How much do F1 cars develop during the year?

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With both drivers’ and constructors’ championships nearly settled in favour of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull, most teams have officially stopped development of their 2013 car to concentrate on the rules changes coming next season there will be few new parts coming to  the remaining races of the year.  However when the parts are coming thick and fast earlier in the season both teams and drivers often talk of the developments bringing several tenths of a second per lap.  Over the season then these developments must make the cars whole seconds faster from one year to the next.  The FIA in an attempt to control speeds though change the rules each winter to make things difficult for the teams.

In an attempt to try and work out how each of the teams do in developing their cars through the year, I have compared the best qualifying time for each team in 2012 and 2013 at the Australian, Hungarian and Japanese GP’s.  At the first Grand Prix of the year the difference between qualifying in 2012 and 2013 looked like this:

Australia

2012

2013

improvement
Marussia/Cosworth

1’34.253

 1’30.454

3.799

Lotus/Renault

1’30.759

1’29.274

1.485

Mercedes

1’30.931

1’29.759

1.172

Caterham/Renault

1’33.214

1’32.261

0.953

Toro Rosso/Ferrari

1’30.274

1’29.498

0.776

Ferrari

1’30.277

1’29.560

0.717

Force India/Mercedes

1’30.605

1’30.710

-0.105

Red Bull/Renault

1’29.417

1’29.732

-0.315

Williams/Renault

1’30.254

1’30.652

-0.398

McLaren/Mercedes

1’29.187

1’29.926

-0.739

Sauber/Ferrari

1’30.620

1’31.415

-0.795

 

So while Marussia had a really poor 2012 (the cars barely having turned a wheel before the start of the season) and as a result had gained nearly 3.8 seconds on their performance by 2013, McLaren and Sauber were over 0.7 seconds slower than the previous season.  However it is also surprising that at this stage of the season the Red Bull is slower in 2013 than it was in 2012 with a drop in performance that Is nearly at the level of Williams.  Ferrari had improved significantly but so had backmarker teams Toro Rosso and Caterham.  Mercedes and Lotus however really got off to a strong start in 2013 compared to 2012.

By the halfway point in the season (Hungary) the situation has changed.

Hungary

2012

2013

improvement

Mercedes

1’21.895

 1’19.388

2.507

Ferrari

1’21.844

1’19.791

2.053

Red Bull/Renault

1’21.416

1’19.426

1.99

Lotus/Renault

1’21.366

1’19.595

1.771

Toro Rosso/Ferrari

1’22.380

1’20.641

1.739

Marussia/Cosworth

1’25.244

1’23.787

1.457

Sauber/Ferrari

1’21.895

1’20.580

1.315

Force India/Mercedes

1’21.813

1’20.569

1.244

Williams/Renault

1’21.939

1’21.133

0.806

Caterham/Renault

1’23.576

1’23.007

0.569

McLaren/Mercedes

1’20.953

1’20.777

0.176

 

By this stage of the season, all teams have improved, even the struggling McLaren is now faster than it was in 2012.  Mercedes and Ferrari have improved the most in the 12 months to Hungary, but crucially Red Bull are not far behind.   Marussia are also keeping up with the average rate of development, while Caterham seem to be struggling to keep up.

Moving now to Japan we can see that some teams have fallen behind where they were 12 months ago, perhaps indicating that they have switched development onto the 2014 car.

Japan

2012

2013

improvement

Mercedes

1’32.469

 1’31.253

1.216

Marussia/Cosworth

1’35.213

1’34.320

0.893

Ferrari

1’32.114

1’31.378

0.736

Lotus/Renault

1’31.898

1’31.365

0.533

Williams/Renault

1’32.512

1’32.013

0.499

Toro Rosso/Ferrari

1’32.954

1’32.485

0.469

Force India/Mercedes

1’32.327

1’31.992

0.335

Caterham/Renault

1’34.657

1’34.556

0.101

Sauber/Ferrari

1’31.700

1’31.644

0.056

Red Bull/Renault

1’30.839

1’30.915

-0.076

McLaren/Mercedes

1’31.290

1’31.827

-0.537

 

The improvement for all teams at this stage is less than it was in Hungary possibly as a result of how much closer the title fight was last season (and the rules staying relatively stable) meaning that the teams were still developing the cars at this stage of the season in 2012, while it has certainly dropped off in 2013.  It isn’t really surprising that McLaren have thrown in the towel after such a poor season, but to see Red Bull slower than 2012 is surprising.  Mercedes and Ferrari certainly haven’t given up quite yet.  At the other end of the grid, Marussia are also developing at a faster rate than Caterham.

So, while we cannot accurately see just how much progress the teams have made during the season (as the regulation and tyre changes make that impossible), we can see that the smaller teams do develop their cars as much as the better funded outfits.  It is just that they aren’t improving faster than the teams in front of them that gives the impression that they aren’t improving.

Whether the apparent continued development of Mercedes, Marussia and Ferrari at this stage of the season will harm their respective preparations for 2014 remains to be seen.  Of course since I have only compared with the teams’ performance with this point last year, it may be that those teams switched to their 2013 car early in the 2012 season.

So with Red Bull appearing to ease up on their development rate, while Ferrari continue to push, could we see a surprise result come the end of the year?  At the other end of the field, will Marrusia’s faster development rate finally get them 10th place in the constructors’ championship, or will Caterham manage to rescue the position again?

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