Lap Time Watch: Should F1’s new cars be quicker in Melbourne?

2017 Australian Grand Prix

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For the first time in more than 50 years the Formula One rules have been changed with the goal of making the cars faster, rather than slower.

Wider cars, wider wings, wider tyres and further changes have been introduced with the goal of lowering lap times by five seconds compared to the pole position time at the 2015 Spanish Grand Prix.

Record-breaking lap times have already been registered at the first race weekend of 2017. But some are underwhelmed by the extent of the gains which have been made, notably Lewis Hamilton, despite earning the distinction of becoming the fastest person ever to lap Albert Park earlier today.

Here’s how his record lap time earlier today compares to the quickest times seen in every previous Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park:

The quickest lap time seen so far this year is 4.136 seconds faster than two years ago. Considering the differences between Albert Park and the Circuit de Catalunya (more on this below), this is another sign F1 is on track to hit that five seconds target.

But it’s clear the majority of that gain hasn’t come this year. The cars were already almost two-and-a-half seconds faster last year compared with 12 months ago. Yet the drastic changes to this year’s cars have contributed just 1.6 seconds further.

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This seems even more surprising when you consider the differences in tyre compounds being used. The 2015 lap time was set on the soft tyre, super-softs were used in 2016 and ultra-softs have been used this year. With tyres getting one stage softer each year, some improvement in lap time should be expected.

Before the new cars hit the track the expectation was the increased downforce and drag would allow drivers to corner more quickly but reduce top speeds on the straights. However Melbourne showed that prediction may only have been half-correct.

Comparing the minimum corner speeds and maximum straight speeds for the pole position laps from this year and last year shows the cars are indeed quicker in the corners. But on the straights they’re roughly as quick as they were 12 months ago:

The biggest gains in cornering speeds can be found in quicker corners which are approached at high speeds such as turns 11 and 14. Turn five, which Hamilton had to lift for last year, is now taken flat out.

Vettel’s Ferrari was immense through turn 12
And while Hamilton did lift the throttle at turn 12, not everyone else did. Sebastian Vettel was spectacular through this corner in the Ferrari. He rounded turn 11 at approximately the same speed as Hamilton but kept his foot in and tackled turn 12 at around 260kph.

However Melbourne has relatively few corners like this compared to the all-important reference track, the Circuit de Catalunya. We should therefore see a greater gain in lap time around a track like that.

This appeared to be the case in testing at the Spanish track. It even prompted Pirelli to predict the cars might even be five second faster than last year’s lap times, never mind those of 2015.

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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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17 comments on “Lap Time Watch: Should F1’s new cars be quicker in Melbourne?”

  1. “For the first time in more than 50 years the Formula One rules have been changed with the goal of making the cars faster, rather than slower.”

    Isn’t introducing of 3,5l atmo-engines in 1987 somehow rule for faster formula too? I’m so looking forward for next circuits and these times and articles!

    1. @andycz, no, the intention with the rule changes in 1987 and 1988 was to slow the cars down rather than to speed them up.

      However, there is an argument to be made that the legalisation of moving skirts in the late 1970’s, which was a necessary step towards making skirted ground effect cars viable, was effectively a rule change where the cars became significantly faster as a result of them.

  2. great data; I feel like Rosberg analysing it.
    I (sim) always braked before 11 to sweep through 12. But the data tels me I should brake (when I get my 2017 sim) after 11 as well.

  3. I was just checking last year’s pole times set by individual teams as compared to this years. Most of the teams have improved between 1.6 to 2.2 seconds from last year. The team with the largest gains is Sauber… and the smallest gains is Force India.. and of course mclaren Honda.

  4. Keith, with regards to the tyre compounds, although Pirelli have brought the softest tyres in their range for this weekend, surely that is partially nullified by the fact that the rubber compounds themselves are significantly harder wearing this year than before.

    I might be mistaken, but I think that the indication is that the tyres are effectively at least one grade harder than the equivalent last year (i.e. a 2017 ultrasoft is at least as hard wearing as a 2016 supersoft tyre). If so, then there is effectively less of a difference between 2016 and 2017 in terms of compound type than between 2015 and 2016.

    1. The tires are harder this year and the difference between the compounds is less, because they degrade more slowly. As the compounds change from year to year, it’s very hard to exclude the tire factor from the analysis to make fair comparisons.

    2. Yeah I heard (don’t remember which podcast but I think it was the Autosport podcast after pre-season testing) that the 2017 ultra soft is actually harder than the 2016 hard (the hardest tyre in the rainge last year). Pirelli has done this because F1 asked for tyres that can be pushed the whole race. In reality wer’re not really going to notice whether drivers are pushing or not, just the one stop processions.

      Today Martin Brundle said that the teams are going do an Ultra Soft – Supersoft one stopper. Those are the softest tyres in the rainge. Imagine what this means for tracks like Russia and Monaco (probably a mandatory stop during the final lap).

      1. It wont be final lap because of safety car risk diring race. I would think most teams would pit after first few laps and front load the pitstop rather than rear loading it.

    3. i don’t think it makes sense to compare this year’s tyres with last year’s – the construction has been fundamentally changed. mark hughes suggested that the only way pirelli could make long lasting tyres was to make them rock hard. so unless they have made other gains, the tyres will not be massively quicker this year despite the increased width. the softer compound (vs. 2016) is a misnomer.

      1. @frood19 I always thought that there was some sort of “degradation mechanism” that was independent of the softness or intrinsic grip of the tire, but apparently that’s not true. In the early Pirelli days they showed some videos of the tires being “eaten” by the track (pieces of rubber were torn off the tire in fast corners), which I thought was the (main) degradation mechanism, but maybe that has changed over the past few years. Still I think good grip and low degradation should be possible, as Bridgestone and Michelin have shown in the past.

      2. @frood19, that is indeed the point that I wanted to make and that other posters have also picked up on. Whilst the tyres may be called “ultrasoft”, the performance characteristics of the current compounds are markedly different to 2017, such that they seemingly have sacrificed single lap performance for better performance over multiple laps.

        @f1infigures, from your description, I believe that you are talking about graining of the tyres caused by the surface overheating. Whilst it may not have been so pronounced, neither Michelin nor Bridgestone were immune to such problems – indeed, if you go back to the race reports from the tyre war era, there were a number of instances of drivers using tyres from both of those companies complaining about problems with graining during the races.

        It also has to be said that both Michelin and Bridgestone were working under more favourable conditions. Michelin operated in a time with unlimited testing and, since it worked with the larger teams in the field, resource restrictions was not a concept that they ever had to deal with.

        Bridgestone, meanwhile, developed their tyres during a period where the testing mileage allowance was initially extremely generous – 30,000km per team per year (to put that in perspective, in 2017 the teams collectively covered about 34,500km in pre-season testing), whilst in later years the teams were given a major incentive to test for Bridgestone because any testing work undertaken for Bridgestone was officially exempted from the normal testing restrictions.

  5. Something i’ve been hearing is that the tyres are not as good as everyone was hoping/expecting.

    There better in terms of no longer suffering from thermal degredation & the fact that they don’t suffer the same levels of overall wear/degredation as the 2011-16 Pirelli’s did, However the outright performance & overall characteristics of the tyre are according to more than 1 team member i’ve heard from are “Highly disappointing”.

    It seems that the operating window is just as marginal as has been the case the past few years & that spinning up/sliding the rear tyres causes temperature spikes that immediately takes them out of the operating window & causes a huge loss of grip.

    It was hoped that going back to wider tyres would give more predictability & allow drivers to lean on them & slide them more due to them offering more feel as was the case with the wider tyres of pre-’93. However as was seen with Jolyon Palmer’s crash in FP3 & Daniel Ricciardo’s crash in Q3 it seems like you can lean on them a bit but as soon as you reach a certain slide/scrub angle & start to raise the surface temperature you will suddenly go from a lot of grip to next to no grip & the car will simply snap away without warning & without any opportunity to save it.

    If you go back & watch the in-car shot of Jolyon Palmer’s turn 3 spin during Barcelona testing you will see a sheen appear on the surface of the rear tyres as he lights them up, This is seemingly a visible key to the tyre going from tons of grip to none.

    1. Thanks for that bit of info @gt-racer, though I hope this worry turns out to be a bit overblown, it sounds risky and worrysome.

    2. There was plenty of footage of drivers leaning on the tyres and Valterie and others using plenty of opposite lock. Yeh they have a tipping point and drivers run out of talent as well as have a learning curve. Melbourne has always been unrepresentative. Nothing to see here. For me anyway.

  6. Simon (@weeniebeenie)
    25th March 2017, 22:16

    The reason they’re not so much quicker, when you consider the engine power, fat tyres and aero they have is simple. Weight. The 2004 cars were 605kg, the 2017 cars are 728kg. Over 100kg heavier is a huge amount.

    Clearly if these cars were closer to the 605kg weight they wouldn’t just be beating the long standing 2004 times, they’d be destroying them. The tyres are better, the aero is better, the power units are at least as good, if not better. But that 100kg makes all the difference.

  7. Absolutely excellent analysis Keith! Thank you.

    It does concern me if the car speed is so far off what they had expected. Of course, we can only judge once they have raced on a variety of types of circuit, not to mention I’m sure speed increases will be found once they return for the European rounds with upgrades. Albert Park is not your typical circuit so hopefully isn’t representative of how fast the cars are.

    That graph shows that, providing they keep increasing speeds as they have been over the past few years, they will get faster still.

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