2019 Chinese GP: The midfield battle

Key points about the graphs:

  1. The graphs shows all lap times done by a driver during the entire race, minus laps where the safety car was deployed or laps where they went in or came out of the pits.
  2. The graphs are ordered by the mean, from lowest to highest.
  3. The horizontal line represents the mean.
  4. The box represent the interquartile range, from 25% to 75%.
  5. The top labels show the mean for each driver for the entire race.
  6. The border of the points shows the tire that was used for that particular lap.

Fastest drivers by average (mean) lap time

As we already know, the driver from Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull are on a different planet compared to the rest of the grid. Let’s take a look at the data of the midfield teams … and Williams.

Just as I did with the 6 fastest driver, I decided to show just the mean, or average, just because there are not many outliers present in the data.

The results show that there is pretty much nothing separating the midfield teams. Williams is still over a second away from the slowest driver from any team, but they are included in this graph just because they should be in the midfield and not so far behind. If we take Carlos Sainz , the 7th fastest driver, and Alexander Albon, the 17th fastest driver, we see that the difference between their average lap time is of only 0.435 seconds. This means that there are 11 drivers that on average are separated by 0.039 seconds per lap.

Before we start talking about each individual driver, we must consider that all of them were on slightly different strategies. Drivers that stopped 2 times will tend to have faster times than drivers who only stopped once, so the pure comparison between their averages is not completely fair. There are some exceptions though, as we will see in a moment. Having said that, I decided to divide the analysis in two parts. One for drivers who did a one stop strategy, and one for drivers who did a two stop strategy. I feel like this way it is easier to compare drivers by what they did, and not only by their strategy.

Fastest drivers by average (mean) lap time – One stop strategy

Now that we have only the drivers that did a one stop, let’s start with the analysis.

Carlos Sainz took the top spot as the fastest driver of the midfield, regardless of tire strategy. He stopped after his accident in lap 1 and put on a set of hard tires. As we can see from the data, his first stint (well, technically second) was slightly faster than Daniel Ricciardo’s stint on softs, and also faster than Checo Perez’ stint on mediums. Until lap 18, when Daniel stopped for a new set of tires, Sainz was faster on average by 71 thousands of a second.¬† It is very interesting to see how a new set of hard tires can be just as fast as a used set of softs. Pirelli said that the hard tires would be 1.8 seconds slower per lap than the soft tires, but that number appears to be a little bit exaggerated. An analysis on that may be necessary.

Danny Ric’s and Checo Perez‘ average lap time was separated by only 5 thousands of a second. Both of them were fast and consistent, and managed to secure vital points for their teams. The strong pace showed by the Racing Point driver shows, as we were expecting, that the pink panthers are very dangerous in tracks with long straights. They will be hoping to secure more points in Azerbaijan. For Daniel, he had a quiet race where he managed to stay consistent and fast. Finally a race without problems for the Aussie.

Kimi Raikkonen finished in 9th place and managed an average lap time of 1:39.925. He managed to put Checo Perez under pressure late in the race, but did not have enough pace in the tank to overtake the Mexican driver. After lap 50, all of his laps were of 1:40.500 or above, as he most likely turned down the engine. If we remove those laps from the analysis, the Finnish driver would have had an average lap time of 1:39.785, and would be tied with Checo Perez. That was not what happened though, but it is still good to see that the Alfa Romeo car seems to be on par with the top midfield teams.

Alex Albon secured a marvelous result for Toro Rosso, especially after considering that he started from the pit lane after crashing his car at the end of FP3. The team’s decision to start with the soft compound is a puzzling one, since he was starting from the back¬† of the grid and still had a new set of medium and hard tires available. His pace with the red stripped tires was not great, as he was one of the slowest drivers during the first 18 laps before he stopped for the hard compound. In fact, during those laps, his average time of (1:41.111) was only faster than Strolls’ time (1:41.221) and than the two Williams drivers’ times. In his second stint, that means after lap 19, he managed to be only faster than both Alfa Romeo and Williams drivers. This is a great example of how average lap time is not everything. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is the decisive factor.

Regarding Robert Kubica, again, there is not that much to say. Williams says that his car has fundamental problem with aerodynamics, and his pace is still well below what is expected. Hopefully we will be able to see in a fair battle what Kubica can do against George Russell.

Fastest drivers by average (mean) lap time – Two or more stops strategy

Romain Grosjean was the second fastest driver from the midfield teams, and the fastest driver with a two or more stops strategy. His first stint, however, was not very fast, and after stopping for new tires in lap 8, he struggled to recover the lost positions. The improvement in race pace should be encouraging for Haas, even if in this race they did not manage to score points.

Lance Stroll was the second fastest driver with a 2+ stop strategy. He managed to do an encouraging middle stint with the hard compound, and stopped close to the end of the race for softs in order to try to challenge for points. In the end, he was too far behind and had to settle for a 12th position. While not necessarily comparable, Stroll was slower on average than Checo by 36 thousands of a second, even though he put on the soft tires at the end and did a 2 stop strategy. Not the worst race for the Canadian, but also not as good as his team would have been expecting.

Lando Norris retired from the race at lap 50, but before that he showed decent pace with a damaged McLaren. The British team has made huge improvements from last season, and Norris has shown that he has the ability to extract speed from the car. Better days will come for the young Britishman.

Kevin Magnussen keeps struggling with race pace. While his average lap time for the entire race ranked as 13th, comparing him with the drivers that did a 2+ stops strategy, he was only faster than Daniil Kvyat, Antonio Giovinazzi and George Russell. His middle stint with the hard tires was slow, with his average time of 1:40.516 being faster only than Giovinazzi’s 1:40.565 and both William’s time. The Haas driver must find a way to balance his quali pace with his race pace.

Daniil Kvyat had a night to forget. He was in the middle of an accident between him and the two McLaren cars, then was penalized with a drive through penalty, and finally had to retire with a damaged car. His final race pace of 1:39.926 ranked as one of the slowest of the days, but the reality is that his race was not representative of what he can do. Not much point in analyzing his uncommon race in detail.

Antonio Giovinazzi had a weekend to forget. He suffered from mechanical problems and was unable to take the quali session. During the race, he never managed to find the pace and finished only ahead of the Williams drivers. He was only faster on average than Alex Albon by 129 thousands of a second, even though he was on a 2 stop strategy compared to Albon’s 1 stop strategy. Comparing him to driver with his same strategy, he was only faster than George Russell. While the pace difference between most drivers in the midfield is very small, Kimi’s pace leads us to believe that there is more pace in the Alfa Romeo car than what Giovinazzi showed on Sunday.

Finally we have George Russell. He managed to beat his teammate by almost half a second, but we know his and Kubica’s car are not on par. The Williams is so far behind right now that it makes it hard to make anything of their data. Their times cannot be compared with any times from other teams, and for now they are sitting comfortably in the last position of the championship.

Conclusion

McLaren continues with their strong race pace. While their quali session did not go as expected, they showed that with a little bit of more luck, they could have secured some good points in China. Only time will tell if they can continue their solid season, but for now they are one of the strongest midfield teams.

The battle between Renault, McLaren, Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and Haas is tighter than ever. Toro Rosso was slightly behind in race pace, but Albon was in the right place at the right time and managed to score a valuable point.

Williams is still behind all other teams, and are in a league of their own. Their problems are so bad that their cars are not even comparable between themselves and the team does not understand why. For now, all I can say is that we have 3 groups in Formula 1. The top teams, the midfield teams, and Williams.

Some people have argued that my conclusions are wrong. I will say that we can all make different conclusions from the data. Hopefully this information helps you to make your own conclusion. Let me know what do you think in the comments below.

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