New Team Progress – A Statistical Analysis
With two seasons under their belts it’s time to take a look at the three newest teams on the grid and to see if they had made any progress towards catching up with the established teams, both in terms of within season gains and how they have compared year on year.
It’s difficult to determine how well a team has performed over the full race distance with different strategies in play and the possibility of retirement through accident or component failure. For this reason I’ve chosen to assess the percentage time difference between the fastest driver for Lotus, Virgin and HRT and that of the lead Q1 qualifier at each race as an indicator of relative performance. I’m hoping that by only looking at the fastest team-mate of a pair, the effects of mistakes during a session, for example, when one driver is caught out on the wrong tyre when it starts to rain will be minimised. Averaging the times of both drivers would tend to favour teams whose drivers were more evenly matched.
This method isn’t ideal: it’s possible that real time gains over the season are hidden behind improvements made by those teams who have set the fastest Q1 lap times. There has also been a change of engine supplier for Lotus, from Cosworth to Renault but since we are comparing time differences the supplier shouldn’t have an effect on the results. However this isn’t just a comparison of how the new teams compare to Red Bull, several other teams have set the Q1 benchmark over the two seasons and the Constructor’s Champion hasn’t always been fastest during Q1, especially on the harder compound tyres.
Other points to note are that Bahrain and Hockenheim (HOK) were absent from the 2011 calendar whilst India’s new circuit makes its first appearance. The order of races might not be exactly the same year on year but I’ve matched the data from those events which have been held in both seasons to aid visual interpretation, the three aforementioned circuits and the Nurburgring (NUR) only show data from a single season.
Lotus Racing, aka Team Lotus
Lotus have been the most successful of the three teams, finishing in 10th position in the Constructor’s Championship in both years. On average, Lotus were 4.014% slower than the fastest Q1 qualifier during 2010 and 3.211% slower in 2011, an overall gain of 0.803%.
The regression lines on this and each following graph give an indication of whether performance gains have been made or lost during a season. In 2010, the line is negative, meaning that there was a performance gain in relation to the driver posting the fastest Q1 time, on average over the season each race saw a 0.034% gain in lap time. Surprisingly, over the course of 2011, although the car was faster than it had been in 2010 there was no on-going increase in performance, the regression line is positive with a 0.004% loss of performance at each race.
The new teams ended the 2011 season in the same order to which they finished the year before but had Virgin improved or closed the gap to Lotus? Finishing 11th in both seasons Virgin were on average, 4.713% slower than the Q1 time during 2010. This season saw a slight reduction in average qualifying pace to +4.790% of the fastest Q1 time and was 0.077% slower than the previous year. The gap to Lotus increased from 0.699% last year to 1.578% in 2011.
Looking at within-season performance, the regression line for 2010 shows the gap to the fastest driver in Q1 decreased by 0.055% per event even though the data is skewed by one slower than 107% event. In 2011 the team were unable to maintain that level of progress and seemed to go into reverse being 0.025% slower at every race than the fastest Q1 driver.
HRT, the final member of the three qualified outside of the 107% rule five times in 2010. On average, they were 6.448% slower (top HRT graph) than the fastest Q1 driver but this includes their Monza qualifying which was 17.503% slower than the fastest driver. If that out-lying point (lower HRT graph) is removed their average performance increases to 5.834%. In 2011 they failed to make the 107% rule once, their average time was 5.769% slower than the fastest Q1 time, 2.588% slower than Lotus and 0.979% behind Virgin.
Over the season the regression line shows that HRT lost ground towards the Q1 driver to the tune of 0.025% per event in 2010 (or gained 0.048% with Monza excluded). This year they gained 0.065% per event, the largest within-season gain of any of the three teams. In fact, by the end of the season, HRT had set faster Q1 times than Virgin at four venues.
Whilst the statistics themselves are only an indication of relative pace it’s clear that progress has been made by the new teams. Other than Virgin (who seem to have held ground rather than improved) they’re closer to the front runners this year than last. Considering the continued improvements from front running teams the newbie’s have done a good job in making those gains. Apart from the improvements in speed considerable gains have also been made in component and mechanical reliability (see 2010 and 2011 reliability statistics). I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about those.
Credit: Team Lotus/Charles Coates/LAT Photographic