The Development Race: A Look at Progress from 2008-2012


Champion Elect
First of all, if you scroll down you'll notice that this article is ridiculously long! I apologise for that, I knew I was undertaking a massive project but I didn't expect it to get quite so big when I started writing it up. It seemed a shame to get rid of large chunks of what I've written though so I've left it, maybe consider this as seven articles instead of just one!

Because of this, once you've got the general idea of what I'm doing from this introductory post I'm going to suggest you ignore everything else and skip to the summary post (using the contents page below), which is long by itself but contains what I really wanted to show. If you're still interested after that feel free to flick back and have a look at the other posts, you may want to start with 2012 since that is fresh in the mind and maybe also the drivers post.

Before we get going, massive thanks to Brogan for providing me with the data I needed. Also to Galahad and jez101 , who discouraged me from another idea I had to extend this further by suggesting I might need money to do it!


1) Introduction (this post)
2) 2008 Analysis
3) 2009 Analysis
4) 2010 Analysis
5) 2011 Analysis
6) 2012 Analysis
7) Summary Part 1
8) Summary Part 2
9) BONUS! Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren partnerships from 2010-2012.


As we all know, car development is a massive part of F1. I think it was DC who said F1 is 80% car 20% driver or something along those lines. Put Alonso in a HRT and he's not going to be getting points but stick Karthikeyan in a Red Bull and he probably would... at least once. Every tenth counts and the engineers should really get as much attention as the drivers. With that in mind, this article is all about looking at who is winning the "development race", i.e. not only who has the fastest car, but also who is finding the most time during the season and which teams have been working their way up or down the grid in the last few years.

Starting with 2008, the last year before the current regulations came in to place in 2009, I'm going to try and answer questions like... Do the big teams really out develop everyone else? Are the new teams catching up to the midfield? Do particular teams tend to be strong at different stages of the season? Who gained/lost the most from certain rule changes? etc. I think questions like these are things we all have a general idea about but maybe the stats will give a different picture... In most cases we will find the "common sense" result, but even then it's interesting to extract real numbers from the statistics.

As a little bonus, I've also had a brief look at Alonso vs. Massa, Vettel vs. Webber and Hamilton vs. Button from 2010-2012. This isn't really the focus of the article, but I suspect people will be interested to look at (and argue about) the results!


Whenever you look at something like this the most difficult thing is to try and remove the aspects you're not interested in (e.g. driver errors) to leave what you really want. In practice this is impossible but I've tried my best to give the whole picture by looking at both qualifying and race performance in different ways. In essence, I'm using qualifying to measure the ultimate, best possible, performance of a team and the races to measure the 'true' performance (e.g. taking in to account that a car breaks down all the time or that a team can only afford a driver who crashes all the time).

For qualifying I look only at the fastest time set by a team (i.e. the best driver only) in any of the three qualifying sessions. In 2008/9, when the teams had to run fuel in Q3, this is typically the fastest times from Q2 which does mean you have to be a bit careful about how you interpret these years (fast teams may not have shown their true pace in Q2). I completely exclude all qualifying days in which rain affects any session (we don't want our 'ultimate pace' to be influenced by topsy turvy results).

We're interested in everything here, reliability, adapting to conditions... everything. I use the sum of a team's points and include wet races. Also, in 2008/9 the 10-8 points system was used. To be able to compare the results in these years to 2010-2012 I recalculate the points in all the races using the current 25-18 points system.


5 Race Average:
Originally one way in which I was planning on presenting results was using a 5 race average. In the end i found that looking at quarters (below) showed what I wanted so I only kept this for the brief look at drivers at the end as it was quicker to do. In these plots an entry for race 3 is the average of race 3 along with the two preceding and following races (i.e. race 1 to race 5). Entry 10 is the average of race 8 to race 12, and so on.

The other way I'll present results is in quarters of a season, just to generalise things further and make it easier to draw conclusions. In 2012, with a 20 race season, this is straight forward, each quarter contains 5 races. For other season lengths it requires a bit more thought. For a 19 race season, for example, the first quarter ends at 4.75 races. This means I associate 75% of the fifth race with the first quarter and 25% of the fifth race to the second quarter and so on.

Different Circuit Lengths:
I haven't adjusted for this. I think it makes the results more understandable and it's not sure it's as easy as saying shorter circuits have smaller differences between qualifying times.

Team Names:
In the posts for each year I use the team name that was actually used in that year, so Honda and Brawn appear, for example. In the summary post at the end I just use the names used in 2012, so Mercedes means Mercedes from 2010-2012, Brawn in 2009 and Honda in 2008.


  • Last year before major regulation changes
  • Hamilton wins the WDC, just, Ferrari win the WCC
  • BMW Sauber supposedly abandon development on a potentially championship winning car after meeting their year target of a race win.
  • Demise of Super Aguri
  • Spyker become Force India
  • Alonso goes back to Renault after a miserable year at McLaren.
  • Vettel wins his first race in a Toro Rosso at a wet Monza.
  • Start of the engine freeze, gearbox penalties and the removal of traction control.
  • Crash-gate.


McLaren start the year a tenth or two behind Ferrari but quickly close the gap by the second quarter (McLaren gain the 3rd most time between the 1st and 2nd quarters, and also the 3rd most from start to finish). From that point onwards the two teams become more and more dominant in qualifying as the season goes on and trade fastest times betweeen each other, often being separated by hundredths or thousandths rather than tenths. By the end of the years both team's best times are on average only half a tenth off pole. The fight for the WDC was a titanic battle in more ways than one.

BMW Sauber start the year on the pace of McLaren but can not maintain it and slip back a couple of tenths to about 4 tenths behind pole on average and stay there for the rest of the year. This eventually sees them slip behind Toyota, who consistently improve throughout the season to take 2nd most improved team, and also the rapidly improving Toro Rosso.

With the help of a sprinkling of Newey magic on the car, a strong Ferrari engine and an emerging talent in Vettel, Toro Rosso see themselves go from 1.2s off pole on average in the first half of the year down to just 0.3s on average, a gain of 9 tenths and enough to make them the 3rd fastest team in the final quarter having started at the back of the midfield! Not only is this the biggest improvement in 2008, but also the biggest gain seen midseason over the whole 2008-2012 period. Bigger even than the gains of McLaren in 2009 and HRT (who always turned up at the first race with a car that had never been tested).

Out of the rest, Red Bull and Williams make gains and losses at various points but largely maintain the status quo and Renault gain a couple of tenths in the first quarter but then stay around the level of 5 tenths off pole (not quite Alonso's claimed six tenths just yet). Force India well and truly win the wooden spoon, being well off the back of the midfield in this early stage of their time in F1 and falling back further at the end of the year. Honda also start slow and end slow, but we all know what they had hiding in the cupboard for 2009!


Race and Quali Ranks and Comparison:

You can just about pick out the same trends in the race plot but with one big exception and that's Renault. Although they made no large gains in qualifying, after the middle of the season Renault make huge gains forward in a similar manner to what Toro Rosso achieved in qualifying. They go from averaging 5pts/race in the second quarter (7th place), to 13pts/race in the 3rd quarter (4th place) and a massive 23pts/race in the last quarter, placing them first! By hook or by crook, Alonso picked up two wins, a second and two fourths in the last five races of the season. Maybe Alonso should update his motto to bringing 5 places rather than 6 tenths, as in the last quarter Renault ranked 6th in qualifying but 1st in the races.

McLaren and Ferrari's increased qualifying pace doesn't seem to quite correspond to more points. Ferrari seem to suffer a general slump in points as the season goes on, but that I think is due mainly to McLaren closing the gap on them and so the two start taking points off each other. McLaren's fortunes are quite up and down, possibly due to having one driver much stronger than the other. They have a particularly bad end to the season, perhaps being more conservative as the pressure builds in the championship battle but also hurt by two retirements for Kovalainen in this period. McLaren, Ferrari and Sauber lose the most points in the 4th quarter compared with the 1st quarter.

The rest, I think, are broadly as above.


  • First year of the 'new look' cars.
  • KERS introduced, but only McLaren, Ferrari, Renault and BMW Sauber use it.
  • Honda withdraw but the team makes it to the grid as Brawn-Mercedes.
  • Brawn, Toyota and Williams launch with double diffusers. The other teams moan because they don't. The FIA couldn't care less.
  • Brawn and Button run away with the first half of the year, having spent 2008 developing their new car. They win the WDC and WCC but it's not one way traffic in the second half.
  • Red Bull have the best single diffuser package and could have seriously challenged for both championships were it not for reliability issues.
  • McLaren and Ferrari lose out having had to focus development on their championship contending 2008 cars.
  • McLaren make a dramatic turnaround and are winning races by the end of the year.
  • Lie-gate.
  • Felipe Massa's nasty accident and his world class replacement.



Now I think these results are interesting as they seem to give quite a different picture to how the championship panned out (but remember that fuel may be skewing the real picture despite my best efforts). In the first three quarters there are three teams within three tenths of pole on average: Brawn and Red Bull followed by either Toyota, Ferrari or McLaren.

Brawn do not hold a significant advantage over Red Bull across any major part of the season, with both being one or two tenths behind pole on average for the first three quarters. For the last quarter Brawn's limited finances finally takes effect, with them dropping back two and a half tenths and Red Bull along with the resurgent McLaren becoming a clear front two. Having struggled eight or nine tenths back for the first two quarters, faster only than Force India, Toro Rosso and BMW Sauber, McLaren managed to find a massive seven tenths in the third quarter to bring themselves within a tenth of Red Bull and ahead of Brawn by the end of the year.

Ferrari have an interesting development over the year; often they get categorised along with McLaren in how their year went (by me at least) but in reality the two are very different. Ferrari start the year at the front of the midfield as the 4th fastest team, certainly not the dizzy heights they were used to with the previous regulations but not a complete disaster. They then quickly find three tenths to put them just about on the pace of Brawn, which is something that, for me at least, seemed to slip by completely unnoticed. From here they start to rapidly lose time and find themselves towards the back of the midfield at the end of the year, 9 tenths off pole on average and worse than where they started the year. Part of this will be to do with the injury of Massa, but considering we're only looking at quickest times and they still had Raikkonen I'm inclined to think that Ferrari decided to chuck in the towel and look towards 2010.

Out of the rest, Toro Rosso make large gains in the second half of the year as they did in 2008, Williams and Toyota have decent pace (at different points) thanks to their double diffusers and Renault and BMW Sauber have pretty lacklustre years (with BMW pulling out at the end of the year). However, for me the big story is the gains made by Force India who for the first time showed that they could hold their own in F1. Starting where they left off in 2008, i.e. well behind, they managed to find a huge 1.3s, culminating in a magnificent pole for Fisichella at Spa thanks to a very slippy car. They lost most of what they gained in the final quarter, but this is the start of Force India becoming a respectable midfield team.


Race and Qualifying Ranks and Comparison:

Looking at the contrast between qualifying and race performance you have to wonder whether 2009 for Red Bull was like 2012 for McLaren. Despite having a car that was more than a match for Brawn on Saturdays it was not until the end of the year (at which point Brawn had completely gone off the boil) that Red Bull managed to acquire more points. This is most apparent in the first quarter, during which Brawn are on average just one hundredth quicker than Red Bull but they manage to pick up around twice as many points per race (35.5pts to 17.8pts). If you look at Red Bull's race results in that period you find that they had four non points scoring finishes in four races. Across the whole year Red Bull's results are just very up and down in general. I put this down to reliability and perhaps also the fact that at this point most of Red Bull (both the drivers and personnel) are not at all accustomed to the pressure of being front runners. What happened in 2010-2012 shows they were quick learners. Incidentally, Brawn's first quarter race performance is amongst the most dominant seen across the whole 2008-2012 period, bettered only by the 2011 Red Bull.

Ferrari are another interesting proposition, as in the first quarter they have the 4th fastest car but on race days they only managed to pick up 3pts/race on average, placing them 9th. Maybe this is just a case of bad luck or maybe there was something more interesting going on, I can't remember. One thing that potentially contributed was KERS, because from memory everyone except McLaren really struggled to get it working initially. McLaren, in fact, or perhaps more specifically Hamilton, manage to drag the 8th fastest qualifying car up to collecting the 4th most points on race days and one of the images that sticks in my mind from that year is Lewis using KERS to full effect for overtaking. To Ferrari's credit, they do at least match or better their qualifying performance in the races for the rest of the year, even after Massa's injury.

The rest is much the same as above. On the positive side BMW Sauber are another team that tended to improve on race days (although when you start at the back it's very hard to go backwards) and Toyota have probably their strongest ever showing in the first quarter (2nd most points). On the negative side, Williams struggle to really make an impression with their double diffuser in the races and Renault suffer a year of midfield anonymity. In fact, Renault's race day performance stays pretty much constant at 4pts/race for the whole year.


  • Red Bull win the WCC for the first time.
  • Vettel dominates the end of the year to win his first WDC after Ferrari get Alonso's strategy wrong in the final race of the season and Webber has a difficult last three races.
  • The new teams, at this point Lotus, HRT and Virgin, enter F1.
  • Toyota withdraw, BMW withdraw and the team becomes Sauber again, Brawn becomes Mercedes.
  • "Not bad for a number two driver"
  • Button and Hamilton's first year together as team mates.
  • Alonso's first year at Ferrari.
  • Schumacher's comeback.
  • F-ducts and flexi-wings are technical talking points. Double diffusers are standard.
  • Refuelling banned.


Established Teams Graph:
New Teams Graph:

After plenty of hints in 2009, 2010 is the start of two years of complete domination on Saturdays for Red Bull. The top top of McLaren and Ferrari pre-2009 now becomes a top three with Red Bull joining the party but at no point in the season can either of the previous front two get much closer than three tenths (on average in each quarter) of the new boys in town. McLaren and Ferrari have a good battle for 2nd place, with both teams taking two quarters in their mini battle. Ferrari have the edge though, as McLaren dropped back 4 tenths in the third quarter.
The story for the remaining pair of the 'big five', Mercedes and Renault, is largely the case of them just not being able to match the development rate of the front three as those power houses really start to get to grips with the double diffusers and also start to exploit exhaust blowing as well. In the first half of the year they manage to get within a tenth or so of either McLaren or Ferrari at various points (albeit still a whole seven or eight tenths behind Red Bull) but after that both drop about six tenths compared to Red Bull leaving themselves barely visible on the horizon, 1.3s behind.

In fact, the story for the whole field is much the same as for Mercedes/Renault and this sees the grid split in to four groups - the front three (Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren), the front of the midfield (Mercedes, Renault, Williams), the back of the midfield (Sauber, Force India, Toro Rosso) and the backmarkers (Lotus, Virgin, HRT), who I will come to in a moment. Whilst in 2009 the new regulations caused a bit of a shake up and some rapid moves forwards and backwards, in 2010 it's really a case of money talks. Apart from that front group everyone makes slight gains in the second quarter and then fall back for the rest of the year and end up back where they started or worse. This is most dramatic for Force India and Toro Rosso, who I think I'm probably right in saying have a smaller budget than most of the other midfield teams. The one exception to the rule is Williams, who end the year five tenths better than where they started.

Now, on to the new guys and really there's not that much that I can say other than the obvious, i.e. they're well of the pace. The sensible among us weren't expecting them to be good, but I don't think many thought they would be quite as slow as they were (are)! Their development largely follows the same trend as what I described above although the swings up and down are large - for example, HRT gain two seconds in the second quarter (not surprising having turned up to Australia with a car that hadn't tested). In general, Lotus are about three tenths faster than Virgin and Virgin are about a second to a second and a half faster than HRT. The closest any of them get to the back of the midfield (Toro Rosso) is about 1.5s (3.5s off Red Bull). As a point of comparison, Force India were about, at best, 8 tenths off the back of the midfield in 2008, and 1.9s off Ferrari.


Race and Qualifying Ranks and Comparison:

Despite having a clear advantage in qualifying, Red Bull don't really put the nail in the coffin until the end of the year - they are outscored by McLaren in the first two quarters and Ferrari in the first and third quarters. Without going back and really analysing all the races in detail it's difficult to really put your finger on what was going on (the number of no-score finishes by all three teams is similar, for example). Over the last few years a general trend does seem to be that large advantages in qualifying correspond to only small advantages in the races, but I'm not qualified to explain that. I might propose that it's partly due to the ban on refuelling (so there is a larger difference between qualifying and race conditions), but that's purely speculation.

Where you can perhaps see the influence of Red Bull's qualifying pace is that they are always there or thereabouts. All three teams have their ups and downs but Red Bull at their worst were only losing about 3pts/race on average to the front runners , whereas McLaren's worst period left them dropping back by around 10pts/race and Ferrari's a massive 19pts/race! In other words, Red Bull are consistently fast, their lows are still pretty good and their highs are utterly dominant.

From the others, Mercedes and Renault form a clear 'best of the rest' and then everyone else (apart from the new teams) can be clumped together in to the midfield. In fact, the whole of the rest of the picture is nigh on identical to qualifying, even more so than in previous years. If you look through the tables you'll find that there is at most a difference of one place between qualifying and the race in all quarters for all teams (ignoring the new teams), apart from McLaren and Red Bull in the first quarter. They could all have saved a lot of time and effort by packing up on Saturday evenings and flying home, at least as far as the WCC is concerned it would have had a very limited effect on the championship!


  • What can only be described as sheer domination for Vettel and Red Bull.
  • Hamilton has a difficult year both off and on the track.
  • McLaren forced to abandon 'octupus exhaust' after disastrous testing but turn it around in time for Australia with a simpler, Red Bull inspired system.
  • Double diffusers banned, time largely regained via (off throttle) exhaust blown diffusers, which lead to...
  • Engine map rows and a back and forth in regulations that coincides with Alonso/Ferrari's only win of the year.
  • Pirelli tyres introduced.
  • Unrest in Bahrain lead to the postponement, cancellation, postponement and cancellation of the grand prix.
  • The new teams are so good that the 107% rule is reintroduced.
  • KERS widely adopted and the DRS virus takes hold.


Establihsed Teams Graph:
New Teams Graph:

At the start of 2010 Red Bull were 4 tenths ahead of Ferrari and 6 tenths ahead of McLaren. In 2011 we have the same front three but while McLaren are still 6 tenths back at the start of the year having completed a successful rush job after their difficult testing, Ferrari have fallen back to 1.1s behind. Ferrari just about manage to get within half a second of Red Bull around half way through the year but then fall back another tenth or two - they're never really in a position to challenge. McLaren on the other hand make steady progress through the year, gaining about a tenth and a half per quarter. By the end of the year that puts them only around a tenth behind Red Bull, and close enough to beat them on occasion which sees Red Bull's average gap to pole increase to a massive half a tenth! In the previous three quarters a Red Bull is always on pole, the most dominant display seen in recent years.

After quite a close battle for third place in the first quarter with Renault and Ferrari, Mercedes spend a lonely year in a clear but distant fourth place. Thankfully, outside the fairly static top four there is at least quite a densely packed midfield (5th-9th place) with some fairly major moves forwards and backwards during the year.
The midfield broadly fits in to three categories with the first being teams that are strongest at the start of the year, fall back and then regain a little at the end of the year, which applies to Renault and Toro Rosso. Both teams I think would have been fairly satisfied with where they started the year, with Renault within reach of Mercedes and Ferrari and Toro Rosso pretty much identical on pace to Sauber for 6th/7th place. However, both teams then lose 1.1s over the next two quarters, which is enough to see Toro Rosso slip to the back of the established teams and for Renault to slip back in amongst the midfield. Both also gain in the last quarter, possibly having finally made a breakthrough with utilising an exhaust blown diffuser, which is enough to see Toro Rosso move back up a couple of places.

In the second category I place Williams and Sauber, who have a close battle amongst themselves starting towards the front of the midfield but then sliding all the way to the back in perfect harmony, ending the year about half a second worse off. Finally we have Force India, who are the only team other than McLaren and Ferrari who start the year closer to Red Bull than where they started (six tenths closer, to be exact). It's enough to see them move up from 8th place to 5th place in qualifying. I really don't think this is something to be sniffed at, I'd rank it as one of the more remarkable achievements of the year.

A quick note on the new teams to round things off but I don't think there's much to say. None of them get close to worrying the established teams but there is daylight between Lotus and the rest as both HRT and Virgin have off-track troubles and changes. HRT manage to close their gap to Virgin to about 4 tenths for the second half of the season.


Qualifying and Race Ranks and Comparison:

This is another year where there really aren't many differences to the trends in qualifying performance, so I won't dwell on these results for long. One thing I would like to discuss is how Red Bull's dominance in qualifying transfers in to the races, which is something that wasn't necessarily the case in 2010. They pick up the most points in the first quarter, when Ferrari and McLaren are furthest behind on average, and the least points in the third quarter, when Ferrari and McLaren are closest on average, but at all stages they are leading the way. To put the numbers in to context, in the first quarter Red Bull pick up 37pts/race on average, meaning a normal day at the office is for their cars to finish 1st and 4th, and in the third quarter (their worst) they pick up 33pts/race on average, or the equivalent of finishing 2nd and 3rd. In 2009, at their peak Brawn "only" managed 35pts/race (1st+5th) and they didn't even come close to maintaining that for the whole season.

Other than that there's not much to say. Williams and Renault tended to be worse off in the races, perhaps as they both had a fairly large number of retirements (9 and 6 respectively) and also the luxury of Pastor Maldonado (2011 version) and Bruno Senna driving their cars. Sauber and Toro Rosso seem to be the main benefactors of this and tended to move up in the races.


  • 7 winners in the first 7 races, including a first win for Rosberg and an unlikely win for Maldonado.
  • McLaren have the fastest car overall but team errors and reliability sees Alonso make a remarkable championship challenge in a sluggish Ferrari.
  • It's not enough and a resurgent Vettel takes the WDC after Newey and co find how to make their car tick just in time. Red Bull also take the WCC.
  • A competitive grid right down the order (but not the new teams) sees podiums, at least, for Lotus, Sauber, Mercedes and Williams (and almost Force India).
  • Plastic surgeons see business double as the cars develop stepped noses.
  • Exhaust regulations change to greatly reduce the potential gain from exhaust-blown diffusers.
  • Double DRS and Conada effect Exhausts.
  • Everyone spends a couple of weeks in therapy after believing they witnessed a good race in Valencia.

Established Teams Graph:
New Teams Graph:

For the first time since the new regulations came in to place in 2009 Red Bull are not the best team in qualifying (with the slight caveat of the pre-2010 qualifying fuel rules mentioned previously). In 2012 the crown goes to McLaren, just about. Both McLaren and Red Bull take the victory in two quarters but McLaren are more consistent - Red Bull's worst two quarters (1 and 3) see them fall back to five tenths behind pole on average whereas McLaren's worst two quarters (2 and 4) see them only 3 tenths and 1 tenth behind pole on average. Looking at the third quarter, only one team gains on average (time wise) and that is McLaren. This suggests to me that they found something pretty special to bolt on the car at this point, but it might just reflect that Button found some form again.

Behind those two there is an interesting battle for 3rd-5th which for the most part is fought between Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari. In their strongest showing since 2009, Mercedes head the way in the first quarter and at this point are actually faster than Red Bull as well, being three tenths behind McLaren on average. Lotus are only a tenth further back and on a par with Red Bull. Ferrari, on the other hand, have a pretty disastrous start to the season as they try to figure out how to get performance out of their fairly radical car. They are back in the midfield, six tenths off Mercedes. By the second quarter, however, Ferrari have completely eradicated the half second gap to Lotus.

For the rest of the year Ferrari and Lotus track each other fairly closely but both fall back from the front slightly and Ferrari always have the edge. Mercedes, on the other hand, somehow manage to get completely lost with the development of their car and fall back a massive eight tenths in the third quarter, all the way to the back of the midfield (8th). I'm sure there will still be a few people at Mercedes scratching their heads about that one, so answers on a postcard to Brackley if you have suggestions. They do at least fight their way back to the front of the midfield again at the end of the year. If in 2013 they can avoid this sort of mid-year slump then they could have a faster car (in qualifying) than Lotus and Ferrari, and it's certainly an interesting prospect to see what Hamilton could do with such a car considering where Alonso and Raikkonen ended up in 2012.

For 6th-8th, what I would call the midfield in 2012, we have a battle between Sauber, Williams and Force India. All three teams make gains relative to pole in the second quarter and then fall back in the second half of the season. However, Williams (3 tenths) and Force India (5 tenths) make greater initial gains than Sauber (1 tenth), which sees the initial order with Sauber at the front of the trio change to be Williams 6th, Force India 7th and Sauber 8th for the rest of the year. It is also important to point out that these teams are seriously competitive in 2012 and give the heavyweights some serious food for thought. In the first quarter Sauber edge ahead of Ferrari and in the third quarter Williams edge ahead of Lotus, for example.

For 9th, Toro Rosso spend a lonely year in the no man's land between the established teams and the new teams. In the second quarter of the year, though, they're maybe a lot less lonely than they would like to be as they see Caterham close in to be "just" six tenths behind them. Caterham can't maintain or improve on that pace but it is the first sign that suggests the new teams can eventually join the main group. Considering this is real and significant progres, I think the majority of people have been a bit harsh on Caterham this year, probably myself included.

Marussia see HRT overtake them in the second quarter but after that retake 11th and manage to maintain their gap to pole at just over 4s. The pace is still slow, but this reveals an impressive development rate from them in the second half of the year having made the transfer to using a wind tunnel. To put that in context, both Caterham and HRT lost the best part of 2s in the second half of the season. There's enough evidence here to suggest that Caterham and Marussia can make significant improvements in 2013, I feel.


Qualifying and Race Ranks and Comparison:

Whilst in many previous years we have seen that very little has changed between qualifying and the race, in 2012 we have plenty of differences to comment on thanks to the increased competitiveness of the grid a long with a nice helping of unreliability and errors.

Let's start at the front, as always, and amazingly Red Bull come out on top in three out of the four quarters. Only in 2011 did they manage to best that despite being less competitive in qualifying than in both 2010 and 2009. Not only that but, contrary to popular belief and as far as the WCC is concerned, it is the first half of the season where Red Bull gain the most compared to McLaren/Ferrari and not in the post-Singapore update period. They gain 9pts/race over Ferrari in the first quarter (understandably, as Ferrari are way off the pace in this period) and 12pts/race over McLaren in the second quarter (Button's slump and also McLaren's least competitive part of the year in qualifying).

Apart from that first quarter, Ferrari are pretty much a match for Red Bull for the rest of the season in terms of points brought home. Although they are pretty much always half a step behind, they lose less points compared to Red Bull in the last three quarters put together than in the first quarter. Dare I say that with a couple of extra pre-season tests Alonso would have won the WDC? Let's also not forget the much talked about fact that Ferrari were, more often than not, a long way back from McLaren/Red Bull on Saturday's. The reliability of both the car and the team along with the self-proclaimed and widely accepted brilliance of Alonso are the main contributing factors that see them rank around two spots higher in the race than in qualifying on average across the season.
It is also no coincidence that the fortunes of McLaren and Ferrari seem to be mirror images of each other throughout the season. In other words, Ferrari were the team waiting in the wings to benefit from McLaren's errors. The same applies to Red Bull to a lesser extent. McLaren's issues and errors were numerous and have been much talked about here and elsewhere but the upshot of it all is that it is only in one quarter, the third quarter, in which they consistently manage to pull off race results that are worthy of their performances in qualifying.

The roller-coaster of a story for Mercedes in qualifying becomes more of a horror story in the races as very rarely do they manage to convert on the occasions they were competitive thanks to struggles with reliability and what appeared to be much worse tyre degradation compared to the rest of the teams. In the first quarter Mercedes can only take the 2nd best car in qualifying to 5th best in the race and even at the end of the year they are still tending to fall back, ranking four places lower in the race than in qualifying on average in the fourth quarter.

Williams are another team that tend to fall back more often than not but this time largely due to various sorts of driver incompetence. Sauber, on the other hand, tend to move up in races in the mid-portion of the year and that can probably be apportioned to being particularly kind on tyres. A spurt of particularly impressive results for Hulkenberg at the end of the year also sees Force India make gains over qualifying.

So, now we get to the post that all this was really intended for – can we find some general trends in the development rate of teams both mid-season and between seasons over the five year period? Let’s see…

All Quarters From 2008-2012



I won’t dwell on these plots and tables but they contain pretty much everything I have looked at over the previous five posts. I find them too busy to really interpret properly directly which is why I've analysed each year separately, but if you haven’t looked at the individual years yet it might be worth having a glance at them here and seeing whether there is anything that stands out to you that you’d like to have a look at in more detail.

Year Averages From 2008-2012

Gains and Losses from Previous Year:

Gains and Losses from Previous Year:

Qualifying Ranks:
Race Ranks:

What I think is very clear from these graphs, particularly in qualifying which I will focus on, is the outstanding job that Adrian Newey and his team have managed to do with the 2009 rule book. Red Bull are really the only team that are closer to pole on average in 2011 than they were in 2008, going from seven tenths back and 6th in 2008 to basically being on pole all the time and three and a half tenths ahead of their nearest challenger on average in 2011.

Force India and Mercedes are the only other teams that come close to improving, being pretty much on a par with where they were in 2008 in 2011. That’s interesting in itself, because it means that having been front runners in 2009 as Brawn, Mercedes end up back where they were as Honda in 2008 two years later! However, in 2011 this gap of 1.2s still has them as the 4th fastest team, whereas the same gap in 2008 placed them 9th! This is perhaps the best example of how the grid spread out in 2010 and 2011, which you also see clearly on the qualifying graph.

Force India, I think, are the 2ndbiggest success story of the new regulations (behind Red Bull). In 2008 (their first year under current ownership) they were the equivalent of the current new teams, 9 tenths behind the next slowest team (Mercedes, or Honda at this point). That’s still a much smaller gap than where HRT, Caterham and Marussia started off mind you. In 2009, helped by a spectacular performance at Spa, they are still the slowest team but the gap has reduced to just two tenths. From here I think it would have been very easy for them to slip back again, but instead they propel themselves right in to the midfield and the wooden spoon transfers to Toro Rosso for 2010-2012. They don’t only move ahead of Toro Rosso though, but Sauber as well in all three years (narrowly beating them by four hundredths of a second on average in 2012), and the struggling Williams in 2011. The midfield is actually pretty fixed from 2010-2012, with the exception of Williams’ slump in 2011 it’s always 6) Williams, 7) Force India, 8) Sauber and 9) Toro Rosso.

Now, how about Ferrari and McLaren? We all know that they got off on the wrong foot in 2009, but surely they’ve made strides forward since then? Let’s start with McLaren. They actually fall back from where they were at the end of 2009 in 2010 but on average they maintain the same gap of about half a second behind the Red Bull’s. From them on though they start to eat their way in to Red Bull’s lead, gaining a tenth and a half in 2011 and then another two tenths in 2012 to put them ahead of Red Bull by about a tenth on average (I’ll talk about 2012 again separately in a moment and in the “categorised” section). They are the first team to do that since the new regulations came in to place (not even Brawn managed it).

You’d expect Ferrari to follow a similar path to McLaren but in fact the two are surprisingly different. They were both evenly matched (on average) in 2009 and in 2010 Ferrari sneak ahead of them by about a tenth, albeit still nowhere near Red Bull. After that, things get quite depressing for Ferrari as they fall back two and a half tenths in 2011 and don’t even gain in 2012 unlike almost every single other team on the grid (Red Bull being the only other to fall back). This sees them fall back in to the middle of a tight battle for 4th between them, Lotus and Mercedes on Saturdays.

That just about covers everything except having a quick look at the race performance. Frankly, although I’ve included race graphs and tables for all the categories below I think the qualifying results is the main factor in what I’m trying to show so I won’t mention the races very much throughout this post. The main differences between the races and qualifying I have already mentioned previously in the posts for the individual years. 2012 is probably the year where there’re the most differences like you’d expect as the grid gets closer together, so I’d suggest that post is a good place to start if you’re interested in the races in particular.

Quarter Averages Taken Across 2010-2012



So we’ve had a look at the progression of the teams over the years but how about within a season? To do this I’ve taken the average of each team’s qualifying and race performance in each quarter across 2010-2012. I chose this three year period rather than including 2008 and 2009 as well since 2008 was with the old regulations and things got a bit topsy –turvy in 2009. Including them doesn’t actually change the results that much but it’s nice to have a fairly stable period to look at.

Let’s look at qualifying and the front three first. Red Bull stay pretty stable at the front throughout the year with variations of about a tenth or two up or down originating from their 2012 performance. Basically, they start dominant and are able to develop fast enough to maintain their lead. McLaren do generally manage to close in on them in the second half of the year though, being about three or four tenths off in the first half of a season and one or two tenths off in the second half. Ferrari, on the other hand, are slow starters. They’ve tended to start the year about on the pace of Mercedes, eight or nine tenths off pole on average. It’s almost as if they take a bit longer to understand how to get performance out of their cars as by the second quarter they bring that gap down to half a second. This leaves them within a tenth or two of McLaren across the mid-portion of the year. They only seem to manage to stand still from that though, which sees them lose a further couple of tenths to McLaren at the end of the year.

Broadly speaking, for everyone else it is a case of maintaining the gap to the front for the first half of the season, and in some cases slightly gaining. All the teams outside the top 3 then lose time relative to the front in the first quarter. This is most apparent for Mercedes and Lotus, who start the year quite close to the front but fall back five or six tenths in the third quarter. Most of the teams then manage to gain some time back in the final quarter with the exception of Force India and Sauber who tend to fall back further. Perhaps by the end of the year the front 3 have really extracted pretty much everything they can from their current package and it lets the rest catch up. In general though, outside the top 3 the best you can expect a team to do is to end the year about as far behind as where they started but it is more likely to see them fall back two or three tenths. Williams and Force India are the two who just about manage to end where they left off.

In this case I think it is interesting to have a bit of a more detailed look at the race results. We can see, for example, that despite not really making any strides towards the front in qualifying beyond the second quarter, Ferrari do manage to continue to improve in the races as the year goes on. I think they can thank the drop off in performance of Lotus and Mercedes around the mid-point of the year for that, as they tend to find themselves in a clear third place for the second half of the year. You would also expect to see McLaren improve in the 4th quarter as they close the gap to Red Bull and distance themselves slightly from Ferrari in qualifying, but this is not the case. Instead McLaren and Ferrari tend to be pretty much evenly matched in the last quarter and Red Bull have a comparatively stronger end to the year in races.

Back in the midfield, Sauber tend to be strongest in races in the first half of the season despite being ranked towards the back in qualifying. On the other hand, Force India tend to be best in race in the 3rd and 4th quarters but they are most competitive in qualifying in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Williams rarely manage to match their qualifying results.

New Teams


You’ll notice that I’ve decided to exclude the new teams from all the graphs and descriptions so far (although they are in the tables), simply because doing so just makes it harder to see what’s going on with the established teams. The only interesting thing that can really be done with Caterham, Marussia and HRT is to look at how the gap between them and the nearest established team (Toro Rosso) has changed over the three years they’ve been in the sport.

There really isn’t the sort of quick improvement that you would like or might expect to see – the performance of the new teams has its ups and downs but overall it’s pretty flat and you have to look quite hard to find any improvements. The only real glimmer of hope that you can see is the second quarter of 2012 where Caterham managed to close in to about seven tenths of Toro Rosso in qualifying on average. This is a bit closer than Force India were to Honda (Mercedes) back in 2008 and if they could maintain that level of performance throughout 2013 it would be a decent step forward and they’d likely pick up a point or two. I haven’t included year averages in the graphs/tables, but for Caterham they go from about 2.4s behind Toro Rosso on average in 2010, to 1.7s in 2011 and 1.6s in 2012. At least they’re gaining but it’s slow progress on the whole.

Marussia in fact tended to be further away in 2011 than they were in 2010 (3.1s vs. 2.9s) as they realised the pure CFD approach was just not working. From the second quarter in 2012 onwards they managed to maintain an improved performance level , but it’s still only where they were (at best) in 2010. Not that it really matters now, but in their three years in the sport HRT managed to make gains of around 3 tenths per year, starting from 4.2s behind Toro Rosso on average in 2010 and reaching 3.5s behind in 2012. They clearly struggle in the first quarters compared to their eventual pace which is not surprising considering they never managed to test their new car before the season started. On average they gained a massive 1.8s between the first and second quarters and in 2012 this saw them momentarily move ahead of Marussia.

Categorised Results

Per Year



Per Quarter (2010-2012)



Another way I thought it might be interesting to look at the result is to categorise the teams in to groups of three based on their performance, so I plot the average of the teams ranked 1st-3rd, 4th-6th, 7th-9th and 10th-12th together. I won’t talk about these much as they largely reproduce the results I have already been taking about but perhaps in a clearer fashion. It is very clear that everyone except the front three lost out across 2010 and 2011 using this approach, for example, with the teams ranked 4th-9th losing 1.2-1.5s over this period compared to the front. You also see them gain again in 2012 after the removal of exhaust blown diffusers and the spread of the grid returns to be similar to what it was in 2008 and 2009. In terms of quarters, the front three teams tend to get more dominant as the year goes on but the effect is pretty subtle and things stay fairly stable throughout the year.

If I haven’t made you lose your will to live by now then congratulations (!) and here is a quick and less detailed look at something I thought people would find interesting. It’s what people like to argue about: Hamilton vs. Button, Alonso vs. Massa and Vettel vs. Webber from 2010 to 2012. My first controversial statement is that in the plots in which I’m comparing team mates a positive difference will mean that Hamilton is beating Button, Vettel is beating Webber or Alonso is beating Massa. Vice versa for negative differences.

As it was quicker than calculating quarters I’ve just looked at 5 race averages here. To try and remove variations due to mechanical failures etc. as best I’ve done I’ve only counted the best three races in each five race period, and this includes wet races for both qualifying and the races. It’s still obviously sensitive to bad luck for the drivers, but it’s better than nothing.

I do have a lot more than what I show below but considering how much I’ve already written and this isn’t what I want to focus on I’ve left them out and just kept the averages below. I can post more if requested.

Year Averages



Ferrari: Alonso extends his advantage over Massa in the races over the three year period from around 7pts/race to 10pts/race. In qualifying, however, Massa managed to gain about a tenth on Alonso in 2012 but that still leaves him 2 tenths behind Fernando on average.

Red Bull: The relative qualifying and race performance of Vettel and Webber follow the same trends. They start off pretty evenly matched in 2010 only for Vettel to open a big lead in 2011 (three tenths in qualifying, 8pts extra/race) which Webber manages to claim back a small portion of in 2012.

McLaren: In 2010 and 2011 Hamilton has an average advantage of about two tenths over Button, which increases to almost three tenths in 2012 (in 2012 the gap between Lewis and Jenson in qualifying is also bigger than the Red Bull or Ferrari pairings). As we all know, in the races things are much closer with Jenson having the edge in 2011 and Lewis in 2010 and 2012. Across a whole season they is never more than two points per race difference between them on average.

Average Performance Within a Season:



Ferrari: In qualifying Massa tends to start the year a decent chunk behind Alonso, something like three to five tenths. Around a quarter of a way in to the season though he’s got his act together and the gap reduces to about a tenth, but from then on Fernando slowly drifts ahead again until Felipe ends up almost as far behind as he was at the start of the year. Incidentally in the three years, which I haven’t shown, the qualifying trends are quite different. In 2010 Massa was stronger in the first half and in 2012 in the second half of the year, whilst in 2011 he was strongest in the middle! In the races things are more consistent and Alonso always holds a sizeable advantage at all points in the season.

Red Bull: The Red Bull drivers again do the decent thing and their respective qualifying performances look very similar to the race results. Vettel is strongest at the start and end of the season, where at some points he has almost a 6 tenths advantage on average and picks up almost 10pts extra per race. Around the middle of the season Vettel still holds an advantage but it is greatly reduced, often less than a tenth in qualifying and only a difference of a point or two in the races.

McLaren: What stuck out for me is that Button’s slump in the first half of 2012 is not an isolated occurrence. You see it in other years as well and on average in the second quarter the gap between them in qualifying increases from a tenth or two up to about three and a half tenths. In the races as well they tend to be evenly matched for the first few races but after that Hamilton holds an advantage of about 3/4pts per race for a while. Jenson then closes the gap in qualifying around the third quarter of the year only to see the gap increase again towards the end of the year. In the races, though, Jenson tends to hold the advantage in the third quarter.

Well this is the end. I have no idea why I did this but even if you haven't read any of it thank you for scrolling down this far and reading the last line! Happy New Year!
Thanks for all the praise so far, hopefully you'll all still feel that way after you've read some of it! I should say that if you notice any mistakes please point them out, I haven't had a chance to really proof read it. One error I know about is that I forgot to change the vertical axis to Pts/race in the plots in some of the plots in the drivers post but I didn't have the time to go back and change it.

I also have a lot of available information now, more than what I've shown, so if there are particular aspects that anyone would like me to expand upon I could investigate. Please forgive me if I decide to take a month or so before doing something major, however. It's been interesting and fun to look at but it has occupied a lot of my free time over the last month or so and it would be nice to have a break!
What a fantastic piece of detailed analysis, worthy of a slot with the Sky pad methinks.

I have noted a few things which piqued my interest, specifically around how much of the team performance relates to the drivers, e.g. does the development of performance change when the team changes drivers or not? I see a few patterns. And also, the other side of that, how do the teams change with respect to driver changes, eg, when a driver moves from team 1 to team b, does the pattern for team b change?

I think it will take a while to dissect all this data. at least we have a few weeks until testing starts!!
That would be interesting and it's not something I've looked at but there's a lot going on in this period so It's very difficult to say what is or isn't influenced by a driver. You could say that Mercedes went downhill in 2010 because Button left or that Red Bull made big gains in 2009 and Toro Rosso fell back because of Vettel meaning between the two but in reality there are other factors that were much more significant.

I'm not sure how you can really get past that. What did you notice?
I just noticed a couple of things which made me decide I needed to look deeper.

Firstly, McLaren seem to follow a similar trend in most years, with respect to relative speed, dropping off in quarter 2, so, despite driver movement over this period, the pattern seems to remain the same. The fact that Buttons performances seem to reflect this more than Hamilton would seem to indicate something to do with driving styles. I would ascertain that the sudden increase in the difference between the two would be in line with an upgrade pack. This year it was in Spain (high nose) and I believe in 2010 it was EBD related, however, more detail would be required in order to validate or disprove this.

I think there is no need to look at year on year changes, as much as the within year pattern changes year on year, for example, if you look at Ferrari's relative pace across the years from 2008 to current, how many years would follow a similar shape?

A marker which I will try and get to look at if I get time (unlikely) would be the changes in times between the Barcelona tests and the Spanish GP, to try and understand if there is a pattern in underlying pace which could be unlocked. All this is difficult, as with differing tracks etc, it is really difficult to see how much faster a car is actually getting.

I will be totally honest, this is the first article which has compelled me to think about things in such depth.

Thank you sushifiesta
Looking at Ferrari, with one year excepted, the pattern of relative speed does not change, this to me indicates that they have a good initial development package, then fall away for the remainder of the year. That this is still in evidence, it would indicate to me that the ways of working and factory ethos would hold sway here.
I can certainly expand on the drivers post at some point. I could try and do the 2010-2012 period for the Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren drivers in the same way that I've done for the teams, using quarters etc., and then they would be easier to compare. I need a bit of a rest first though!

On average McLaren seem to improve in qualifying with respect to the previous quarter in the second and last quarters of the season. In the races it's the other way round and you can track that back to how the gap between Lewis and Jenson changes over the year like you say. Ferrari seeming to stand still since 2009 was another feature that really stood out for me like it did for you.
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