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Where is the missing speed?

NEWS STORY
25/03/2017

Mat Coch writes

Lewis Hamilton's pole position lap provided the world with the first opportunity to see the latest generation Formula 1 car being pushed to its absolute limit.

Around the sinuous Albert Park circuit the three-time world champion hustled the Mercedes, recording a time of 1:22.188, sealing pole by more than a quarter of a second from Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari and seemingly establishing himself at the top of the 2017 heap.

It also highlighted a rather inconvenient fact; that despite all the hype and PR mumbo jumbo, the promised increase in speed has failed to materialise.

Behind closed doors paddock insiders are unhappy with the latest generation of cars, which feature unsightly ‘shark fin' and ‘T-wing' solutions.

Broadly speaking they're the only real visible differences a casual observer will notice compared to their 2016 predecessors - only the eagle-eyed would spot the fact the Pirelli tyres are also wider.

Throughout 2016 we were promised aggressive new cars, a statement that was never qualified and has instead seen a wave of ugly ducklings. Perhaps in time they'll bloom into beautiful swans, but under the current regulation set that seems difficult to imagine.

More than the aesthetic aspects however, the numbers simply don't add up. The claims were always for cars that were up to five seconds faster than those from 2016, and changes were made to the Albert Park, among others, to accommodate for the rise in speed.

Admittedly during pre-season testing, Kimi Raikkonen's final day best of 1:18.634 bettered Sebastian Vettel's best from a year earlier by more than four seconds.

That in itself however fails to tell the full story, given by the end of 2016 speeds had already risen in comparison to the start of the year. The four second improvement can therefore likely be halved, making the 2017 spec Formula 1 cars perhaps only two seconds a lap faster in testing - a far cry from the five second improvement we'd been promised.

Pouring more water on that particular fire was the fact Hamilton's pole lap in Australia was only 1.6-seconds faster than his pole position effort from twelve months ago.

"It's a different tyre compound and a different situation," argued McLaren's Eric Boullier when asked if the new ‘aggressive' formula had achieved its goals. "To be honest I don't know.

"We were expecting the car to be faster, and the car was faster in Barcelona, here it's a little bit less."

Conditions for qualifying in 2016 and 2017 in Australia were broadly similar. Track temperature at the start of the session was five degrees warmer, though the air temperature in 2016 was 13 degrees down on this year. These are factors that don't allow for exact side-by-side comparisons, and the warmer temperature wouldn't have helped the turbocharged engines this year, but a 1.6-second advantage is less than half of what was predicted.

According to Haas' Guenther Steiner, that's exactly what he expected to see based on the simulations the American team had run. "They are about where we thought they would be," he responded when asked if lap times were better or worse than the team had predicted in its simulations. "You never know until you get here really.

"You need to live it again because the temperature plays a lot and you cannot simulate for that one. You can simulate, but you don't know where you'll be."

The 1.6-second performance increase could therefore be largely accounted for in the natural evolution of the sport, prompting the awkward question: has this new, aggressive - and no doubt expensive- revamp of the regulations achieved what it claimed, or have we - as Pitpass suggested just two days into pre-season testing - been sold a dummy?

Of course, to form a more accurate picture we must afford the sport an opportunity to prove us wrong, and perhaps the development race will see the pace of cars shoot up dramatically, however on the current evidence one would suggest it has fallen well short of the lofty marker fans had hoped for.

However, a spokesman for a leading team disputed the claim.

"The target was to be 5s quicker than the start of 2015, and Lewis was 4.2s under that pole time," they said. "As Eric said tyres are harder which was a factor that couldn't be calculated at the time.

"But the cars are certainly delivering the expected performance step."

Check out our Saturday gallery from Melbourne, here.

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READERS COMMENTS

 

1. Posted by edllorca, 26/03/2017 14:32

"Not a big difference in cars appearance other than the billboard with the TV antenna (shark fin / T wing). As for the race... Nice to see another team right up front but the cars cannot pass and won't follow closer than a second without destroying tires (and thus races). On the subject of tires, Since when can you run three quarters of a race on softs? What is the hard for, running all weekend on one set? "

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2. Posted by SideGlance, 26/03/2017 4:21

"I had thought to myself, it appears they are no faster than last year, we the spectator can not feel the G forces, they already were high, no on screen meter showing G forces, none showing the speed increases, certainly the ugly sound of engines NOT different, same ol same ol F1 imo !

Did you notice that 2 interviewed drivers both wanted V-12's as a 'change' to F1, SV was one, forget the other, alonso just wanted the same engines, ha !!

F1 needs yet another new formula, new engines, less aero allowing close following, smaller brakes to increase overtaking, less driver aids, maybe manual shifting again, and none of this trans/engine limits or no penalty until x # of each part, no crash-need new trans penalties until later with more used engines.

silly damn rules imo, F1 is just entertainment, not a serious world necessity, supposed to be fun and games, not an engineering end all series !!"

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3. Posted by ryanhellyer, 25/03/2017 19:49

"I wish I could edit my comment :/ I thought the pole time from last year was much slower when I posted my comment a few minutes ago. When I went to double check, it turned out I was wrong."

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4. Posted by ryanhellyer, 25/03/2017 19:47

"This article doesn't make sense to me. Aren't the times almost five seconds quicker than last year?

The weird T-wings and shark fins were perhaps an unexpected side effect of the regulation change, but I don't see how anyone could say the cars don't look more spectacular. They don't have the stupid high rear wing with an out of proportion front wing along with weird skinny tires. They now have big fat tires (not fat enough IMO, but getting better) and wings are in way better proportion and the rear wing is at a more sensible height."

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5. Posted by Willie, 25/03/2017 16:04

"This article was posted a week early -- should have come on April First."

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6. Posted by PDA, 25/03/2017 15:27

"Hamilton's pole in 2016 was 1.23.837, so the improvement this year is about 1.5 seconds, not 5. Not that it is important, as it is probable the engines will be well turned down for fuel consumption in the race and lap speed of 1.27 or so can be expected."

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7. Posted by kdxrider, 25/03/2017 14:29

"Sorry Mat, I don't understand your gripe. The new regulations were to increase 2015 lap times by 5 seconds, Hamilton's 2015 pole time was 1.26.327, today his pole time was 1.22.188. Just a smidge under 5 seconds ----

Let's wait until the end of the year before starting whining about the ""supposed"" lack of speed."

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