A Certain Uncertainty

2011 has seen overtaking at levels not seen for decades, prompting many to hail this year’s changes. However, some observers have claimed that qualifying is now almost an irrelevance. Mark Webber’s recovery from a disastrous qualifying session to finish on the podium in China left some thinking that it was hardly worth bothering with qualifying and that drivers were better off saving tyres. However, has the increased ease with which passes can be made really produced surprise results, with no relation to the starting order? And which races produced the most mixed up results?

A simple way to look at this is the see how the position of the drivers finishing the race correlates with the order in which they started. Note, not their starting position – removing the non-finishers from the equation eliminates the artificial gains of drivers at the back of the grid benefiting simply from retirements up ahead of them. Cue, the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient which for a perfectly correlation (in our case, the drivers finish in the order they started in) gives a value of one, and a value of zero if there is statistically speaking, no correlation (and a value of negative one in the unlikely case of them finishing in the reverse order to which they left the grid in.)

Looking at the season so far, it may not be surprising that the opening race of the year, in Melbourne, was completed in an order most similar to that in which they started in. Eight of the fourteen finishers completed the race in the exact same position they started in and the other six only made minor gains and losses – Vitaly Petrov’s climb from sixth to third being the biggest mover. Nor is it any shock to see that Canada and Britain produced the most mixed up finish as the influence of the weather came into play. However, even their correlations of 0.75 and 0.76 respectively are not the sign of a remarkably chaotic race, although it’s fair to admit they ignore the way Jenson Button went about winning in Montreal – there are easier ways of going from seventh to first. To put the values into context, the thrilling 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix, which saw a mixed up grid after a wet qualifying session, scored a 0.31 as the back of the grid tore through the field while many of the front-runners tripped up as Button claimed his World Drivers’ crown.

2011correlation

However, who would have thought that statistically speaking, the German Grand Prix was actually quite a dull affair? The front three may have been nose-to-tail for almost the entire race but that’s pretty much where they had started. Kamui Kobayashi’s climb up the field and Sebastien Buemi’s recovery from the back of the grid after being excluded from qualifying the only major changes.

Similarly, who had Spain down as the most surprising dry race – a circuit renowned for “always” being won from pole? Mark Webber proved that assumption wrong, of course, and Nick Heidfeld’s charge from the back of the field to eventually finish eighth wasn’t the only substantial change. That got me thinking as to how a circuit widely considered one of two most boring tracks in Spain Formula One has faired in recent years. Curiously, while 2008 was a statistical procession, the race has enjoyed a reasonably healthy degree of changes of position, even if drivers were reliant on the pitlane in the past. However, it’s also noteworthy that while 2011′s new rules have increased overtaking, that hasn’t necessarily impacted on the eventual result. However, is the pattern of the last three years repeated on other circuits, after all – Barcelona featured one of the more ineffectual DRS zones of the year so far?

SPNcorrelation

What about Istanbul Park, for example? The Turkish Grand Prix was criticised by many for having too long a DRS zone that was making overtaking too easy. Yet the race finish correlation is slightly above the average of 0.84 – although removing the wet races moves that average upwards. The reason is, that for all the incredible number of overtakes in Turkey, normal running order was eventually returned once each cycle of pitstops was completed. However, while it was still an improvement on the previous two years it didn’t compare to the 2008 running of the race although a first lap puncture for the front-row starting Heikki Kovalainen ruined his race and help skew the statistics.

TURcorrelation

But what about the race that almost every fan seems to hate? The European Grand Prix at the Valencia Street Circuit? Last year’s running turns out not to have been all that bad, at least from a statistical point of view but by-and-large, when it comes to accusations of “processional”, the stats agree with the fans for once.

EURcorrelation

Ultimately, all this really says is that the fastest car/driver combinations succeed, whether that means putting it on the front row of the grid or wrapping up a podium finish. For all the overtaking seen this year, it still doesn’t add a increased degree of unpredictability to the race. The only way that is achieved is by the ages old “method” of changing weather conditions. Perhaps Ecclestone was onto something with his sprinklers suggestion…

This post was written by Maverick as part of the VivaF1 Bloggers Swap Shop Series.  You can find the rest of the posts here.

Holidays, Blogging and F1 Coverage

So, it’s been a little quiet around here lately, I know. I’m still around and enjoying the F1 season. The trouble is that there’s not that much to blog about really. Yes, the new formula is super exciting and action-packed, but to be honest, there haven’t been a lot of big strategy calls made this season. I will look into the conclusion of the German GP and take a look at Fantasy Racers after Hungary though.

One thing I do want to comment on is the news that the BBC will be sharing the F1 coverage with Sky from 2012. Now, there are many great posts out there that have much better arguments about why this is bad news for F1 fans – chief among those reasons are those of costs, and the fact that F1 has to be on free to air to get the best exposure for new fans and sponsors.

But what a lot of people are doing is that they are getting angry at the BBC for this decision, which I totally disagree with. I’m not the biggest fan on the way that they operate, but the fact is that they run on public money supplied from the licence fee, which the current government decided to freeze in order to save the average household a few bob. Then they told the BBC to cut costs, and to be honest, if the choice was between axing channels and radio stations or the multimillion pound deal to host the F1, well that’s an easy choice really. Times are tough these days and something has to give. F1 fans have to face the fact that while their sport has quite a lot of viewers and exposure, it’s always going to be a second tier sport and will never take precedence over a sport like football, for example.

What interests me is the reaction on twitter. Obviously there is a lot of anger and disappointment at the decision and rightly so – F1 needs to be free to air in order to have the greatest exposure to fans and sponsors alike, along with the ‘man on the street’ who appreciates what F1 is and knows about it yet doesn’t really follow it.

But a lot of anger has been directed at the BBC for supposedly selling out. The simple fact is that the BBC have had to do this because they cannot afford it, for the reasons mentioned earlier.

Bernie Ecclestone must be rubbing his hands together in glee, because yet again he’s managed to pull off another PR coup and come out of this looking good again. He made a lot of noises about how F1 should remain free to air and that F1 going to Sky was ‘not going to happen’. Yet did he offer to reduce the already exorbitant fees he charges? I’m willing to bet it never crossed his mind…

We now all support a sport where the simple facts are that it’s too expensive for the average punter to attend a race without a lot of sacrifice, it’s too expensive for an internationally successful race circuit to afford to hold a race without making a loss, too expensive for most teams to compete in F1, and now we have got to the point where it’s too expensive for major TV stations to afford to show the coverage. The sport as we know it has lost all of it’s values and only cares about money.

F1 is now purely about greed and has completely forgotten about the fans who support it. Yet they haven’t realised that without the fans, the sport is worth nothing. It could well be that if things continue as they are, the Sky/BBC decision could well be the first nail in the coffin of F1 – as there are plenty of other forms of motorsport to enjoy out there that are just as watchable as F1, yet a lot cheaper and more accessible.

I think that F1 needs to wake up and have a good long think about itself over the summer break. I mean, we have an organisation called FOTA who says that it’s for the fans and holds a lot of waffle sessions about what needs to change in the sport, yet have they actually acted on the suggestions the fans have given them? If FOTA are really serious about themselves, now more than ever is the time to act. Because F1 has always been free to air and that’s always been it’s USP – to take that away seems like a foolish and greedy decision that will do more harm than good.

The sad part about this rant is that I know it changes nothing. I will continue to follow the sport as best that I can, but if it becomes too hard or too expensive I’ll just move on to something else. I’ve done that before and I sure can do it again. I reckon a lot more F1 fans may just do the same too.

Thursday Thoughts: DRS

So Jackie from VivaF1 has resurrected Thursday Thoughts as there is very much a burning issue in F1 these days – the Drag Reduction System or DRS for short.  Jackie wants to ask:

What do you think of the Drag Reduction System?

Firstly, a little background.  It was designed to facilitate overtaking, because no matter what the rule makers have tried, it seems that once a car gets within a second of the car it is chasing then it is almost impossible to overtake them.  The fans have been crying out for more overtaking for years and last year’s dry races were not exactly thrilling to watch.

If you want to see the mechanism in action, anotherf1podcast have a great video on the subject (bear in mind the use of DRS is unrestricted in practice and qualifying, but can only be used in one part of a circuit by a chasing car less than one second behind in the race):

So what do I think of the DRS then?

Well, although I have been an F1 fan for a long time, I felt that F1 was getting a bit boring to watch last year – the dry ones at least.  And I really disliked that the championship came down to the wire and yet was effectively decided by a slower car being able to block a much faster one.

DRS, KERS and Pirelli tyres have transformed F1 this year into a sport with loads of strategy and overtaking – I blogged more about what I thought about the new rules after the Chinese Grand Prix, but needless to say that the sport has been transformed into something exciting and entertaining that people are really embracing – many of my friends have been coming up to me telling me how much they love F1 this year when they barely gave a stuff about it before.

The main criticism of DRS comes in multiple parts:

1. It’s Gimmicky and artificial

Yeah it is – but so were grooved tyres, KERS, wings, Turbocharging, frozen engines, in fact any rule over the last 50 years that restricts a car’s design could be referred to as artificial.  And besides, they look much better than the F-ducts they replace, which were monstrous :(

2. It’s unfair as it gives the defending driver little chance of success

A valid point.  But then the defending driver becomes the attacking driver the next time around, no?  Often the defending driver is slower anyway, so why should his race be ruined because of the way an F1 car is designed?

Which brings me to the next criticism:

3. Why not just ban wings? That would solve the ‘dirty air’ problem!

Great idea.  In fact, why not just make replicas of the Lotus 49 – after all, they had some great slipstreaming races in those days?  Except they weren’t all like that.  You have probably seen the Villeneuve vs. Arnoux video on YouTube (heck of an excuse to plug it anyway):

Guess what though?  That was 3 minutes out of a 90 minute race, which only came about because Villeneuve’s tyres were shot.  Yet nobody called that race artificial and gimmicky, did they?  Tyre management is a central part of a driver’s skill in most series.  It was only a tyre war between Michelin and Bridgestone anyway that made the tyres last so long.  In effect we ended up in a situation unlike any other F1 season last year.  So Pirelli have actually given us a specification of tyre that seems to be historically correct then?

We can’t unlearn technology – even shaped under body cars apparently may not solve that problem of dirty air anyway.  And F1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of the sport, the fastest a car can lap a circuit.  Wings are an integral part of a single seater “look” and more cynically, would never get banned as they are too good an advertising space ;)

4. It makes overtaking too easy

Not necessarily.  We have only had four races and in Australia the DRS didn’t work.  Malaysia and China seemed to work well, giving the cars a good boost, while in Turkey the DRS zone was too long and therefore the attacking driver gained a little too much.  But the drivers still had to make the moves stick, and apart from seeing some “3-wide” overtakes, we saw drivers using the DRS zone to catch up and plan an overtaking move in another part of the circuit which wasn’t really possible before either.

Conclusions

There are the purists (some quite high profile) who say that this is all bad for the sport and that F1 is pandering to the masses while ignoring the hard-core fans.  But how could they have enjoyed the races how they used to be?  I find it mystifying myself – as far as I am concerned, in 2011 we have great racing, proper strategy and interesting stories after each race.

We didn’t have this in dry races before.  Only wet races were exciting like this.  So the only other alternative was Bernie’s sprinkler idea.  Would you prefer that instead?

I feel strongly about this because in most fan surveys we all cried out for more overtaking and to fix the dirty air problem.  We now have a formula that works great and has fixed all this, yet there seems to be a lot of people that are still unhappy.  Maybe F1 has had so many drastic rule changes over the years that it now has an identity crisis – maybe people’s perception of F1 is governed by when they started watching it?

I personally think DRS and the other rule changes for this year are going to make for great racing and the best season in years.  I just hope the FIA continue to tweak it so that we get more races like China and none like the dreadful Abu Dhabi finale (amongst countless other races) that we had before this year…

Fantasy Racers – Turkey 2011

Another fantastic race, eh? I missed watching it live, but managed to watch it later without knowing the result.  And I must say that I am really loving F1 this year!

But how did you all do in Fantasy Racers?  Let’s see which drivers were the best value for money:

TUR_11 PPM

Not surprisingly, it’s Vettel who tops the list – but very surprisingly Kobayashi and Buemi are very close behind – remember these guys have the potential for a decent finish, but have been unlucky so far this season.  Great job if you picked those two!  The McLaren drivers seem to suffer a lot when they do badly – which suggests that their values either fluctuate too greatly or they are overvalued.  A bad race for you if you picked Schumacher, Massa or di Resta, along with Glock who all had bad results and therefore did not score as well as hoped.

Over the last three races, this is what the PPM average out to:

TUR_11 PPM LAST 3

I suppose one good or bad result can make a big difference, but it’s only to be used as a form guide anyway.  Interesting that the midfield drivers are mixing it up with the front running teams though!  The next race (Spain) is the fifth race of the season, so maybe I’ll start taking a look at the average for the last 5 races and see if that makes a difference?

So just a quick one from me – let me know how you did and if you plan on making any transfers.  Remember that the deadline is at 5pm GMT on the Friday of the Grand Prix!

A Great Piece of Fine China

Wow – that was quite a race! Strategy, overtaking, action all through the field… who knew that this year’s Chinese Grand Prix would be such a classic?

One of the main highlights was the battle for the lead between Vettel & Hamilton, which I will analyse here.  But  I also want to look at the brilliant drive from 18th to 3rd by Webber and also the great pace of Rosberg’s Mercedes.  These particular battles were all caused by the relative tyre strategies of each driver and how they managed the increased tyre wear of the Pirelli tyres over the course of the Grand Prix.

The Fight for Victory

Vet Ham

So first let’s look at the race between Vettel & Hamilton.  Both drivers planned to run two stop strategies for the race, but McLaren chose to switch both drivers to three stops as they had concerns over tyre degradation.

Looking at the first stints the drivers run almost identical lap times – save for Hamilton’s last lap of the first stint, which apparently he wasn’t supposed to do but had to – because Button had apparently stopped a lap later than he supposed to and therefore pushed Hamilton back a lap as well.

Hamilton’s second stint was a lot shorter than Vettel’s – it is in this stint where the team decided to switch strategies.  Hamilton’s second in lap is much quicker than Vettel’s and after his second stop is between half a second to a second per lap faster.  It was a great call that paid dividends for Hamilton, who made some great overtaking manoeuvres to keep up the pace without getting stuck behind traffic – finally catching and passing Vettel on lap 51.

Webber on a Charge

Red Bulls

Webber’s strategy couldn’t have been more different – he started 18th after trying to qualify with a KERS problem and a set of hard (prime) tyres that wouldn’t warm up.  But this meant that he had extra sets of unused soft (option) tyres for the race that others would have used in qualifying.

So he started the race on hard tyres and then used 3 sets of soft tyres for each of his pit stops.  This was a great strategy because by using up the hard set first and pitting him early it gave him a clear track to make up ground on his subsequent stints on softs.  Which if you look at his lap times in the next 3 stints you can see that he is faster than both his team mate and Hamilton.

It was still a big gamble and it required Webber to keep a clear head and stay out of trouble, but he did and overtook a lot of cars to make the strategy work.  He wasn’t convinced of himself and a lot of people believe that he could overtake too easy because of the DRS, but without a fast car, a decent strategy and a driver who can punch in fast and consistent lap times without being held up, Webber would not have made up so much ground.  Maybe if it was 2010 he could have got somewhere like 8th if he was lucky, but the new rules allowed him to really have a decent crack at the race.  It was a great drive from him and he was my driver of the day, definitely.

A Great Drive From Rosberg…

Rosberg

The final part of the race that I want to look at is Rosberg’s strategy.  He was leading the race for a while and managed to get a good result for Mercedes – fifth place.  So how come he was able to lead the race?

Upon closer inspection of his lap times, it’s all to do with his first stint.  He pitted a lap or two earlier than the leaders and had a faster in lap, allowing him to jump ahead of the other drivers – and he stayed there with comparable lap times in his next two stints.  His strategy falls apart in his last stint however – because his next two in laps were slower (implying that he pitted slightly too late) and when he changed to the hard tyres to finish his race, his lap times dropped off.  Perhaps the last set of tyres were not new, or he couldn’t get as much heat into them, or that the track didn’t rubber in as much as expected.  But the end result was that he slowly went back down the field to finish in fifth place.

It’s still a great result and I think with Ross Brawn on the pit wall, we could yet see Mercedes get a ‘dark horse’ victory this year.  Sadly in China this was not to be.

So that was the Chinese Grand Prix.  A very entertaining race with plenty of stories throughout the field.  The rule makers have got the mix just right in 2011 and I do hope that we see a lot more races like this – because it’s the shot in the arm F1 needs right now and I have had a lot of people come up to me and tell me how much they are enjoying F1 this year.

Roll on Turkey in 10 days!

Fantasy Racers – China 2011

Well that was a fantastic race, wasn’t it?  Sorry for the late posts, but I went away for the Easter weekend and decided to wait until after I came back before writing as there is an extra week’s break before the Turkish GP anyway.

The scores have been up for a while on the Fantasy Racers website, so check them out if you haven’t already.  This time I shall focus on the Points Per Million for the Chinese Grand Prix and as an average for the first three Grands Prix. Continue reading

Vettel Wins Malaysia After Losing KERS

One of the main talking points after the hectic Malaysian Grand Prix (aside from the Alonso & Hamilton penalties) was the continuing troubles of Red Bull and their KERS.

On lap 29 we heard Vettel’s engineer Rocky tell him not to use the system any more.  This was after not being able to use the system at all in Australia.  Yet Vettel was still able to win the race at a canter, so how did it affect his lap times?

For comparison, I have compared Vettel’s lap times to those of Button, who finished in second.  This is because Vettel and Button were racing each other directly and also Webber may have also had KERS problems in the race, leaving some uncertainty over his true pace: Continue reading