Category Archives: Inside the Race

Inside the Race – Round 2: Malaysian Grand Prix

(Updated 4-14-11)

THE DATA SET

“Inside the Race” features performance-based analysis of selected races during the Formula 1 season. The data sets utilized for the Inside the Race features are the official timing tables supplied by the FIA.  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 generally 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 displayed from top to bottom for each entry. Bold numbers indicate fastest sector, fastest optimal lap, and fastest actual lap.
  • Saturday’s surprise was not that Sebastian Vettel recorded yet another pole position for Red Bull Racing, it was the qualifying pace of McLaren.  For a few brief seconds, it appeared that Lewis Hamilton was going to snatch pole position away from Vettel on a dry track under normal conditions; a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by anyone since last year’s Singapore Grand Prix.  However, Vettel was able to pull out an extra tenth on Hamilton on his final lap and extend his pole streak yet again.  Vettel’s last-lap dash was a blinder, with the young German leaving nothing on the track as represented by his matching fastest actual and optimal lap times.
  • Unlike Australia, where Vettel recorded all three fastest sector times, Hamilton pipped the reigning world champion in the final sector; a result of the McLaren package’s straight-line efficiency and the superiority of the Mercedes drivetrain.  But like Australia, Hamilton’s optimal lap time was even closer to Vettel’s pole time than his ultimate fastest lap showed.
  • With matching optimal and fastest laps as in Australia, Fernando Alonso wrung everything he could out of his Ferrari 150 Italia, but lost several tenths to the front row in each sector.  Felipe Massa also matched his potential in the sister Ferrari with similar results.  In fact, both Lotus Renaults and Nico Rosberg in his Mercedes matched their optimal and actual lap times as well.  Let’s take a look at the sector differential percentages to better evaluate where Ferrari are lagging behind the front-runners in qualifying:

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  • The table above represents the same drivers from the first table and the relative percentage each sector time contributed to their overall gap to the optimal lap time set by Sebastian Vettel.  To help aid the reader’s understanding of each sector’s layout differences, I’ve posted a track map of the Sepang circuit below:

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  • As is typically the case in modern Formula 1, Ferrari has admitted that a lack of downforce is the primary culprit for its relatively lack-luster qualifying performances so far this season.  The differential table above supports Ferrari’s position, indicating that Alonso and Massa lost roughly 50% of their time to Vettel in Sepang’s 2nd Sector.  It should come as no surprise that the 2nd Sector contains just about every downforce-dependent corner on the track, stretching from before Turn 4 through Turn 11.
  • But Ferrari was not alone in succumbing to the Red Bull RB7’s superiority in Sector 2.  The differential table clearly shows that every other package in the top 10 was outmatched by the RB7’s aero efficiency when Vettel needed it most.  In the case of McLaren, Hamilton’s middle sector amounted to 161% of his gap to pole due to a superior Sector 3 time, and Button lost 66% of his time in Sector 2 as well.
  • Although Mercedes is looking to generally add downforce as well, the team has also been struggling with its rear wing and DRS system since the beginning of the season.  Ross Brawn revealed before the Malaysian Grand Prix that the Mercedes DRS system has been resulting in a detachment of airflow from the wing when its deactivated, resulting in loss of rear downforce and likely contributing to Nico Rosberg’s Sector 2 time.  However, as revealed in the first table above, Rosberg also lost close to 6-tenths of a second in the final sector alone; a fact which clearly doesn’t make sense considering the superiority of the Mercedes engine/KERS combination.   Apparently, the Mercedes DRS system was also not activating properly for both Michael Schumacher’s final lap in Q2, and Rosberg’s final lap in Q3.  Therefore, Rosberg’s Sector 3 time provides a clear indication of just how much time can be gained or lost depending on the functionality of each team’s DRS system.
  • With each of the 2010 new teams managing to qualify for the Malaysian Grand Prix, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at how Team Lotus, Virgin, and HRT are getting along as they embark on their sophomore seasons:

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  • I chose to include the times of pole-sitter Vettel, the last two ‘established’ runners of Adrian Sutil and Pastor Maldonado, and the six drivers from each of the 2010 new teams.  The graphs above display the same qualifying time and sector information normally provided for the front-runners.
  • Of obvious note was the performance of Team Lotus following a rather disappointing 2010-esque qualifying in Australia.  Team Principal Mike Gascoyne was quick to note in Australia that the Team Lotus chassis was having exceptional difficulty warming its tires and that the team’s performance was not indicative of the strides made over the off-season.  Clearly the warmer conditions in Malaysia helped, as Heikki Kovalainen’s actual fastest lap was only 4-tenths off the time set by Maldonado.  Of particular note was that Kovalainen only lost 3-tenths to Sutil and the Force India package in the downforce-dependent 2nd Sector.  However, Gascoyne tipped off reporters that the team felt Kovalainen could have done even more if not for traffic on his last lap; possibly even enough to get out of Q3.  While initial reactions to such a statement were understandably skeptical, Kovalainen’s optimal lap time without a clear final-lap run was only 1-tenth off of Maldonado’s.  As will be shown later, Team Lotus’ pace in qualifying wasn’t a fluke and translated into a very respectable race for Kovalainen come Sunday.
  • While Team Lotus appears to have made the giant leap forward it had promised over the off-season, the same can’t be said for Virgin Racing.  The second-generation Nick Wirth-designed car is clearly not producing the same levels of downforce as its Lotus counterpart, and the team is in danger of even being caught on pace by HRT.  Timo Glock lost 7-tenths of a second to the Kovalainen Lotus in the second sector alone (translating to a whopping 2.5 second differential to Vettel), and one has to wonder whether the all-CFD approach of Wirth Engineering is outmatched by the performance levels required in F1.  In talking about Mercedes’ issues with their DRS system, Ross Brawn revealed just how important wind tunnel testing was to his team figuring out the system and its various compromises.  Clearly, something with the Virgin package is not quite right at the moment, and the team is pinning its future hopes on an update scheduled to arrive in time for the Turkish Grand Prix.

THE RACE

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  • The ultimate race contenders encompassing the top 6 finishers are displayed in the first race line plot.  The so-called ‘best of the rest’ are shown as compared to Felipe Massa’s race in the second.
  • Following a fairly tame Australian Grand Prix on the unique Albert Park layout, Malaysia and the series’ first visit to a Hermann Tilke-designed track produced what is likely to be the kind of race we can expect to see throughout the rest of the 2011 season.  While creating a much-improved show for spectators; from a strategy point of view, the addition of less-durable Pirelli tires, KERS and the DRS system resulted in a Grand Prix the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long, long time.  I could write a book about all that occurred on Sunday (I welcome any comments on things I did not touch on), so in an effort to limit length, I will try to keep my insights limited to the important stuff.
  • Going into the race weekend it was clear to all that the high temperatures and demanding nature of the Sepang circuit would result in at least one more pitstop than in the Australian Grand Prix.  However, the general development of the Malaysian round was quite similar to Australia; the name of the game being to effectively manage the Pirelli tires.  Managing the Pirellis is quickly shaping up to be a game of ‘chicken’, with each team trying to go as long as possible in their first stint before changing over to fresh rubber for the second.  The importance of going as long as possible in the first stint is down to the finite limitations of the Pirellis, in that everyone has referred to the Italian rubber having three distinct phases.  These phases were clearly indicated in the lap time progressions during each driver’s first stint of the Malaysian Grand Prix.  For those who watched the race on television, the Pirelli phases were referred to on the world feed by Vettel’s race engineer, who asked over the radio, “What phase are the tires in Sebastian?”  To which Vettel replied, “Phase one, beginning to enter phase two.”  Several laps later, Vettel made his third and final pitstop.  So just what are these “phases” in the Pirelli tire’s life?  Let’s take a closer look:
    • The first phase is a period of consistent performance that lasts for a variable duration of laps dependent on several factors, including: driving style, car characteristics, and track conditions.  For the majority in the line plot above, this period lasted until around laps 8-9.
    • The second phase is a period of consistent but manageable degradation that occurs over a fairly static 3-5 lap period.  In the race, this phase generally occurred between laps 9-12.  It appears that management of the second phase can be a significant performance differentiator as Button, Massa, and Alonso were able to close the performance gap to race leader Vettel during this period of the first stint.
    • The third phase is what is referred to as the “cliff”, and no amount of effort on the part of teams can stop its effects once it hits.  In the race, the cliff is represented in laps 12-14 just before the first round of pit stops.  The drop-off in lap times for everyone (besides the early-stopping Mark Webber) during this period is extraordinary uniform.
  • Once one understands each phase and how the teams try to manage them, understanding the general development of the rest of the race becomes quite simple in spite of the relative confusion on display Sunday.  Just take a quick look at the line plot again for each driver and you will recognize that each stint is an exercise in monitoring what phase the tire is in, with a goal of stopping just at the end of the tire’s second phase before reaching the cliff.
  • Before evaluating any further, let’s take a look at the stint bar graph for those who finished on the lead lap, in finishing order, with the lighter shade of blue once again indicating a stint on the soft option tire and the darker blue denoting a stint on the hard prime tire:

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  • As in Australia, the leading philosophy employed by teams was to run the option tire as much as possible, saving a single stint on the prime tire for the end of the race.  The definitive shelf-life of the Pirelli tire made each stint a game of chicken, as alluded to earlier.  In order to not run into the problem that will be further explained in relation to Hamilton’s race, each stint had to be extended as long as possible so as to avoid a fourth stop at the end of the race.  The only notable exceptions to that trend were Webber, who finished 4th, and Hamilton, who crossed the line in 7th but was later demoted to 8th following a post-race penalty.  Both drivers opted for a four-stop, option-option-option-prime-prime strategy; but let’s make clear that Webber’s four-stopper was the only true strategic decision between the two.  To help illustrate Webber’s strategy I have plotted polynomial trend lines to better show the pace progression of the top 6 finishers:

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  • Webber fell from 3rd on the grid to 9th at the end of the first lap due to his KERS failing to discharge.  With a car that was already low on top-speed as a result of the RB7’s abundance of downforce, Webber’s lack of KERS would make it nearly impossible to pass on-track during the rest of the race; a fact that was exhibited by his inability to get around Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber in the opening laps.  In response, Webber and his engineer made the decision to switch to a four-stop strategy to maximize outright performance, effectively using each set of Pirelli’s only for the their first phase.  As shown in the plot above, Webber parlayed his extra stop into being the fastest runner during the middle and final phases of the race.  The strategy worked to perfection, with Webber able to crawl his way back through the field to finish 4th just behind Heidfeld’s Lotus Renault.

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  • On the other side of the coin was Hamilton’s dramatic fall from a strong 2nd place position to crossing the line in 7th.  The plot above represents Hamilton’s race to that of teammate Button, who eventually finished in 2nd.  While many have second-guessed McLaren’s strategy calls on Sunday, others have indicated that Hamilton’s race was really compromised back on Saturday when he flat-spotted a set of option tires.  Not having a third set of options for the race meant that Hamilton had to adopt the prime tire at his second stop.  However, it’s notable that Hamilton’s pace on the prime tire during his third stint matched that of Button on the options.  In fact, what’s even more interesting is the near-identical pace and phase progression of Hamilton on the prime and Button on the option during the third stint.  As is visible in the plot above, where Hamilton’s fate was sealed was actually during his fourth stint on his second set of prime tires.  What initially doesn’t make sense is that Hamilton was around a full second a lap slower than Button during this stint, even though Button was also on prime tires.  There are two probable explanations for this phenomenon, the first being that Hamilton had previously used his second set of primes on Saturday and his tires were more worn.   The other explanation is that Button was just quicker on the prime tire, an explanation that is largely attributed to Button’s post-race comments about his car “coming alive” on the primes once he learned how to manage the tire over the course of his final stint. *

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  • Kamui Kobayashi replicated teammate Sergio Perez’s Australian strategy of stopping once less than the rest of the top 10 runners on his way to a 7th place finish.  The plot above shows Kobayashi’s race as compared to that of Felipe Massa, who was effectively the slowest of the leading three-stoppers.  Polynomial trend lines have been added to demonstrate the general pace trend for each driver.  Kobayashi’s race confirmed that the Sauber is indeed comparatively easy on its tires, with the young Japanese driver coaxing his tires through the Pirelli’s second phase longer than others in the field.

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  • Box plots are provided per the usual; 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 supplementary to what has already been discussed above, and should provide the reader with a visualization of each driver’s effective operating range.  The first set of box plots displays the front-runners and the second encompasses the mid-field pack.

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  • Finally, I’ll wrap up this version of Inside the Race with a look at the race pace of the new teams in the same vein as I did for the 2010 Malaysian Grand Prix.  For the 2011 edition of the race, I plotted Kovalainen and Glock’s race line plots against those of Jaime Alguersuari and Nico Rosberg.  As compared to a similar line plot from 2010, it’s evident that both Team Lotus and Virgin have made significant strides since this time last last year.  While Kovalainen and Team Lotus had much to be proud of on Sunday evening, one has to wonder just how much the ill-fated two stop strategy employed by Toro Rosso contributed to Kovailanen breathing down Alguersuari’s neck as the checkered flag fell.

posted by Trey Blincoe

* Post-race reports have confirmed that Hamilton was indeed on a set of previously-used hard tires for his fourth stint.

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Inside the Race – Round 1: Australian Grand Prix

(Updated 4-4-11)

THE DATA SET

“Inside the Race” features performance-based analysis of selected races during the Formula 1 season. The data sets utilized for the Inside the Race features are the official timing tables supplied by the FIA.  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 generally not included.

QUALIFYING

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  • The table above represents the top 8 drivers on the starting grid from left-to-right, with the best sector times, fastest optimal lap, and fastest actual lap displayed from top to bottom for each entry. Bold numbers indicate fastest sector, fastest optimal lap, and fastest actual lap.
  • Sebastian Vettel’s dominance on Saturday is clearly evident from the fact that he recorded all 3 fastest sectors for the fastest optimal lap time, as well as the fastest actual qualifying lap.
  • Lewis Hamilton’s optimal lap time was actually quite closer to the pace set by Vettel than otherwise shown by his fastest actual qualifying lap, which should serve as further encouragement for McLaren following a lackluster showing in pre-season testing.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s qualifying performance was decidedly less impressive than predicted.  Of particular concern for Ferrari should be the fact that Alonso’s fastest actual qualifying lap was also his optimal lap time; signifying that the Spaniard left nothing on the track that could account for the gap to rivals Red Bull and McLaren.  In the near term, the Prancing Horse is hoping that their subdued performance in Australia was track and condition-specific.

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  • The table above represents the same top 8 qualifying drivers and the relative percentage each sector time contributed to their overall gap to the optimal lap time set by Sebastian Vettel.  To help aid the reader’s understanding of each sector’s layout differences, I’ve posted a track map of the Albert Park circuit below:

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  • Clearly, Vettel and the Red Bull RB7 held a massive comparative advantage in the final Sector; accounting for anywhere between 56-72% of Vettel’s full lap advantage over rivals from other teams.  While it may not be entirely obvious based on the track map above, many observers, including McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, noted that Sector 3 at Albert Park is the most downforce-dependent sector of the three.  For the past two seasons its been clear that Adrian Newey’s designs have been the downforce leaders in the field, and as the 2011 season begins, it appears that nothing has changed in that department.  Look out for Red Bull at the next round in Malaysia, as aero grip is at an especially high premium there (when there’s not a monsoon to contend with).
  • A talking point in Australia was Mark Webber’s consistent lack of comparative pace to teammate Vettel in both qualifying and the race.  From the differential table above, Webber lost the vast majority of time over 2/3 of the lap; which is very atypical for past comparisons between the dueling Red Bull teammates.  As will be shown later, Webber also suffered from tire degradation in the race far and above the levels experienced by Vettel.  At the weekend’s conclusion, Webber informed the media that he pulled off the track immediately upon crossing the finish line as a precautionary measure because he felt something was just not right with his chassis.  Red Bull confirmed it would be conducting a full strip-down of Webber’s car, and there are unconfirmed reports that the team has already found a mechanical issue that was the culprit of Webber’s problems in Australia.  Point of all this being that its far too soon to write Webber off as a non-contender to Vettel.*
  • One last piece of insight to be gleaned from the differential table is the inference that can be drawn from the percentage gaps of Alonso, Felipe Massa, and Nico Rosberg in Sectors 1 and 3.  It was fairly evident to many observers and partially confirmed by both teams that Ferrari and Mercedes struggled with correctly setting-up the new Pirelli tires.  To be sure, many people, including Pirelli themselves, were surprised by the performance characteristics of the new Italian rubber in Melbourne.  However, it appeared that in the two Sectors requiring the best corner-exit traction, Ferrari and Mercedes were particularly slow.

THE RACE

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  • The top five finishers are represented in the first line plot, while finishers 6-10 are displayed in the second.  The line plots are fairly self-explanatory in terms of displaying lap time developments over the course of the race, but here are a few insights worthy of note:
    • Hamilton was able to match Vettel’s pace through the majority of the first two stints, and only began to fall back from Vettel after damaging his car’s undertray on lap 28.  One can understand McLaren’s post-race confidence that they can catch Red Bull in race conditions based on the fact that the ultimate gap between Hamilton and Vettel was the product of Hamilton losing periodic chunks of time in the second half of the race; presumably due to the British driver nursing a damaged car.  However, it remains to be seen just how hard Vettel was pushing during the race.
    • Lotus Renault’s Vitaly Petrov put in an impressive podium performance following a difficult rookie campaign, and it appears that the Renault package is on-pace with the offerings from Red Bull, McLaren, and Ferrari at the start of the 2011 season.  From the line plot, Petrov was clearly in cruise mode during the first half of the race after finding himself in an uncontested third position, and therefore his times were not that impressive.   However, as the three-stopping Alonso and Webber began to close in on Petrov during the final third of the race, the Russian driver, on older rubber none-the-less, was able to match the pace of those behind and even run faster than Vettel and Hamilton ahead.
    • The Jenson Button/Felipe Massa scrap during the first stint of the race, resulting in Button being assessed a drive-through penalty, masked Button’s true pace in comparison to the leaders ahead.  Button’s line plot shows that his times were also the most consistent, only adding to the theory that Button’s smooth and controlled driving style is especially easy on his tires.  With the premium placed on tire management in 2011, Button could be a man to watch as the season progresses.
    • Although it was clear the team had a relatively strong package in pre-season testing, Sauber’s performance in Australia was truly impressive; regardless of the team’s eventual disqualification from the race results for a rear-wing technical infringement.  Of particular note in the line plot is Sergio Perez’s outright pace following his one and only stop for the softer option tire.  Perez was able to match the pace of Button on two sets of tires, a fact that nobody, not even Sauber or Pirelli, can truly understand.
  • More importantly for upcoming races, both line plots show what will likely be the general pace progression of races and individual stints for the remainder of the 2011 season.  A graph depicting stint lengths and tire selections of the top finishing drivers, in order, is provided below with the lighter shade of blue denoting a stint with the softer ‘option’ tire and the darker blue denoting a stint with the harder ‘prime’ tire:

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  • Although the performance characteristics of the Pirelli control tire are bound to change from race-to-race as F1 visits different tracks and the Italian manufacturer develops its compounds and constructions, there is much to be gleaned from the stint chart when viewed in conjunction with the line plots above.
  • Unchanged from last season is the fact that fuel burn-off continues to dictate overall pace and tire compound selection in the no-refueling era.  During the 2010 season, teams learned that the effects of fuel weight destroyed either available compound of tire during the first 1/4 of every race.  As such, teams were in the general habit of starting races on the option tire before switching to the prime somewhere past the 1/4 distance, at which point the prime tire could effectively last the remaining distance.  It appears that the same general thought-process will win-out in 2011 with the Pirelli tire, although the actual execution will be somewhat different due to the addition of at least one more stop per race.  Most telling of the prime tire’s continued inability to withstand the effects of fuel weight was Mark Webber’s adoption of the prime tire at his first stop on lap 11, only to stop again for fresh rubber 15 laps later.  To further illustrate the point, below is a line plot comparing the two-stop, option-option-prime strategy of Vettel to the three stop, option-prime-option-option strategy of Webber.  Polynomial trend lines were also added to better show that the performance trend differences were ultimately a push between the two strategies, which put Webber at a substantial disadvantage due to the added time of an extra pit-stop:

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  • 2010 featured the odd-exception to the aforementioned general consensus on tire strategy, and such an exception was on display in 2011’s first race.  As previously mentioned, Sauber’s Sergio Perez was able to parlay a one-stop, prime-soft strategy into a remarkable 7th place finish in his debut F1 grand prix.  The line plot below compares Perez’s race to that of teammate Kamui Kobayashi, who employed the standard two-stop, option-option-prime strategy.  Once again, polynomial trend lines were added to show that the performance trends between the two strategies were essentially equal, despite Perez gaining significant track time from making one less pit-stop:

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  • Most surprising is Perez’s raw speed on his worn soft tires during the last 1/3 of the race distance.  While there was conjecture in the paddock after the race that the Sauber is particularly easy on its tires, that fact alone cannot fully explain the unexpected success of Perez’s one-stop strategy.   To further illustrate, the line plot below compares Perez’s 2011 race to the one-stop performance of Jenson Button on a drying track at last year’s Australian Grand Prix.  Remember again that Perez’s final stint is on the 2011 Pirelli option tire while Button’s times were set on the ultra-durable Bridgestone prime tire:

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  • In a final Perez-related note, the inferences to be drawn by comparing the two Sauber teammates’ races are surely tantalizing for mid-field teams that don’t make it to Q3 and can thereby elect to start on the prime tire.  It will be quite interesting to see whether others attempt to replicate Perez’s Australian Grand Prix strategy in the upcoming races.
  • The outright performance of the Pirelli tire also caught everyone off-guard in Australia, including Pirelli.  In qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, the Pirelli tire produced times that were on par with those set on Bridgestones in 2010, despite the fact that the Pirellis had proven to be at least 1-2 seconds slower than the Bridgestones in pre-season testing.  That trend continued to the race, as shown below by comparing the line plots of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton’s 2010 races to those of Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso in 2011:

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  • One last analysis tool, box plots, are provided below.  The best way to think of a box plot is as a depiction of a driver’s effective operating range.  Each box plot displays several pieces of information: 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); and the center ‘+’ denotes mean lap-time:

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  • In the first box plot, the front-runners are displayed in finishing order from left to right, and the midfield is displayed in the same order in the second plot.  The information displayed should be fairly self-explanatory; however, keep in mind the effects of a third pit-stop for fresh tires when comparing Alonso and Webber’s times to the others in the front-running group.

posted by Trey Blincoe

* Update: In a news report posted by Autosport on April 4th, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner confirmed that his team had conducted a strip-down of Mark Webber’s chassis following the Australian Grand Prix.  No outright mechanical defects were uncovered, but several “setup” issues were found which Horner believes could have contributed to Webber’s lack of comparative pace and excessive tire wear.

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Inside the Race – Round 11: German 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.
  • Another qualifying session and another Red Bull Racing pole position. Same old story right? Not quite. Sebastian Vettel bested a resurgent Ferrari pairing of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa; in the case of Alonso, the margin was a scant .03 of a second. Because of a driver error on his last lap in Q3, Mark Webber was only able to manage 4th place on the grid for Sunday’s race. So how did Ferrari do it? Alonso posted the fastest times in Sectors 1 and 2, with Vettel making the Red Bull RB6 work well enough in Sector 3 to barely beat Alonso to pole-position. While Webber’s error may have made Ferrari’s single lap progress look that much more impressive, Ferrari were as close as anyone has been to matching Red Bull’s pace in Germany since Lewis Hamilton’s pole position for McLaren back at the Canadian Grand Prix.
  • Before taking a closer look at the numbers, it’s important as always to scrutinize the layout and characteristics of the Hockenheim circuit. The circuit map is provided below:

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  • Hockenheim’s layout is the closest Formula 1 will get to the kind of short track racing North Americans are used to seeing on NASCAR’s schedule; an ironic twist considering the extensive layout of the original Hockenheim before the circuit’s revision several years ago. While Hockenheim is short and tight, it’s layout is fairly straight-forward with only a handful of demanding corners connected by one long, and several medium length straights. Sector 1 is the shortest sector on the Formula 1 calendar at just over 16 seconds in qualifying, and consists of a high-speed right-hander in Turn 1, and a straight-forward low speed right-hander in Turn 2. Sector 2 is all about top speed and mechanical grip, with the long curved straight into the hairpin Turn 6, followed by a flat-out Turn 7 and a slow to medium combination of Turns 8-11. The also-short Sector 3 is the most challenging on the circuit, with the high-downforce Turn 12, a difficult banked entry into Turn 13, and balance/downforce-dependent right-handers in Turns 16 and 17.
  • It’s no secret by now that the strength of the Red Bull RB6 is its performance in medium to high speed corners, of which there aren’t many at Hockenheim. Although certainly not an Achilles Heel, the RB6 is weakest by comparison to its competition in reaching top speed. Modest performance from the Renault engine coupled with the high downforce and accompanying drag produced by the RB6 result in the Red Bull machine being one of the slowest in the speed traps race in and race out. It comes as no surprise then that Red Bull was bested by Alonso and Ferrari in Sectors 1 & 2, and that Vettel was able make up the difference and grab pole position by setting a blistering Sector 3 split.
  • One of the story-lines from the German Grand Prix weekend was the pace, or lack thereof, of dual championship leaders McLaren. Qualifying their drivers 5th and 6th is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but the pace from McLaren was not what we have come to expect over the first half of the 2010 season. The explanation for McLaren’s comparative lack of performance was that McLaren have fallen behind Ferrari and Red Bull in the mid-season development race since the European Grand Prix. McLaren was able to ride the wave of having introduced a fully-optimized F-duct from the beginning of the season, but recent rounds have seen Red Bull and Ferrari add F-ducts of their own, as well as downforce producing bits such as flexible front wings and optimized exhaust-blown diffusers.

LINE PLOTS

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  • Per the usual, the top 5 finishers of the German Grand Prix are represented in the 1st line plot. Immediately noticeable is the fact that neither McLaren pilot could compete with pace-setters Massa, Alonso, and Vettel for the duration of the race. The only bright spot in an otherwise dull race for the boys from Woking was Jenson Button running long on the option tires and leap-frogging Webber during the pit stop period. Was McLaren’s performance in Germany a track-specific anomaly, or a sign of further struggles ahead in Hungary?
  • Before evaluating the Ferrari drivers in light of the team orders controversy that erupted on Sunday afternoon, lets quickly take a look at the Ferrari/Red Bull race development. On the super-soft option tires both Ferrari drivers were clearly quicker than Vettel, and the same could be said for the first 20 laps on the hard prime tires as well. However, beginning on Lap 41, Vettel was able to turn up the wick and reel off laps that were on pace or faster than those of Massa and Alonso ahead.
  • In regards to the duel of teammates at the Prancing Horse, the main question to come out of Sunday’s controversial result which saw Massa move over to allow Alonso by, was whether or not Alonso was truly quicker than Massa? On the option tires, the line plot reveals that Alonso was convincingly faster than Massa beginning on Lap 5 and extending to the round of pit stops; a fact which Massa readily admitted after the race. Following the pit stops and a switch to prime tires, Massa started off quicker again before it became clear that he was struggling with the harder tires as has often been the case for the Brazilian in 2010. From this point on Alonso was able to slowly eat into Massa’s lead and by Lap 40, the evidence suggests that Massa was indeed holding Alonso up. Whether or not Alonso was fast enough to rightfully take his teammate’s position is up to the reader to decide. However, based on the pit-to-car radio communication between Ferrari race engineer Rob Smedley and Felipe Massa, it’s clear that there was at least some pre-race planning at Ferrari that made a 3-second gap significant in terms of triggering team orders. Alonso was able to get well within this 3 -second window by Lap 40, and as they say, the rest is history.

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  • The second line plot shows finishers 6-10. Like teammate Sebastian Vettel in the British Grand Prix, an out-of-place Mark Webber struggling with an auxiliary oil tank issue was still much faster than the others in this group. His presence amongst the Renaults and Mercedes did provide a valuable marker from which to evaluate the pace of the aforementioned teams against the front-runners on Sunday.
  • In-season car development is one of the more entertaining facets of Formula 1 racing. To illustrate, in the space of one race weekend’s time Mercedes and Renault went from running a driver in the top 3 at the British Grand Prix, to being completely off the pace of the leaders in Germany. Mercedes and Renault don’t have the same amount of resources to develop their cars as Ferrari or McLaren, and it would appear that this fact is beginning to show itself in earnest on the track.

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  • The third line plot represents the chase for the final points-paying position captured by Renault’s Vitaly Petrov. The lap times for this group indicate that the mid-field was largely decided on the first lap as no driver differentiated himself from the rest in terms of pace.
  • Note the subtle differences between each driver’s line plot despite the wide array of tire strategies employed in this group. Petrov and Barrichello ran the conventional short option stint followed by a long run to the finish on prime tires. Hulkenberg ran much longer on the options with surprising consistency, until his times deteriorated rapidly as his tires went away before his stop. Pedro de la Rosa did the opposite, starting on primes and running long before changing to the options; a strategy which was scuppered by a coming-together with lapped traffic late in the race. With all of that in mind, the largely homogeneous line plot shows that the two-step tire allocation issued by Bridgestone didn’t produce the kinds of strategy wild-cards we hoped to see in Germany.

BOX PLOTS

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  • The first box plot displaying the top 5 finishers only confirms the general conclusions drawn from the line plots. However, one particularly interesting piece of analysis to come from the box plot is the relative consistency of Felipe Massa’s times for the duration of the race despite his struggles with the prime tires.

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  • The second line plot confirms just how much faster an ailing Red Bull RB6 is at this point in the season than a fully-healthy Renault or Mercedes. Outside of Webber, the bottom half of the top 10 finishers were remarkably even on pace and consistency.

posted by Trey Blincoe

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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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Inside the Race – Round 9: European 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. 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 9 of the 2010 FIA World Championship, the European Grand Prix, was run for for the following entries:

  • Jenson Button : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 3rd Place
  • Lewis Hamilton : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 2nd Place
  • Nico Rosberg : Mercedes GP Petronas : 10th Place
  • Sebastian Vettel : Red Bull Racing : 1st Place
  • Fernando Alonso : Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro : 8th Place
  • Rubens Barrichello : AT&T Williams : 4th Place
  • Robert Kubica : Renault F1 Team : 5th Place
  • Adrian Sutil : Force India F1 Team : 6th Place
  • Sebastien Buemi : Scuderia Toro Rosso : 9th Place
  • Kamui Kobayashi : BMW Sauber F1 Team : 7th Place

QUALIFYING SECTOR TIMES

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Notables:

  • Before the European Grand Prix weekend, the consensus in the Formula 1 paddock was that Red Bull Racing would likely have to wait until the British Grand Prix before it could re-build its streak of pole-positions that was broken by Lewis Hamilton in Canada. Like the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the Valencia Circuit features a collection of chicanes and low speed corners connected by flat-out stretches of track, with only a few downforce-dependent sections on the menu. Red Bull was more than willing to subscribe to afforementioned pre-race analysis as everyone at the team, from team principal Christian Horner to drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, readily admitted that Valencia didn’t suit the team’s RB6-Renault package and the European Grand Prix would therefore be a ‘points-maximization’ affair. Saturday afternoon proved those prognostications wrong as Red Bull not only captured pole-position, but completely locked-out the front row of the grid.
  • So how could the pre-weekend predictions from just about everyone, Red Bull included, be so wide of the mark when the rubber met the road? While Red Bull have been tight-lipped about how they actually flipped their own predictions on their proverbial heads, it is clear that the team’s full-time introduction of an ‘F-duct’ on the RB6 in Valencia had a substantial effect on limiting the one deficiency of the Adrian Newey-penned car: straight-line speed. The once-controversial wing stalling device first introduced by McLaren at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix has slowly appeared on the majority of the cars in the F1 field, with the widest adoption of the device to-date coming at Valencia due to the street-circuit’s relatively high-speed layout. A cursory glance at sector times reveals that the Red Bull duo were quick over all sectors, belying the fact that the RB6 was well-suited to the low-downforce demands of Valencia.
  • A closer look at the best sector times reveals that Sector 2 in Valencia was particularly well-suited to the top-speed optimization of the McLaren MP4-25. The particular portions of the Valencia circuit which comprise the 2nd Sector include the two longest straights, as well as heavy braking areas that require little downforce to negotiate. While it comes as no surprise that the McLaren drivers posted the two fastest S2 times during qualifying, it is quite surprising that the Red Bulls were just behind with the 4th and 5th fastest S2 times, less than 0.050 seconds adrift. Clearly, the adoption of the F-Duct on the RB6-Renault played a substantial role in lifting Vettel and Webber to the top of the grid.
  • An interesting phenomena during qualifying for the European Grand Prix was the non-progressive lap time spreads from the Q1/Q2/Q3 sessions. With the return of low-fuel qualifying this year, every dry qualifying session so far this season has seen a gradual decline in overall and individual times with each successive qualifying session; however, this was not the case in Valencia. In fact, a majority of drivers set a faster time in a preceding qualifying session than the last session they participated in. It would appear that some unknown factor in the Valencia circuit’s layout, length, surface, track conditions, etc., lead to a situation in which the majority of teams could not linearly extract performance from their cars in each progressive session as we are so used to seeing at other tracks. This fact is especially evident in that the ultimate fastest possible lap time for each driver did not coincide with the ultimate disposition of the grid following Q3. For instance, combining all 3 fastest sector times would have resulted in Felipe Massa out-qualifying not only his teammate Fernando Alonso, but third-place man Lewis Hamilton as well; however, Massa could only ultimately muster 5th behind both drivers at the end of Q3.

QUALIFYING SPEED TRAP

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Notables:

  • To further illustrate the importance of Red Bull adopting their F-Duct in Valencia, the foregoing table displays the qualifying speed trap figures from Canada, as well as the qualifying speed trap in Valencia. The fastest speed trap recording is shown first, with both Red Bull drivers’ trap recordings shown in comparison to that fastest speed. Whereas the RB6 was nearly 12 kph off the fastest car clocked through the speed trap in Canada, the RB6 was only 5 kph down on the fastest car in Valencia. By any measure, the RB6’s F-Duct had a significant impact on Red Bull closing the speed gap to rivals Ferrari and McLaren that we witnessed at a similar track two weeks prior.

LINE PLOTS

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Notables:

  • The first line plot shows the top 5 finishers of the 2010 European Grand Prix. The shuffled field that emerged following the safety-car period, combined with the impossible-to-pass Valencia circuit layout, produced a data set that revealed relatively little about the pace of the pre-race favorites.
  • What little the line plot reveals is just how much faster Vettel and Hamilton were in clean air than the rest of the top 5 during the first half of the race. This is especially evident in looking at Hamilton’s line plot as compared to teammate Jenson Button, who was stuck behind the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi following the safety car period. Once Kobayashi pitted in the final laps of the race, Button’s lap times dropped precipitously on the way to eventually recording the fastest lap of the race.

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Notables:

  • The line plot of finishers 6-10 reveals the same race development as the line plot of finishers 1-5: the Valencia circuit, in current form, does not lend itself to overtaking opportunities. While Fernando Alonso clearly separated himself from the following pack of drivers before Mark Webber’s accident on lap 9, his times were near uniform to those drivers ahead of him following his safety car debacle. Such a phenomena is a hallmark of a faster car being unable to pass a slower one.
  • While Kamui Kobayashi’s result certainly benefited from Sauber’s strategy to leave the young Japanese driver out on the prime tire instead of pitting with the majority of the field on lap 9, his pace was none-the-less impressive in light of the dismal results he and teammate Pedro de la Rosa have posted thus far this season.

THE SAFETY CAR CONTROVERSY

Due to the after-effects of Mark Webber’s spectacular collision with Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus on lap 9, not much can be gleaned from the typical performance-based analysis of the shuffled order that emerged following the safety car period. However, the deployment and administration of the safety car itself has produced a substantial amount of talking points on a number of incidents and outcomes which occurred during a hectic six-lap period.

The majority of the post-race focus has centered on events involving McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and the Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Following the first-lap shuffling which saw Mark Webber ominously fall from the first row of the grid back to 9th, Sebastien Vettel lead Hamilton, Alonso, and Massa up to lap 9 when the Webber/Kovalainen incident occurred. During the run up to lap 9, the field behind Vettel began to spread out as we have come to expect in Valencia, with gaps generally growing between each of the top 4. However, by lap 7, Alonso was beginning to close the gap to both Hamilton and race-leader Vettel. As Vettel crossed the start/finish line on lap 8, the top 10 looked like this:

  1. Sebastian Vettel (8 Laps)
  2. Lewis Hamilton (+3.730)
  3. Fernando Alonso (+5.200)
  4. Felipe Massa (+7.347)
  5. Robert Kubica (+9.173)
  6. Jenson Button (+11.792)
  7. Rubens Barrichello (+14.119)
  8. Nico Hulkenberg (+15.660)
  9. Sebastien Buemi (+16.797)
  10. Michael Schumacher (+18.569)

The running order and associated gaps to race-leader Vettel are critical to understanding what occurred as the safety car notice was issued to the teams on lap 9. The Webber/Kovalainen incident took place as the two drivers approached Turn 12 on the Valencia back straight, some 40 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel. In the time that elapsed between Webber’s car coming to a stop and the time it took for Charlie Whiting to make the decision to signal the deployment of the safety car, Vettel had crossed the start/finish line to begin lap 10, and was already into Turn 1. Behind Vettel, Hamilton and Alonso were both accelerating through and away from Turn 25, and Massa was mid-corner in Turn 25. It is important to note that due to the timing of the safety car announcement and the position of the aforementioned cars on-track, it was a physical impossibility for any of the top 4 runners to partake in the substantial advantage of making their compulsory pit-stop while the safety car was initially being deployed. The following circuit chart should give the reader a good estimation of the positions of the top 10 runners at the time the safety car message was displayed:

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The first runner to have a chance at diving into the pits before starting lap 10, and thereby maximizing track position, was 5th-place Renault driver Robert Kubica. Renault Chief Engineer Alan Permane revealed after the race just how close Kubica was to being in the same position as those in front of him: “When the Safety Car [announcement] came out, it was just before Robert’s braking point for the final corner, which is just before the Safety Car line. His reaction time from the Safety Car lights coming on to braking was about 1.2 seconds and he then entered the pit lane.” Jenson Button, sitting just behind Kubica in 6th place at the time, revealed that he also took advantage of the safety car period by the narrowest of margins: “I had the safety car light and the safety car warning from the team when I went round the last corner of the lap which is a full speed corner. I went round that corner, slowed up, obviously as you slow up anyway after that corner.” Essentially everyone behind Massa, except Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi and Michael Schumacher, stopped immediately after the safety car was deployed on lap 9. The typical pit-lane shenanigans went on with some gaining positions and others losing positions, but the real potential for position movement was in the hands of those who did not stop on lap 9.

What happened next amongst the non-stoppers was the basis for Lewis Hamilton’s eventual stop-go penalty, as well as the entire Ferrari organization’s calls for a rules re-think in the wake of a ‘de-legitimizing’ set of events.  For one reason or another, the safety car was not deployed on lap 10 until Vettel had already passed the pit-out, and Hamilton, Alonso, and Massa were approaching pit-out as well. As the safety and medical cars exited pit-out on the front straight, Hamilton briefly slowed, and then passed the entering safety car, leaving Alonso and Massa behind. Footage of the incident from several angles can be seen below:

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The effect of Vettel and Hamilton not being collected by the safety car, and Alonso and Massa not being quite so lucky, was substantial as shown in the lap time and position charts above. Vettel’s in-lap from P1 on lap 10 was a 2:15.248; Hamilton, from P2, clocked a 2:22.443. Compare those times to Alonso’s 2:43.266 and Massa’s 2:48.266. By circulating one lap behind the safety car, the Ferrari drivers lost close to 30 seconds of time compared to Vettel and Hamilton. What was even more important to the outcome of the race is that Alonso and Massa lost even more time to those runners behind who had stopped on lap 9. As the smoke cleared and the Ferrari drivers emerged from the pits to begin lap 11, Alonso had lost 6 positions to P9, and Massa had lost 10 positions to P14.

The only driver in the field to be more negatively effected by the safety car’s deployment was ex-Ferrari ace and 7-time World Champion Michael Schumacher. Schumacher’s fall from third at the time of his pit stop on lap 11, to essentially dead last was the epitome of how close F1 strategy calls can be to brilliance or bust. Formula 1 strategy legend Ross Brawn clearly saw an opportunity for Schumacher to move from P10 to P3 due to the substantial gap between Vettel/Hamilton immediately behind the safety car to the rest of the field who had stopped on lap 9. With about 25 seconds from Schumacher to Kamui Kobayashi in 3rd, Mercedes pitted Schumacher to get him out of the pits in 3rd just ahead of Kobayashi. As Schumacher reached pit-exit with Vettel and Hamilton already gone by, and Kobayashi accelerating down the main straight, Schumacher was initially given an all-clear green, then a hold red pit-exit light, indicating he could not exit the pits without penalty. Schumacher was subsequently held while the entire field passed. The rules regarding pit-lane release under the safety car are incredibly unclear when it comes to situations such as this, and after the race both Brawn and Schumacher asked for clarification from the FIA: “We would like to have clarification about the safety car situation as the red light on the exit from my first pitstop destroyed a race which otherwise would have offered us very good possibilities.”

The real controversy regarding the safety car period came well after the race had returned to green on lap 15. Under obvious protest from Ferrari, the FIA stewards began to examine Lewis Hamilton’s lap 10 pass of the safety car in front of Alonso and Massa. While McLaren could be sure that Hamilton had raised the FIA’s suspicion, the stewards did not officially announce that Hamilton was under review for the incident until lap 22, and only issued Hamilton a drive-through penalty on lap 25, which the McLaren driver served on lap 27. The importance of the 17-lap spread from incident-to-penalty is that Hamilton was able to build up enough of a gap to the slower Kobayashi to take his drive-through penalty and emerge still in 2nd place; on lap 15 Hamilton lead Kobayashi by some 2.5 seconds, but by lap 27 the gap had ballooned to over 14 seconds.

Without surprise, Ferrari were more than displeased by the outcome of the events that transpired in Valencia. Following the issuance of 9 post-race, 5-second penalties for ‘speeding’ under the safety car to various drivers who pitted on lap 9, Fernando Alonso finished in 8th with teammate Felipe Massa finishing out of the points in 11th. Lewis Hamilton finished the race where he had been when the safety car was deployed on lap 9: 2nd. The effect of  all this essentially being that by breaking the rules, Hamilton had finished in a far better position than Alonso and Massa had by following them. This obvious truth was enunciated by Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo after the race: “[T]hose who didn’t follow the rules were penalised by the race officials in a way that was less severe than the damage suffered by those who did respect them. That is a very serious and unacceptable event that creates dangerous precedents, throwing a shadow over the credibility of Formula 1.” Fernando Alonso went so far as to initially say that the European Grand Prix had been “manipulated” by the FIA, a statement which he later retracted.

Now, many fans and observers will process Sunday’s events differently based primarily on their team or driver allegiances; that reality notwithstanding, the 2010 European Grand Prix did happen and now we are left asking ourselves how we feel about it. From a performance-analysis standpoint, the negative effects of the safety car’s administration on Alonso, Massa, and even Schumacher are quite obvious. Compounding the problem was the fact that Hamilton’s drive-through “penalty” for breaking the rules turned out to be anything but a penalty in actual practice. All that said, there are certainly other truths that some, including Ferrari, have notably left out of their post-race observations.

While Alonso and Massa experienced bad luck, or maybe even an unfair result, Ferrari certainly didn’t choose the best option to do the most they could with the hand they were dealt. When it became clear that both Ferraris were caught behind the safety car for an extra lap than their nearest rivals, the only possible chance of salvaging a reasonable result was to keep both drivers out in the same vein as Kamui Kobayashi did. While it is true that Kobayashi’s prime tires allowed him to run competitively until the very end of the race, Bridgestone’s tire engineers indicated that the softer option tire could be run for a substantial number of laps as well with no, or even negative degradation. It is therefore quite evident that the better option for Alonso and Massa was to let the pair gap the field from the front and then make green-flag stops later in the race. It’s unlikely that such a strategy would have resulted in a win for either driver, but it is certainly plausible that Alonso and Massa could have finished in the same positions they were in when the safety car was deployed on lap 9.

In the days since the European Grand Prix it appears that cooler heads have prevailed and Ferrari have taken a step back from their emotion-induced protestations; this is a good thing for Ferrari and the sport as a whole as nothing was done with intent on Sunday. It would also appear that all the teams and the FIA have jointly recognized that the events that transpired in Valencia weren’t the best way to run a F1 race, and a summit has been convened for this weekend to discuss possible changes to the safety car rules and regulations. Stay tuned…

posted by Trey Blincoe

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Inside the Race – Round 4: Chinese 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 4 of the 2010 FIA World Championship, the Chinese Grand Prix, was run for for the following entries:

  • Jenson Button : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 1st Place
  • Lewis Hamilton : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 2nd Place
  • Nico Rosberg : Mercedes GP Petronas : 3rd Place
  • Sebastian Vettel : Red Bull Racing : 5th Place
  • Fernando Alonso : Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro : 4th Place
  • Robert Kubica : Renault F1 Team : 6th Place

QUALIFYING SECTOR TIMES

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Notables:

  • The outcome of a modern Formula 1 grand prix is largely decided on Saturday, so I thought it would be worthwhile to analyze the fastest sector times set during qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix. This analysis seemed even more prescient due to the fact that the varied conditions on Sunday masked the true dry-weather pace of the F1 grid in Shanghai.
  • Along with active suspension, the ‘F-Duct’ introduced by McLaren on the MP4-25 has been the primary focus of technical discussions in the 2010 F1 paddock. The straight-line speed advantage afforded to McLaren by the F-Duct stalling the rear wing was supposed to provide  Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton with a particular advantage in Shanghai, as the back straight of the Chinese circuit is one of the longest on the F1 calendar. By some estimates, the straight-line speed advantage resulting from the F-Duct could account for as much as a 0.350 second gain in the final sector alone. With that in mind, the fastest sector times set by the two McLaren teammates paint a different picture than the aforementioned pre-race theories. In comparison to the sector times set by Sebastian Vettel in the pole-sitting Red Bull RB6-Renault, the McLaren pair were most competitive in the downforce-dependent first and second sectors; a fact that was especially true for Lewis Hamilton. With Vettel setting the fastest time in sector three, it would appear that McLaren opted to run a higher downforce setup that was equalized by the F-Duct stalling the rear wing, as opposed to utilizing the device to create an outright speed advantage down the kilometer-long back straight.
  • Note that the fastest times set in all three sectors were set by Red Bull drivers. Although it was nip-and-tuck across the board with only tenths separating drivers/entries, the RB6-Renault clearly differentiated itself from the pack in the second sector.

LINE PLOT

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Notables:

  • Varied and predominantly wet conditions on race day in Shanghai created a vastly different outcome than was originally in the offing after qualifying on Saturday.
  • Race-winner Jenson Button was able to repeat his Australian Grand Prix performance by employing intelligent strategy decisions and consistent driving in otherwise difficult conditions. Whereas Button’s Australia victory was owed largely to an early adoption of slick tires, the opposite decision paid off in China. Instead of following the likes of teammate Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, and Fernando Alonso who all stopped for intermediate tires as the rain began to fall in earnest on lap 2, Button, along with Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica, made the decision to continue on slick tires in the hope that the rain shower was only a temporary interlude. The latter group emerged as the strategy winners as shown by the line plot above. Despite employing two distinctly different types of tire, the times set by the group of intermediate runners was remarkably similar to those set by Button, Rosberg, and Kubica. Having not stopped to fit intermediate tires, Button was able to amass close to a full-minute advantage over his teammate in the early stages of the race. Although the time advantage afforded to the non-stoppers was eventually wiped out by the first safety car period, Button’s track position was key to maintaining his lead for the duration of the race.
  • Although not much can be gleaned from the muddled times set throughout the duration of the race, the clear implication of the line plot is that making efficient tire choices was the key to result differentiation amongst the leading contenders. This fact is especially evident in that the times set by Button and Hamilton were remarkably similar despite Button stopping twice and Hamilton four times.

BOX PLOT

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  • The box plot echoes the previous contention above, that in terms of on-track performance, there was little difference between the contenders in Shanghai; leaving the determination of the race to the amount and timing of pitstops.
  • While Sebastian Vettel shined in last year’s wet Chinese Grand Prix, the mixed conditions in this year’s edition proved especially difficult for the young Red Bull driver. Pit stops aside, Vettel was the least competitive of the front-runners; correspondingly, Vettel posted his least competitive performance of the season to-date.
  • In a mirror-image of the results of the Australian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was ultimately faster on-track than Jenson Button in Shanghai, posting a faster average lap time than his teammate; however, it was Button’s intelligent strategy calls and consistent pace that lead to a superior result. It would appear that the McLaren teammates are the classic embodiment of speed versus smarts.

posted by Trey Blincoe

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Inside the Race – Round 3: Malaysian 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 3 of the 2010 FIA World Championship, the Malaysian Grand Prix, was run for for the following entries:

  • Jenson Button : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 8th Place
  • Lewis Hamilton : Vodafone McLaren Mercedes : 6th Place
  • Nico Rosberg : Mercedes GP Petronas : 3rd Place
  • Sebastian Vettel : Red Bull Racing : 1st Place
  • Mark Webber : Red Bull Racing : 2nd Place
  • Felipe Massa : Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro : 7th Place
  • Fernando Alonso : Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro : 13th Place
  • Rubens Barrichello : AT&T Williams : 12th Place
  • Robert Kubica : Renault F1 Team : 4th Place
  • Adrian Sutil : Force India F1 Team : 5th Place
  • Sebastien Buemi : Scuderia Toro Rosso : 11th Place
  • Jaime Alguersuari : Scuderia Toro Rosso : 9th Place
  • Jarno Trulli : Lotus Racing : 17th Place
  • Karun Chandhok : HRT F1 Team : 15th Place
  • Lucas di Grassi : Virgin Racing : 14th Place

LINE PLOTS

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Notables:

  • The first line plot displays the basic composition of the top six finishers of the Malaysian Grand Prix. All driver/entries displayed on the plot elected a one-stop, option-to-prime race strategy and therefore the lap-time spreads and trends are largely uniform.
  • Of particular note is the relative performances of Robert Kubica in the Renault and Adrian Sutil in the Force India as compared to the “Big Four” driver/entries of race-winner Sebastian Vettel in the Red Bull and Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes. It would appear that at this point in the pre-development, fly-away portion of the 2010 F1 season, the Renault and Force India packages are every bit the match of the Mercedes. An interesting storyline to monitor once the F1 circus reaches Barcelona will be how the performance of the ‘smaller’ Renault and Force India teams compares to the Big Four as the pace of in-season car development quickens.
  • Although the Red Bull package wasn’t head-and-shoulders above the others in Malaysia, the superior performance of the RB6 is evident in Vettel’s line plot for the duration of the race distance. Vettel was especially quick in the pre-pitstop portion of the race, extending the life of his option tires by an extra 1-2 laps while consistently setting times around .5 seconds quicker than the following pack of driver/entries. Therefore, it would appear that the RB6 is able to manage its tires much more efficiently than it’s predecessor last year.

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Notables:

  • The second line plot shows the chasing pack of Ferrari and McLaren driver/entries who were forced to make their way through the field after being caught out in Saturday’s wet qualifying session.
  • While Jenson Button earned a victory in the previous round by stopping early in the race, a similar move, albeit to prime tires in dry weather conditions, didn’t pay off in Malaysia. Button claimed after the race that the decision to pit early was primarily due to degradation of his soft option Bridgestones, but McLaren team principle Martin Whitmarsh stated that the decision to pit was based more on strategy reasons. Button was losing considerable time to teammate Lewis Hamilton as he sat behind the Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, who were unable to pass the wounded Toro Rosso of Sebastien Buemi. Due to their early fitting, Button’s prime tires were clearly past their shelf-life by the end of the race as evidenced by the line plot.
  • Another Button-related note is the remarkable consistency of the reigning World Champion’s lap-times. Clearly, Button’s driving style and approach to a grand prix is something quite different than that of his contemporaries.
  • As will be discussed again later, the strategy of Hamilton and both Ferrari driver/entries to start the race on prime tires before switching to options seemed to be the best strategy in Malaysia; however, the Ferrari F10 was clearly faster on the option tire than its McLaren counterpart.
  • Fernando Alonso’s spectacular clutch-less drive in Malaysia looks even more impressive after reviewing the line plot. If one knew nothing about the race and only examined the plot above, it would be nearly impossible to identify that Alonso was struggling with a significant reliability issue.

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Notables:

  • As requested, I will post specific teammate comparisons when a grand prix’s data set provides a suitable opportunity to do so. The Malaysian Grand Prix provided such an opportunity to compare the Red Bull driver/entries of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.
  • Pit stop miscues aside, the line plot confirms the contention that the Malaysian Grand Prix was won on the first lap. While Vettel gets the lion’s share of praise from the F1 community, Webber proves he can be every bit as quick as his German teammate over the duration of a race distance.

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Notables:

  • As Sebastian Buemi and Rubens Barrichello were the only drivers to employ a true two-stop strategy in Malaysia, I thought it worthwhile to compare Buemi’s progress to that of his teammate, as Alguersuari went with the convention one-stop route on his way to a 9th place finish.
  • Unfortunately, Buemi’s first and second stints were compromised by a badly damaged front wing, so a true ultimate-pace comparison between the two strategies wasn’t possible. That being said, Buemi’s times following his second stop, which included a front wing change, were around 1 second quicker per lap than Alguersuari’s. Is that enough of an advantage for someone of note to try a two-stopper in China?

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Notables:

  • As we are now 3 races into the 2010 Formula 1 season, the final line plot is intended to monitor the progress of the new teams in F1 by comparing them to the lowest-finishing ‘established’ driver/entry. In Malaysia, that dubious honor went to Rubens Barrichello in the Williams Cosworth.
  • The plot reveals that the new teams still have some way to go before they can nip at the heals of the established F1 teams. It’s important to note that while Barrichello finished the race a lap down, he was still significantly quicker and more consistent than any of the driver/entries from Lotus, HRT, or Virgin.

TREND LINES

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Notables:

  • The first plot above displays the power trend lines of the four ‘chasing’ driver/entries from Ferrari and McLaren during the Malaysian Grand Prix, while the second plot displays the trend lines of 3 of the same driver/entries from the Bahrain Grand Prix edition of Inside the Race. The inclusion of the Bahrain plot is intended to show the development of race tire strategies since the first round of the 2010 season; namely, the substantial increase in tire performance extraction. You’ll notice that the slope of the power trend lines from Malaysia are substantially steeper than those from Bahrain, as teams have pushed the Bridgestone tires’ balance of durability and performance. Look for trend line slopes to further steepen in upcoming rounds.
  • While not substantial, you’ll notice the trend line’s display of performance differentiation between Hamilton/Massa/Alonso, who started on prime tires before switching to the option, and Button, who started on options and switched early to primes.
  • Fernando Alonso’s particularly impressive performance in Malaysia, despite racing without a clutch, is further evidenced by the first plot. The trend in Alonso’s lap times were comparatively unaffected by the Ferrari F10’s mechanical woes; an achievement that is befitting of his self-proclaimed ‘best career race’ award.

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  • The second line plot from Malaysia displays the one vs. two-stop performance trend as evidenced by the Toro Rosso driver/entries of Buemi (two stops) and Alguersuari (one stop). Even accounting for the substantial performance limitation of a damaged front wing during his first two stints, Buemi’s switch to a two-stop strategy was good for around a 1 second advantage by the end of the race.

BOX PLOTS

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  • As a reminder, 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 from Malaysia are neatly divided into finishers 1-6 in the first plot, with finishers 7-12 in the second.
  • The first plot shows how evenly matched the pace was at the front of the field in Malaysia, as mean lap times were differentiated amongst the six driver/entries by just over .250 s.
  • In particular, the quartile spreads of the first plot point to Sebastian Vettel’s superior performance despite Mark Webber taking fastest lap honors. However, with nearly identical mean lap times, either Red Bull Racing driver was worthy of the top step on the podium.
  • The second plot once again displays Jenson Button’s extraordinary consistency over a race distance with a tightly-packed quartile range. However, consistency doesn’t always bring home results as Button’s fastest lap was barely quicker than Felipe Massa’s first quartile.

posted by Trey Blincoe

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