Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

How realistic is Hamilton’s claim Red Bull are 1.5 seconds faster than Mercedes?

2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton gave a grim assessment of how far Mercedes are lagging behind rivals Red Bull ahead of the second round of the world championship this weekend.

The team is no closer to the front than it was 12 months ago, said Hamilton, and reigning world champions Red Bull have pulled further ahead. While Mercedes has cut its deficit in terms of straight-line speed, they are losing too much time in the corners.

“Last year we were very draggy,” Hamilton explained. “We were struggling, not only on the straights, we had to take a much bigger wing. But we were equalling, or if not, losing in the corners as well.

“This year. It’s mostly through the corners. I think down the straights we’re quick. But on exits, these guys have a lot of rear end through the majority of the corners.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Mercedes were left well behind in Bahrain
Hamilton finished fifth in the season-opening race while Red Bull swept to a one-two, with an Aston Martin and a Ferrari separating Mercedes from the dominant winners.

“I think in the race they weren’t pushing,” Hamilton admitted. “So I think they’re a lot quicker than they even seemed. But we have it as them being a second and a half faster in the race per lap, something like that.”

Could Mercedes really be that far behind Red Bull? Hamilton and George Russell qualified six-tenths of a second off pole-winner Verstappen, so a one-and-a-half second deficit in the race would be almost twice as much.

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Red Bull’s victory in Bahrain was all the more emphatic because the RB19s were able to run two stints on the soft tyres and one on hards. They therefore spent longer on the quickest rubber than Mercedes, Ferrari and Aston Martin, all of which had to use the hards for two stints.

Hamilton was only one the same rubber as Verstappen for the first dozen laps, where both were on softs, and the final 21, when they were on hards. During the latter stint, Hamilton’s hard tyres were already six laps old when Verstappen put his on. This was also the point in the race where Verstappen had least incentive to drive flat-out, as he had a 10-second cushion over team mate Sergio Perez in second place.

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On the soft rubber, Hamilton initially lost over a second per lap to Verstappen. When the degradation started to bite, this crept up to almost two seconds until he pitted. Mercedes simply could not make the C3 soft compound last on the rough Bahrain track.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023
Two stints on softs increased Red Bull’s advantage
This was as bad as it got for Mercedes, but at no point did they look capable of competing with Red Bull. Sergio Perez, who got out from behind Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari after the first stint, was often quicker than team mate Verstappen in their second stint on softs, putting over a second per lap on the hard-shod Hamilton.

The cars were back on the same rubber for the final stint. Benchmarking Red Bull’s pace against Hamilton’s here is complicated by three factors. The Mercedes driver lost time being passed by Fernando Alonso on lap 38, a Virtual Safety Car slowed the field soon afterwards, and from lap 45 Carlos Sainz Jnr’s Ferrari began delaying Hamilton.

In the occasional like-for-like glimpses of pace here, the picture doesn’t look as bad for Mercedes, especially when Hamilton’s older rubber is factored in. But as he pointed out, Verstappen was stroking it home by this point. While Hamilton’s lap times improved by 2.6 seconds from lap two to the quickest lap of his final stint, Verstappen found just 1.7 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Jeddah Corniche Circuit, 2023
Hamilton is hoping for a better showing in Jeddah
When the chequered flag dropped on a race which featured no Safety Car periods, Hamilton was 50 seconds behind Verstappen, which equates to an average of 0.87 seconds per lap. Given this was a race in which Verstappen hardly ever needed to push, Hamilton’s assessment that Mercedes’ true deficit was a second and a half may involve a degree of playing up the scale of their rivals’ advantage, but it does not look like hyperbole.

While Mercedes have indicated they are bringing modest updates for their cars in Jeddah, their best hope for this weekend is that the combination of slow corners and an abrasive track surface in Bahrain amplified Red Bull’s advantage in the same way long straights and faster corners did in Spa last year.

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2023 Saudi Arabian 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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21 comments on “How realistic is Hamilton’s claim Red Bull are 1.5 seconds faster than Mercedes?”

  1. It’s far closer to the truth than all the claims of Mercedes getting closer during the 2022 season.

  2. It looks more like about a second per lap really. I expect Red Bull will be in charge of events in Saudi as well but they will need to try harder. So still the same gaps but more time being flat out.

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      17th March 2023, 12:24

      @phil-f1-21 yeah but Lewis is referring to the fact that Max has extra pace. There’s no way Checo is lapping as quick as Max at full pace. If a Mercedes was behind Max and about to overtake, the Red Bull would suddenly start lapping quicker. Red Bull will hide their pace moving forward unless they need to show it as it will only hurt them if they show it.

      1. Not only that, but by lapping slower they are putting all the elements of the car under less stress: engine, tyres, and recruiting else. This will allow them to extend a stint where needed, and reduces the chances of a failure.

        I doubt even Perez was pushing it for the majority of the race. He certainly didn’t look like it.

        Personally, I think Max had a second and a half in hand over everyone but his teammate and could have lapped everyone if he’d wanted to (because RBR would happily have ordered Perez to drop back to let him if he’d wanted it). That’s probably not going to be the case in all races going forward, but it points to a very dominant season, likely more so than Mercedes at their peak.

        1. The Merc era was slightly different as RedBull made some good chassis’ during that period only for the engine to let them down badly. Aston Martin have shown this year that Ferrari and Merc especially, have just messed up even more than last year.

          1. So, just so we’re clear, you’re saying:
            – Mercedes do a better job than others on both engine and aero, that’s bad.
            – Red bull and Honda do a better job than others on aero and engine, that’s good.

          2. Just to be clear, I’ll explain in a bit more detail. When Merc were dominating, they had a massive engine advantage that nobody had a chance of getting near with the token system in place. The current RedBull hasn’t got the same sort of advantage they had which is why I said they are slightly different. Merc and Ferrari have messes up their chassis and aero but there is nothing stopping them from being on par with RB. Aston Martin have shown that it’s more a case of those two messing up than RB having a Merc era type of advantage.

          3. Actually, I’ll grant that it is different.

            A large portion of the field ran exactly the same engine as Mercedes, with it’s massive advantage, whereas nobody can just buy and run the exact same aero package as Red Bull.

          4. That’s true, although the equivalent would be RedBull selling their aero with bits missing and slowing their customer teams down and maybe only providing the faster parts if it directly benefitted them. Thankfully the witholding of engine maps is now banned.

          5. That would be more like RBR splitting the bodywork with adjustable parts but not giving all the adjustments needed to get the best out of it. All the parts are there, the adjustments can be made and relevant setup found.

            Also, for a significant portion of Mercedes’ dominance they weren’t allowed to withhold engine maps, so the customers head identical engines to Mercedes. Yet, off course, it was all about the engine…

            The fact is, the two situations are more or less identical. Mercedes did a good job on both engine and chassis, won lots of races, but that’s bad in your eyes. Red Bull, in partnership with Honda, have done a good job on both engine and chassis, yet that’s bad in your eyes. 🤔

  3. It is all about the driver so I guess age is catching up with him faster than it does with Alonso :-)

    In reality who cares if Mercedes is 3rd or 5th or 8th – it is just 1 of the 10 teams and it would be really good for the fans if Mercedes is having to fight with AM and Alpine rather than driving in no mans land like last year with Ferrari and Red Bull ahead and the rest far behind.

  4. “qualified six-tenths of a second off pole-winner Verstappen, so a one-and-a-half second deficit in the race would be almost twice as much.”

    My math isn’t always the best, but I think it would be exactly two and a half times as much. 🙃

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      17th March 2023, 12:34

      @jabr yeah but they were much faster during the race and Max didn’t reveal the car’s “true pace”. They’ll be even quicker this weekend with the upgrades and can relax even more with Leclerc out of the picture.

      Maybe Perez tries an overtake for spectacle at some point during the race.:). They should hire a race director to stage the race narrative for our benefit. Make it dramatic.

      The race leader, Max Verstappen has stopped on the track. He takes out his cell phone, calls his mom. What is he saying? Happy Birthday Mom! He’s racing again and lapping the Ferraris.

      Max, what was going through your mind when you stopped on track to call your mom? I dunno Jenson, I’ve been so busy this weekend and I never had a chance to thank her but I was 3 minutes ahead of everyone and decided to take this moment to wish her a happy birthday.

    2. Nice one José.

  5. Coming from the man that tells his engineer that his tyres are dead and then sets the fastest laptime in the race.

  6. In fairness Verstappen rarely seems to drive too far off his limit so I don’t put much faith in the claims that Red Bull were not pushing at all. I think a second a lap in race pace seemed about right.

  7. Well the first stint in Bahrain is the one most comparable and lap times show that Hamilton and Mercedes are probably right. One can simply go through the data. For sure there are some complications that possibly blur the picture. Mind that we are only referring to Bahrain’s specific race, as it is unknown what the exact trend in Jeddah will be. But there is more …

    There has been some analysis indicating that after 2-3 laps in the race, Red Bull turned down the engine a bit, selecting a less powerful ERS mode (which is allowed to do during the race). They seem to have run the race with a similar mode like the one they used in free practice 2. This is evident in Verstapen’s top speed values down the main straight. The reason for this is that they were possibly protecting something or that they simply did not need to run in full mode which also helps in the long term reliability.

    During the last 10 laps the Red Bulls were using even less of their potential, driving one second off their true pace as Red Bull engineers revealed.

    Hamilton’s comments on relative car pace most times are accurate and are driven by data and talks with engineers. Of course they are always based on the information available when the interviews take place (everybody knows that during a weekend in F1 things change and teams make adjustments). One that digs a bit deeper into data, into the technology and basic principles of an F1 car, can have a better understanding of the picture and the results. Getting informed by credible sources that are not biased, is also essential (reliable information from the paddock’s engineers can be found).

    There is more to write about driver perfomance (esp on race day) based on facts, comparisons, analysis through the years etc but that is a more controversial subject to talk about (senior team members such as team principals some times distort the picture a bit depending on their agenda). There are a lot of unfounded comments and prejudiced beliefs out there based just on driver/team preference or media propaganda.

    By the way, when Hamilton talks through the radio with Bono about his tyre condiiton and gives some negative feedback, many times he describes some temporary phase the tyres go through, such as graining. After all, he often confirms a bit later that tyres have recovered. The timing that team radio gets broadcasted by FOM can lead to misunderstandings.

  8. Just a little nit to pick, maybe the chart maker could use other colors, like red, blue, and green; that would make the things easier to read.

    1. Yes, these charts can be very hard to follow with two cars having the same team colour.
      Perhaps could still do something like a solid line for team car 1 (VER in this case) and a dashed line for team car 2 (PER).

  9. It’s not looking good for any competition up front and the blame has to lie with Ferrari and Merc for getting it so badly wrong. The fact that we are looking to AM and Alonso to bring the fight to them says it all.
    The RedBull does not (seem to) have a massive engine advantage or a double diffuser type advantage that makes it impossible for other teams to catch up. I say this as a frustrated RB fan who wants to see close racing at the front.

  10. That’s about right. Welcome to the midfield.

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