Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2020

Ranked: The F1 cars of 2020, from fastest to slowest

Lap time watch: 2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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With the final qualifying session of the 2020 F1 season in the books we can answer the question: Who had the quickest and slowest cars this year?

Discarding the Turkish Grand Prix, where a very low-grip track surface plus rain equalled wildly unrepresentative lap times, we can assess how each team performed over 16 rounds on 14 different courses. We can split the field into three broad groups.

Starting at the back we find the three stragglers: The two Ferrari customer teams plus Williams. Unless the latter can nab a top 10 finish tomorrow they will end the season point-less despite having produced a more competitive car this year, which George Russell used to make several forays into Q2.

The midfield featured an unexpected addition this year in the form of Ferrari. At the end of their worst season in decades, Ferrari ranked fifth out of the 10 teams in pure performance. But the striking thing about this group of five teams is how closely matched they have been. Over the course of an entire season, the performance gap covering 10 cars was less than half a percent of lap time.

Pietro Fittipaldi, Haas, Yas Marina, 2020
Haas didn’t bring upgrades for its VF20
If only the front of the field was so close. Red Bull have steadily closed the gap on Mercedes over the course of the season, the proof coming with their first pole position of 2020 in the final race of the year. But having been over 1% slower than their rivals in many of the early races, they had a long way to come.

Mercedes therefore topped the 2020 ranking, comfortably ahead of Red Bull, who had a similar margin over the midfield. Racing Point’s controversial Mercedes-aping RP20 proved the third-quickest car of the year. McLaren, Ferrari, Renault and AlphaTauri were close behind. For Alfa Romeo, Williams and Haas – the latter bringing almost no developments to their car this year – the midfield was too far ahead for them to score in most races.

Red Bull’s pole position wasn’t the only surprise in qualifying. McLaren enjoyed by far their best performance of the season. Having been 1.4% slower than the pace-setters prior to this weekend on average (Turkey excluded), at Yas Marina their deficit is just 0.26%.

McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl was at something of a loss to explain where the performance has come from. “Looking at the qualifying today, but I think also looking at the at the whole weekend so far, we had a competitive car from the first run onwards on this track,” he said.

Lando [Norris] was feeling comfortable with the car all weekend and in the end he was building it up over qualifying and simply did a brilliant lap, probably one of the best laps he did in qualifying since he [became] a Formula 1 driver. It ended up in this great fourth place.

“Regarding the gap to both the Red Bull and the Mercedes, to be honest, I simply need to wait for more analysis to understand if they had any specific issues in their qualifying sessions.”

Ferrari also have some encouragement at the end of a hard season. This weekend is the third time in the last four races they’ve been within 0.7% of the pace, a significant step forward from the beginning of the season, which bodes well for their 2021 campaign.

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Another unusual feature of this weekend is that most of the midfield teams improved their lap times compared to last year, while the 2019 front runners did not. Mercedes were almost half a second slower than they had been 12 months ago; Red Bull and Ferrari were also slower.

Lewis Hamilton’s 2019 pole position time of 1’34.779 therefore remains the track record for Yas Marina.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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2020 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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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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12 comments on “Ranked: The F1 cars of 2020, from fastest to slowest”

  1. So, at the first graph, is the deficit measured in percentages or in seconds? Because the caption says: “Deficit to fastest laptime (%)”, while when the mouse is hovered over the bars it displays the deficit in seconds.
    Although it seems to me that it’s measured in seconds.

    Williams is not last according to this, it’s one of the biggest suprises to me. Although Russell had many good quali results, where he had beaten the Haas and Alfa drivers. I think their race pace was still lesser than Haas and Alfa, because their car was still the least sophisticated one. For example it would be hard to cope with weaker cooling, or lack of spare parts when it’s about beating financially more stable teams on a race distance or in the long run. These problems are not as apparent as they were in previous eras, because of the reliability requirements even most of the backmarker teams are capable of reaching the checquered flag at most of the races, but if the cooling or tyre handling is lesser, they are likely have to back off more frequently than the rivals. I see or expect this as the main reason why Russell not really had a chance to sometimes finish in the points. So it’s a great step forward, but improving the race pace is likely not easier than improving the one lap pace for them.

    And of course it would be hard to factor out the strength of the driver pairings, or the cases where there is a larger gap at quali is usual between teammates, like at Verstappen vs Albon or Vettel vs Leclerc. So for exapmle RB likely would have better stats in this aspect with a second driver who is a better qualifier.

    It would be hard to factor out from the stats that the best teams are likely only going all-in on softs at the Q3 (and this further increases the gap between the top teams and the lower ranked ones) .

    But of course this stat is a quite good measurement, because it’s a large and honest enough sample, because it considers every participant’s results against each other, and they are all going for the same goal.

    For Haas, Williams, and Alfa probably it would be a viable strategy to not really fight for positions at the quali, but only prepare tyres (heat them with some careful laps, to make them more durable for the race), as they are quite similar pace-wise, and tyres can be a decider. So probably prepare two sets of mediums, and one sets of hards and some fresh sets if possible (although backmarkers are not famous for having too many options because of the lesser tyre handling), and then occasionally go for a surprise two stop strategy. But of course, if it would be this simple, then I could be a race engineer :), and the points are still far for this three teams at any race.

    1. … and one sets of hards, and save some fresh sets for the race if possible …

  2. Thanks for the work and the effort you put into statistics I really enjoy it. It’s interesting to have comparison like this and I guess we all want to know which car is fastest.
    The problem I have with analysis like that is that they don’t take race pace into account.
    This year though it seems to be a bit more accurate than last year, when the Ferrari cars were over- and the Red Bull underrated
    In addition to that, it’s dificult to judge the de facto one-driver-teams Redbull, Ferrari and Williams with a massively underperforming second driver/car combination.
    Also there are so many variables like tyre compounds, tyre working range, engine modes and milage etc. that can flaw the results of a one lap comparison.

  3. The technical parade of the big brands. Well done motorsport.

  4. Where is the race by race fastest car chart?

    Surprised to see Ferrari faster than Renault. Leclerc is behind Ricciardo in the standings in spite of faster car? Find that hard to believe

    1. It is done on qualifying speed, not race pace. Leclerc has been top of the midfield far more often than Ricciardo in qualifying, but the Renault is faster in the races. Similarly, the Williams is faster than the Haas in qualifying, but slower in the races.

    2. That would be impossible to normalise due to all the various factors that determine how quick a car is during a race (eg being stuck behind cars, number of pitstops needed etc).

      Qualifying speed is the most obvious choice (or at the very least, the least bad) to make a determination of relative speed. This is what people would intuitively think of when you ask what is the fastest car. Other definitions of fastest will exist.

  5. I guess the failure to beat the outright track record was down to track conditions not improving a lot. Oh well, all bar two got a new reference lap time this year.

  6. Out of the bottom 3 teams, I think Williams will improve the most next year.

  7. We’ll only see the true pace of Haas when better drivers take over. That is not necessarily two rookies….

  8. Sad that my comment right after the first morning of testing was almost spot on, merc clearly 1st, rb clearly 2nd and rp clearly 3rd, only unsure whether mclaren renault were with ferrari or a step above.

  9. Figures are distorted from Ferrari early in the season with an illegal engine

Comments are closed.