Gary Anderson: How Algarve points to a key Red Bull strength - The Race
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Gary Anderson: How Algarve points to a key Red Bull strength

Oct 24 2020

It’s always strange when you go to a new track and you always question if you have done not just enough preparation, but also the right preparation to get on top of the new demands. Based on what we’ve seen this weekend, Mercedes is on pole position but it’s Red Bull – or should that be the Red Bull teams – that have impressed me most

The circuit has thrown in some extra difficulties beyond its layout with the recent resurfacing, which always ends up leading to changes in grip level as some of the oils come out of the track surface. That, combined with the wind, affects the cars dramatically – especially with the track topography – and makes your job even more difficult.

It’s interesting to see who has adapted best and Mercedes ended up well ahead of everyone else as usual, but it was Red Bull and its junior team – or as we are being told to consider it, ‘sister team’ – that made progress the most quickly.

I have put the season average fastest lap for each team converted to a percentage of the fastest lap from each circuit in one column in the table below. This is ranked in order based on performance across all 12 circuits so far this season and you can see that, behind Mercedes and Red Bull, everyone is fairly closely packed.

Pace: 2020 average vs Portuguese GP

2020

Portugal

Gain/loss

Mercedes

100.006

100

-0.006
Red Bull

100.795

100.452

-0.343
Racing Point

101.187

100.867

-0.32
McLaren

101.432

100.938

-0.494
Ferrari

101.561

100.816

-0.745
Renault

101.565

101.327

-0.238
AlphaTauri

101.803

100.607

-1.196
Alfa Romeo

102.788

101.904

-0.884
Williams

102.799

101.729

-1.07
Haas

102.881

102.381

-0.5

The second column lists only the Portuguese Grand Prix in order of the fastest laps for each team at this track. Some of the times I have taken from FP3 because the track didn’t rubber-in as much as expected and we wanted to use each car’s quickest overall time.

Both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will start on the medium tyre as will star of qualifying Charles Leclerc. As normal both Mercedes drivers had a big advantage but they actually went faster on the mediums than on the soft in Q3.

If it was just down to pure grip, this wouldn’t happen but when you go to a softer compound sometimes it moves around a bit more so a stiffer compound tyre can actually feel more stable. With the layout of this track I’m not surprised.

As you can see from the table, all 10 teams are actually closer at this new track than they are over the season average. Haas bringing up the rear is 2.381% down as opposed to 2.881% off Mercedes. This doesn’t sound much, but I can assure you finding half a percent on a team as good as Mercedes is not easy.

The big question is did Haas actually find that half a percent? In my opinion no. Mercedes didn’t get the best from its package, just as appeared to happen at the Nurburgring with Friday a ‘fog-out’, because the gaps to everyone else are smaller – not just Red Bull.

Here, Red Bull is closer than its season average, AlphaTauri and Ferrari have gained but others, like Racing Point, McLaren and Renault, have lost ground.

Overall, this being a new track I would say it would be down to the team with the best simulation tools and factory driver-in-the-loop simulator. On this occasion, it wasn’t Mercedes. Red Bull and AlphaTauri, which probably uses the same simulator kit, did their homework best.

You might say that Red Bull’s recent car progress explains the gap being closer than the average. After all, Red Bull has also been closer in recent races and this is another track where downforce levels are relatively high. However, if you take the gap between Red Bull and Haas which at this track is 1.929%, there’s is not much difference to the season average which so far is 2.086%.

Also the fact AlphaTauri also made such a big leap suggests there’s more to it than that. It will make it very interesting when we get to Imola next weekend, where everyone just has one 90-minute free practice session then heads straight into qualifying.

It’s clear Mercedes is very good at getting the most from its car in a normal weekend at a known track. But Red Bull and AlphaTauri have shown they can extract more of their potential faster given a new track or a difficult weekend.

The circuit will have made it even more difficult and everyone seemed to be struggling to some extent. I have to say, the layout of the Algarve circuit is impressive. It would be particularly interesting if we could get a camera mounted at the driver’s eyeline because with all these topography changes the drivers are turning into a lot of these corners blind.

As always, you need a good handle on the tyres – not easy with this fresh track surface – but also the balance of the car across a range of gradients. One minute you’re pointing down, the next minute up, with all sorts of camber changes so you really need a car that works in a wide window. That’s what makes this track a good addition to the calendar and hopefully F1 can come back.

That said, there are a few problems. The drain covers could do with a little work, as we all saw when qualifying was delayed by 30 minutes, but also the pit entry and exit are a little questionable.
Algarve Portugal F1 2020

Coming through the last corner flat out and just tightening the corner slight to enter the pits at probably 250km/h doesn’t give much room for error. And if you are following another car, remember what happened at Estoril in 1992 when Riccardo Patrese was launched off Gerhard Berger’s McLaren when it slowed to pull into the pits.

And the pit exit – well, if you are battling with another car and it comes down to the undercut or overcut then things could get pretty interesting at the apex point of Turn 1. Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll had a test run at it on Friday and we all saw the consequences of that.

But what matters is that the track has produced an interesting weekend and a tighter grid. Let’s hope the race lives up to that.

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