Formula 1

Gary Anderson: Analysing the F1 team battle for third place

by Gary Anderson
7 min read

The 2020 Formula 1 cars are now heading into their swansong. With 14 races down and the final triple-header about to start, the drivers’ and constructors’ championships are won, so the focus is now on the other positions. Not only is there competitive pride at stake and winter motivation, but also the question of who gets the best pay day.

With Red Bull a long way clear in second place, the battle for third in the constructors’ championship, with McLaren, Racing Point, Renault and Ferrari still in contention, is the focus.

It’s very important to all of these teams that they do as well as they can, particularly if one of the three teams that have been in the midfield for years can take Ferrari’s place in F1’s ‘big three’ for the 2021 season. The extra prize money is a motivation, but these teams are full of competitive people who want to finish as strongly as possible.

As far as performance is concerned, where do we stand?

To get a clear picture, I have taken each team’s fastest single lap from each race weekend, turned it into a percentage of the outright fastest and then averaged it out over the season.

To come up with that average 12 of these figures come from qualifying, but wet conditions in qualifying for the Styrian and Turkish Grand Prix were not really representative of the teams’ real performance so for these two races I have used the dry laptimes from FP2.

Team Percentage
Mercedes 100.051
Red Bull 100.737
Racing Point 101.381
Ferrari 101.468
McLaren 101.539
Renault 101.677
AlphaTauri 101.763
Alfa Romeo 102.873
Williams 102.836
Haas 103.036

It’s not a great surprise to see Mercedes has the upper hand, but I’m sure Red Bull is further away from the top of the pile than those within the team either wanted or expected. Just behind, from Racing Point down to AlphaTauri it’s nip and tuck. After that, there’s a big gap.

Really, F1 in 2020 is made up of four divisions. Mercedes, as has been the trend for far too long, is out front on its own with Red Bull stuck in no-man’s land.

Then there’s the five teams in contention for best of the rest. Although AlphaTauri is too far behind on points to fight for third in the constructors championship, the car is fast enough to influence the points-scoring potential of the others so it will be part of that battle on track. At the back, Alfa Romeo, Williams and Haas are bringing up the rear.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Emilia Romagna Grand Prix Race Day Imola, Italy

You might think that the difference between eighth, ninth and 10th doesn’t really matter as it’s a bad season no matter how you look at it. But as well as the competitive pride, the steps in the constructors’ championship table could be vital. The teams will use the finance gleaned from this season to start developing the crucial 2022 car next year – although it remains to be seen how much the economic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic impact prize money given it’s a set percentage rather than a specific amount.

It’s not all about out-and-out car performance over one lap. Having a fast car on race day makes life much easier. So let’s look at the points-scoring effectiveness of the teams.

In terms of a maximum points haul for a team, there are 25 points for a win, then 18 for second and also the bonus point for fastest lap (McLaren has three of those this year and Renault one). A full house of first and second place respectively plus the extra point for fastest lap means a haul of 44 points. So another way to look at the points is as a percentage of the theoretical maximum – 44 – had this been achieved every race.

Team Percentage
Mercedes 81.82
Red Bull 38.96
Racing Point 25.00
McLaren 24.19
Renault 22.08
Ferrari 21.10
AlphaTauri 14.45
Alfa Romeo 1.30
Haas 0.49
Williams 0.00

Again, Mercedes is way out on its own with Red Bull in a lonely second position. After that, it is now four teams that are doing battle – with AlphaTauri just a bit too distant – and the last three way too far away from offering any sustained competition.

What we know is that, barring a miracle, there’s no way for one of these midfield teams to win a race.

We’ve already had our miracle for the year thanks to Pierre Gasly and AlphaTauri at Monza, but that was exceptional and with the best will in the world it’s unlikely to happen again this season. Mercedes is the only team to win in Bahrain or Abu Dhabi during the hybrid era. Although I do genuinely hope I eat my words on that, as there’s nothing I like more than an underdog getting one over the big boys.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Italian Grand Prix Race Day Monza, Italy

So now we can put the teams in their single-lap performance order and then apply a slightly different potential points score for each team. This is based on the assumption that the fastest team over one lap has the maximum realistic potential of a one-two finish plus fastest lap, the second-fastest team has the maximum realistic potential of a second and third place finish plus fastest lap, the third-fastest team has the potential of a third and fourth place finish plus fastest lap and so on. In other words, we’re assuming that a team will always realistically have on average at least one of each quicker rival team’s two cars finish ahead of it.

This produces the following more representative points percentage figures.

Team Potential points Actual points Percentage
Mercedes 616 504 81.82
Red Bull 476 240 50.42
Racing Point 392 154 39.29
Ferrari 322 130 40.37
McLaren 266 149 56.02
Renault 210 136 64.76
AlphaTauri 154 89 57.79
Alfa Romeo 98 8 8.16
Williams 56 0 0.00
Haas 28 3 10.71

If we then put them in the order based on what their single-lap performance should translate to in terms of points, we can see who strives for a qualifying performance and who focuses more on the race performance.

Team Percentage
Mercedes 81.82
Renault 64.76
AlphaTauri 57.79
McLaren 56.02
Red Bull 50.42
Ferrari 40.37
Racing Point 39.29
Haas 10.71
Alfa Romeo 8.16
Williams 0

So what does all of this tell us about the battle for third place? What’s clear is that the team that should have the best-all-round package – Racing Point – has underachieved slightly delivering race points.

The team says that the focus is more on race day but that doesn’t show when you look at things this way. Yes, Racing Point holds third place and there is also the 15 points it lost to illegally-designed rear brake ducts to take into account.

If we do take that into account, it gives the team a total of 169 points which equates to 43.11%, moving it ahead of Ferrari but even so, with its potential one-lap performance, it’s closer than it should be if Racing Point actually does consider race day to be okay.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Turkish Grand Prix Race Day Istanbul, Turkey

McLaren might not have the fastest qualifying car but has been effective in races and has a well-balanced driver line-up. This could be the deciding factor given the need to get two cars home in the points, something Racing Point has struggled to do thanks to Lance Stroll’s recent difficulties – although hopefully his good form in Turkey can be maintained.

Renault has also often failed to score points with both cars thanks to reliability. But when things have gone well for the team more recently, they have gone really well – with two third places for Daniel Ricciardo in the last four races. That has means, from a car which has questionable one-lap performance, Renault’s points tally is high compared to its potential.

As for Ferrari, it’s the outsider after taking 27 points in Turkey. But that was on a strange weekend and it’s hard to see both drivers finishing in the top four again this season. It does show that one or two big results can make a huge difference in this fight for best of the rest.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Turkish Grand Prix Race Day Istanbul, Turkey

There is no crystal ball to look into or magic wand that the teams can wave around. You can look at predicting the outcome of these situations in many different ways but this battle is set to go down to the wire however you analyse it.

What we can say for sure is that whichever comes out of this battle with third place will have deserved it. And those who are fifth and sixth will feel they have wasted an opportunity.

If only the battle up front was as unpredictable as this…

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