Formula One: Are Sauber ahead of Mclaren?

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With the first week of pre-season testing in Barcelona drawing to a close to decipher the true pace of any team is almost impossible. All teams will be running their own development programs with differing approaches to fuel loads, tyre usage, aero set up, and engine mode settings. However after four days of testing some trends are beginning to emerge. One such trend could be concerning for Mclaren.

With the Sauber F1 team opting to run a 2016 Ferrari power unit through the 2017 season many expect the team to struggle for outright performance. When the decision was first announced the team explained this move would ensure stability in design and reliability allowing them to focus on the challenges of the changes in aerodynamic regulations for 2017. This approach appears to have paid off as through the first week of testing, only Mercedes and Ferrari have covered more KM’s in testing, 2,597KM  & 2,173KM  to Sauber’s 1,624KM. Mclaren on the other hand have struggled for reliability and not to mention outright pace. Power unit supplier Honda have new approach to the 2017 engine configuration to address inherent performance shortcomings, unfortunately this new design coupled with a new fuel and lubricant supplier, has lead to unreliability. In four days testing Mclaren have covered less than 1000KM.  As teams head into the second pre season test in which performance will should become a greater focus, Mclaren are unlikely to have collected sufficient baseline data to understand how best to extract maximum performance from the MCL32.

As stated in the first week of pre-season testing teams rarely focus on outright performance, however there will certain simulation runs in which drivers are allowed to push the car and situations in which softer compound tyres will be used.

@MsportXtra has complied a useful summary of fastest time set by each driver, total number of laps, and tyre used to set the fastest lap in tweet below:

Comparing the data between Sauber and Mclaren in this format adds further weight to the suggestion Mclaren could be set for a difficult start to the season. In every session in which Mclaren and Sauber completed their fastest laps on the same compound tyre, Sauber were able to post faster lap times. Further more in the session in which Mclaren worked with the Ultra soft compound, Sauber were faster using the super soft compound.

In reviewing the below table provided by Pirelli of the overall fastest times over the test, Mclaren again look to be in a precarious position.

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It is widely understood that Mclaren are not able to use all performance modes with the Honda power unit owing to concerns over reliability. Much of the teams issues can be attributed to this, but with such limited running the team may struggle to validate aerodynamic concepts in the design of the MCL32. After a challenging 2 seasons for the Woking based team could 2017 see the team fall further back down the grid?

The approach taken by Sauber of focusing on understanding the new aerodynamic regulations and minimising the impact of using a year old power unit appears to be paying off, with strong reliability the team should be targeting points early in the season which should also attract interest from new partners, something most teams in Formula One are actively seeking.

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