Are 2014 Formula 1 Cars Slower? Analysing Lap Times at Australian Grand Prix

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2014


Coming into the 2014 Formula One season, there were reports that the cars could be up to five seconds slower per lap under the new regulations.

Following the Australian Grand Prix, the first race of the new season, we can confidently say that is not the case.

For now, the cars are certainly slower. By comparing some of the FIA's timing data from Melbourne in 2013 and 2014, we can get an idea of how much slower.

First, here are the fastest laps from each year:

Australian Grand Prix Fastest Laps
2013Kimi Raikkonen1:29.27456
2014Nico Rosberg1:32.47819

While the gap is over three seconds, this does not tell the whole story.

Raikkonen at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.
Raikkonen at the 2013 Australian Grand Prix.Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Kimi Raikkonen set the 2013 fastest lap at the very end of the grand prix, with almost no fuel remaining. Nico Rosberg posted the fastest lap of this year's race on lap 19, with approximately two-thirds of his fuel left.

With less fuel, the Mercedes could have gone much quicker at the end of the race, but with a commanding lead, Rosberg backed off to ensure the car made it to the finish.

But one quick lap does not really tell us much in terms of the relative speeds of the 2013 and 2014 cars. What about over the distance of a full race?

Well, here are the average lap times over the entire grand prix for two drivers from each year. Have a look and I will explain why each driver was chosen: (Note: These averages represent full-racing laps only, excluding in- and out-laps for pit stops and the four safety car laps in 2014.)

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Australian Grand Prix Average Lap Times
YearDriverAverage Lap Time
2013Kimi Raikkonen1:32.271
2013Jean-Eric Vergne1:33.742
2014Nico Rosberg1:34.161
2014Kevin Magnussen1:35.032

Comparing the two winners' times—Raikkonen and Rosberg—we find a much smaller gap than existed between their single-fastest laps. And with Rosberg managing his pace, as noted above, the real gap is likely even smaller than the 1.890 seconds per lap shown here.

Magnussen in his first F1 race—the 2014 Australian Grand Prix.
Magnussen in his first F1 race—the 2014 Australian Grand Prix.Mark Thompson/Getty Images

The performance of Rosberg's Mercedes was so far above the rest of the field in Australia, though, that Kevin Magnussen's average lap time is also included. His McLaren provides a more realistic comparison for the rest of the field to the 2013 pace.

The gap between Magnussen and Raikkonen is significantly higher, but it's still nowhere near five seconds.

Finally, Jean-Eric Vergne's average lap time is included from the 2013 race. He was the final driver to finish on the lead lap last year, in 12th place. Still, even his average time was nearly half-a-second quicker than Rosberg's 2014 pace.

So, if we dropped Rosberg's 2014 performance into the 2013 race, he would have finished a lap down to Raikkonen. Again, though, that is not taking into account whatever performance Rosberg left on the table in Melbourne.

As demonstrated by Magnussen's average lap time, the other teams are much further behind. Of course, many of them may not have been running at peak performance either, as they nursed the new technology to the finish.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 20:  Pirelli tyres are seen during day two of Formula One Winter Testing at the Bahrain International Circuit on February 20, 2014 in Bahrain, Bahrain.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
Andrew Hone/Getty Images

One other difference to note, particularly relevant to the average lap times, is the tyres. Last year, Pirelli brought super-soft and medium tyres to Australia. In 2014, the medium compound was used alongside the soft tyre, which is generally slower than the super-soft.

Despite the slower average lap times, the new cars are actually faster than the old ones in a straight line. They produce less downforce, which makes them slower through tight turns, but less downforce also means less drag.

In 2014, per the FIA's data, Magnussen (316.9 kph) and Valtteri Bottas (312.5 kph) went through the speed trap faster than any car in the 2013 race—Vergne had the highest-recorded speed last year, at 310.7 kph.

Performance was more homogenous in 2013, though—every driver except Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg hit the speed trap at over 300 kph. This year, only six drivers did so. As the new cars are developed, this performance gap will close.

So, the new regulations do not make the cars inherently slower. They are slower right now, and it will take time for the engineers to unlock the cars' full potential, but they will get there.

Mercedes' Toto Wolff.
Mercedes' Toto Wolff.Andrew Hone/Getty Images

In September, the grand-prix circus returns to Monza, where speed is king and downforce is an afterthought. By then, if not before, it would not be surprising to see lap times similar to—or faster than—last year's.

In fact, following the Australian Grand Prix, Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said, "These cars are going to go quicker than the old ones in a couple of races," according to BBC Sport.

That should be welcome news for anyone worrying that F1 had sacrificed speed and sound in the interests of more environmentally friendly engines.

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