Why Alonso was right about Ferrari’s modest gains in 2015

2015 F1 season review: Car performance

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In 2015 Mercedes retained almost all of the performance advantage they enjoyed the year before but allied it to improved reliability.

The result was a repeat of their championship success and an increased haul of one-two finishes, podiums and points – the latter despite fewer points being on offered compared to last year.

The significant development this year was that their closest competitor on outright pace was no longer their customer team Williams but manufacturer rivals Ferrari – the only other team to win a race. Renault’s struggles left Red Bull unable to repeat their victories of 2014.

Teams performance in 2015

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Perez revelled in Force India’s upgraded VJM08
Mercedes showed up at the first race of the season with a larger performance advantage than they had at any race in 2014. It was a worrying sign of things to come for their rivals, and although it wasn’t repeated Mercedes arrived at almost every weekend knowing they would have by far the quickest car.

As in 2014, Mercedes set the fastest lap of the weekend at every circuit with a single exception. But while last year driver error was to blame for their one blip in Austria, this time they came unstuck in Singapore and seemed to do so largely because they failed to optimise their car for the track’s peculiar demands. It wasn’t one of their strongest venues last year, either.

Force India made clear progress during the season having swapped their original VJM08 from the B-spec version, going from Q1 drop-outs to podium contenders in the process. Sauber slipped backwards, however, and come the end of the season were little closer to the pace than they had been last year.

NB. In the USA all session were wet apart from the race, in which both Williams drivers retired early on, which explains the spike in the chart

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Teams performance trends in the new turbo era

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Did Ferrari improve or did Red Bull drop the ball?
Unlike last year one team emerged as Mercedes’ closest rival for almost every race of the season: Ferrari. But was this a breakthrough by the Italian team or the consequence of others failing to make gains?

Fernando Alonso had a clear view on that question. Having jumped ship from Ferrari to McLaren over the winter, he was adamant his former team were not in a position to suddenly shrink the gap to Mercedes, and claimed their position in 2015 was flattered by other teams under-performing.

Alonso certainly seems to have a point as far as Red Bull was concerned. The team pilloried its engine supplier Renault as it watched the gap between it and Mercedes grow from 0.96% last year to 1.52% this season – equivalent to 1.37 seconds over a typical 90-second lap. Williams too failed to carry its late-2014 form into the new season. Having been the closest team to Mercedes in the final races of last year, they seldom reached the same heights in 2015.

Ferrari trimmed their average deficit to the pace from 1.14% in 2014 to 0.77% this year – comparable to where they were in 2012 and 2013, when Alonso’s patience was wearing thin. However if they make the same kind of progress again this winter it will bode well for a more competitive 2016.

Sebastian Vettel will be counting on that, but for now he can reflect on what appears to have been a very well-timed career move. This year Ferrari were quicker than Red Bull for the first time since 2008 – Red Bull were ahead in each intervening season, which coincided exactly with Vettel’s spell at the team.

But here’s a sobering though for Lewis Hamilton’s rivals: even if Mercedes’ advantage comes down by the same amount next year as it did this year, his car will still be more competitive than any of Vettel’s Red Bull were.

Teams reliability

Five times last year Mercedes’ drivers posted non-classifications because of car trouble. This year it only happened twice (Nico Rosberg was classified in Italy after his power unit failed), meaning the championship-winning machine was at least as reliable as anything else on the grid. It was the most significant area the team needed to make progress in after last season.

Notes on the data

The above performance data is produced by analysing the fastest lap time set by a car at each race weekend in any session.

2015 F1 season review

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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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55 comments on “Why Alonso was right about Ferrari’s modest gains in 2015”

  1. i always look forward to this article. i think alonso is kind of right about the relative performance remaining similar but that crucially misses the point that ferrari did make progress relative to teams other than mercedes. hence vettel was perfectly placed at sepang and the hungaroring to pick up an opportunistic victory.

    the absolute pace of the car is clearly important, but far more important is where that places it relative to other teams.

    1. But the point Alonso is making still stands, unless Ferrari really can get up to the pace of Mercedes (or ahead) next season. The first year with Ferrari its great to win 3 races, especially when the year ahead of that was win less. But to come close behind for another 2-3 years after that gets annoying.

      It does seem that Ferrari know where they are missing somethign though. They made a huge step up with their engine and corrected most of the flaws in the chassis compared to 2014. But now the really tough work has to be done – to get a really fast car out on track. And then they will need to learn to improve it during the year somethign they still did not do a great job of this year (Red Bull in contrast did far better there, once they got the short nose section working the chassis was right up there and they kept it there).

    2. i think alonso is kind of right about the relative performance remaining similar but that crucially misses the point that ferrari did make progress relative to teams other than mercedes.

      Ferrari made progress relative to Mercedes as well. Per the article, they had a deficit of 1.14% last year that they reduced to 0.77% this year. Ferrari could keep Mercedes honest from time to time on race pace alone this year, something they never came close to in 2014.

      1. And if they improve by the same margin again they will still be 0.4% slower than Mercedes and Alonso’s point will still be valid next year.

        1. And that’s a big ask, we all know that every % is more difficult to find than the previous one …

          1. That is one way to look at it @jeanrien. The other is to say that the mercedes are closer to a peak of performance under the current rules, while ferrari has more room for improvement. And if that is the case we could have an entertaining 2016

        2. ColdFly F1 (@)
          8th December 2015, 17:26

          But ‘0.4% slower’ starts to get interesting. @geemac
          Look at 2012. McLaren was 0.2% faster than the next fastest car, but Vettel walked away with the trophy.
          He might do so again especially if/when the infighting at MB continues!

          1. Can’t deny that @coldfly, but if they are still 0.4% slower they won’t be able to get poles under normal conditions and with overtaking as difficult as it is these days they still may not be able to challenge for wins regularly.

        3. 0,4% slower car does sound like a possible WDC for Vettel, considering how well it went with 0,77%. Probably no chance at the WCC, though.

  2. Great article Keith. I think that this season has panned out mostly to my expectations. Other than Honda and Renault being much slower than anticipated, I expected that Ferrari would close the gap and that Williams would fall away. Ferrari really should have been at this level of performance from the start of 2014 and it shows the disarray of the team at that time that they fell as far back as they did. Ferrari were the only team, other than Mercedes, to build the engine as well as the chassis. They had been in the sport through all of the kers era and had been competing at the front at the start of 2013. They also were the first to give up in 2013 when they knew the tyres were against them and had plenty of time to create a solid 2014 challenger. I am however happy that they improved as another season with that level of relative pace would be disastrous for the sport as a whole.

    Williams I am not surprised have fallen back given they do have the resources to really challenge at the front and have done very well to produce a car as good as they have. But, looking to the future I see them falling behind McLaren and Red Bull again into a battle with Toro Rosso, Renault and Force India and there is no shame in that.

    Next season I expect to be more of the same, I think Ferrari will get closer to Mercedes as the law of diminishing returns steps in. I think Williams will be in a fight with Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Force India and McLaren with slightly Haas, Renault, Sauber and Manor further back. This bodes well for a very interesting season in the midfield, if not right at the front and hopefully 2017 will result in a sensible regulation change were one team do not steal a march on everyone and manage that advantage over the course of the era.

  3. Yet for the records Vettel had a good season with another series of podiums and a couple of wins. When you can’t win it’s still much more fun to come second than limp at the back with your fingers crossed hoping your car keeps working till the end of the race with let’s be honest no forseeable improvement to your engine.

    1. Alonso simply stated what is fact.. he did say that Ferrari did improve but not enough to challenge Mercedes. On his decision to move, maybe he is just fed up of Ferrari, 5 years there but could not out perform Redbull. Maybe he decided thinking at Ferrari same-same year after year, on Mclaren-Honda there is maybe better or maybe worst, it just so happens its the latter… but there is always next year.

    2. @wxtl

      When you can’t win it’s still much more fun to come second than limp at the back

      Not for him anymore, he made clear that he was no more interested in being second.

      1. That’s true, however you must say at this point Ferrari look most likely to topple Mercedes and not McLaren. So his move still appears unfortunately timed.

        Nice to see a shake-up of the grid though, especially the newly reinvigorated and cohesive Ferrari. It was getting very stale and uneasy.

        And I do wish Alonso all the best: even though I am not his fan it is still deeply sad to see his talents wasted, so I do hope McLaren drastically improve next season.

      2. @spoutnik Just look at how bored Vettel is for coming second. And if you’re not even second, how can you ever take advantage when number one stumbles upon a problem. Alonso did very good in the media this season with all his ‘we’ll get better, keep pushing and believing’. I don’t buy it though. He made another terrible career move and now he is stuck.

  4. Great article, thanks!

    It shows pretty clear why these Mercedes years are tougher to watch then the Red Bull years. What a dominant car they have! I truly hope that Ferrari can close the gap, but I’m not very confident they will (Mercedes will answer during the winter).

  5. How this conclusion has been reached from the data given is beyond belief, how exactly is Fernando right?

    This current team was put together in a rush, thus need time to gel, Jock Clear joins next season.
    Another fact this author has missed is for the first time since 2008, Ferrari improved the performance of the car in the second half of the season, this never happened under the previous leadership!

    1. What’s all the hate man?

      In the author’s defence, Keith only discussed what Alonso said this year which is comparison of Ferrari’s performance this year compared to last year. There is no need to mention the Ferrari from 2008 up to now.

    2. How this conclusion has been reached from the data given is beyond belief, how exactly is Fernando right?

      What part of the article don’t you understand?

    3. Fernando is a 30 million pound a year plonker. He has even said his critiscism has helped Honda but they were as bad at the end as they were at the start. Anyway lets see what he does next year in the mighty McLaren. He now carrys all the hallmarks of once great sportmen who are on the way out and come up with all manner of crazy comments. They will get better but it would be very funny if Manor can put McLaren to the very back next year.

  6. Alonso is right and he’s wrong on this.

    If you take the performance increase from a car last year to this year and use Mercedes as the benchmark then yes Red Bull and Williams failed to match that benchmark and their deficit grew from 2014.

    This puts Ferrari in the position of inheriting best of the rest. But that isn’t simply by virtue of their performance deficit not growing, when you analyse their performance gain from 2014 to 2015, they actually beat the benchmark of Mercedes. They did in fact close the gap as that gap was not only smaller than their own from 2014, but also smaller than Red Bulls from 2014.

    And this was in a transitional year with a new driver and new management. Next year I can only see them building upon that success which can then be recognised as a trend…

    Just in time for 2017 rule upheaval.

    1. “Next year I can only see them building upon that success which can then be recognised as a trend…”

      If what you said about trend is accurate then where is Redbull now? they won 3 races last year but is nowhere this year, it could happen to Ferrari.

      1. RB were let down by their engine, if their claims are true. Can’t see Ferrari making a reversal on the engine front. Even in 2014, their problems were not with the ICE but with the MGU-H unit.

      2. 2013 they won both championships, 2014 they only won 3 races, this year they managed the odd podium. If next year they are even less competitive then that would be a downward trend. And I say ‘if’ they are.

        I only actually made the comment about the trend to highlight the problem with the upcoming rule changes for 2017 anyway pointing out that just as we see a trend of Ferrari getting back to form all bets are off for a change in the formula.

  7. Alonso was right to move. I mean, if he couldn’t win against the RB’s with questionable reliability when the gap was smaller what chance he had against the Mighty Mercs?

    It’s not you, it’s me; says Alonso.

    Hopefully Ferrari halves the deficit next season. Things would be very interesting with Mercedes following one strategist policy :)

  8. Finally an article that would describe how lucky Lewis is for 2 years, not to bash him or anything but fact is fact. His car was way more dominant than Vettel.

    So Vettel really drove well in 2013 winning almost half of the remaining race that year up to the last race, on a car that is about .1 to .2 sec a lap faster than Hamiltons car which is a full second a lap faster.

    1. Ah so Hamilton was lucky but vettel was just great. That redbull had a huge advantage with 1 weakness reliability

  9. So, this is how dominant a car Hamilton needs to win championships. He had the faster car by 0.2 in 2012 and finished 4th in the standings…

    1. The MP4-27 was quick but if memory serves it wasn’t all that reliable and McLaren were operationally poor.

    2. @philippe Remember how many times McLaren retired a car after doing record-time pitstops?

    3. OmarRoncal - Go Seb!!! (@)
      8th December 2015, 18:55

      Now his Mercedes is the fastest and reliable enough.

    4. @philippe

      I’m assuming you didn’t watch 2012 then? And probably not 2008 either?

      Stats are a funny thing. For instance Hamilton is the only driver on the grid to have won the drivers championship in a car that didn’t win the constructors. But this is a disservice to Raikkonen as in 2007 McLaren scored more points than Ferrari and were disqualified from the championship on a technicality. Stats never answer the full story out of context. Unless of course your only need of them is to shoot down someone you happen to dislike and they fit in nicely with your viewpoint regardless of context.

      1. As far as I remember, Lewis had technical and pit stop issues at as well as little bad luck:
        -Spain. (DSQ because of underfuelled car in Q3 started last)
        -Valencia(Unbelievably slow stop from the Woking team pit crew)
        -Germany(Puncture at 1st lap forced him to pit)
        -Belgium(Romain’s famous 1st lap multi car crash)
        -Singapore(Oil leak? Retired from lead)
        -Abu Dhabi(Retired from the lead because of fuel pressure)
        -Brazil(Collision with Hulkenberg)

        Put all of these together, and we should have got a major showdown between Vettel and Hamilton in Brazil. (Alonso should have never ever had the chance to challenge in 2012)

        1. I agree that without his DNFs, Hamilton would have been Vettel’s rival for the title in 2012.
          But, if you count potential points for Hamilton DNFs, you also have to do it for Vettel’s.
          And yeah, if McLaren and Red Bull would have been more reliable, Alonso would never had the chance to challenge in 2012. But then again, that’s how he won his first title in 2005. Kimi was always faster, but his McLaren was so unreliable.

        2. Was it just me, or did Romans first lap icident at Spa take out (almost taking his head off) Alonso as well? Guess we just don’t recall things the same way, woulda, coulda, Vettel won championship, and the rest is history.

      2. Oh please, of course I watched 2012 and 2008. I would say that those stats reflect what I saw during those seasons.
        Sure, he had a few reliability issues in 2012, but he also had a few collisions. Lewis is a very fast driver, but he is also very inconsistant. Sometimes, he looks like the fastest guy out there and at some other race he would look average.
        That’s pretty much what Button said about him, two weeks ago, regarding their time at McLaren:
        “On some race days, Lewis was untouchable, on other race days it was like ‘where is he?'”

        In 2008, again, very inconsistant, lots of crashes. But most of all, his rival for the title was Massa. Massa.
        That year, Alonso, Vettel and Button were all in mid-field cars.
        It’s interresting to realise that the only two guys that Hamilton had to beat for his championships where Massa and Roseberg. Just saying.

        True about Hamilton being the only driver on the grid to have won the drivers championship in a car that didn’t win the constructors. But I think it says more about how terrible Kovalainen was… ;-)

        Oh and, I’ not shooting him down. I’m just having fun with facts. I don’t dislike the guy.
        But when I look at the 2010-2015 graph and I remember how Lewis (and his fans) where complaining about Vettel having the fastest car, it just makes me laugh a little. :-)

        1. Oh and, I’ not shooting him down. I’m just having fun with facts.

          Baiting. Lonely much? ;)

          1. Ha ha! Quite the opposite, believe me. :-)

  10. Alonso is not committed… Like Schumacher used to be..shummy waited 5 years…. Alonso started whining at the 3rd year..I guess is a punishment for his patience.. He will retire with no more wdc..

    He is just a bitter back driver

    1. He may never win a race again or even be on the podium.

    2. A comparison to MS is unfair as no driver in the history of F1 before or since enjoyed more advantages than MS…designer tires for his designer car since his teammate was under contract to not compete against him. Unlimited testing. Rules shaped by Ferrari to ensure among other things MS didn’t need to pass cars on the track but rather through pit strategies. Many drivers under the same circumstances would have compiled similar numbers.

      1. Many would have, but nobody did. Schumacher is the greatest driver we will ever see. This article states that Mercedes and Hamilton have the greatest advantage ever seen, and with no testing and engine freeze, it will remain so for a couple of years.

      2. Would have, and tried, and had similar conditions in other teams… Etc…

        And couldnt… From 1994 to 2004 nobody was in the same category.

  11. That car performance graph makes Vettel’s 2013 performance evenmore unbelievable. With the least possible advantage, he put the car well and beyond the reach of any other car on the field.

    1. Vettel had a number one policy at RBR. Now Imagine if Mercedes had that and Lewis had Webber as a teammate; Lewis would have won all the races bar Singapore! So put that into perspective.

      1. Vettel didn’t have a number one policy at Red Bull or there would have been no team orders in Malaysia to let Webber win.

        Webber didn’t have a great year in 2013, but his weakness was always in his starts. And he was still fast enough over 1 lap to pip Vettel in qualifying at times.

        But Vettel was truly in a league of his own in the second half of 2013 and he didn’t take a mental vacation after winning the WDC like Hamilton did and then find excuses for under performing.

      2. Wow @david-beau, you won dumbest post of the day award

  12. Ferrari’s performance in 2015 was very much helped by the fact that Williams and Renault were simply so dire given how good the chassis were.

    However Ferrari did make progress, that is one thing I think we can be sure of. And they made a substantial amount of progress in what is the most important area in F1 at the moment – the power unit. That gives me optimism (speaking as a neutral who just enjoys hard racing) that Ferrari can at least be closer next season, because whilst Hamilton and Rosberg can take points off of each other (as can Mercedes’ questionable strategies), Ferrari seemed pretty well-drilled for much of this year, and given the performances over the last two years, Raikkonen is not likely going to take many points away from Vettel. Now if Renault and Honda can get their act together, we could see a colossal four-way bout for both championships, but I’m not that optimistic.

  13. Bottom line for me…it is irrelevant to FA whether or not Ferrari have improved. Until they are winning WDCs and WCCs he will have made the right decision to leave Ferrari. And we mustn’t use hindsight regarding Mac’s form. At the time there were likely several ingredients involved in FA’s decision to leave Ferrari, and at the time most would not have predicted Mac/Honda to be where they are. So FA had to leave Ferrari anyway and try something different. The Ferrari performance level argument can only go on so much longer. If they don’t win the WDC again next year will we really be still debating whether FA should have stayed at Ferrari for 2017? Even if they do win the WDC in 2016, that will be a surprise and not one FA could have fathomed when he had to decide about his tenure at Ferrari…let’s remember where they were when FA had to decide to stay or leave….and remember his frustrations at the time. He had to commit to a decision, and the hindsight viewpoint is moot and only serves to make FA or his fans feel ok about his decision, made without the luxury of a crystal ball nor hindsight.

    1. When FA was leaving FE team was imploding basicly. He had no reasons and still does not, to believe they can challange Mercs…

      However SV saw pretty much same thing at RBR, engine was poor in engine formula, team was disintegrating with poor attitude falling of high horse and proceeded wisely to Ferrari.

      I think It would do No harm to FA title hopes If he was at Ferrari for a few years before Honda gets some act toggether. Historically Ferrari is a safer bet.

      Betting wise Id bet my carrer on Ferrari winning. Offcorse McHonda probably promised FA the moon, and suckered him in. He is just unlucky with carrer choices really. But we can all hope they improve somewhat… Kinda like their roadcars. Mostly best and fastest there are…

  14. I have a newfound appreciation for Sebastian.

  15. Keith, it mught be nice to plot a graph according to average(of all cars) fastest lap.. This way we would see what tracks Mercedes was better and worse…

    Also it would show us better teams that developed better than others…

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