Formula 1

Gary Anderson: Which F1 teams deluded themselves in the winter?

by Gary Anderson
8 min read

We’re five races into what has been a bit of a strange season because of the coronavirus, but as the Formula 1 circus is now on its way back to the scene of pre-season testing in Barcelona five-and-a-half months ago, I thought it was time to see who has progressed or regressed since then – the last time an F1 driver went around a track in front of spectators.

To set the scene, we also need to look back at the last four races of 2019. This gives a better understanding of when teams made their steps in performance, although unfortunately for some that step is in the wrong direction.

Here’s the average performance percentage for the teams over the last four races of 2019. This is achieved by making the fastest car at each race (using the ‘supertime’ method of taking each team’s absolute fastest lap from a weekend) the 100% mark, then calculating the other teams’ deficits.

Brazilian Grand Prix 2019

Last four races of 2019: 

Performance Deficit
Red Bull 100.113%
Mercedes 100.241% +0.128%
Ferrari 100.256% +0.143%
McLaren 101.551% +1.438%
Toro Rosso 102.066% +1.953%
Renault 102.068% +1.955%
Racing Point 102.302% +2.189%
Haas 102.711% +2.598%
Alfa Romeo 102.717% +2.604%
Williams 104.278% +4.165%

Red Bull finished the season very strongly and had high hopes of carrying that momentum into 2020. Ferrari was in touch too, and if it did it winter’s work correctly it was game on.

Racing Point had a disappointing season but at this time only it knew what it was up to for 2020. McLaren comfortably led the midfield bunch. As for the rest – well, other than Williams, which was way adrift – most of the teams were able to fight each other on various occasions.

After a tough racing season, everyone then worked their butts off over the winter and came up with their new prized machines and off we went to Barcelona for pre-season testing.

Barcelona F1 testing February 2020

When I was doing this as technical director, you had a fair idea during the winter if you had gone the right way or not and if the car would be faster. But until you actually hit the track you really didn’t know if you had screwed up on something that you didn’t understand or research well enough.

Those last few days before the car actually runs are quite tense, in that you are trying to get everything together in the best possible way and set out an update plan for before the first race and a development plan for the season.

There is no time to stand still and wait to see what happens, otherwise you are playing catch-up. You can always change direction even if the wheels are in progress.

Here’s how the picture then shaped up at Barcelona in February using the same method:

After 2020 testing:

Performance Deficit
Mercedes 100%
Red Bull 100.709% +0.709%
Renault 100.718% +0.718%
Ferrari 100.829% +0.829%
Racing Point 101.222% +1.222%
McLaren 101.436% +1.436%
Williams 101.503% +1.503%
Alpha Tauri 101.560% +1.560%
Alfa Romeo 101.597% +1.597%
Haas 101.712% +1.712%

To compare all that to this season so far, I am taking the first Austria race, Hungary, and the two Silverstones. I am disregarding the second Austria race because qualifying was wet and if we use that it skews the percentages. Practice two there was dry, but in that session we have no idea of fuel loads or engine modes and not everyone set a best-possible time. The only time we really know that everyone is pushing to the limit is in a qualifying session.

So taking the four representative weekends, here’s where the teams stand now:

Following Silverstone, 2020:

Performance Deficit
Mercedes 100% 100%
Red Bull 101.294% +1.294%
Racing Point 101.410% +1.410%
Ferrari 101.605% +1.605%
McLaren 101.705% +1.705%
Renault 102.026% +2.026%
Alpha Tauri 102.251% +2.251%
Williams 102.969% +2.969%
Haas 103.080% +3.080%
Alfa Romeo 103.477% +3.477%

We can use this data to compare how performances have changed from pre-season testing to now. The table below ranks who’s rising and falling:

2020 After testing % change
Mercedes 100% 100%
Red Bull +1.294% +0.709% +0.585%
Racing Point +1.410% +1.222% +0.188%
Ferrari +1.605% +0.829% +0.776%
McLaren +1.705% +1.436% +0.269%
Renault +2.026% +0.718% +1.308%
Alpha Tauri +2.251% +1.560% +0.745%
Williams +2.969% +1.503% +1.466%
Haas +3.080% +1.712% +1.368%
Alfa Romeo +3.477% +1.597% +1.898%

We can also rank these teams in order of those who deluded themselves the most in pre-season testing with their times – in other words, whose performance has dropped most from testing to now:

Alfa Romeo +1.898%
Williams +1.466%
Alpha Tauri +0.745%
Haas +1.368%
Renault +1.308%
Ferrari +0.776%
Red Bull +0.585%
McLaren +0.269%
Racing Point +0.188%

It’s funny how this is more or less a reverse of the performance order.

It’s always tempting, and I have done it many times myself, to go for that glory run at the end of the day in a test.

Sometimes it is because of sponsors, sometimes it’s just because, ‘why not’, as testing in all conditions is important. But at the end of the day, everyone knows there is no hiding place when the season starts and the truth will catch up with you very quickly.

Now let’s look at each team individually and see how their form has changed from late-2019 to now.


2020 After testing End of 2019
+0.000% +0.000% +0.128%

Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Silverstone 2020

Testing or racing, Mercedes just seems to go about its business. As Toto Wolff said, the Ferrari engine situation in 2019 pushed his team to higher limits to find extra power. That was achieved and coupled to probably the best overall chassis on the grid, its performance week in week out speaks for itself.

Yes, Mercedes trips up now and again, as at Silverstone last weekend, but I don’t expect it to become common practice.

Red Bull

2020 After testing End of 2019
+1.294% +0.709% +0.000%

Another season and another slow start from Red Bull. To offer a decent challenge to Mercedes, it needs to start stronger, but it has managed to force Mercedes into making the odd mistake already.

In pre-season testing, the car looked a little nervous but quick. In the earlier races, it actually looked worse but for Silverstone 2 it wasn’t so bad. Max Verstappen will drive a wheelbarrow fast, so if Red Bull can give him the tools he will give it the results.

Racing Point

2020 After testing End of 2019
+1.410% +1.222% +2.189%

Lance Stroll Racing Point Barcelona F1 testing 2020

It was controversy from day one of pre-season testing when the ‘Pink Mercedes’ appeared and heading back to Barcelona that has not changed. In fact, it has got even worse.

It’s difficult to judge Racing Point’s performance. If it really was a 2019 Mercedes then it should be quick, if it has been replicated from pictures then the team has done a very good job and Silverstone 2 showed it also knows what to do with it on the track.


2020 After testing End of 2019
+1.605% +0.829% +0.143%

We all thought Ferrari was poor in testing, but since that it has only got worse. The engine saga with the FIA has left us all wondering what it was up to over the last couple of seasons.

As a team on race day, with Charles Leclerc it has actually pulled out a couple of surprise results but the out and out performance is not there. The other side of the garage must think it would just be better to stay in bed because nothing seems to be going the right way in practice, qualifying or on race day for Sebastian Vettel. And combined with that, there have just been far too many mistakes.


2020 After testing End of 2019
+1.705% +1.436% +1.438%

Lando Norris McLaren Silverstone 2020

McLaren is going about its job in a very positive way. The team’s personnel structure is now bringing rewards and it seems calm (with a lot less rubbish talked) and is now much more engineering-led.

A few years ago that wasn’t the case and it had lost focus on recognising its problems and doing its best to get on top of them. Most of the team’s energy was spent on talking about it. Now that energy is directed at improving the car’s performance.


2020 After testing End of 2019
+2.026% +0.718% +1.955%

If you look at these numbers, Renault has started this season more or less where it ended last season. That’s not easy when it is compared to the frontrunners, but we should add that teams that are behind have more room to improve.

At the moment, Renault is a bit random. Some days the car is quite competitive, others not so. It really needs to get more consistency and then it can recognise where it really is and try to improve.


2020 After testing End of 2019
+2.251% +1.560% +1.953%

Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri Silverstone 2020

Red Bull’s junior team stands on its own aerodynamic philosophy. Again, like Renault, the consistency is not great but Pierre Gasly has fitted back into the team and is doing a good job on occasions.

But as a team, it needs to improve the performance. That might come by being even closer to Red Bull with its design philosophy in the future.


2020 After testing End of 2019
+2.969% +1.503% +4.165%

This year is a massive step forward, but the further behind you are the more scope you have for improvement. I think Williams thought it might have closed the gap just that little bit more, but it will be motivated by now being a consistent challenger for a position in Q2.

That’s only a top 15 position, so nothing to get too excited about, but it’s a major improvement on where it has been for the last couple of seasons.


2020 After testing End of 2019
+3.080% +1.712% +2.598%

Romain Grosjean Haas Silverstone 2020

Whatever happened to Ferrari over the engine saga also happened to customer teams Haas and Alfa Romeo. Only they know how much the lack of performance is down to the engine and how much is down to them.

The Haas chassis doesn’t look too bad. Normally, its drivers are not slow at voicing their opinion on what’s happening and this season so far they have been very quiet.

Alfa Romeo

2020 After testing End of 2019
+3.477% +1.579% +2.604%

I’m not sure exactly what the plan is here. Having the Alfa Romeo handle and performing like this is not exactly what I would call a positive marketing policy.

Alfa Romeo seems to be stuck in the doldrums. We all know Kimi Raikkonen will wring the car’s neck, it’s what he loves to do, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything in there to wring.

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