Data Analysis: Was Nico Rosberg Really Quicker Than Lewis Hamilton in Spain?

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2014

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain celebrates his victory, right, as his teammate second place Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg of Germany watches on the podium after the Spain Formula One Grand Prix at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, near Barcelona, Spain, Sunday, May 11, 2014.(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Luca Bruno/Associated Press

Lewis Hamilton won last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix by 0.636 seconds over his Mercedes teammate, Nico Rosberg. A tight margin after 66 laps to be sure, but Rosberg never really challenged him the way he did in Bahrain.

In the post-race podium interview, though, Hamilton said, "I wasn't fast enough really today; Nico was quicker. I struggled a lot with the balance and really had to rely on my engineers a lot more to give me the gaps and to try to find where I could find time. ... But Nico was just generally quicker this weekend but fortunately I was able to keep him behind."

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Was that comment just a humblebrag from Hamilton—you know, guys, Nico is faster than's been tough to beat him in four straight races—or was Rosberg actually quicker? What does the data (that we have access to) say?

And, perhaps more importantly, if Rosberg was quicker than Hamilton, why did the Brit take pole position and the race victory?

In qualifying, Rosberg was indeed faster than Hamilton through Q1 and Q2. On the team radio, according to F1 Fanatic, Hamilton told his race engineer Peter Bonnington, "Not quite sure how but we've made the car worse. It's a nightmare to drive at the moment."

Still, Hamilton improved by nearly one second over his previous best time when it counted, in Q3. Rosberg, meanwhile, improved his time as well, but not by enough. Hamilton took the pole by 0.168 seconds.

Qualifying Times
SessionLewis HamiltonNico Rosberg
Q11m 27.238s1m 26.764s
Q21m 26.210s1m 26.088s
Q31m 25.232s1m 25.400s

Hamilton held on to his lead into the first corner of the race, but he could not shake Rosberg. During the first stint, according to the FIA's timing data, the gap between the two Mercs grew to a maximum of 3.050 seconds on Lap 12, but Rosberg had reduced it to 1.635 seconds just before Hamilton's first stop, on Lap 18.

For most of the second stint, the Hamilton-Rosberg gap hovered in the three- to four-second range. By Lap 46, after both drivers' second stops, there was 4.856 seconds between them—the largest gap of the race.

From there, Rosberg slowly reeled Hamilton in and, by Lap 59, was 0.984 seconds behind...close enough to use DRS.

But even with reduced drag on the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya's kilometre-long main straight, Rosberg could not find his way past the 2008 world champ.

In each of the three stints—before, between and after their two pit stops—Rosberg put in at least one quicker lap than Hamilton's best, lending credence to Hamilton's assertion that Rosberg was faster. Yet still, Rosberg could not get by.

Fastest Laps by Stint
StintLewis HamiltonNico Rosberg
11m 31.776s (Lap 10)1m 31.667s (Lap 19)
21m 30.804s (Lap 22)1m 30.763s (Lap 32)
31m 29.483s (Lap 54)1m 29.236s (Lap 51)

The Barcelona circuit is known as a difficult track to pass on—with Hamilton's win, 12 of the last 14 pole-sitters have won the race—but there was plenty of overtaking in the DRS zones last Sunday. According to Clip the Apex's database, only the Bahrain Grand Prix has had more overtaking manoeuvres this season.

On the podium, Rosberg said, "one more [lap] I could have given it a good go. I wasn't close enough to give it a go there but next lap I would have."

But he had seven laps from the time he first got into DRS range and was unable to even challenge Hamilton, as he had done repeatedly in Bahrain. After that race, B/R's own Oliver Harden suggested that Rosberg was too accommodating and perhaps not selfish enough to beat Hamilton.

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 11:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP attends a press conference with Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP after the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 11, 2014 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

True or not, the conclusion after the Spanish race must be disheartening for Rosberg: He could—and did—drive faster than Hamilton, but he could not pass him. It should also be disheartening for fans who are counting on a close Hamilton-Rosberg battle in the Drivers' Championship to keep this season interesting.

But no one should panic yet. Rosberg is only three points behind Hamilton in the Drivers' standings, and the next race, Monaco, is literally in his backyard.

If he cannot beat—or at least challenge—Hamilton there, though, his championship campaign may be in serious trouble.


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