Inside the Race – Round 10: British 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 Inside the Race features are the official timing tables supplied by the FIA’s official timing and scoring reports. Typically, 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.

QUALIFYING

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  • The table above represents the top 10 drivers on the starting grid from left-to-right, with the best sector times, fastest optimal lap, and fastest actual lap going from top to bottom for each entry. Bold numbers indicate fastest sector, fastest optimal lap, and fastest actual lap. Red numbers indicate a ‘red-hot’ lap in which the driver’s fastest optimal lap matched his fastest actual lap set in qualifying.
  • It came as no surprise that Red Bull Racing once again locked-out the front row of the grid during qualifying for the 2010 British Grand Prix. As was evident during the 2009 edition of the race, the Silverstone’s high-speed and downforce-dependent layout is particularly suited to the design of Adrian Newey’s most recent creations. The level of Red Bull’s dominance is impressive in that the fastest two sector times in all three sectors were set by either Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber.
  • From the sector times, the strengths of the Red Bull RB6 in comparison to its competitors are evident in the 2nd and 3rd sector times set by both Red Bull drivers. While the RB6 only maintained an advantage of a few hundredths in the 1st sector, the RB6 dominated its rivals by several tenths of a second in the 2nd and 3rd sectors. Silverstone’s layout can go a long ways towards explaining this phenomena:

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  • Sector 1 features the ultra-quick Turn 1 to Turn 6, Copse-Maggots-Becketts-Chapel complex that is one of the most thrilling series of corners on the Formula 1 calendar. This series of high-speed corners is custom-tailored to the RB6’s superior level of downforce. However, the mid-speed exit of Becketts through Chapel and onto the Hangar Straight features acceleration and top-speed components that don’t particularly suit the RB6 and its Renault engine. While Red Bull have been working hard to optimize their wing-stalling F-Duct, the Renault engine is by all accounts at least 30-35 HP down on the offerings from Mercedes and Ferrari. (Note the relative strength of Ferrari and Mercedes-powered runners in the 1st sector). Therefore, Vettel and Webber were able to maintain a slight advantage through the 1st Sector based primarily on the speed of the RB6 through Copse and into Becketts.
  • The 2nd and 3rd Sectors allowed the RB6 to particularly shine due to the lack of long straights and mid-speed acceleration points that featured in the 1st Sector. The revised Silverstone layout including the new Abbey complex beginning at Turn 11, as well as the faster entry into Brooklands at Turn 16, are where the Red Bull drivers really ate their competitors for lunch. The maximum speeds reached by Vettel and Webber at the Sector 2 line just after Turn 11 clearly indicates the prowess of the RB6 in downforce-dependent corners:

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  • Behind the Red Bull’s superiority in medium and high-speed corners is a special ignition retardation system used in conjunction with the RB6’s exhaust-blown diffuser. The RB6’s specialized exhaust system was first reported by James Allen following the European Grand Prix and explained in detail by Craig Scarborough. This would go a long way towards explaining how the RB6 is able to maintain the ultra-impressive entry and mid-corner speed that is at the root of the car’s superior pace.
  • One final aside regarding the sector times chart at the top of this section is that Michael Schumacher was slower that teammate Nico Rosberg in every sector on Saturday. Schumacher just can’t get the Mercedes to work for him this year; and unlike other years in which the 7-time champion has struggled with his ride (1996 and 2005 come to mind), he’s consistently slower in the car than his teammate in just about every way possible.

LINE PLOTS

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  • The top 5 finishers are represented in the 1st line plot. While Lewis Hamilton’s race pace was much closer to that of Red Bull’s Mark Webber than the nearly 1 second gap between the two in qualifying,  Mark Webber was clearly the faster driver of the two on Sunday. Webber maintained only a slight advantage on the option tire up until both drivers made their only pit stops on laps 16 and 17 (note the gradual drop-off in times which prompted each driver to pit for fresh rubber). Webber was then able to run away with the race following the end of the safety car period on lap 30. Of likely concern to McLaren is the fact that Webber was able to pull away from Hamilton so convincingly for a 10-lap period on the harder prime tire, something that hasn’t been a strong-suit of the Red Bull by comparison to the McLaren in recent races. While the layouts of the upcoming events at Hockenheim and the Hungaroring will likely suit the MP4-25 more than the RB6, after the Canadian and European Grand Prix, we know that the Red Bull performs well on every circuit type.  McLaren will need to get on with their update packages with haste if they want to stay ahead of Red Bull in both Championships. (Red Bull in-fighting aside, of course…)
  • A particularly entertaining development during the race was Jenson Button’s climb from 14th on the grid to 4th at the checkered flag. In the modern F1 era, making such a dramatic jump under relatively normal race conditions is a massive achievement. Jenson’s result was especially impressive considering that he qualified down the grid because of an ill-handling car that was the same car he raced on Sunday. So how did he do it? Let’s first take a look at the position chart from the British Grand Prix:

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  • The key to Button’s climb was clearly a fantastic start. After climbing from 14th to 8th by the end of the 1st lap, Button’s strategy was then to run longer on the option tires than the group of cars immediately ahead of him, which were Schumacher, Barrichello, Alonso, Kubica, and Rosberg. One-by-one the drivers ahead of Button pitted for prime tires; first Schumacher on lap 11, then Barrichello and Alonso on lap 12, then Kubica on lap 13, and finally Rosberg on lap 15. After initially conserving his tires behind this pack of cars, Button set off on a consistent string of laps in clear air from laps 16 to 21. As you can see from the line plot above, Button’s fast laps actually peaked on lap 14. Therefore, the key to making the strategy work was the ability to run faster than the cars who had pitted ahead of Button during this 5 lap run. Looking at the lap time lines of Rosberg and Barrichello, Button was able to do just that.
  • With this strategy in place, even the most optimistic of calculations still resulted in Button coming out of the pits on lap 21 behind Rosberg, so the target at this point was gapping Barrichello. I’ve highlighted the relevant lap charts to show exactly how the gap between Button and Barrichello developed:

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  • By staying out on the option tire, Button was able to turn what was effectively a 20 second gap to Barrichello on lap 13, to a 25 second gap on lap 20. Those 5 seconds were the difference between coming out ahead of, instead of behind, the Williams driver. With Kubica’s retirement and Alonso’s drive-through penalty, Button was able to make the move from 8th to 4th. Button’s result proves that a little bit of luck, effective strategy, and good, consistent driving can still go a long way over a Formula 1 race distance.

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  • The second line plot represents finishers 6 through 10. Following his 1st lap puncture, Vettel was a fish out of water in this group, running laps on a single set of prime tires that were head and shoulders above the rest until the safety car bunched up the field.
  • Michael Schumacher’s performance, or lack thereof, by comparison to his teammate’s in the first grouping is just another example of the ominous lack of pace exhibited by Schumacher during his comeback season. At no point in the race did Schumacher differentiate himself from the likes of Sutil or even the rookies Kobayashi and Hulkenberg. While the Mercedes is not on the same performance level of the Red Bulls, McLarens, or even the Ferraris of the world, it was certainly a more capable package than the Force India or Sauber offerings at Silverstone.
  • A positive story to come out of the British Grand Prix and exhibited in the line plot above was the pace of the Sauber drivers after a decidedly lack-luster season so far. Following Kamui Kobayashi’s impressive performance at the European Grand Prix, Sauber could have very easily come back down to earth at the British Grand Prix. However, Sauber supported Kobayashi’s result in Valencia by putting Pedro de la Rosa convincingly into Q3, and running both cars into the points before de la Rosa’s coming-together with Adrian Sutil on lap 26. Even still, Kobayashi’s second-straight 6th place finish was the result of impressive pace as shown in the line plot above. This was especially true in the final stages of the race when the Sauber’s tire-friendly characteristics allowed the young Japanese driver to set several personal best laps.

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  • Now just past the halfway point in the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship, I thought it was high time that we re-examine the development of the F1 newcomers in 2010. With HRT racing essentially the same car they started the season with, the only entries worth looking at were the Lotus drivers Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen, and Virgin Racing’s Timo Glock. These three drivers’ line plots were set against the two slowest finishing drivers on Sunday; that dubious honor went to Force India’s Vitantonio Liuzzi and Toro Rosso’s Sebastien Buemi.
  • Compared to a similar analysis run for the Malaysian Grand Prix, the Lotus and Virgin line plots now represent the kind of proper race pace that we are accustomed to seeing from the rest of the established F1 field. While the newcomers posted inconsistent times that didn’t improve linearly as fuel burned off during the Malaysian Grand Prix, the pace set in the British Grand Prix was much more consistent and correlated to fuel burn-off. Without a doubt the likes of Lotus and Virgin still have a long, long ways to go before they catch up with the best of the rest on pure race; especially during the second half of races on prime tires. That being said, Lotus and Virgin have come a long way since the beginning of the season.

BOX PLOTS

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  • The first box plot displays finishers 1 to 5, and the second shows finishers 6-10. The upper and lower ‘T’ lines on a box plot show 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.
  • The box plots are just further evidence of what has already been stated regarding the pace of the various drivers during the British Grand Prix. Amongst the front-runners, the bulk of the laps posted by Webber and Hamilton were far and away better than those set by the likes of Rosberg, Button, and Barrichello.
  • It’s also clear from the second box plot that the Sauber C29 has come alive in the last two races based on Kamui Kobayashi’s performance by comparison to Sutil, Hulkenberg, and even Schumacher in the Mercedes. It would appear that hiring James Key away from Force India might wind up being the best money Peter Sauber has ever spent.

posted by Trey Blincoe

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