Lap time watch: Why F1 is only 1.8s quicker at COTA

2017 United States Grand Prix

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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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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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15 comments on “Lap time watch: Why F1 is only 1.8s quicker at COTA”

  1. I hope they make the 2021 engines somewhat more powerful. The increased downforce and wider tyres make the cars much faster, but are the drivers really being challenged if they can just accelerate flat out through corners?

    A more powerful engine to match the current levels of downforce and grip would see the drivers being challenged even more, especially in keeping control of the car

    1. @strontium I think they need less aero, or at least aero which is less distrupted by following other cars, otherwise we will continuing to have “follow the leader” type racing.
      Ground effects with no front wing ala Braham BT49 would be my answer.

      1. @ijw1 I agree with that. I love the high speeds we are seeing this year, so I would like to see that maintained some other way. Maybe keep small simple front wings to keep the cars balanced, but they definitely ought to bring back the ground effect and strip back the external aerodynamics, even if the ground effect is heavily restricted for safety.

        I know it’s a long shot, but I wouldn’t be against them widening the tyres even more, to perhaps ~500mm at the rear, and a proportional increase at the front too, and getting rid of body aerodynamics almost completely, given that these rely on the front wing directing air onto them.

    2. @strontium
      Totally, the cars have to much grip and to little power and thats 99% of the reason the cars looks so dull and planted on the track, because they are… They basicily go flat out 20m out of a corner, the tiny amount of throttle feathering they have to do is largely done via turnspecific enginemappings.
      Remove the wings and will have both roadrelevant and driver challenging cars again, As it is now its just an 2hour long high G-force enduro.

    3. @strontium Coming out of low speed corners is where you see the power and low down torque of this generation in a way the old V8’s never did, spent the last two days watching all the drivers squirming on exit from T1.

      This current generation of cars are far more of a handful than the V8’s ever were, but with the wider tyres we do need another 100hp or so to really work the drivers.

      1. @rethla @ju88sy given how powerful these V6 engines are with just 1.6L, I wonder if there is any chance in the world of an increase to 2.0L or even 2.4L for 2021

        1. @strontium Right that would be great, however they will probably just stay with 1.6L V6’s and stick another turbo on for 2021, dropping the MGU-H.

          1. Agreed. I think they will stick with the 1.6l and, remove the mgu-h heat recovery. That is the most difficult part of these power units to master and probably most expensive. Getting rid of it will reduce the cost of these power unit. Increasing the battery storage could make up some of the drop in power from removing mgu-h.

      2. @ju88sy 100hp is less than the temporary boosts the engines get all the time from the hybrid system and it doesnt exactly change anything. The engines need to constantly deliver 1000hp that are all controlled by the drivers throttleinput and not engineprogramming.

        1. @rethla True, but another 100hp on the ICE would put these PU’s way past the old V8’s. The engine programming is here to stay for now, I have not heard any of the teams asking for that to be changed under the new regs.

  2. Small error Keith, the most improved teams graph says Sepang

    1. What should it say? @offdutyrockstar?

      1. @baron COTA, of course.

      2. @baron COTA obviously, that’s what the article is about?

        1. How could it say COTA when the race hadn’t yet been run? Anyway, I’m quite sure if it’s wrong, Keith will correct it. ;)

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