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F1 teams mid-season performance review - A look at the winners and losers of 2011 so far

Published by Bridget Schuil

At the beginning of summer break I got to pondering how well last year's new teams – namely Lotus, Virgin and Hispania – were doing. I started with a simple analysis of their qualifying performance statistics to see how far they were off the leaders, only to find that they had all gone backwards. I eliminated the Bahrain results, because they didn't paint a true picture of what each team was capable of – especially since Chandhok's first time in an F1 car was in qualifying. Still, it looked as though they had regressed.


Given the mind-blowing performance of Vettel's car, I thought that maybe the slip in performance wasn't because the 'new teams' had gone backwards, but because Adrian Newey had made a car that simply out-did everyone else in the field. After many hours spent trawling for results, I produced the graph below. It shows each team's distance to the leaders in qualifying pace (sorted by current standings in the constructors championship) using the fastest time posted by each driver. 2010 is shown in dark blue; 2011 is light blue.

Percent distance to leaders in qualifying
Percent distance to leaders in qualifyingCredit: Bridget Schuil

What this means:

  • The difference between Red Bull last year and this year, it would appear from the raw data, is down to Webber's qualifying pace being slower.
  • McLaren and Ferrari have picked up their qualifying pace.
  • All the other teams are struggling – more than last year – to keep up with the Red Bulls, but Toro Rosso, Williams and Virgin are faring worst.

Race results

Since the qualifying analysis didn't yield anything really interesting, I took a look at finishing positions. I didn't count retirements in my calculations; I'm saving those for later, because they were quite interesting.

Average final position
Average final positionCredit: Bridget Schuil


  • Red Bull have, again, upped their game.
  • Ferrari have made good progress from last year, which may have been helped quite a lot by Alonso's Silverstone victory.
  • Williams need to improve on their race performances. They're doing relatively well in qualifying, but something's missing from their race pace.
  • Virgin, despite the drastic slip in quali performance, have clung onto a respectable set of race finishes.

It should be noted that the first half of 2010 saw sixty-seven retirements, whereas this year has only yielded forty-nine. Thus, the teams further down the field don't have the chance to make up a few positions from faster cars not finishing, which could account for the 'regression' in the mid- to back-field.


As I mentioned earlier, I saved the retirement data for last, because they were the most telling. I separated retirements due to accidents – usually the driver's fault – from those caused by mechanical failures – usually the team's fault – to try and eliminate bias from driver performance.

Number of retirements due to mechanical failures
Number of retirements due to mechanical failuresCredit: Bridget Schuil

The big improvers of the year are Sauber and Virgin, each making five more finishes. Williams, on the other hand seem to have forgotten that, in order to finish first, first they have to finish.

So what can we learn from all of this? Firstly, Newey's car is killing this season. I didn't need to point that out; you all knew it anyway. While the mid-field teams – with the exception of Williams – haven't made any progress in comparison to the front-runners, they haven't lost too much ground. The happiest news of all, however, is that the 'new teams' have improved their ability to make viable cars. Despite the Lotus continuing to be a delicate creature, all three are doing quite well. Give them five seasons in the sport – if they get funding to last that long – and they should make some good improvement.

Bonus graph

Retirements due to accident damage
Retirements due to accident damageCredit: Bridget Schuil

What's next?

Now Vettel's car is fast enough that he doesn't need to overtake Webber, Red Bull are doing well. We'll see if subbing Senna in for Heidfeld will improve Renaults record for keeping their cars on track. And finally, maybe Crofty should stop calling Kobayashi 'Koba-crashi'.