#F1 Forensics: Mercedes & Red Bull – Two Horse Race for the Championship?

Brought to you by TheJudge13 Technical Analyst Lorenzo De Luca

Sepang: Mercedes and Red Bull, two-horse race for the championship?

As I said after the Australian Grand Prix, the Malaysian race would provide us with more honest answers about the real performances of the cars – and so it was. No significant surprises, that’s for sure, but Sepang gave us an idea on what were the strengths of each team. Therefore it was not unexpected seeing Mercedes cars securing the first two places on the podium, but there was quite interesting data coming from the places just behind them.

Thanks to the layout of the track, for the first time, we had the opportunity to appreciate the true level – from an aerodynamics point of view – of the new cars. It should not be any surprise that the winners – Mercedes – have maintained their advantage which was gained in the original design phase. The W05 has proven to have not merely a good power unit, but also great aerodynamic efficiency, downforce and shows a gentle use of the new Pirelli tires – a real weakness of the past few seasons.

Torque delivery, downforce and fuel consumption




The charts above, show us many interesting stats. The first is that the Mercedes power unit burns, on average, less fuel. The second thing concerns the relationship between downforce/aero efficiency. To make it clear – let’s make a comparison between the sector times and percentage of fuel burnt by Red Bull and Williams.

The RB10, thanks to the huge downforce level it achieves is the fastest car behind Mercedes. As you can see, Vettel’s times are very competitive but there is a downside – this level of downforce increases the drag, thereby producing a lower top speed and most importantly requiring more fuel to be burnt to achieve this level of performance.

By contrast we have a FW36, which is capable of burning less fuel than any other car on track. This is mostly down to its excellent aero efficiency – however this does not repay in terms of lap times.

So, downforce or a better fuel management? Well Mercedes have shown us that you need both of them to be fast. Indeed Hamilton’s W05 was the fastest in all 3 sectors, despite a lower top speed. The sector times/top speed chart also give us the opportunity to roughly calculate the downforce level and efficiency of the various cars.

The first sector which is rather linear and anonymous, shows clearly that the differences in terms of raw power is almost close to zero. Apart from the aerodynamic choices, the gaps were very close, it is really only the weakest teams that recorded significant delays here.

But it is in the 2nd and 3rd sector where we can see the most interesting things.

Looking at the times and always taking into account the top speed in each sector we can say without fear of contradiction that on a chassis/aero level Red Bull and Mercedes are on equal terms. The other teams are lagging significantly behind the leading two teams.

Starting with Ferrari, the problems do not appear to be aero related but rather an issue with the torque delivery. More precisely, on the exit of corners, it was clear from the onboard cameras that the drivers were struggling when the turbo began to push.

The Ferrari powered cars leave Sepang with broken bones, because if Renault have shown huge advances with power and reliability, the same cannot be said for teams running with the 059/3. The F14-T still shows a deficit of +0.6 tenths per lap to the Mercedes and Red Bull which are already near the top again. The shadow of another poor season beckons for Maranello.

Aero updates

There were few new updates brought by teams to Sepang. The most interesting is the new nose introduced by Mclaren. In the image (courtesy of AMuS), we can see how they introduced a step to allow a greater height from the ground, and thus increase the amount of airflow that is channeled below the chassis.


The support pylons have also been changed with a shape to favour the Venturi effect.

In addition, a new duct had been fitted on the floor. This was inspired by Lotus to help the cooling of some of the PU components.


The Sauber team brought a few little upgrades for their C33, which introduced a new rear wing which differs from the old one by a new slot on the end plate. The aim of which is to reduce the drag.


Two inlets have also been introduced to assist the cooling of both the driver and various electrical components.

Mercedes upgrades featured a new profile to better manage the airflows under the car.


The profile now has a bigger surface and the support pylon has been moved further back. Also new were the profiles added on the rear diffuser gurney flap, in order to increase extraction of air from the bottom of the car.


Interesting as always was the Lotus F1 Team, the E22 keeping true to its asymmetric design route. Indeed during free practice, Pastor’ s E22 featured a gurney flap on the side pod rear edge.


What await us in Bahrain

Tomorrow, F1 will be back on track again. Teams have already run in Sahkir during pre season testing which makes it unlikely that after such a short break – from last Sunday – we will see any of the statistical data change that much.

Due to the layout of the track and it’s tarmac surface, cars with good traction and good torque delivery should see a bigger advantage than at the previous tracks this season.

The data gathered here during the winter tests could help the struggling teams but don’t expect to see a change on the values shown up to this point.

30 responses to “#F1 Forensics: Mercedes & Red Bull – Two Horse Race for the Championship?

  1. It looks like Ferrari won’t be challenging for the lead anytime soon…Oh well, at least it’s better than being with Lotus…as long as no-one crashes into you that is…

  2. Great piece again there Lorenzo, just 1 thing, I can’t read the charts for the torque delivery etc as they are blurred and when I click on them and try to zoom in it is still unreadable, is their a chance of them being made available in PDF as its these kind of details that fascinate me. Or a link to where they originate from as I think they are important to help understand these new generation cars.

    Many thanks

      • I’m assuming you are using a screenshot of your chart / table? Make sure you save the screenshot as a file and then use the “Insert” command – don’t just paste the image into the document, that degrades the image quality apparently.
        Also Word automatically compresses inserted and pasted pictures. Somewhere in the “Options” dialog box of Word is a switch to turn off that compression. Where that switch is and what it is called varies depending on which version of Word you are using.
        HTH 🙂

  3. “The charts above, show us many interesting stats.” Actually, the first file called “chart.jpg” isn’t legible. The server is providing a fairly small, (~150 pixels tall) image to both my desktop, and droid phone. The image suffers from a significant loss of clarity so that its text is illegible.

    Can you provide a clear version of that first chart?

  4. The bbc compared the two fastest laps of quali against eachoter and it showed the difference between the Mercedes power and the red bull downforce. As vettel was almost faster over the whole lap, Being a couple of meters in front of hamilton, until hamilton hits the long straight.wich by the end gives him a advantage, taking pole by just a little. If it wasn’t for that straight he’d never been in front on Sunday. So I’m exited to see what will happen on a downforce track without such an power display.

  5. Aerodynamic efficiency = lift (downforce) / drag.

    Thermal efficiency = work (power) / fuel

    You conclude the Williams has good aerodynamic efficiency, but the team’s statements, and their performance indicates the opposite.

    We know from the statements of the drivers and the team that the Williams lacks rear-end grip. A consequence of a good fast driver trying to maximize the lap time of such a vehicle is that they will be out of the throttle a little bit more (rolling in and through corners with higher speed, using a loaded up nose to carry higher speed, and using more partial throttle on corner exit to try to keep the rear end some what hooked up, for examples). The net effect of that slight reduction in full throttle, is slightly better gas mileage.

    On the other hand, Red Bull is recognized for their higher aero efficiency, and their high downforce set-ups. It is again highly noticeable in 2014… A consequence of a high downforce set-up is higher fuel consumption. With higher df, RB can go deeper and harder on the brakes (more open throttle till the later brake point), and the higher df enables them to open up their throttle sooner from the apex, and use more throttle under traction limited acceleration (out of a turn for example) versus their less well downforce endowed competitors. The net result is more throttle per lap, and lower fuel mileage.

    In addition, Red Bull has been very candid that their power unit is not fully operational, so less power also means more wide open throttle.

      • Hehe ‘penetration’…

        Oh come on men, don’t lie, don’t tell me that didn’t stand out to you too.

      • Yeah, I noticed that.. it seems they have good aero but are at the same time struggling to put the power down (rear traction in the wet). Vertical load is a better way of explaining it than I could. So that’s why they are fastest in the speed traps? They have a slick car (think Force India 2009), same for FI in the hand of Hulkenberg? But Mercedes have more downforce and McLaren lacking performance. This also ties in with Williams underfuelling their cars – they can, because they carry the least drag, hence can save on fuel weight.

        It’s interesting how these all play with fuel efficiency to make the end of the race. As Paddy Lowe said – double gains from efficiency this year. Get to the end more efficiently, you use less fuel, hence need to carry less….. etc. which is the opposite of previous years (burn more fuel to go faster and carry more weight).

        Lorenzo – do Ferrari need to push for more performance? It looks like they have reliability, but in time everyone will be reliable – and performance can’t be as easily increased. Considering a deficit every lap I think Alonso is doing well – but it would pain me to see the Ferraris adrift once more. I guess the future is now here – Hamilton, Rosberg, Vettel, Hulk, Grosjean vs. Ricciardo, Vergne, Bianchi, Bottas, Perez etc.

        • Ferrari need more ERS efficiency, somehow they are still not able to delivery all ERS power, need a software update that could be used already in Bahrain, also they need more traction, something that Ferrari is missed since 2009

  6. Love that fuel consumption chart, did you do a screen grab? I looked around, but you were the only one who had them.

    Interesting to see laps where the cars are pushing almost all run out at around 2 kg per lap. Would love to have seen what happened if RIC was there to keep pressure on VET.

  7. The Williams situation is interesting and it would be useful to know if they are running light on fuel as this would obviously give them a boost in the early part of the race. However the obvious solution for them would be to use more fuel as this should give them a huge boost in performance. If they are only using 90% or less of the allowable fuel then this is due to a couple of things, 1 has been mentioned which is aero efficiency and 2 hasn’t been talked about much and that is the final drive and gearbox ratios they are using. Its well known that their gearing is very short. That is strange because if your car is slippery then you don’t need short gears, you need longer ones, yet already they have the fastest car at the end of the straight.

    Botas is also on record saying they are not doing any fuel saving.
    Equally clearly the car isn’t as fast as it should be because despite their speed advantage they were unable to pass Button. Why? Simple, lack of traction and lack of rear downforce out of medium to low speed corners, where their short gearing is a liability.

    One can only conclude that bottom line for the FW 36 is to find a way of burning more fuel, either by adding more downforce, or, increasing fuel flow though that is a bit of a doubtful route. Certainly a change to longer ratio’s might help burn more fuel too.

    I have pointed out that Renault saying they are only operating at 70% does not mean a huge boost in power when they hit 100%. It does men a big boost in recoverable power though to the tune of around 48bhp which is still quite significant and both on the Track and to their fuel efficiency, so expect to see those rates increase. Certainly without that additional power it wont be good for them in Bahrain…..

    Lastly I would also point out to RBR fans that I doubt it is all down to Renault, by reminding them how often Red Bull alone had KERS issues when know one else did.

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