12 March 2018

Disraeli and the F1 testing...

Benjamin Disraeli was an interesting character. One of the great statesmen of the Victorian Age, he was not only Prime Minister (on a couple of occasions), he was also a very successful novelist, finding time between cabinet meetings to write works of fiction. Having said that, I suppose it is true to say that a lot of politicians are experts at fiction... Anyway, Disraeli came up with a fabulous saying: "There are three kinds of lies," he said. "Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Now I am not very good at maths, but over the weekend, when I had a moment to spare, I was playing about with the lap times from the combined Barcelona tests and looking at the lap time differences which Pirelli reckons its tyres are worth. They say that if you switch from Soft to Ultrasoft you will improve by 1.7 secs, and Medium to Ultrasoft would an even bigger leap of 2.5 secs per lap. Further down (or is it up?) the scale, the gap from Ultrasoft to Hypersoft is supposed to be around 0.7 secs. You get the picture?

Using these statistics, one can in theory, calculate the lap time that all the drivers might have done if they had been on Hypersoft tyres. And then one can compare the times to see who is the quickest overall. One cannot, of course, take into account any sandbagging (deliberately not setting the best possible time) or fuel loads (the lighter the fuel load, the faster the car) and all the other variables that we have seen over time in pre-season tests. Nor can you take into account whether one chassis works better with one type of tyres than it does with another compound.

So in reality, such calculation is a bit of a waste of time, but I thought it was nonetheless interesting to adjust the times just to see.

I was rather surprised to discover that my list of tyre-adjusted lap times ended up with the name Kevin Magnussen at the top of the list in his Haas-Ferrari. He set a 1m18.360s using Supersoft tyres. So if you subtract the 1.3 seconds that Pirelli reckons is the difference (Supersoft to Ultrasoft at 0.6 secs and Ultrasoft to Hypersoft at 0.7 secs), you end up with a lap time of 1m17.060s, which is more than a tenth quicker that Sebastian Vettel's best lap on Hypersoft of 1m17.182s.

I shook my head, did the sums again and got the same result. So then I tried Lewis Hamilton. He set a 1m18.400s on Ultrasoft, so subtract the 0.7 secs that one is supposed to gain and that brings his time to 1m17.700s. Eh? That's seven-tenths off Magnussen's best time. Even stranger is the fact that when you go through all the calculations you find that Sergey Sirotkin in the Williams, who set a 1m19.189s lap on soft tyres, would have recorded a 1m17.489s, after the tyre difference was calculated. So he would be fourth fastest overall, behind Magnussen and the two Ferraris, but ahead of Hamilton.

One can extrapolate away frantically, but all it really shows is that either we're in for a hell of a shock when we get to Australia or you cannot take these things seriously. I tend towards the latter explanation because having Haas faster than Ferrari and Mercedes would be remarkable. We'd never be able to stop Gunther Steiner from talking if that happened...

The teams are all busy doing far more complicated calculations, based on all the data they collected in Spain, but even the number-crunchers admit that you don't really know what the numbers mean, unless you know what the teams were doing and so we just have to wait and see what happens when they all line up to go into battle in Q1 in Melbourne.

Over in the US last weekend there was quite an upset when qualifying for the St Petersburg (Florida) IndyCar race saw three rookies qualifying in the top four with former DTM driver Robert Wickens on pole in his Schmidt Peterson car, ahead of Penske's Will Power and then Matheus Leist (AJ Foyt Enterprises) and Jordan King (Ed Carpenter Racing). In this case the weather played a role but in the race Wickens was leading in the closing laps when he tangled with Alex Rossi as the American tried to take the lead, letting Sebastien Bourdais through to win the race with Graham Rahal second and Rossi third. All good stuff.

Somehow I am not so sure that we will such an upset in Albert Park, although I know a bunch of Vikings who would be over the moon if Kevin did stick it on pole position...

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