Driver Differentials - Ferrari, McLaren & Red Bull

ExtremeNinja

Karting amateur
Contributor
Over the past two years we have had some great driver pairings at Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull, and it has been interesting to see how competitive the drivers are within their teams. I only mention these teams as a case study.

What I have noticed is that when the cars have been poor we have seen a greater difference in performance between the drivers and when the cars have been dialled in the performances have been much closer. The conclusion I reach from from this is that the differential between these drivers is their abilities to react and have a natural feel for the way the car behaves when it is not absolutely planted. It's not so much about the drivers ability to smoothly turn the steering wheel and operate the throttles and brakes (simple driver input), which I believe all the drivers are capable of, but how they react to feedback from the cars handling (complex driver input) that gives us the best measure of a driver's ability.

So the interesting thing here is that if we want to compare two drivers we should not put them in the fastest car and see how they measure up, rather we should put them in the worst car and see how they measure up.

This may be pretty obvious to many and some may disagree but I wanted to share my thoughts and observations on the matter.

What are your thoughts?

(Please beware of making this a my driver is better than yours thread. I realise this is a risky topic.)
 

Brogan

🦶 Leg end
Staff Member
It's a fair point.

Relatively speaking it's easier to drive a good car fast than a bad car fast.

With regards to "bad" cars though, it may also come down to whether the problem is oversteer, understeer, balance, etc., and how particular drivers deal with those issues.
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
I agree with your basic premises, but not necessarily with your conclusion.

As you say, the gap between drivers may be bigger when the car is poor, but it's still (usually) in the same direction. Schumacher was only a bit quicker than Barrichello in 2004; in 2005, when the car didn't work, he was much quicker. But he was still quicker in both. So if you're comparing two drivers, I don't see that it particularly matters, at the end of the day.

Of course, the question becomes a lot more interesting if the advantages go in opposite directions in the different cars.

Not forgetting, either, that the drivers themselves have a role to play in ensuring the handling of the car is to their satisfaction.
 

Brogan

🦶 Leg end
Staff Member
Not forgetting, either, that the drivers themselves have a role to play in ensuring the handling of the car is to their satisfaction.
Is that possible when two drivers in the same team have such different driving styles?

Take Hamilton and Button for example; Hamilton is well known for liking a slidy back end, whereas Button is often mentioned as being one of the smoothest drivers in F1.
Surely that dichotomy can't be resolved with a single basic design, with just set up tweaks making the difference?
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
Surely that dichotomy can't be resolved with a single basic design, with just set up tweaks making the difference?

Not resolved, no, but mitigated. As I say, they have a role, but can't provide the whole solution on their own. They can also have a measure of influence on the characteristics of the basic design too.
 
Good question. Ultimately a better driver is better because he can handle a car at higher speeds better. The worse the car is (harder to handle and go fast in) then the more the drivers ability at driving should show. The drivers preference for car set up will have a bearing if the car is fundamentally better suited, but I don't think that effect will be as significant as the type of track for example.
Some drivers will be better hustling around tracks with lots of sharp corners and some flowing turn in turn out corners.
As was mentioned, there shouldn't really be a driver who suddenly becomes better than his team-mate because the car is perfect, his team-mate would be able to do even more with a perfect car.
Rain is also a good indicator as it makes the car harder to handle at higher speeds. Button for example, very good and confident in the wet, but we might conclude that Lewis would maintain the speed gap in those conditions.
Vettel and Webber are a bit of a puzzle, Seb seems much much faster unless Webber has the tyres(car) he prefers, at which point they become closely matched?
Alonso seems faster in any trim than the sometimes hapless Massa, however Massa seems downtrodden at times and mindset is more important that physical ability at times
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
The interesting thing I find with driver differentials is how often the stats don't back up the perceptions. I find Alonso is seldom very much faster than Massa, but he's hardly ever slower - he maintains that small advantage across pretty much all circuits and conditions. On the other hand another driver pairing may be more variable - sometimes one is quicker, sometimes the other - and with much bigger gaps.

So who is doing better?
A) The driver who outqualifies his team-mate 19-0, with a gap of 0.1s every time?
B) The driver who outqualifies his team-mate 13-6, who is 0.4s ahead when he is quicker, and 0.2s behind when he is slower?
 
So who is doing better?
A) The driver who outqualifies his team-mate 19-0, with a gap of 0.1s every time?
B) The driver who outqualifies his team-mate 13-6, who is 0.4s ahead when he is quicker, and 0.2s behind when he is slower?

possibly driver A, and from the engineers and car designers POV definitely, however Driver B might be a driver more than capable of achieving the profile of driver A but instead chooses to take more risks with qualifying in an attempt to maybe gain an advantage over other faster teams
 
So who is doing better?
A) The driver who outqualifies his team-mate 19-0, with a gap of 0.1s every time?
B) The driver who outqualifies his team-mate 13-6, who is 0.4s ahead when he is quicker, and 0.2s behind when he is slower?

In A, the driver out-qualified the other by a total of 1.9 seconds.

In B, the driver out-qualified the other by 5.2 seconds...but was also out-qualified by the other by 1.2...for a net out-performance of 4 seconds.

Is B, then, a superior performance? In pure pace terms, yes...but not in terms of consistency.

It also depends on 'how' and 'why' the above happened... and also on how you rate the 'other'/2nd driver.

I'd take B every single time because that driver is more likely to get me a victory or victories, in my opinion, especially if it's a tight field spread.

The closest approximation - to me - of B is Vettel v Webber. Webber has had 2 poles this year and, so, has out-qualified Vettel 2 times. The gap hasn't been big...but when Vettel has out-qualified Webber (which has been in the majority of instances) the gap has been bigger...and notice who has done all/most of the winning.
 

teabagyokel

#dejavu
Valued Member
Of course, the question becomes a lot more interesting if the advantages go in opposite directions in the different cars.

Sir, Sir, I have an example, sir!

Heidfeld vs Kubica 2008-09. In 2008 the speed of Kubica in a good car shone through, in 2009 the resilience and reliability of Heidfeld won the day.
 
...in 2009 the resilience and reliability of Heidfeld won the day.

Aha ha! Perhaps it was Heidfeld's much lower weight and the advantage it gave when optimizing balast at the front end of the car in a KERS environment (which, in 2009, penalized a much taller/heavier driver in relation to a much shorter/ligher driver.)

The weight penalty was so huge against Kubica that he opted to run without KERS (prior to BMW dumping their system altogether)...and it also forced the FIA, as a result, to change the minimum weight regulations for 2010 in the interest of fairness.
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
Aha ha! Perhaps it was Heidfeld's much lower weight and the advantage it gave when optimizing balast at the front end of the car in a KERS environment (which, in 2009, penalized a much taller/heavier driver in relation to a much shorter/ligher driver.)

The weight penalty was so huge against Kubica that he opted to run without KERS (prior to BMW dumping their system altogether)...and it also forced the FIA, as a result, to change the minimum weight regulations for 2010 in the interest of fairness.

Change it to 2007 vs. 2008 then...
 
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