G light tire compounds, similar high air pressures, identical weather. Sochi in April 2016 was almost like Sochi in October 2015. Seldom has there been such a good comparison between the old and the new Formula 1 cars. According to engineers, the cars have gained up to 10 percent downforce. The engines between 30 and 40 hp. That shows in the lap times. Pole position in 2016 was 1.696 seconds faster than last year.
Ferrari did a good job, Mercedes did too
We compared the fastest laps of the individual teams in the three qualifying laps. This gives a good overview of who has improved how over the winter. Ferrari had set itself the goal of reducing the gap to Mercedes. The engineers at Maranello did a good job with an improvement of 1.842 seconds.
But their colleagues in Brackley and Brixworth were hardly inferior to them. The Mercedes W07 is 1.776 seconds faster than the AMG W06. In net terms, Ferrari has won less than a tenth of its big rivals. Not enough to challenge Mercedes. And here are the comparison results at a glance:
Manor-Mercedes: The smallest team made the biggest leap forward. A whopping 4.294 seconds. That closed the gap to the field. No rocket science. In the rear of the newly designed car sits a current Mercedes V6. Last year a 2014 Ferrari engine lived in a 2014 chassis that was temporarily adapted to 2015.
McLaren-Honda: McLaren's progress of 2,062 seconds is not only due to the MP4-31, but also to the account of the drive unit. Even if the team is still pointing at Honda. The Japanese therefore want a second chassis partner for 2017. They now doubt that the weak top speed is solely due to the engine. It is suspected that McLaren is buying the MP4-31 downforce at the expense of air resistance. Just like Red Bull. That would come as no surprise, because McLaren designer Peter Prodromou comes from Red Bull.
Red Bull-Renault: The difference to 2015 is an impressive 1.880 seconds. And that on an engine track that Red Bull does not meet. So it stands to reason that not only the RB12 chassis has gotten better. 'The Renault engine has improved more than we thought over the winter,' says DanielRicciardo too.
Ferrari: The SF16-H has achieved its development goal. Car better, engine better. A total of 1.842 seconds. But on the engine side, the additional horsepower was bought with high risks. And that Mercedes has also grown is in the nature of the sport. Mr Marchionne has yet to learn that. You can only influence yourself. Not your opponent. The backlog in 2015 was eight tenths. Now it's a tenth less. That fits into the picture.
Mercedes: The hardest thing for Mercedes is to file away lap time. Where the defending champions move, the air is already very thin. That's why the 1.776 seconds improvement in time is the greatest compliment to the technical staff around Paddy Lowe, Aldo Costa and Andy Cowell.
Force India-Mercedes: The midfield has been neutralized. Force India is 0.033 seconds better than Toro Rosso because the Sochi engine line favors Mercedes customers. With more curves, Toro Rosso would have the edge. But Force India wants to strike back in Barcelona. The aero upgrade takes half a second on paper.
Toro Rosso-Ferrari: The old Ferrari engine doesn't stand a chance against Mercedes power on the long straights in Sochi . The fact that the team from Faenza practically equalized the value of Force India with a time gain of 1,414 seconds with 1.447 seconds speaks for the excellent work of James Key's team. Toro Rosso made it possible under the most difficult of circumstances. The first briefing with the Ferrari engineers only took place in December.
Williams-Mercedes: In 2014 Williams was third behind Red Bull, but ahead of Ferrari. In 2015 Williams confirmed 3rd place, this time behind Ferrari, but ahead of Red Bull. This year the traditional team is behind both opponents. You just have to look at the improvement since Sochi 2015 and know why. Compared to Red Bull (1,880 s) and Ferrari (1,842 s), 1.376 seconds is not enough.
Sauber-Ferrari: The progress of just 0.305 seconds is the receipt for that Sauber has practically only developed the C34 further. Or a tight budget that doesn't allow for bigger leaps. The three tenths are probably all hidden in the new Ferrari engine. Bitter for Sauber: This makes Manor a serious opponent. And with HaasF1 you have a team in front of your nose that didn't exist in 2015.
Renault: The RS16 is the only car that has deteriorated in the last 28 weeks Has. That doesn't have to be surprising. Lotus-Mercedes became a Renault works car in just two months. With all possible compromises. It's just enough for Sauber and Manor.