Lap Time Watch: F1 finally faster than in China’s first race

2017 Chinese Grand Prix

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The 13-year old Shanghai International Circuit record, set by Michael Schumacher during the track’s inaugural race, was finally broken in qualifying for the 2017 grand prix.

Kimi Raikkonen was the first driver under Schumacher’s 1’32.238 time which, unusually for an outright circuit record, was set in a race rather than a qualifying session. Expect it to stand as the lap record for the race, but the outright track record was destined not to remain in Ferrari hands.

Lewis Hamilton broke it twice more during Q3. By the time he was done the Mercedes W08 had established a new benchmark time of 1’31.678, over half a second quicker than the old record.

To put the scale of progress into perspective, every car which was on the grid for the 2014 race would have been more than 107% slower than today’s pole position time. However wet conditions that year meant the fastest lap time was set during practice.

F1 has a target to be five seconds quicker in qualifying this year compared to the 2015 Spanish Grand Prix. As Shanghai’s circuit is more like the Catalunya track than Melbourne, it might have been expected to see a bigger drop in lap times.

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However that hasn’t happened. In fact the swing compared to last year is a few hundredths less. Could this be explained by the more conservative tyre selection this weekend compared to in Australia? The fact cars are over three-and-a-half seconds quicker compared to 2016 (below) suggests not.

The near-total loss of set-up time all the teams experienced yesterday due to the weather probably goes some way towards explaining why the cars aren’t quite as quick as expected.

Nico Hulkenberg took Renault into Q3 for the first time since they returned as a full factory team. They are the most-improved team compared to 12 months ago, improving their lap time by more than five seconds.

Despite all the doom and gloom around McLaren’s situation, they are not the team who has shown the least progress since last year’s Chinese Grand Prix. Four other teams have made less progress in this time, though surely none of them needed to gain ground as badly as McLaren did.

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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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  • 18 comments on “Lap Time Watch: F1 finally faster than in China’s first race”

    1. In Melbourne last year’s pole time would’ve been enough for 6th spot on the current grid while in Shanghai it would’ve been enough only for 18th spot, and the two drivers (Verstappen and Ocon) didn’t beat last year’s pole time only because of having reliability problems and having to abort the lap due to the yellows caused by Giovinazzi respectively, so in theory all 2017-cars are faster than the fastest 2016 car on one-lap pace on this circuit. I expect the slowest 2017 qualifying time to be faster than the fastest 2016 qualifying time assuming no one faces any problems and or has to abandon his flying lap in Spain, Monaco, Singapore, Hungaroring, and Suzuka at least.

    2. I’m intrigued. What makes 2004 faster than, say, 2008? I understand 2005 had the racing tyres with one race, and 2006 the V8 came, but by

      1. The V10 engines used in 2004 produced around 950hp, the V8 engines used from 2006 onwards produced only 750hp.

        1. And they had traction control.

      2. 2004 had less downforce than 2008. 2008 cars were also more refined. The weights were the same as per the rules but in qualifying the weights were not the same. 2008 had the stupid qualifying where the cars were not running empty but did their laps with race fuel. At one point in the season the cars simply drove around the track trying to burn as much fuel as possible before doing their laps. That extra weight already makes a big difference. 2004 cars also had a lot more power and the bigger engines were also more torquey were as the 2008 cars were more peaky. The 2008 engines also had to last longer whereas the 2004 engines only had to last one race weekend.

        In both years the cars were allowed to be refueled so there is no weight difference there because of fuel tank size (well there is but it is small).

        1. They also ran with race fuel on 2004’s QLFs

          Keith, the reality is that, despite all of this ridiculously wide tyres, all downforce allowance and etc, the cars are still several seconds off the race lap record.

          They merely managed to beat a race lap, during qualifying, by only 0.6s.

          Very underwhelming

    3. Oops sorry. Anyway, by 2008 the cars were surely more developed even with the V8s than in 2004. Is this such a power circuit?

      1. @hahostolze One-race engines came in for 2005 as well so engines couldn’t be run as hard in qualifying. Then from 2007 the tyre war ended so tyre performance was reduced too.

        1. @keithcollantine, I think that you’ve got the dates mixed up – the teams first had to use the same engine for an entire race weekend in 2004, which then went up to two complete race weekends in 2005 (remember, there was the controversy when BAR-Honda managed to get a free engine change between the 2005 Australian GP and the next race in Malaysia by withdrawing the cars on the penultimate lap, leading to the FIA changing the regulations to close that loophole).

          @hahostolze, as others have noted, whilst raw power explains some of the advantage, driver aids in the form of traction control – which was legal in 2004, but banned in 2008 – will also explain at least some of the difference as well.

    4. Hmmm, Keith. Is the target to be 5 seconds faster than 2015… now, as in today, or more like “in this regulation set”? With new rules, typically 1-2 seconds are found over the first season by means of car development. The aero is still green, the new token-free engines are still version 1.0. If they were 5 seconds faster now (say Shanghai or Barcelona), they would be 7 seconds faster in 1-2 years time. Surely this is not what was meant by the rule makers? (unfortunately).

    5. This lap record of Schumacher, was it set in qualifying or race? If race then has it really been broken?

      1. MG421982 (@)
        8th April 2017, 22:38

        Race! So, almost sure it’ll still stand as FL, especially that tomorrow it’s supposed to be a wet race. This article underlines the fact that it was broken as if it’s regarded as (UNOFFICIAL) ALL TIME LAP RECORD FROM SHANGHAI.

        1. I see. I don’t think any FL is going to be broken, atleast not as long as they don’t bring back refueling…

    6. Now that the tyres are more durable, get rid of the qualifying 2 rule of using that set for starting the race and give every driver 3 sets of each tyre compound for the weekend.

    7. I wonder how much quicker they would have gone with the full practice sessions? We are still seeing the fastest laps ever around the first two circuits which is pretty cool.

    8. Sorry to be that guy but 107% slower would be a lap time of more than 3 minutes.

      1. 107% limit will be around 1:38.095

    9. Appreciating how nice that ferrari looks. (not the best looking car ever admittedly) But it looks so quick and it nice to see so many sponsors!

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