This year’s Formula One cars are lapping the Circuit of the Americas almost 1.9 seconds faster than they were 12 months ago. It’s a significant gain, but not as big as might have been expected given the huge drops on lap time seen elsewhere.
COTA has several medium-to-high speed corners where the 2017 F1 cars might be expected to shine. Having been 2.6 seconds quicker at Silverstone and 3.3 seconds faster at Suzuka, similar gains might have been expected here. So why haven’t they made the same kind of progress?
The difference in tyre compounds offers some explanation. At Silverstone and Suzuka the softest tyre available in 2016 was the soft, whereas this year the super-soft was brought. The performance gain between those tyres appears to be greater than between the super-soft and the ultra-soft. At COTA the teams have gone from super-softs to ultra-softs, which don’t offer as big a step in performance.
The track conditions will also be affecting to lap time gains. Rain on Friday washed the track clear of grip-giving rubber. And the bumps have continued to worsen at parts on the circuit, impairing traction.
In some paces the cars are visibly faster. Unlike last year Lewis Hamilton was flat out through turns 16, 17 and 18 on his pole position lap, pushing 290kph by the exit of the three-part corner.
Yet strikingly Mercedes are far from the most improved team at this track. Only Sauber, with their 2016-specification Ferrari engines, have made loss progress since last year:
The cars appear to have made substantial progress since the 2015 race. However that event was badly disrupted by rain and the only dry-weather running was seen in the race, meaning the quickest lap of the weekend was several seconds slower than what those cars were capable of:
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