Following pre-season testing I looked at the in-season development during 2014 to try and predict likely performance in Australia 2015 [Can F1 In-Season Development Determine the Oz pole-sitter]. Now that we have a short break before the European season starts, I thought it would be an opportune moment to see just how much the cars have improved since last season. Just as a reminder, the regulation changes over the winter have robbed the cars of some downforce (nose changes and change to the skid-block material forcing the cars to have a slightly higher ride height). Changes to the Pirelli tyres seem to be limited to changes in construction to cope with a predicted higher power, so the majority of the improvements in lap time must be from the development of the power units.
Last time I took the 2014 Force India as a reference point, as that car appeared in the pre-season tests, and so it was useful to compare its performance with the 2015 chassis as tested. Since then it has become apparent that the current Force India isn’t really that much different from the 2014 car, So I have continued the comparison onward, baselining all the times to the Force India:
For 2014 and the pre-season test I used the 2014 Force India, and for the 2015 races I used the 2015 car. As this graph is a little crowded, I have expanded the 2015 comparison below:
The first thing to note visible in the first graph is the dramatic drop in performance of both Manor (Marussia) and McLaren. While in Manor’s case this is most likely due in part to the inexperience of their drivers, it is also indicative of how much performance has been lost due to the change in the regulations (theirs is a 2014 chassis and Power Unit, just with a different nose to comply with the regulations). In McLaren’s case it is further indications of the troubled start they have had to the season, with the drop in performance growing between pre-season testing and Australia. They have now returned to the level of performance they were showing in pre-season testing compared to Force India, but both McLaren and Force India have slightly caught the leading Mercedes. In fact all teams have caught Mercedes compared to where they were in Australia. With the qualifying in Malaysia affected by rain, we didn’t see just how fast the cars could be there, so the relative performance graph may be misleading.
At the front of the field it is Ferrari who have made the most gains on Mercedes over the opening races (going from 1.66% behind Mercedes in the opening round to just 0.44% in Bahrain), in doing so they have out developed their nearest rival (Williams) who were 1.61% behind in Australia and no lag 0.88% behind Mercedes.
To examine the absolute development of the cars, the following graph compares the fastest time set over the Grand Prix Weekend from 2014 to that set in 2015:
Some things that distort this graph are the wet qualifying in Australia in 2014 (which makes the cars seem much faster this year) and the wet qualifying in Malaysia in 2015 (which has the reverse effect). The change in order of the races (Bahrain was before China last season) may also have an impact, although I would have expected the relative performance in China to have been worse than that in Bahrain. Perhaps the issues the teams were having with #itsjustthewind in Bahrain qualifying affected them more in 2015 than in 2014?
So overall, Manor, McLaren and Force India are currently behind their 2014 performance, although all three were ahead in China, so maybe it was just the wind. Lotus are the team to have made the biggest gains (unsurprising given the change from the worst Power Unit of 2014 to the best of 2015). Ferrari are close behind followed by their customer team Sauber, indicating that perhaps the Power Unit development is the most significant part of the change. Williams are still just ahead of Mercedes in the amount that they have improved over last season, with Toro Rosso level with Mercedes. Red Bull meanwhile are the worst performing of those teams to show an improvement. As they have a genuine new car and a development of last year’s Power Unit they really should be in front of those running last year’s car or a brand new Power Unit, but the fact they have made less improvement than Toro Rosso is probably an indication of just how good last year’s Red Bull was.