is not much to tell :O

  2. The last race showed quite well how tyres play a great part in uniformizing the performances. In a sense I think Pirelli is doing a great job (I always thought that), especially now, avoiding Mercedes to pull away 3 seconds faster than anyone else.

    The problem with that is that they have too much power with the compound selection. I’d be happy if all compounds were available at any time, but that would certainly increase the costs. Anyway, I think the designed to degrade concept is not that bad when it comes to promote racing instead of engineering.

    1. @spoutnik If Mercedes can go 3 sec faster on better tires, why don’t you extend the same courtesy to other teams as well? Don’t you think the other teams are also hampered by the restrictions placed on the tires and do what they can to extend the life of them?

      1. I think the answer to that is very simple. Merc has the quickest overall package in terms of downforce and power, therefore the limiting factor is the tyres. If the tyres were rock solid and they lasted all day then Merc could go to “Strat mode X” and really push all the way without having to worry about “overheating the rear tyres” or “blistering the front left” or having to manage the longevity of the stint because they wouldn’t lose any time in the pits. So I think @spoutnik is spot on on that one.

        1. Your argument about tires would hold true, if Mercedes are supplied with a different compound of tires compared to the grid to minimize their advantage. But that is not the case here, it is a mere limitation of the design of their car that is causing them the problems. Not exactly something Pirelli should be worried or blamed for. The tires are the same, up to the teams to make best use of it.

      2. @evered7 the rules are the same for everyone, and having more engine power than the tires can bear may give Mercedes a clear advantage, but does not solve every situation. In some way they have a too powerfull engine but it is a winning factor. With the engine freeze, I’m happy to see the competition can still evolve on many other factors, like tires.

    2. fully agree spoutnik,
      all we need now is Ferrari to split strategy so Merc can’t cover both cars and we will have more surprises,
      looking ahead as Merc will slowly come to a point where increasing anything will only be 10ths of a second and everyone else will still have 100ths of sec left to catch up we can expect to see some brilliant racing near seasons end if not before,
      but that will only happen if they leave the rules intact which in turn will let the others catch up.

      1. Ferrari is already splitting strategies. Mercedes can do the same of course – the fact that they still insist on keeping their own drivers on identical strategies suggests that they’re not overly worried yet about the challenge from Ferrari.

        1. Well, they had a critical system failure on both cars occur as a result of running the cars hard enough to stay ahead. Mercedes is being forced now to dip into the reliability margin to gain performance. Meanwhile, Ferrari’s only issue was their 4X WDC not being able to stay on the track, which I’m going to call a fluke for now. I’d say MB should be worried sick. Keith is right—upcoming hot tracks will mean hot tires and a hot ERS/rear braking system for Mercedes. It’s going to get interesting.

          1. What upcoming hot tracks? Nearly everything, apart from Spain, left on the calendar have had just as many cold & wet races as they have baking hot ones.

            Hungary (& possibly COTA) could well be the only tracks likely to be hot enough for MB to have to worry about…

          2. @optimaximal Their issue in Bahrain was not directly a result of the hot conditions but rather running behind back markers. Not saying they would suffer every time the track is hot, but they have had to alter setup, compromise on brake cooling and be on the brink of reliability to be ahead of the Ferraris.

            Something they didn’t need to worry about last season. Hamilton could screw up qualifying and still be running 2nd in 20 something laps. This season, it will not be that easy.

    3. Anyway, I think the designed to degrade concept is not that bad when it comes to promote racing

      Its great if you like watching drivers cruising around all race managing tyres but if you actually want to see drivers RACING then these tyres are crap & have been since day 1.

      I’d also argue that watching passing purely because 1 driver is running around 2-3 seconds faster on old tyres & has no way to defend is just as bad as watching a DRS highway pass.

      Its all ridiculously contrived & artificial & thats why F1 is falling in popularity & why it has no chance of regaining any popularity for as long as DRS & these crap tyres are in place.

      I certainly have no intention of going back to Montreal for as long as these gimmicks are in place, Not that I have anyone to go with now anyway since DRS+Pirelli have turned all my friends/family who I used to go with off the sport.

      BRING BACK PROPER TYRES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    4. Wonderful. just what F1 needs, a way to stop the best car/driver winning. What’s next a trophy for the most improved team every race, a spirit of competition trophy, everybody is a winner?

      1. @hohum I fail to understand how tires can stop the best car winning? There is absolutely no surprises since the fallback to the kevlar belts in 2013, and a new supersoft compound if I recall. Everyone knew it, it’s not like Mercedes was impeded with tires designed to make them loose.

        1. Your post at the top makes exactly that point, ie Mercedes are too good, Pirelli allow Ferrari to win.

          1. ? I’ve never said that mate, there is some misunderstanding.

  3. Simon (@weeniebeenie)
    1st May 2015, 13:10

    When was the last time just one team was SO far off the rest? I don’t remember Minardi ever being so far adrift from the next worst.

    1. it happens all the time Simon, some longer periods than others,
      it is part and parcel of F1, no one person see’s the rules as each other and will end up with a better car than others, well that is till others catch on to what they have done to gain that advantage,
      Charlie Whiting knows what they have done, he will have authorized its ok,
      it then becomes a battle of wits working out how they have increased there advantage, it is game that is played out behind closed doors, but we don’t seam to be getting much info on this any more.
      lately its all about moaning why F1 is rubbish when its not. it is Fantastic.

    2. I suppose I’m showing my age but I remember the midfield, much less Minardi, being several seconds off the pole time much of the time. And I think it’s worth remembering that the current dominance we are talking about is on the order of 1 percent of lap time—between two cars with independently designed and constructed chassis, suspension, drivetrain, aero concept. If you want two groups of people, let alone 11-13 teams, to set out to design cars separately to a formula and come to race within a few tenths in outright pace and cover a 300km race within a few seconds that is threading quite a needle. It’s not the normal course. It can’t be.

    3. There were more slow teams around at the same time as Minardi. It looks worse this year compared to last year for several reasons:
      1. Manor were in administration and shut down for most of the winter, and also sold a lot of their gear, they’re basically running a skeleton operation while they rebuild. In other words their current performance isn’t representative as they haven’t been able to develop the car. They’ve barely had time to work on car setup they’ve had so little running.
      2. Sauber and Lotus have stepped up their performance so they’re in the midfield rather then sticking out of the rear of it (Marussia got close to them at times last year)
      3. Caterham are no longer there, so there isn’t another ‘minnow’ for them to compete against

      Haas are joining next year, if Manor can survive that long it will be interesting to see who comes out on top between them.

    4. Were you watching F1 when the 107% rule was first introduced? Back then the worst team(s) were off by much more than Manor is now.

  4. The progress being made by Honda is scaring me. Also it is interesting to see that despite Sauber and Lotus being almost equally matched in terms of fastest laps over these four races, still Sauber have many more points in their bag than Lotus. (Thanks to Pastor?).

    RIP Ayrton.

  5. I think rain or monaco may award pole to someone else. Sure the small advantages in F1 compound to long stretches of dominance, but RBR has really messed it up, 1st with not having the aero package readied sooner and secondly Renault hasn’t learn any lessons of the 2014 debacle. Ferrari have always said that their 2015 design was limited in potential because it was started off by the previous leadership that said Ferrari is doing okay. I feel that the Spanish GP is going to bring the definitive image of 2015 but more importantly, Spain is going to put RBR back on the front row. My pick for non Merc pole is Danny Ric at Monaco.

    1. I can’t help but think that won’t happen. Renault and Red Bull can play up their development speed and spout out dates for bringing upgrades, but it will get increasingly harder to bring upgrades to bring them out of a slump while everyone else brings upgrades just to make them faster.

  6. Will Mercedes use their performance advantage to take a clean sweep of pole positions this year?

    Probably not. I can see them getting at least 15 poles though.

    Will Ferrari continue to take the fight to them in the races?

    The extent to which Ferrari has done so in the previous races is being overblown. Mercedes have three wins out of a possible four and eight podiums finishes out of a possible eight. For the sake of competition we can hope that Ferrari (and the rest) are able to further close the gap as the season progresses. Right now Merc are still very dominant in the race as well as qualifying.

  7. This season is beginning to mirror 2013 IMO. Red Bull were a class apart in qualy, occassionally challenged by the W04 but in the races Ferrari were much closer in race pace mode because of the fragile tyres. Of course it seems the team with the most downforce and outright pace misses out the most because it chews the tyres quicker. However it does mean that atleast we get interesting racing, not necessarily flat out but interesting racing no-the-less because of strategy. Malaysia and Bahrain are classic examples of this.

    1. This season is beginning to mirror 2013 IMO. Red Bull were a class apart in qualy, occassionally challenged by the W04

      Mercedes were far superior in qualification in the first half of 2013. The only time RB took pole was in the wet. Through the first 11 GP’s Mercedes had eight poles, RB three.

      1. Interesting that Mercedes have maintained a trend of being extremely fast in qualifying, but unable to maintain that advantage in the races. It’s also interesting that the Mercedes doesn’t seem as good in the wet as some other cars – like you said, RB were able to take pole off them of them in the wet in the first half of 2013. In 2014 a RB managed to split the Mercs and get very close to pole position in Australia and Malaysia (both wet qualifying) and both RB cars got ahead of Rosberg in wet China qualifying (iirc Rosberg had telemetry problems though). This year in wet qualifying Mercedes again seem to get relatively worse in the wet (Malaysia, where Vettel split the Mercs and got very close to pole, just like the year before).

        1. Some say that in the wet the driver can make the difference. It’s obvious that Vettel has always been handy in the wet whereas Nico seems to struggle. I bring Nico up because while the Merc advantage in the wet (in qualy) seems reduced they still have an advantage none-the-less at least in Hamilton’s hands. However since you bring up wet races, I put forward to you Japan ’14. In race trim both Mercs were pulling away from the RB’s by several tenths a lap which suggests to me that while in qualy the reverse is true but in wet races Merc is still the dominant package.

          1. It always surprises me that, despite winning 40 races, Vettel has only won 3 wet-weather races (counting races where the intermediate or wet tyres were used at least once), and one of them (Malaysia 2013) was mostly a dry race anyway. Vettel seems to be fantastic in qualifying in the wet, but for whatever reason things never seem to hook up for him on race day in the wet.

            These statistics are a bit dated now (only relevant as of Monaco 2014), but I found them very interesting nonetheless. In terms of win percentage in the wet vs. win percentage in the dry, Vettel is statistically half as likely to win a wet race than a dry race. Here are the statistics of a couple of current drivers who have been acclaimed for great performances in the wet (with a value of 1 meaning a driver is equally likely to win a race in the wet and the dry):

            Wet vs. Dry winning probability ratio
            Vettel: 0.5
            Alonso: 0.75
            Hamilton: 1.19
            Button: 4.75

            Both Vettel and Alonso are both less likely to win a race in the wet than the dry. Hamilton is around 20% more likely to win a wet race than a dry race (Japan ’07, Silverstone ’08 and Japan ’14 being examples of some of his great wet weather races). Button, meanwhile, is an astonishing 4.75 times more likely to win a wet race than a dry race. Of Button’s 15 wins, 8 are from dry races and 7 are from wet races (his most famous wet-weather win probably being Canada ’11).
            Due to having spent his career in cars of mixed competitiveness, Button’s win rate in the dry is only around 4.5% (8 wins from 179 dry starts). However, in the wet he has a remarkable win rate of 21.2% (7 wins from 33 wet starts), which is incredible considering how many uncompetitive cars he has driven. In fact, this gives him the highest discrepancy in dry win-% to wet win-% of any driver in history to win at least one wet and one dry race (ahead of Senna in 2nd, with a probability of 2.47. Hamilton is #15 with his probability of 1.19).

            These statistics can’t tell us everything of course, as all they measure is a driver’s relative performance in the wet vs. the dry (for example, as the article states, Schumacher – who was another fantastic wet-weather driver – had a value of 1.10. This doesn’t necessarily mean he was worse in the wet than someone with a value of 1.15, but rather suggests that he simply excelled in both the dry and the wet). However, what these statistics can do is help us to understand who is most likely to benefit from a wet race. Button fans should rejoice when there are predictions of rainfall on race day!

          2. Polo

            Vettel has only won 3 wet-weather races (counting races where the intermediate or wet tyres were used at least once)

            I count four – Monza 2008, China 2009, Korea 2011, and Malaysia 2013. He’s also suffered car failures while leading wet weather races on a number of occasions – Korea 2010 comes to mind. This sort of statistical analysis, based on small sample sizes, is very much subject to statistical “noise”.

          3. I didn’t count Korea 2011, as I was counting races “where the intermediate or wet tyres were used at least once”. There was just a slightly damp track at the start of the race, but as far as I’m aware all the runners started on dry weather tyres and no wet weather tyres were used, and it dried up shortly early in the race. You’re right about the statistical noise though, for example Massa has a very high ratio of 1.91 based on only 3 wet-weather wins in 30 races (compared to 8 dry wins in 153 dry starts). This could be affected by something as simple as there being more wet weather races than average in the time period 2006-2008, where all of Massa’s wins occurred.

            The only conclusion I think we can firmly say is true is that Button is better in the wet than the dry, his smooth driving style really works wonders in wet conditions – e.g. without the problem requiring a steering wheel change in the pit stop, he could have finished 3rd in the Japanese GP last year. In my opinion he’s the best all-round wet weather driver on the grid at the moment.

      2. @RM. Red Bull had 11 poles vs Merc’s 8 in ’13. They were still the faster package over the course of the season in qualy (and indeed race trim).

      3. Could be wrong, but didn’t Mercedes have the F-Duct (double DRS) during that year?

        1. Mark G (@)
          2nd May 2015, 8:44

          They had it in 2012 but scrapped it before the end of the season iirc, due to not getting it to work for them under braking. In 2013 Merc were simply faster than red bull over 1 lap until Spa. Red Bull hit another level at that point.

          1. I remember reading an article where Ross Brawn said (around Spa 2013 time I believe) that Mercedes were stopping most development on the 2013 car and shifting effort towards 2014, while Red Bull continued to develop their car as they were fighting for the title (same with Renault who continued to improve reliability/engine mapping, I seem to recall them blaming some of their 2014 performance on the fact that they were fighting for the title until late in the season the year before).

            I couldn’t find the article I was thinking of, but I found this one, where Hamilton said Mercedes won’t win any more races in 2013 as they had “stopped developing the car”.

  8. Thanks to the shadow in that pic, I am now realizing how good the Mercedes would look in a jet black livery.

  9. David Goure
    3rd May 2015, 4:45

    If you look at the graph, it shows Manor going ever so slightly backwards. If they somehow make it to next year, I’m actually afraid Haas is going to stomp them.

  10. I did some research on pole laps in the last 20 years myself to understand where we stood last year.

    First, I’d like to point out that direct comparison between 2014 and some other years are not straightforward, as there have been changes in qualifying regulations. In particular from 2003 to 2009 qualifying was done with the fuel that was going to be used in the race’s first stint.

    The most impressive observations from the evolution of pole times is not in fact how fast cars were in the 2000s, but how ridiculously huge the gaps were from one year to the next in the first half of the 2000s. Comparing 2014 pole time to 2004 – the year most track record were established – is short-sighted: true, 2014 cars were on average 5 seconds slower than 2004 cars, but at the same time they were more or less on par with 2000 cars. Formula 1 gained roughly 6-7 seconds on pole times from 1999 to 2004, despite the changes in qualifying regulations.

  11. Ferrari has serious pace in qualifying too.they can take on the mercs but their problem is not lack of power it is Lewis Hamilton.Ferrari split the merc cars in two occasions but couldn’t find the answer for Hamilton’s Mercedes.

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