Last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix was a race full of good news for Formula One. While the focus was on Lewis’ dramatic win and the feel-good factor of Thomas Danel meeting his hero Kimi Räikkonen, one fact got lost in all the noise: the 2017 version of F1 delivered on its performance promises!
That target time required a lap 5.9% faster
As we headed to Barcelona, the analysis suggested that this year’s new generation of F1 cars would struggle to live up to the promises that were made on their behalf.
The goal of the rule makers was to reduce lap times by five seconds relative to the 2015 pole time at the Spanish Grand Prix: a lap of 1:24.681 for Nico Rosberg. That target time required a lap 5.9% faster but the new machines had achieved an average of just 4.3% at the first four races of the season…
Yet by the time we reached the final laps of Q3, the top four drivers had all dipped below the magic bar of 1:19.681. Indeed, Lewis’ pole position time of 1:19.149 was 0.532s faster and just half a second shy of the best time during winter testing.
Plus there was still time left on the table: the ideal lap from the session would have been a 1:18.703. This suggests two things: first, that the pole time could have been even faster; second, how the performance balance of the Ferrari favoured the first two sectors (RAI and VET had the fastest S1 times) while the Mercedes was particularly strong in sector three, where Lewis’ best time was 0.4s faster than Ferrari’s best.
Driver against driver, gloves off
Perhaps more importantly, the race itself also over-performed relative to the trend established in the first four rounds. While the 2015 race saw a fastest race lap of 1:28.270, the 2017 mark was 1:23.593, set by Lewis two laps from the finish with 30-lap old tyres. That represents a 5.3% improvement in fastest lap time over 2015 – versus a 4.9% average for the first four races so far this year.
That increase in race pace, also enabled by the significant upgrade packages the teams brought to Spain, was what delivered one of the most memorable Spanish Grands Prix in the race’s history. Overall, it featured 22 overtakes – while last year’s race saw 41 passes.
However, once again, we saw the importance of overtaking quality over quantity, with passes for the lead deciding the race outcome.
Driver against driver, gloves off – putting the heroes of the show centre stage. Just as F1 2017 was always designed to do. Roll on Monaco…