Inside the Race – Round 1: Bahrain Grand Prix

THE DATA SET

“Inside the Race” features performance-based analysis of selected races during the Formula 1 season. The data set utilized for the features are the lap charts supplied by the FIA’s official timing and scoring reports. Only representative race laps are included in the analysis as the focus is primarily on evaluating on-track performance; therefore, laps skewed by pit stops, safety car periods, or significant on-track incidents are not included.

DRIVER/ENTRIES ANALYZED

Race analysis for Round 1 of the 2010 FIA World Championship, the Bahrain Grand Prix, was run for eight entries split into two performance-differentiated groups.

Group A:

  1. Lewis Hamilton : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 3rd Place
  2. Nico Rosberg : Mercedes GP : 5th Place
  3. Sebastian Vettel : Red Bull Racing : 4th Place
  4. Fernando Alonso : Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro : 1st Place

Group B:

  1. Rubens Barrichello : AT&T Williams : 10th Place
  2. Robert Kubica : Renault F1 Team : 11th Place
  3. Vitantonio Liuzzi : Force India F1 Team : 9th Place
  4. Jaime Alguersuari : Scuderia Toro Rosso : 13th Place

LINE PLOTS

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Notables:

  • There were substantial lap-time improvements in each Group immediately following the first and only round of pit-stops. Following a brief flurry of then fastest laps, lap-times largely flat-lined as drivers focused on nursing their tires.
  • Fernando Alonso’s late blast of fastest laps is interesting considering the relatively pedestrian pace of all other entries during the latter stages of the race.
  • Lewis Hamilton’s post-race contention that he could have maintained contact with the Vettel/Alonso/Massa train appears to be well-founded. Note Hamilton’s lap-times mirroring Rosberg’s slower pace until Hamilton was able to get passed the Mercedes driver during the round of pit-stops. Once passed Rosberg, Hamilton’s lap-times look very comparable to the leading three.
  • The effect of Sebastian Vettel’s engine woes on his lap-times is quite interesting. From the time the spark plug malfunction initially manifested itself until the end of the race, the problem seemed to either improve, or Vettel managed the effects of power-loss with increasing success. By the last two laps, Vettel was able to claw back some 5 seconds per lap and match the times set by the rapidly gaining Rosberg. What could Vettel have done at the end of the race with a healthy car?
  • Group B’s spread of lap-times is far more uniform than that of Group A. There could by several explanations for this phenomena, including drivers pushing harder in Group A or the effect of the slowing Vettel on Alonso and Hamilton’s lap-times.
  • Possibly the most important story going forward is the line plots’ revelation of tire performance envelopes. McLaren team principle Martin Whitmarsh, among others, claimed that both compounds were too durable to allow for substantially differentiated strategies amongst teams. Looking at Group B, it would appear Whitmarsh was absolutely spot-on. During the second half of the race, Barrichello and Liuzzi were running the soft option tires while Kubica and Alguersuari were running on the harder prime tires. As each driver settled on conserving his tires, times were remarkably consistent across the four driver/entries irregardless of tire choice. In their current state, it would appear that the Bridgestone tires do not offer the kind of variety between compounds to produce meaningful differences between strategy choices.

TREND LINES

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Notables:

  • Two sets of trend lines were run for Group A to address the wave of criticism regarding the new rules and the decidedly lackluster on-track action they produced in Bahrain, despite the opposite intent.
  • The dashed lines for each driver/entry denote a linear trend line which, theoretically, should show the general trend in performance related to the effects of fuel burn-off. However, the linear trend lines are still slightly skewed by the strategy decisions to nurse tires instead of pushing for ultimate performance.
  • The solid lines show a power trend line which display the actual performance trends which occurred during the race.
  • The point? Fuel burn-off should have accounted for far greater lap-time improvements as the race went forward. Remember, the fastest lap set in qualifying was a 1:53.883 by Sebastian Vettel.
  • The question that begs to be asked is why didn’t a single driver/entry attempt a two-stop tire strategy so as to maximize the performance benefits of fuel burn-off? With total pit-stop times being somewhere in the 25 second range, the numbers add up to a significant benefit to be had from the two-stop route. Possible explanations for not going down that road are: the tight and twisty section of the Sakhir circuit added in 2010 which made overtaking more difficult over a single lap; the generally cautious approach to strategy taken by teams during opening round races; and a non-linear performance envelope of the Bridgestone tires which drop-off significantly if pushed, but can consistently run for days if nursed.

BOX PLOTS

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Notables:

  • For those wondering what a box plot displays, the upper and lower ‘T’ lines show the minimum and maximum lap-times. The upper and lower reaches of the bars show the first and third quartiles of the lap-time data set (or in other words a 25-75% range), while the center ‘+’ denotes mean lap-time.
  • Rosberg and Mercedes GP did not have the ultimate or consistent pace to challenge the Red Bull, Ferrari, or McLaren entries in Bahrain. Notice the third quartile of Hamilton’s lap-times are evenly matched to Rosberg’s due to the first third of the race.
  • The box plot clearly shows the dominant pace of Alonso and Ferrari in Bahrain, but stay tuned until we get a true apples-to-apples comparison with an un-delayed Red Bull or McLaren.
  • Robert Kubica in the Renault could have been quite competitive with the driver/entries in Group A if not for his first lap incident with Adrian Sutil. Kubica’s performance is even more impressive when one factors in that his lap-times were affected by the overtaking required during his charge through the field.
  • It would appear that the driver/entries from Williams, Force India, and Toro Rosso are quite evenly matched in the ‘best of the rest’ category, with Renault somewhere between that group and the leading four teams of Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, and Mercedes.

posted by Trey Blincoe

Sebastian Vettel
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