Daily Archives: April 7, 2010

Malaysian Grand Prix analysis

So, Vettel and Red Bull finally get their first win of the season. But there’s much more to the Malaysian Grand Prix than that. Here is my analysis of the Malaysian Grand prix:

Advantage of the F-duct

Driver Speed (kph)
1 Lewis Hamilton 300.6
2 Jenson Button 298.7
3 Fernando Alonso 297.2
4 Felipe Massa 296.7
5 Timo Glock 296.1
6 Rubens Barrichello 295.3
7 Jaime Alguersuari 295.1
8 Vitantonio Liuzzi 293.3
9 Sebastien Buemi 292.6
10 Adrian Sutil 292
11 Robert Kubica 291.4
12 Vitaly Petrov 291.2
13 Lucas di Grassi 291.1
14 Sebastian Vettel 291
15 Nico Hulkenberg 290.9
16 Karun Chandhok 290.4
17 Mark Webber 290.4
18 Michael Schumacher 290
19 Nico Rosberg 289
20 Bruno Senna 283.7
21 Kamui Kobayashi 283.6
22 Heikki Kovalainen 282.8
23 Jarno Trulli 280.4

These are the top speeds per driver for the entire race, taken at the speed trap. Obviously, there is no surprise in seeing the McLarens being top of the chart, with the F-duct system giving them 6kph on the straights, with no disadvantage in the corners.

Before I go any further, I’ll quickly explain the F-duct. It is a slot, positioned wherever suited (on the nosecone, before the driver, in McLaren’s case). Normally, it takes air through the duct and aims it at the rear wing. The increase in downforce and drag here is offset by lower wing angles at the rear. However, when the car goes onto the straight, the driver moves their knee to the side, and closes the duct. This means that the rear wing is stalled, and there is less downforce and therefore higher top speed. The driver then takes his knee away from the activation of the duct, to increase downforce going into the next corner.

Sauber's F-duct system

Sauber's F-duct system

This innovation has already been copied by the Sauber team, but it apparently hasn’t helped their top speed, as you can see by the chart. To be 17kph slower than the fastest top speed is pretty awful, which must mean McLaren’s F-duct system is more efficient. This is because of two main differences between the systems. First of all, the Sauber F-duct is positioned above the sidepods, not ahead of the driver. Secondly, the Sauber F-duct aims air at the centre of the rear wing, and not the side flaps.

Anyway, back to the speed trap figures. It’s very surprising to see the Mercedes and Red Bulls near the bottom of this list. In Mercedes’ case, they have the most powerful engine in the field, as we found out last year. But, this year, they are even slower than the HRT of Karun Chandhok and the Virgin of Lucas di Grassi. Red Bull’s car is more set up towards grip than speed, which may explain a lot in their case.

Clearly, Cosworth power is very useful this year, as we can see Timo Glock and Rubens Barrichello near the top of the chart. It’s great to see that, despite an absense in F1 since 2006, Cosworth haven’t lost their skill. How they fare when it comes to fuel consumption, we don’t know yet.

Crawling to the finish

Jarno Trulli's lap times

Jarno Trulli's lap times

Note: Trulli pitted on lap 15.

Here, we can look at Jarno Trulli’s pace across the race in the Lotus. Near the end, he had a problem with the car, which has not yet been revealed. The car began to drop massively in terms of pace, and in the last 3 laps he was slowing down by an extra 7 seconds per lap. He eventually finished 5 laps down, but was still classified, unlike Heikki Kovalainen, who ended 10 laps down, as he fixed a problem in the pits.

The good new for Lotus is that they are showing consistent pace. One interesting feature of that graph, though, is the fact that he wasn’t getting any quicker as the race went along. Now this may have been a problem with the car, but raw pace is still something the team needs to work on. Still, Lotus are easily the best new team this year so far, and they should be able to improve well with time.

More analysis will be added soon. Sorry for the delay and all.

Is GP2 a good indicator of driver skill?

We all know that GP2 is considered the main stepping stone for drivers looking to get into Formula 1. The entire layout and design of the series is centred around familiarising the drivers with Formula 1, so it would be easy to assume that the best of the GP2 drivers will do well in Formula 1. However, this has not always been the case.

As you know, all GP2 cars use the same chassis, engine, and tyre supplier. This is to give an even ground, and good opportunity to all the drivers. In recent years, all of the GP2 champions have made a name for themselves in F1. These include Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Timo Glock and Nico Hulkenberg. However, at the same time, there have been drivers who do well in Gp2 then flop when they go into F1. Nelson Piquet Jr, Scott Speed and Giorgio Pantano all spring to mind.

The good and the bad drivers all came together in GP2. For example, in 2006, the GP2 championship was fought between Lewis Hamilton and Nelson Piquet Jr, not two names you usually compare. When Lewis got into F1, he immidiately shone, nearly taking the world championship in his first year. On the other hand, Piquet struggled at the back in a Renault, and was being trounced by his team-mate Fernando Alonso. He constantly crashed, accidentaly and on purpose, and left the sport halfway through 2009. So, the question is, why did a driver like Piquet do so well in GP2?

Here is just one of the battles Hamilton and Piquet had in GP2:

One possible answer is that his team, HiTech/Piquet Racing was well funded by his father, Nelson Piquet Sr. This extra funding could have meant that he was getting an unfair advantage. But, this could be cancelled out when you take a look at iSport International. The only link to F1 this team have is that their advisor, Jonathon Williams, is a son of Frank Williams, the boss of Williams F1 Team. However, this doesn’t give them any financial advantage whatsoever. And, their drivers have been doing well, with most getting into F1, such as Timo Glock, Karun Chandhok, Bruno Senna and Scott Speed. So, with a big difference in two successful teams, both can get drivers into F1. This means that the point of overfunded teams doesn’t apply here.

To further confuse matters, you then have to take into account the most successful GP2 team there is: ART Grand Prix. Some of their drivers do well in F1, like Hamilton, Rosberg and Hulkenberg (probably). But, some of their best drivers never worked well when they got to the top. Romain Grosjean springs to mind here. In 2008, he was 4th overall. In 2009, he was withdrawn from the last 4 races, as he was given a drive with the Renault F1 Team. Despite missing the last 4 races, he still managed to get 4th overall again, even though he was with a different team. When a good driver like him goes into F1, you would expect him to slightly challenge his team-mate, even if it is Fernando Alonso. While I feel that he did slightly better than Piquet (neither got any points at all that year, with Piquet getting 10 races and Grosjean 9), he still wasn’t good enough, and was not retained for 2010. He was replaced by Vitaly Petrov, who finished 13th, 7th and then 2nd in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively.

So, as the years went by, Petrov got better and better in GP2. A second place finish in 2009 was enough to get him up into F1 for 2010. So far, he hasn’t done too badly, though he hasn’t scored a point yet. In my opinion, despite his good form in GP2, he won’t last more than a few years in the big league.

Then we get to a very strange case: Kamui Kobayashi. He did well in the GP2 Asia Series, winning it in 2008, but was very poor in the main GP2 series. In 2008 and 2009, he finished 16th both years, only getting 23 points in those years. When Timo Glock was unable to race in Brazil 2009, Kobayashi was given his chance. He took it and ran, qualifying 11th in a rain-soaked session, and finished 9th in the race after a battle with the world champion Jenson Button. He later called the Japanese driver “absolutely crazy”. In Abu Dhabi, he finished 6th, getting his first ever points, and beating drivers like Kimi Raikkonen. He is best remembered for his overtake on Jenson Button, which was the move that got him a drive with Sauber in 2010. So, my question here is, how could such a mediocre driver in GP2 do so well in Formula 1?

I’m not sure there is a definitive answer to these questions. But, we can have a look at the 2010 season this year to see can we learn more. The championship starts in May, has 11 rounds, and ends in November. My favourite for the title is Jules Bianchi, driving for ART Grand Prix. He has been given an unspecified role in the Ferrari team, and there are rumours that if he wins the championship, he could be given a drive with Sauber for 2011. So, if he does win the title, we can see how well (or badly) he does in F1 the year after.