As Formula One officially heads back to Europe, Sebastian Vettel is back at the top of the drivers standings, which ends Mercedes’ dominant run of leading the drivers championship. F1 Hub’s Kahran Vohra evaluates why Barcelona could be Ferrari’s most dominant weekend to date in this years Formula One season.
Mercedes has undoubtedly trailed Ferrari when it comes to race trim throughout the first four races of this season, however their qualifying form, which saw them claim three out of four pole positions, kept them very much in the mix – boding key to their two Grand Prix victories this season.
The Mercedes engine, which played a very key role in them securing all championships thus far in this turbo era, is keeping Ferrari at arms length during qualifying. Whilst the Scuderia have a slight edge when it comes to aerodynamics, the team have not matched works Mercedes when it comes to engine power coming qualifying, as the Silver Arrows have the ability to turn the engine up, which given them around 0.2-0.5s of an advantage, depending on the circuit.
This advantage for Mercedes played key in the opening rounds, in particular Bahrain and China, where data acquired by F1 Hub shows the team gained somewhere close to 0.5s on their final Q3 lap, when compared to Scuderia Ferrari.
|Driver||Speed Trap 1||Speed Trap 2||Speed Trap 3||Speed Trap 4|
|Lewis Hamilton||328 KM/PH||295 KM/PH||289 KM/PH||329 KM/PH|
|Sebastian Vettel||329 KM/PH||295 KM/PH||286 KM/PH||326 KM/PH|
The above table, which are figures from the Hamilton and Vettel’s fastest Q3 run for the Chinese Grand Prix, show Mercedes’ slight advantage when it comes to qualifying. Mercedes, who have taken three out of four poles this year, appear to have a slight advantage on straight-line speed with their engine mode for qualifying.
Following the first four races of the season, GPS data seen by F1 Hub from the Chinese Grand Prix highlights the strengths and weaknesses of both Mercedes and Ferrari, as they continue their intriguing fight for the title.
Many have said that Mercedes’ long wheelbase gives the team a particular disadvantage in slow corners, which include features which as tight hairpins, however reaps a benefit over main rival Ferrari, who run a shorter wheelbase, in the high-speed, long corners.
In Russia, Mercedes held around a tenth advantage over Ferrari in the first two sectors, which consisted of long straights which played into the hands of Mercedes power, as well as long, high speed corners. However, in the final sector, the slow-speed corners meant Mercedes trailed Ferrari, which arguably cost them a front row start.
GPS Data from Qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix reveals that Mercedes held a 0.070s advantage in the first three corners and the traction zone upon the exit. This shows that, with relatively high speed corners, the three-time champions have an advantage over Ferrari.
However, from the Chinese Grand Prix — which was before Ferrari brought a big upgrade — data also revealed how Ferrari match, if not lead Mercedes through medium and slow-speed corners. Through the final corner, although Mercedes had a 0.001s advantage under-braking, Ferrari held a 0.004s when it came to mid-cornering speed – although the final corner in China isn’t a particularly slow one.
Moreover, using this hypothesis, at turn 6 at China, which is a tight hairpin, Ferrari could clock some 3-4 KM/PH faster through the corner, which shows the penalty that Mercedes Formula 1 team carry with the longer wheelbase.
Ferrari brought a big upgrade to the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was earlier than expected, as many thought big upgrades would start coming for the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
The team made changes to its front-wing in China and Russia, however brought a big upgrade in Bahrain — which the team went on to win with Sebastian Vettel — and the upgrades included a heavily modified front-wing, a revised cooling package, a new floor — which brought about controversy amongst other front-running teams over the legality of it — as well as upgraded rear-wing pillars and the suspension system.
Whilst Ferrari led the way in the development race for the first four races, Mercedes are yet to unveil a major upgrade — and most of its concepts are still same since the season-opening Australian Grand Prix — however, many expect the Brackley-based team to unveil big upgrade at the Spanish Grand Prix to put pressure on Ferrari, after numerous amounts of data suggests Ferrari have more downforce.
The Barcelona track, unlike the previous race in Sochi, puts particular emphasis on aerodynamics, downforce and the chassis as a whole, which could favor Ferrari if it still leads the way after the upgrades brought by Mercedes.
The Circuit de Catalunya, which features straights, high speed, medium speed and low speed corners reveals the true pace of each F1 car – which is why the official Formula One pre-season test takes place in Barcelona.
However, unlike the previous few F1 races, there is much less emphasis on outright power, which could aid Ferrari in getting pole, thus making it easier to capitalize on race-day. At the Circuit de Catalunya, 56% of the lap is spent at full throttle, meanwhile in Bahrain, where Ferrari got beaten to pole by almost half a second, 66% of the lap is spent full throttle.
Although Ferrari trail Mercedes in terms of outright straight-line speed, the Scuderia has looked better traction-front; its ability to fire out of slow corners. This would come handy particularly in the final sector in Barcelona, which include traction zones, and tight corners which are expected to hurt Mercedes’ long wheel-base. In Barcelona, 70% of the lap will be spent on the throttle, which is down 2% from Bahrain.