by Jake McMillan
As we are now 6 races into the 2012 F1 season, we can start to make a comparison of the speed of 2012 cars compared to 2011. Rule changes, e.g. banning of engine-blown diffusers, led people to predict 2012 cars would be significantly slower, but no one was sure by how much? Some suggested blown diffusers gave an advantage of 1.5-2 seconds a lap. However, the relentless pace of technology and development in F1 means this would be recaptured to some degree through new innovation.
By comparing pole positions and fastest laps of races this year with those of last year we can begin to get an understanding of the relative pace of the cars. Of course, comparing times from one year to the next is not exactly comparing like for like as track temperatures, tyres and other variables will be different. However, we can analyse if any trends exist and make conclusions from that.
The first 4 races (ignoring Bahrain as there was no race there in 2011) in 2012 showed that pole position in each case was 1.3-1.4 seconds slower than the 2011 pole positions. The pole at Monaco this year was only 0.745 slower than in 2011 and this could reflect the improvements in the cars or perhaps the smaller gap is explained by Monaco relying more on mechanical grip than aerodynamic grip.
The fastest laps this year have been closer to 2011 times than pole position times. The fastest laps in Malaysia and Australia were only 0.15 and 0.24 secs, respectively, slower than the fastest laps set the previous year. However, at China it was almost a second slower, whereas in Spain the fastest lap was actually half a second quicker than the 2011 time. Monaco was slower than 2011 by just over a second, but this could partly be explained by most teams only one-stopping.
The trend seems to suggest that in qualifying mode, F1 cars are about 1.3secs a lap slower than last year but in race trim are only 0.2secs a lap slower. We shall monitor this as the season progresses.