Pierre Gasly, Toro Rosso, Albert Park, 2018

New cars up to 1.9s faster than last year – but one team is slower

Lap time watch: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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With his pole position time today Lewis Hamilton lopped over a second off the track record for the Albert Park circuit, which he set 12 months ago.

But while Mercedes have gained a second in performance compared to last year’s visit to the same track, half of the field has made a bigger step year-on-year.

2018 Australian Grand Prix qualifying in pictures
They are led by Renault. The team which made the biggest step on average over the course of last year showed it intends to lead the way again. It has turned up with a car which is 1.9 seconds faster than they managed last year.

However that gain isn’t entirely reflected in their grid position. Carlos Sainz Jnr set their best time in Q2 but was almost half a second slower in Q3.

“We were reasonably encouraged because I think if you look at Carlos’ Q2 lap, he knew he had a poor Q3 lap, then he would have been in front of the Haases,” explained Renault’s technical director Nick Chester. “We’re quicker than McLaren so it wasn’t bad.”

Haas occupies the ‘best of the rest’ position but the team has tended to go well at Melbourne in the past. Most of their rivals have actually made a bigger step year-on-year.

Only one team failed to lap quicker at Albert Park this year than it did last season, and its identity won’t come as a great shock. Toro Rosso’s off-season switch from Renault to Honda power has brought a performance hit.

However both drivers owned up to mistakes in their qualifying laps without which they might have done better.

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“We knew the midfield was really tight so we had to put everything together,” said Pierre Gasly, who said he was “too greedy” on his lap and made a mistake.

“[My] first run wasn’t that clean but second run was coming good. [At] turn three I was two-tenths up on Brendon [Hartley’s] lap. I think it would have put us in the mix for Q2 and that’s where I think we should have been.

“The potential was there to be in Q2. I’m really disappointed because I’ve been too greedy and in the end it costs us a lot of places. Big shame.”

Hamilton’s pole position time means this year’s cars are more than 10 seconds quicker than when F1 first raced at the Melbourne circuit in 1996. The track has not changed in any significant way during that time.

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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 “New cars up to 1.9s faster than last year – but one team is slower”

  1. So Gasly’s lap was what, (almost) a second off the teams potential? That ís a shame.

    1. He went of track at turns 3–4 i think. Missed the braking point and then went onto the gravel.
      Strongly believe he would be up in 16th or 17th if not for that.

  2. I feel for them! It was expected to be slow, at least it looks reliable now. I hope they can improve.

    1. Still has strange engine noises though, you can hear the same Honda ‘buzz’ on the onboards that they had last year. Hopefully it’s supposed to sound like that haha.

    2. After the race: yeah, at least it looks reliable now…

  3. I wonder what the development cut off have to be before Red Bull jump ship.

    If Torro Rosso do not get a major engine overhaul before the end of the season, how willing will Red Bull be to take the risk.

    1. Honda can bring development engines (sorry, Power Units) to TR 10 times in the season and only take 7 grid penalties. Effectively 2 races per Power Unit. First penalty at the 7th race.
      Considering their current grid positions, this isn’t the hardship that it would be for a front running team and it gives them a significantly better development schedule.
      If you’re going to have a “B Team”, might as well get the most use out of them. Honda can honestly say that they are treating all of their Power Unit customers equally and by the end of the season, there may be enough teams taking penalties that someone could change a PU and still start 15th or higher.
      Will be interesting to watch Honda’s development cycle and how this will fit in with Red Bull.

  4. The amount of improvement in ultimate lap time compared to twelve months ago was more or less what I expected. Furthermore, I nearly got my pole time prediction right. 1:21.148 vs 1:21.164.

  5. You’ve only got to look at how Mclaren is faring after the late engine change so realize how big a challenge this has been for a relativly small organization like Toro Rosso. Add to that two inexperienced drivers and the struggle is complete. However I do think they’ll improve throughout the season. If it will take them past their rivals, I doubt it.

  6. Josh (@canadianjosh)
    24th March 2018, 19:27

    God the cars are hard to look at

    1. Yes they are. I’m not arguing against head protection, but I have a hard time believing that the HALO is what we’re stuck with given both the amount of time invested and level of engineering talent in F1. I hope someone will develop a more elegant solution in the years to come.

  7. 10 seconds faster than 1996 but no more interesting to watch..speed within reason does not equal excitement

    1. Other than Martin Brundle’s crash at the start, the 1996 Australian GP was pretty boring. Williams was untouchable and since Villeneuve had some technical issues, he wasn’t really able to compete with Hill for the win, but still comfortably came second. Sound familiar?

      1. Ahah, yes, sounds like mercedes 2014-2016 (still have to see this year) and ferrari 2002 and 2004, and also red bull in their most dominant phases and the various mclaren dominant periods, 98, 88-90.

      2. Tony didn’t say the 1996 race was exciting,he just said the cars now are no more exciting, which I agree with. Besides the racing, I think the cars look and sound worse now and have too much grip.

        1. Thanks KP. People seem to want to make up arguements over nothing.

  8. The times for 1996 and 1997 are wrong

    pole in 1996 was a 1:32.371
    and in 1997 a 1:29.369.

    Yes the cars are 11 seconds faster than 1996
    However dont forget that in 2004 pole was a 1:24.4 and fastest lap in the race itself a 1:24.1!

    So in nearly 15 years the cars have only improved by 3 seconds per lap.

    I am aware of the many regulation changes in that time, but 15 years of development for hundreds of engineers is really a long time

    1. The times for 1996 and 1997 are wrong

      No they aren’t: The graph shows the fastest times from all sessions in each race weekend, not just qualifying.

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