Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

Harder to follow Ferrari than Mercedes, Red Bull drivers say

RaceFans Round-up

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In the round-up: Red Bull’s drivers have greater difficulty following Ferrari’s car than Mercedes’, according to Christian Horner.

Christian Horner was asked how well the team’s car will perform on other circuits after winning in Shanghai.

This is a circuit that… with over a kilometre long straight it obviously is not going to be our strongest circuit. It was interesting to see the drivers actually reported they found it harder to follow the Ferrari than they did the Mercedes on this track. There’s circuits coming up which hopefully will play more to our strengths. Hopefully we can have some more great races.

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Are we seeing Williams’ true potential, Tim asks?

So far this season, I’m often wondering ‘how bad is the actual Williams car design vs. how bad is their setup vs. how bad are their drivers?’ When you have two drivers that lack experience with setups (remember Stroll used Massa’s setups in the past), it’s very likely that the car’s full potential isn’t being shown.

How much faster would the Williams be with a top driver, and how much faster would Stroll or Sirotkin be if they used that top driver’s setup? Would putting Kubica in for every first practice to fine tune the setup make a noticeable difference?

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On this day in F1

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  • 66 comments on “Harder to follow Ferrari than Mercedes, Red Bull drivers say”

    1. In reference to COTD Anthony Davidson spoke a bit about that during Practice in China.

      He said that he didn’t feel not having an experienced driver in the team was hindering them from a car setup perspective because even though both are inexperienced in F1 they have both come up the ranks & will both have experience in setting cars up as that is one of the key things you learn in the junior formula.

      It was also noted on one of Sky’s pre-season testing programs that Sirotkin has spent the past few years doing & a degree in race car engineering which he recently completed & that Paddy Lowe had been impressed with the level of feedback & setup direction Sirotkin was been able to provide, feeling that doing/completing that degree was a key factor in why he is as good as he is in that area.

      1. Davidson’s comments left me staring speechless at the screen, and I had difficulty taking anything he said seriously for the rest of the weekend. He basically said all the driver can tell the engineers front vs. rear balance (which I would think telemetry could also do), which goes against everything I’ve heard while watching F1 over the past 11 years.

        Years ago, it was said Alonso’s experience with a car was worth number of seconds a lap, and in 2012, Button and his entire crew got so “lost” trying to figure out the setup on the MP4-27 that they finally copied Hamilton’s setup. I’ve heard the “best” drivers give detailed feedback on how the car feels going into specific corners, and how it feels coming out of those corners, and giving far more detail than Davidson’s comments implied.

        Bottom line is, the other 9 teams seem to get faster from Friday to Saturday– and Williams doesn’t.

        1. I don’t think it’s as simple as Davidson explained either. I get the feeling he probably might not have been the best at it himself. Alonso is an amazing driver capable of getting the most out of even the most awful handling cars, yet while he was at Ferrari the initial setup duties always went to Massa. Always. Alonso always gave Felipe his due as well, & often cited his ability to get the car quickly in it’s sweet spot, so much so that he (Alonso) only ever needed to focus on his own speed. & as you say, Button vs Hamilton in ’12 is the perfect example of the gulf between some driver’s abilities on that front. I even remember while Lewis was at McLaren, Paddy Lowe was going on about how many different sizes of master cylinders Lewis tried in order to find the perfect balance between pedal feel & initial brake bite. Rob Wilson when talking about driving styles has often talked about the importance of a drivers ability to give the right kind of technical feedback so the engineers can then set the car up to suit their driving style & circuit characteristics, with the aim being finding the best way to keep the car “flat” at all times so the aero works properly & they get the most performance from the whole platform. For the car to be setup right the driver has to be able to relate to his engineers first, then utilize the package in a manner that gets the most out of it. Sounds a lot more involved than just front & rear balance (that is if you’re doing it right, IMO). Not to mention that these tires seem particularly tricky to get into their respective operating windows, front to rear.

        2. Davidson is the Mercedes sim driver. He is employed in that position purely on his capacity to give feedback relevant to the actual car.

          Perhaps you know more about F1 than that Mercedes team headed up by Toto Wolff, but without any evidence to supprt you, I’m going to suggest that Davidson knows a lot about giving feedback on modern F1 cars than you do.

        3. grat, well, it has been said a number of times over the years that fans tend to overestimate the importance of driver feedback for the engineers, and that sometimes the information they can give can be contradictory or even wrong.

          Sometimes the “best” drivers can cause a number of problems for setting up a car, since they tend to instinctively change their driving style and therefore might not realise that problem even exists. A famous classic example came from Ronnie Peterson, where once Chapman asked him to test a car where he knew the suspension set up would tend to cause the car to understeer in slower corners, only for Peterson to come back to the pits complaining that the car was oversteering in slower corners. Confused, Chapman then went out round the circuit to watch Peterson and realised that Peterson had subtly picked up on the understeer tendency and didn’t realise that he’d changed his driving style to provoke oversteer on corner entry to help turn the car into the corner – in other words, Peterson was creating the very problem he complained about.

          In the past, Brawn has talked about how Schumacher’s adaptability behind the wheel sometimes made it hard for them to pin down problems, given that he would tend to work around them; since you mention him, Alonso is another driver who has also sometimes been said to do the same thing as well.

          Sometimes it can even be as much about a psychological effect as anything else: there have been a few times in the past where a driver has had a chassis changed and, despite the fact that the new chassis was no different to the old one, would go faster simply because he believed that the new chassis was an improvement on the old one.

          1. That was really interesting to read, anon, thank you

        4. Alonso couldn’t set up a tent.

          1. Not true, but pretty funny!

      2. Paddy Lowe was sold by the dollars, not some useless academic degree. Alonso and vettel didn’t need any degree, or any other successful f1 driver, that is just far garbage.

      3. @stefmeister i also think that setting up the car shouldn’t be a major problem. Maybe they are not good as others because they lack the experience, but for a car to be that far off the pace even compared to it’s predecessor like it happened in Bahrain, then something must be fundamentally wrong, not just the setup. Either that or they designed an overly complicated car they don’t fully understand, a bit like Sauber was said to be suffering.

        If the car has an inherent problem, then the drivers can’t do magic. And I’m not rating them up high on my list, but you have to feel for them. Having an unpredictable car must be horrible for a racing driver…

      4. both come up the ranks & will both have experience in setting cars up as that is one of the key things you learn in the junior formula.

        IMO this isn’t a strong argument, as setting up a non-spec build F1 car is vastly different from setting up a spec-build junior car. You have a constant to compare yourself to in the junior series, since the car remains the same for a long period of time. In F1, with constant development of the vehicle and different aero packages for each race, you’re playing with more variables than you can count. Add to that the fact that Williams have changed their design philosophy after they hired Paddy, and hired another young driver, its no wonder that they’re not able to extract the most out of the vehicle. Vandoorne had some issues with setup last year, which only got resolved with time in the car. I Sirotkin, and Stroll too, will need more time to be able to deliver some sort of a result, much less a good result.

        1. *I think Sirotkin and Stroll

      5. Regardless of which view is correct I can’t help feeling that this is one of the downsides of such a restrictive testing ban, in the way distant past a team in this situation would have been able to get a quality driver (eg. Webber, Rosberg) to do a test session to give both feedback and a benchmark.

      6. What creates the difficulty in formula 1 cars when it comes to setting it up is the amount of things you can change. And everything affects everything. The cars are incredibly sensitive to ride height which means suspension adjustments don’t just control how the car reacts to bumps but also how much downforce the car makes. The teams have done lots of work before the weekend trying to figure out downforce and drag levels and optimal settings. It is just super easy to get lost when there are so many things you can change. And some drivers have the weakness that they try to adjust the setup to be just perfect (petter solberg in rallying does this) which means in the end they just fix one issue and create two new ones.

        And sometimes faster is not better to drive. When schumacher and irvine for example drove in the same team schumacher could drive a much more difficult cars because he was able to do the exact same thing every lap. Irvine sometimes braked little later or earlier or got a better exit from the previous corner and arrived little faster into the next braking zone. Doing so all his corners were little different and trying to drive a car consistently that has very narrow sweetspot he was struggling while schumacher was fine. Schumacher was asking more performance while irvine wanted the car to be easier to drive. The raw skill of the driver is more than just raw speed and fast lap times. It is the ability to drive difficult cars consistently fast and make them faster even if it means making them more difficult to drive.

        A driver can make a difference in many ways. An experienced driver has simply seen and experienced many kinds of handling problems that he can identify. If the car is very loose in mid speed corners he knows where to look. If the car is darty under braking or bouncy over kerbs he has ideas how to fix it or at least identify it is an issue. An inexperienced driver has very little understanding of what is normal behaviour in f1 car and as such may not correctly notice flaws in the car handling. Someone like barrichello or massa has driven so many seasons in f1 that they have experienced hundreds of different types of car issues. When something happens he has a data bank where he can look how he fixed it last time.

        And most importantly data is not everything. What you need is a driver that can consistently drive fast and create good data. If your bad driver struggles to keep the car on track your telemetry is going to look totally different for every lap. You are not seeing car issues in the telemetry. You are seeing driver issues.

        1. This is something I learned, of all places, on Need For Speed Underground. I loved that game for the fact you could adjust so many settings on the car, but I could lose hours tweaking only to realise I’d made the car worse. Change one thing and you needed to change another to avoid going backwards.

          It applies with so many complicated systems. I’m a software developer, and optimising one part of a system can impact another leading to a slower overall application.

          It’s tricky. However, that’s the teams’ job (including the drivers).

      7. You have to question just how much input Lance Stroll had in any of his junior years & teams.

        To me it looks like daddy bought the best people / rides to help him win those, and now that he’s in F1 & the best people are paid by manufacturers who have a bigger budget than the Strolls, he hasn’t learned the necessary setup skills for himself, & he’s unable to contribute anything to the team.

        Sirotkin may be better, but he certainly didn’t kick down the door to be in F1, & in his first season he’s still learning more about himself and driving in F1, so isn’t yet in a position to help the team either.

        And then Williams has a proven real F1 driver, who they keep on the sidelines watching the races …

    2. Man, I thought ROS gave bland interviews as a driver, but his comments on SKY are even blander.

      1. I thought Rosberg’s comments were concise, there’s always a 1st.

      2. But he’s right: Verstappen mistakes are costing him the opportunity to be a World Champion driver. He could have won the Chinese GP, but no, the overtake was more important than winning. Consequently Ricciardo is now the Red Bull driver with the most points, not Verstappen.

        1. @drycrust Wow, amazing no one realized this. Oh wait everybody did …

          “Kicking in open doors” is what we call that over here.

    3. @stefmeister i also think that setting up the car shouldn’t be a major problem. Maybe they are not good as others because they lack the experience, but for a car to be that far off the pace even compared to it’s predecessor like it happened in Bahrain, then something must be fundamentally wrong, not just the setup. Either that or they designed an overly complicated car they don’t fully understand, a bit like Sauber was said to be suffering.

      If the car has an inherent problem, then the drivers can’t do magic. And I’m not rating them up high on my list, but you have to feel for them. Having an unpredictable car must be horrible for a racing driver…

      1. 2018 Stroll Time – 1:31.5 / 2017 Stroll Time – 1:31.7
        2017 Massa Time – 1:30.5

        If Williams’s car is 1.3s slower you’re assuming that Stroll improved 1.5s from season (what is unlikely). The most likely scenario is that the car isn’t faster but isn’t slower also and all that difference is down to the drivers.

      2. (Ignore the previous post)
        2018 Stroll Time – 1:31.5 / 2017 Stroll Time – 1:31.1
        2017 Massa Time – 1:30.5

        If Williams’s car is 1.3s slower you’re assuming that Stroll improved 0.9s from last season (what is unlikely). The most likely scenario is that the car isn’t faster but isn’t so much slower also and all that difference is down to the drivers.

    4. Hmmm interesting. Re Ferrari hard to follow. Could Ferrari be designing their exhaust in such a way that the plumes of black smoke that is always coming out of its exhaust is degrading the tyres of the following car so much it cannot follow or acting at some kind of oil making the tarmac surface for the following car slippery?

      1. no, not even close. it’s all to do with the turbulent wake it leaves – presumably the ferrari creates more unstable vortices than other cars.

      2. there is a much simpler explanation as to why the Ferraris are harder to follow than the Mercs

        They are faster!

        1. The simple option is never taken, people like to over think things lol.

    5. Thanks for the COTD! The new updates to the site have been fantastic.

      I’m legitimately curious where the balance of driver vs. car design vs. setup lies with Williams.

      In thinking about this, I’m reminded of the rumors in 2007, where after Hungary, Alonso stopped sharing his setups with Hamilton, and Hamilton temporarily fell back a little bit in the competition between the two…and that’s a driver of Hamilton’s caliber! (albeit a rookie at that point–new to setps)

      I think a good setup is often not appreciated, and hard to get optimal without experience. Put Kubica, Rosberg or Button in that Williams, and I’m sure it would be bit better, but how much so?

      The 2014 Ferrari also comes to mind, where even with both Alonso and Raikkonen, the car still looked like a total handful to drive. No setup was saving that beast!

      1. @tim-m, Correct, and in 2007 there was no emphasis on tuning the suspension to find the setting that gets the tyres up to temperature quickly but doesn’t overheat them, unfortunately now the main skill in setting a car up is the ability to keep 2 different sets of tyres within the optimum temperature range. To cold or to hot tyres can make any car or driver look like a turkey.

      2. @tim-m @keithcollantine To all the stupids like me out there: COTD is Comment Of The Day and I was desperately looking for some sort of reference to Circuit Of The D??? in the post. And this went on for a few days. Doh!

    6. Re COTD: Using Kubica setup won’t help at least no one would know its the right setup. Kubica now had less experience than Sirotkin in Williams car anyway. Unless they let Massa do FP1, that would be a proper benchmark.

      1. Give Kubica a chance and he will score points with this car. Even one handed he would be faster than Stroll and Sirotkin.

        1. If that was the case, why are no other teams snapping him up to drive their cars?

    7. How can it be harder to follow Ferrari than Mercedes? I thought it was only supposed to be that for one team it might be harder to follow other cars in general than to another team, but that for a team it could be harder just to follow on team’s car compared to following some other team’s car. I don’t really get it, LOL. BTW, the new Monaco pit buildings look good, but still, I miss the previous design to some extent.

      1. @jerejj The rear wing, floor, diffuser, and exhaust setup can make some variation in the dirty air wake behind the car. That and Ferrari has higher top speed in China so it would feel harder to get closer in the straights even with DRS.

      2. Could be that ferrari was simply using setup with more downforce which means more dirty air.

      3. How difficult it is to follow (through the corners at least, which I assume is what is meant here) is determined by 2* things: How dirty the air is you are driving through and how much your car is affected by that. So, it sounds like the Ferrari is producing a dirtier wake than the Mercedes.

        It’s even possible that Ferrari did this on purpose, knowing that the Mercedes has such a problem with following in dirty air. F1 engineers are clever dudes.

        *This is, of course, a simplification. There will be all sorts of factors which I don’t understand, not being an aerodynamics expert. It could be that it’s the particular type, or shape, of wake that the Ferrari produces which causes this, or something like that.

        1. At first, that was what came to my mind too. That Ferrari manipulates the air flow to disturb the following car’s aero more than the Merc car does. However in this case I think Christian says that this track have an higher emphasis on the straights and in such a layout Ferrari’s were harder to keep up to than the Merc’s.

        2. It is very hard to make a car to produce more dirty air without hurting your own aerodynamic performance. Doing anything that only creates more dirty air is going to add drag. In worst case you are creating more dirty air but losing downforce. I’d be very surprised if f1 teams do that simply because nothing is free in aerodynamics. Even if you create a some kind of winglet somewhere on the car that manages to create more dirty air without any loss of downforce or increase in drag you still are making the car heavier. And how much of an effect can a winglet have? Couple of percent?

          Teams are also very limited on the wind tunnel and cfd time and I’d find it odd if they were spending that valuable resource just to make their car produce more dirty instead of making their car produce less drag or more downforce.

    8. i really miss nico. certainly one of the most underrated champions on this site…

      1. I’m not sure he is generally underrated. They only people here who say Nico didn’t deserve the WDC in 2016, are those who blindly support his then teammate.
        Nico was the best over the whole season and the smartest when 2nd places would suffice.

        1. Nico also had patches in other seasons where he was better than Lewis. He might not have been underrated but it feels now that he wasn’t appreciated as he should have been among the Hamilton mania looking for the next Senna.

        2. Actually he had

          Fewer wins
          Fewer podiums
          Lost the qualy battle (despite a significant head start)
          Had more penalties than any other driver
          Had perfect reliability

          But sure – he was better overall – because of the scoring methodology.

          Nothing wrong with that but let’s not pretend he drove an astounding season.

          It was one of his worst.

          1. @zad2 Nevertheless, as you said, he had

            More points

            That’s the only thing you need to be WC!

          2. @DrG

            Being WDC in one of his worst seasons is an accomplishment Lewis never managed to do ;-) Not to mention, that he won despite letting lewis by in monaco. Something lewis whouldn´t have even considered doing (we remember abu dhabi).

            Jokes aside, the spitefull way of talking about nico by the… let´s say some of the hamilton-fans and the britsh sports media in general were the main reason i began posting on this site and start to cheer on nico. i truly believe the biggest mistake lewis made in their time together was the cap-throwing @ the end of 2015.

    9. Sorry Carlos, you might want to stay at Renault, but I doubt Dan wants to stay at RBR.

      I can see a straight swap happening – after all it was Dan Renault originally asked for.

      1. @dbradock, I can’t see Dan agreeing to that, can you?

        1. Dan might go to Renault if Alonso ends up there.
          He probably wants to test his ability to beat his teammate on points to Alonso.

          But unfortunately I don’t think Renault will be ready next year

        2. Actually I can @hohum

          I can’t see him being all that keen on the politics at Ferrari/Merc & RBR are all about Max.
          Renault still has a long way to go but they’re the only other manufacturer team going and they want to get to the top. (Merc did it with Hamilton)

          If the deal is good enough I still think its the most likely place he’ll end up.

      2. Wait – the same PU but inferior aero? What’s the upside in it for Dan if he moves to Renault? I’m sure he’d rather stay with a team where he can prove his merit (and then command a higher pay in future), than go to Renault even if they offer him higher pay today.

        1. @phylyp The upside would be that they’re a factory team, a necessary ingredient for success these days. Renault has been pumping up their team in size and resources. And he could make the team ‘his’ which I don’t think he can do at Merc, Ferrari, or RBR.

          1. Very good points, @robbie . I think a third point would also be that if Red Bull decide in a few weeks time to go with Honda, then a Renault car would be the better option.

            1. @phylyp For sure, and I have no idea where that stands, as in, whether or not RBR is about to switch to Honda next year, but I see no evidence right now that they should. That said, is it the case that RBR can just stay with Renault ad infinitum? I don’t know. Perhaps just the suspicion that they might go with Honda at some point, would be enough for DR to leave.

    10. What exactly would make the Ferrari harder to follow than the Mercedes? Could it be the Ferrari’s rake? I have no idea, just taking a random guess.

      1. If the suggestion is that it is because of their greater wake, then I would say that starts with how the car works aerodynamically from the front wing back, and naturally how they have air released via floor, diffuser, and wing at the back. I have great hope and optimism that teams’ ability to create as messy air as possible will be curtailed with the major rethink and redesign for 2021.

      2. What exactly would make the Ferrari harder to follow than the Mercedes?

        It’s the oil that the Ferraris spray out the back when there is a car close behind. Apparently developed by their new engineer named Richard Milhous Dastardly.

    11. How many mistakes would Verstappen make if he joined a team with a car 2 seconds faster then lead from the front in most races like Lewis’s transformation, he went from the lucky champion ‘going to kill someone’ to ‘to one of the greatest ever’

      “What Hamilton did there goes beyond all boundaries,” “He is completely mad. If the FIA does not punish him, I do not understand the world anymore. At some point, there has to be an end to all the jokes. You cannot drive like this – as it will result in someone getting killed.” – Niki Lauda 2011

      “I’m a great supporter of Lewis, but I think he’s hiding under blinkers at the moment. You can’t keep going for gaps that don’t exist, and if he’s blaming the car and the team, that’s just unprofessional. No driver had the perfect car.”
      – Jackie Stewart

      “He’s going a bit too far in some cases,” “He’s a terrific driver, he’s got great aggression and he’s an exciting driver, which is important because it’s a television sport now – but his handling of himself is not that good. His father is no longer his manager, which is a problem. If they could get together, it would be a good thing.”
      – Stirling Moss

      1. @BigJoe, Hamilton, Vettel, Alonso are not F1 greats. Their strike rate is very low, what I mean is how often they show their greatness by excceeding expectations. Senna was the fastest week in week out noone came close, then there was his godlike abilities in the rain. Schumacher had the racecraft, no matter how the race panned out you always had the sense that he will put one out of the hat and steal a victory his car didn’t deserve, and he duly did in his non championship years dragging his cars to championship contetion all year long.
        Alonso did that in 2012, Hamilton and Vettel have done none of the above.

        1. @philby Good point. Very good actually, from an interesting perspective. I have some minor doubts about Alonso but overall agree. Who do you think, now or in recent years, has that “x-factor”? I know I’m biased by the recent excellent performance of Ricciardo, but he always gives me the feeling of being above the expectations and his car’s possibilities.

          1. @Matteo The current top 5 in no particular order Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton, Verstappen, Ricciardo compliment each other by the virtue of noone being a true great thus exposing other’s weaknesses.
            Ricciardo is exciting but no true great was slower even a tiny bit from his teammates. Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton we have seen what it is to see from them all very talented but for me just a step under being true greats. Verstappen he is the one that with the “x-factor” as you call it but rough still.
            Think about it in the Senna era we had Prost, Lauda, Piquet, Mansell yet Senna rose to the top. For Schumacher between 1994-2006 there was literally noone who disputed him as the best “head and shoulders” over every one else. How can the F1 be so barren of talent for so many years? Remove Schumacher and you have Hakkinen, Montoya, Barrichello, Raikkonen being considered supposedly greats, were they?

            1. Definitely those you mention in the end of the comment weren’t greats, but I think not considering vettel, hamilton or alonso as such is extreme.

              Like you said, alonso also was able to do what schumacher did in some years, as in bring a much slower car than the top car very close to the title.

              Hamilton and vettel might be able to as well given the circumstances, but they’re too close to each other in performance, if one has a much better car there’s nothing the other can do.

    12. It isn’t surprising that the current fastest car is harder to follow than the next fastest car. But I do wonder if making it throw off more turbulent air is part of Ferraris strategy.

      They’ve really picked up their qualifying ability this year, it could be at the expense of race pace, something making the car tough to follow would mitigate.

      1. @philipgb I’m sure for many many years now all the teams have tried to create as much wake as possible as long as it hasn’t harmed their own aero performance. I’m optimistic that some of this ability to create wake will be written out of the technical regs with the 2021 overhaul. To my thinking that would be just as key to closer racing as diminishing/altering the wings in size, shape, or position to make the cars less clean air dependent.

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