Five races into the season, Mercedes were enjoying the largest performance advantage over their rivals any team has had since 1998.
Since then the other teams have been chipping away at their advantage. Williams and Red Bull have taken the lead and have chiefly done so on tracks which suit their cars best – Red Bull on high-downforce tracks and Williams on circuits which reward aerodynamic efficiency and top speed.
Red Bull remain the only team to have beaten Mercedes to victory, thanks to Daniel Ricciardo’s opportunistic wins in Canada and Hungary. And Williams are the only team to have deprived them of pole position, locking out the front row in Austria partly thanks to Lewis Hamilton’s slip-ups during qualifying.
That explains why Mercedes no longer have an unbroken record of turning up at every race with what is quantifiably the fastest car, at least in terms of lap time. However the high number of rain-affected qualifying sessions this year may have tipped the balance in favour of other cars at times – such as the Red Bulls.
2014 car performance at mid-season
This graph compares each team’s fastest lap time from every race weekend (including all sessions) as a percentage of the quickest. Mercedes set the quickest time over a single lap in ten of the eleven rounds so far:
FRIC ban a boost for Sauber
The banning of Front Rear Inter-Connected (FRIC) suspension ahead of the British Grand Prix has had some consequences for the competitive order within the field, and may even have helped Mercedes’ rivals chip away at their advantage.
But it’s had a more appreciable difference at the back of the pack. Sauber had endured a torrid and thus far point-less campaign with their heavy C33, but since the field started running without FRIC they have been much more competitive compared to their closest rivals Lotus and Marussia, both of which admitted they have been impaired by the removal of FRIC.
We only have two races of data on which to judge the consequences of the FRIC ban, but at this stage it appears not to have as profound an effect on the teams as, for example, last year’s mid-season change in tyre construction.
Though we can still take Mercedes’ competitiveness at all circuits for granted, the upcoming races at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza are likely to play into the hands of Williams, particularly at the expense of Red Bull. It will offer them an opportunity to reclaim third place in the championship from Ferrari (who they have been quicker than in four of the last five rounds) and, they will hope, substantially reduce Red Bull’s lead in second.
As you would expect, most teams’ positions in the points standings correspond closely to how quick their car is. If you rank the teams based on their car performance and their points tallies, no team differs between the two by more than one position, with both Force India and Marussia punching above their weight:
|Team||Average gap to fastest lap||Points|
Over the remaining half of the season many teams will inevitably turn their attention to next year. But as there is a great deal of consistency between the rules for this season and next, much of the development work can be done on their current cars, so we can expect the development race will continue to affect the championship until the late stages. The prospect of double points in the final race provides an added incentive for the teams to keep bringing developments to their cars.
However those without Mercedes power know they have the most to gain from their engines and hybrid systems, much of which they cannot alter until 2015.
2014 F1 season
- Fear of rules change led Mercedes to run dominant 2014 engine in “idle mode”
- Bianchi’s fight for life ends nine months after Japanese Grand Prix crash
- Mercedes’ Bahrain battle “too dangerous” – Warwick
- Streiff’s comments on Bianchi crash investigation prompts legal action from FIA
- Is stewarding improving? Analysing 2014’s penalties
Image © Williams/LAT