Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2018

McLaren and Williams slower than 2017 at COTA

Lap Time Watch: 2018 United States Grand Prix

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McLaren and Williams both had cars in the top 10 places on the grid at last year’s United States Grand Prix.

But as these two multiple championship-winning teams near the end of their very disappointing 2018 campaigns, it’s clear both have long ceased their 2018 development programmes and are now slower than they were 12 months ago.

That was the case at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday, where the two teams lapped two-tenths of a second off their 2017 bests at the Austin circuit. All four of their carts were eliminated in Q1.

The most-improved team year-on-year was – for the 11th race weekend in a row – Sauber. But perhaps the most significant improvement was at Ferrari.

In recent races the red cars have been in the bottom half of the team improvement rankings. Here they’ve leapt to third thanks – it seems – to removing defective upgrades from their SF71-H.

The overall lap time improvement at the track is 0.87 seconds which is pretty much average for this year.

However the gains in lap time since the track was first used in 2012 have been comparatively modest. It could be that the deteriorating surface, which has prompted some complaints, is preventing lap times from improving more quickly.

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2018 United States Grand Prix

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Author information

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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29 comments on “McLaren and Williams slower than 2017 at COTA”

  1. With all the Honda blaming, this sort of thing will never not be funny.

  2. Keith – I wonder if it might be more meaningful to order the x-axis of the ‘Lap time improvement in 2018‘ chart chronologically, instead of alphabetically?

    Williams & McLaren – unsurprising, and I think the truncated FP running wouldn’t have helped them either.

    Sauber – I truly wonder how much of that is down to the driver, and how much to the car/PU.

    1. @phylyp I agree, for Sauber and Williams, it might be more relevant to keep a driver as reference instead of the car. Stroll to Stroll and Eriksson to Eriksson… In the worst case the driver has improved and that will flatter the car improvement but not as much as now with the change of driver.

    2. @phylyp – Thanks for pointing out the alphabetic ordering of the lap time improvement chart. If there is no improvement to the cars over a season, alphabetic is as good an order as any other. However, this is not the case in F1 (ever) so the chart needs to be in chronological order.
      Also, if we think that drivers mask the car’s performance, what does that say about the actual worth of McLaren’s car this year? It must be a real dog given that Alonso is phenomenal and Vandoorne is actually a really talented guy, supping from a poisoned chalice.
      It’s harder to apply that logic to the Williams as we don’t really have a good handle on their two drivers, although they both seem reasonably talented to me [ducks to avoid thrown tomatoes labeled “Stroll”]. Maybe the Williams is really, really bad too, worse than it seems.
      As for Sauber, it seems clear that Leclerc is properly talented. People who know a lot more about F1 than me treat him as a special case, champion-to-be. I hope that he is all that and more as he is already great to watch.

    3. Although this isn’t entirely new for Williams, it is a first this season for McLaren isn’t it? So what happened? Setup? The teams doesn’t care? The track doesn’t help? The drivers don’t bother anymore? All of the above?

  3. So 3 of the worst (or none) improvers out of the last 5 are Renault powered. The team that went from Renault to Honda gained 0,7 sec, the team that went the other way, lost 0,3. Makes you think, also with not only MV whining about the Renault engine, but also both Renault drivers. Also keep in mind that TR lost James Key in the beginning of the season.

    As a MV fan, I do really, really hope that Renault will get there act together, just so DR can so something more next year, than fighting for P12.

    1. Marcel, against that, McLaren and Renault officially ceased developing their current cars several months ago, with McLaren using the last races of this season to test parts for 2019 and to give Norris a bit of time in the practise sessions to get used to the team. By contrast, at this same point last year Renault and McLaren were still actively developing their cars, so you would expect the relative difference between their 2017 and 2018 cars to be smaller at this point in the season.

      The comparison with Toro Rosso is also poor because the team was going through a lot of disruption during the 2017 US GP – having raced Gasly for the past few races, Toro Rosso shoved a rather dejected Kvyat back into the seat for one race, whilst in the other seat you had Hartley making his debut.

      Putting an inexperienced rookie into one seat and a driver in the other who was lacking support from the team and seemed thoroughly fed up with how he was being treated suggests that neither driver, nor the team, were really performing as well as they could have in the 2017 race. The question therefore has to be whether they really have made that much of a leap purely down to the engine – especially since this race also coincides with a fairly major update to the chassis (new floor) – and how much is to other factors, such as increased internal stability within the team.

  4. I can’t think of anything more soul destroying than being part of an F1 team that’s stopped developing the car and just turning up to qualify for the prize money.

    1. Maybe being a highly skilled engineering team and having your heart put into the car only to have a rich kid buy the seat and throw it all away. Every single race of the year…

      1. @rethla that would be awful, but isn’t even applicable here. The Williams is a dog of a car AND their drivers are bad.
        Actually, the one team it seems most applicable to is Sauber.

        1. @hahostolze What?
          Leclerc is at least 3 series better than the Williams drivers and even with Kimi/ericsson/antonio driving they will outshine the Williams pair.

          Its a dog of a car but its still an highly skilled engineering team doing their best AND their timeloss comes from losing Massa alone not the car.

          1. @rethla – it’s possible @hahostolze is referring to Ericsson and his ties to the owners of Sauber (Longbow Finance).

          2. @phylyp Ofc. he is but i dont see how that gets Williams of the hook and no matter how bad you think Ericsson is he wasnt born a rich kid, he got where he is by talent alone.

          3. @rethla, no, the problem is not solely to losing Massa – in fact, a lot of it is reportedly coming from a major mistake with the aero calibration of the car due to a wind tunnel upgrade going badly wrong, and in general the reports coming out paint a fairly negative picture of the development of the FW41.

            During the off season, they introduced a fairly large upgrade of their rolling road wind tunnel, and in particular they modified the surface of the belt with the intention of making it represent a real road surface more realistically. Unfortunately, it went the opposite way – they botched the calibration of the wind tunnel and, with it, the car itself, which is part of the reason why they have been having major problems with erratic airflow separation and strange handling shifts.

            The flow of air through the cooling systems is also deeply flawed, with reports that there have been problems with the airflow choking as it tries to flow through the car. That has caused a lot of problems with cooling the engines and the ancillaries – problems which they have only partially solved, resulting in a fairly compromised cooling arrangement.

            It’s easy to blame the drivers because they make for convenient targets, but frankly the car itself is a bit rubbish – and it is not the first time that Williams have made a mess of developing a car either.

            I mean, in the latter part of the V8 era they produced some fairly rubbish cars – the FW33 and FW35 were both shockers – and from 2014 to 2016, despite keeping the same line up of Massa and Bottas, they ended up becoming progressively less competitive because the successors to the FW36 (the FW37 and FW38) still had many of the faults of the FW36 – in private, some of Williams’s engineers basically admitted that they had struggled to solve some of the flaws the FW36 had and had instead just tried to smother them with more downforce, which never really worked.

            They’ve generally been criticised for producing overly conservative designs, but that is in part because when they’ve tried to go more radical, they’ve usually produced utter failures (such as the FW35, where they tried to innovate with a lowline gearbox only to find that the gearbox casing flexed too much under load, causing major handling problems because the rear suspension was being pushed out of alignment).

            They are also a long way behind their rivals in some departments – they might take pride in designing their own gearbox, but it’s been pointed out that the design they are using is the only non-composite gearbox in the field (everybody else is using a composite gearbox, whilst Williams are persisting with an aluminium housing). Now, bearing in mind that the use of a fully composite gearbox casing was nearly 15 years ago, you can see how, in that respect, Williams are not really keeping up with the rest of the field.

            The past few years have seen the faults of the team being progressively more and more exposed, and now they are finally coming to a head. For all that people might want to avoid blaming a team that they might have fond memories of, Williams now are not the team of yesteryear – and shifting all the blame to the drivers feels like an easy way out from giving the team the team the criticism that it really deserves to get on the technical front.

          4. @anon

            I didnt say the problem is solely down to the drivers i said that their timeloss compered to previous car is solely down to the drivers. Just compare it to Strolls times last year and suddenly there is no timeloss, in fact its an slight improvement.

          5. anon – thanks for that insightful explanation, first time I’m hearing of the technical woes that plague the Williams. It is also unfortunate that a mistake was made in an area that has such far-reaching consequences.

        2. How can we be sure the Williams drivers are that bad.
          Kubica has tested the Williams and he wanted to get out of the car quickly. It was that horrible, I think he called it a disaster.
          I actually feel sorry for Sirotkin because he is paying good money to drive that pile of trash.
          If ForceIndia can make a reasonably fast car, I don’t see what is holding Williams back.
          Mclaren on the other hand, have just been arrogant yet recently lacking in substance. They’ve got their data all mixed up and are better off starting afresh.

          1. Soon Stroll will be in the Force India and you can see exactly whats holding Williams back.

    2. @emu55 – stopped developing the 2018 car… to put the effort into the 2019 car, surely? Good strategy for some teams.

  5. I know that it is just a typo in the article text:

    All four of their carts were eliminated in Q1

    … and yet, it seems so sadly appropriate

    1. Well spotted, Bob! I’m sure that’s a Freudian slip by Keith :-)

    2. I chuckled on that one too. So fitting

  6. I’m sorry but I’m very disappointed with this article.

    Williams is quicker this year compared to last year if you look at stroll’s times. Comparing stroll’s this year’s times to massa’s last year times is futile as stroll is a lot slower driver and it skews the comparison to useless.

    Here’s my own analysis. This year in qualifying stroll did a 1:35.480. Last year he did 1:36.868. Assuming the ultra soft this year is maybe couple tenths faster than last year we get a difference of 1.4 s or 1.2 s faster car this year. Put massa in the car and you’s shave another 1.5 seconds off stroll’s lap time (like he did in 2017). Now obviously the williams car with a competent driver would not have gone 3s faster but replace stroll and massa and I’m 100% it would have gone something like 1s faster at the very least (compared to stroll). Regardless, williams is clearly faster car in 2018 compared to 2017.

    Cota is also a very technical track and it highlights driver’s lack of skill a lot more compared to something like baku which is just 90 degree turns. Cota has very complex corners with blind apexes, very tricky direction changes at high speeds and elevations and road cambers that make it more driver focused circuit. Just the braking zone into the first turn is already more difficult than all the corners in baku combined. If the williams car is tricky to drive then the lack of stroll’s skill only emphasizes his lack of skill even further.

    1. I spent the first half of this season making this point but it was always ignored, so I gave up. Stroll didn’t show any sign of improvement against Massa, an inexperienced driver on his first year in F1 and 1s behind would have a lot of low hanging fruits to pick up and should reduce the gap quickly by the end of the season, not the case by Stroll: the final qualifying sessions of the year had him even further behind Massa.

      Now, 2018 starts and suddenly Stroll is extracting from the car the same lap times Massa would? And Sergey is a rookie on the same tenth of second as Stroll so extracting what Massa would? I don’t think so. Williams have a bad car, agree, but not as bad as the drivers make it look. I have a feeling “Williams will improve the ‘car'” next year by installing Russel behind the steering wheel.

    2. I agree, Keith should have a better understanding of F1 than this…

  7. Maybe they ought to re-surface the tarmac so that it’d be easier to find lap time gains.

  8. These rookie teams get too much criticism. Let’s give them a chance to prove themselves eh? Not everyone has the established pedigree or budget of Haas F1 or Racing Point Force India.

  9. Nice observation on the lap gains on this track since it opened. Odd how the 2014 cars were the slowest in years but were slightly faster than 2013 around there. And the difference between 2016 and 17 isn’t much greater than the difference between this year and 2017, despite the rules overhaul for 2017.

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