For weeks, we have been promised huge upgrades from nearly every team. Red Bull were rumoured to be bringing a whole new car, whilst Ferrari had hinted at the improvements they were making on their engine. Well, now we have arrived in Barcelona and it is time to see what they have managed to bring.
With most teams using special engine modes for qualifying, the lowest levels of fuel and a brand-new set of tyres, there is no time in a weekend when a car should be faster. That means that Barcelona qualifying is a great barometer to allow us to judge the scale of each team’s improvements.
We’ve chosen two ways to assess the teams, comparing the cars against pole and then against their testing times.
Our first comparison is the difference in times to pole position. Taking the best placed car for each team and comparing it to the pole position time, allows us to see the relative improvement each team has made to each other.
With Mercedes sitting in pole for both Australia and Barcelona we can’t deem anything interesting using this method.
Ferrari have managed to pull two-tenths of a second back on the Mercedes and this was highlighted with Vettel’s pole in Russia. They are now genuine contenders during the qualifying sessions and if Vettel hadn’t made a mistake in the last sector in Barcelona, they might even have been in front of the Silver Arrows.
Interestingly, Red Bull’s ‘whole new car’ upgrade appears to have been worth the hours in the factory. Closing by nearly three-quarters of a second is a huge step, but when we can all see that the Factory Renault team have improved by only a tenth less, is this improvement coming from an engine upgrade?
Unsurprisingly enough, those with the most to work on, have been able to gain the most time. McLaren and Sauber were three and four back, respectively, in Australia, so had scope to make massive gains. Both teams have closed the gap to front of the grid by over a second and Sauber have closed up by over a second and a half.
The only team which hasn’t been able to keep up in the performance race are Haas. Compared to the other teams, they have taken a step backwards. Losing nearly three-tenths of a second to the pole time although they still seemed to be able to grab 11th and 14th this weekend.
Luckily for everyone involved in F1, we have pre-season testing in Barcelona. It means that no team is very far from their base and it makes it easy and quick to get parts back and forth from the factory. Luckily for us, the fifth race allows us to directly compare lap times with the pre-season testing.
What really came to light was that the teams have managed to lose lap time since the March tests. Somehow every team, with the exception of McLaren, posted slower qualifying times on Saturday compared to their fastest times during the testing sessions.
The difference in track conditions, the amount of rubber laid down after eight days of testing compared to a race weekend, the higher temperatures in May compared to March; there are many reasons and many excuses which could all be genuine.
But despite these, the differences in times is staggering.
To work out the comparative difference, where McLaren are the benchmark as the only team to be quicker. We can take McLaren and then work out the comparative difference from the McLaren improvement.
McLaren seem to have made over a second on Force India, Toro Rosso, Renault and Haas. They’ve even claimed two seconds on Williams and a large chunk of a second on Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
The best news for all racing fans is that it is getting competitive at the front and with Red Bull making gains on the front two, then McLaren closing in on Force India and Williams, we are looking at a really competitive season.
All times are from Formula1.com