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Here we are again with the latest race analysis for this year, as after ELMS now also WEC 2017 season came to the end with a very interesting race in Bahrain.
Although the LMP1 title was already assigned in China, the race was anyway very interesting. Toyota showed again a top form, above all with car n.8, who really dominated the event. Anyway, as we will see, the situation was a bit less biased on their side than in China in terms of performance, with Porsche who wanted to fare well the championship in the best way possible and who was not lucky in more than a situation. Again, tyre degradation and strategy played a central role, both in LMP1 and LMP2.
Particularly exciting was anyway the battle in the LMP2 class, with the race victory deciding also the title winner. Both the crews fighting for the championship victory (Rebellion car n.31, who won in the end and DC Racing – Jota Sport car n.38) had some issues during the race, with the final stints of Bruno Senna slowed down by the power steering not working anymore and with car n.38 race in part defined by a refueling problem, not allowing them to complete the same number of laps per stint as their direct competitors and forcing them to stop once more than Rebellion.
The track itself is probably not as fascinating as other facilities around the world, but offers anyway some tricky points, like corner 9 and 10, where the cars have to brake while cornering and a couple of relatively fast sections (turns 6 and 7 and turn 12).
As we mentioned, Toyota n.8 dominated the event in Bahrain, leaving all the other contenders at least one lap down. This was Toyota’s third win in a row and fifth victory this year, meaning car n.8 won more races than anyone else in 2017. Toyota’s car was extremely competitive at the beginning of the year and seemed to work extremely well again after the race in Texas, where Toyota was anyway not too far off from Porsche.
At the light of this strike of victories, it is really a pity that Le Mans proved to be so bitter for the Japanese Team, since that race not only is the most prestigious and well known of the WEC season, but also assigned double points.
In Bahrain, the crew of car n.8 did again everything right, with the car showing the best pace in the field and the team working the strategy perfectly.
Car n.8 was the only one who didn’t experience any issue or accident during the race and hence the only one doing only 6 pit stops, spending some 50 seconds less in the pit lane than car n.2, who finished second.
In terms of performance, car n.8 was clearly the fastest car throughout the race. Although they didn’t sign the overall best lap (that went to car n.1), the following table (relative to the best laps and best 20, 50 and 100 lap times averages) clearly show their advantage on all the other competitors.
Although car n.1 obtained the best lap in the race, the average of the best 20 lap times sees car n.8 already at the top, with the gap to all the other crews increasing as we look at more and more laps (average of the best 20, 50, 100 and “all clean laps” lap times).
Interestingly, car n.7 didn’t show the same pace and was faster than Porsche n.2, but slower than Porsche n.1 (who had an accident during the race, costing them time and a penalty). Although car n.8 could probably have been anyway faster than car n.7, it is worth to mention that Kobayashi had an accident about half way through the race; this produced a not well defined damage to the car that could have led a pace deterioration for car n.7, despite the reparation done in the garage.
The trends we just described are also easy to recognize if we take a look to the plots relative to the best 20, 50 and 100 lap times.
It is interesting to notice how, despite car n.1 being able to produce the best 10-11 lap times of the race, it completely falls behind car n.8 on the long run, with a pretty significant performance drop after the 12 mark.
Still, beside car n.8 being clearly the fastest one on the long distance, we cannot notice how car n.1 was still the one getting closer to car n.8 pace, with much better lap times than car n.7. Different story for car n.2, which was constantly out of pace.
If we look at how the lap times evolved during the race, we pretty much see the same trends in terms of relative performance of each car with respect to the others.
The plot below compares car n.8 to car n.1 and gives maybe also an indication about what could be a tendency in car n.8 to better preserve the tires than the Porsche.
Beside noticing that car n.8 line is nearly always slightly below car n.2 one, we can also identify a slightly bigger performance drop for the Porsche in certain stints, like for example the third one. It is anyway very hard to come to any clear conclusion, since there wasn’t apparently any dramatic performance degradation for any of the two cars.
The following two plots, referring to car n.2 and car n.7 performances compared to car n.8, also confirms how much quicker car n.8 was during the whole race and during some stints in particular.
As we mentioned already, particularly interesting was the pace difference between the two Toyota. Anyway, we have to always keep in mind that car n.7 had an accident with a GT Porsche at the beginning of lap 96, that costed them a puncture, a long time in the pit and, most probably, a damage to the car that was not completely repaired. It is not a case that, despite car n.7 being already slower than car n.8 during the third stint (which could be related to the typical Toyota split tyre change strategy: car n.7 changed the tyres during the first pit stop and was indeed pretty fast during the second stint, while car n.8 did it during the second pit stop and was quicker than car n.7 in the third stint), a bigger performance gap between the two cars seems to build up after the 100th lap, so immediately after car n.7 accident.
Let’s now break down our performance analysis considering each track sector and the relative performance of each car.
As usual, the track was divided in three sectors, as shown in the image below.
The first sector is all about straight line speed and longitudinal acceleration, being composed by a big part of the main straight and three pretty slow corners, with two of them coming after intensive braking and followed by strong acceleration.
The second one contains a couple of relatively fast corners (turn 6 and 7) and the tricky corners 9 and 10, with the cars braking for turn 10 while negotiating turn 9. It also presents some intensive corner exit accelerations, above all the one after turn 10, which is followed by a pretty long straight. Here the hybrid deployment surely plays a role on the final performance.
The third and final sector has “only” three corners, but one of them is the fastest of the track (turn 12). Again, there are at least two corners exits where hybrid power deployment is very important, because leading to pretty long straight: turn n. 13 and turn n.14.
Sector one offers immediately the first interesting “talking point”, as car n.1 is clearly the fastest here, with car n.8 getting a bit closer only on the long distance.
This is indeed what the table below (relative to the average of sector 1 best 20, 50, 100 and “all clean laps” times) shows us, with car n.1 producing the best value for each one of the considered metrics.
As we mentioned, the gap between car n.1 and car n.8 gets a bit smaller as we analyze more and more laps. Car n.2 and car n.7 are relatively close to each other and both relatively far off the pace of their sister cars.
Looking to the plots relative to the best 20, 50 and 100 sector 1 times, we can get a better feeling about each car’s performance.
The plots give a better feeling not only about car n.1 performance advantage in sector 1, but also about car n.8 getting closer as we move toward the 100 mark. The gap between car n.8 and car n.1 reduces from about 0.2-0.3 seconds on the fastest lap of each car, to only about half of a tenth on the longer distance.
As we mentioned while describing the track, top speed and drag levels play surely a role in determining how fast a car can go through this first sector.
The trap speed data seems to confirm that having a better inline speed is important for sector 1 times, as car n.1 is constantly the one with the highest top speed.
Interestingly, car n.2 has very similar top speed to car n.8 but is significantly slower and this could indicate an advantage for Toyota during the acceleration phases (hybrid deployment).
The three top speed plots above (best 20, 50 and 100 top speeds achieved by each car), seems to confirm not only the advantage of Porsche n.1 on Toyota n.8 (the difference is about 4-5 km/h and we know this can also depends on how long each car coast at the end of the main straight), but also the difference between car n.1 and car n.2, which is pretty significant, while the two Toyota are closer together.
As we mentioned, interestingly car n.8 and car n.2 have pretty much the same top speeds.
As we saw already in other races, this seems to suggest, on one side, how the two cars of the same team may be running with different aerodynamic configurations and, on the other side, also how the Porsche seems to have less drag than the Toyota.
Sector 2 sees a completely different situation. Toyota n.8 is definitely and constantly the fastest car, with a pretty significant margin on the closest competitor which is (no surprise) car n.7.
The table below, relative to the best laps and to the average of the best 20, best 50, best 100 and “all clean” sector 2 times gives already a pretty clear impression about the impressive pace of car n.8 compared to all the other crews.
Car n.8 is not only the fastest in sector 2, its advantage to the closest competitor (car n.7) also increases as we look at more and more laps, with more than 0.2 seconds gap on the “all clean” metrics.
It is also extremely interesting to see how far off Porsche’s pace was compared to Toyota’s one in this part of the circuit, with a gap between car n.8 and car n.1 that moves between about 0.2 seconds for the average of the best 20 times, and more than 0.3 seconds for the “all clean” metrics. Again, it is important to notice how the gap between car n.8 and the other crews increases on the long distance, while the gap between car n.1 and car n.8 in the first sector showed exactly the opposite trend.
A picture tells more than thousand words; a plot is even better. So let’s take a look to the plots relative to the best 20, 50 and 100 sector 2 times of each car:
Above all by looking at the 100 best laps plot, one can really appreciate how much quicker than the other crews car n.8 was, in particular on the long run.
This plots helps also to see the performance drop that car n.7 had, maybe also because of the consequences of the accident and, in general, how much faster car n.8 was than the two Porsche.
This is also particularly important because, as we will see shortly, the performances of car n.8 and car n.1 in sector 3 were much closer to each other.
Already by looking at the table relative to the best average sector 3 times, we can see how, in more than a metrics, the difference in terms of pace between the two cars can be measured in terms of hundredths of a second, with car n.1 remaining always on top.
It is pretty impressive to see how close car n.1 and car n.8 were, above all when looking at the average of the best 50, 100 and “all clean” sector 3 times, with the latest showing a difference of only 12 thousandths of a second!
This well recognizable also by looking to the best 20, 50 and 100 sector times plots.
The first plot, relative to the best 20 sector 3 times, shows at best that car n.1 has actually the best sector 3 times overall. Anyway, if we look to the third plot, relative to the best 100 sector 3 times, we can really appreciate how the lines relative to Porsche n.1 and Toyota n.8 lie one on the other.
Car n.7 is constantly slower than all the other crews in this sector and this doesn’t seem to be linked to the accident, since we cannot really identify any point of the plot where their line lies below the ones of the other cars.
Sector 3 is indeed a mix of high speed straight and strong accelerations out of slow corners, which seems to require a combination of the strong points of each car that we already identified: Porsche has probably a top speed advantage on the penultimate straight, while Toyota could have a small edge on accelerations because of the hybrid deployment.
Combining the tendency of the three sector plots, we can come pretty easily to the trends shown by the best laps plots, with Porsche n.1 being faster up to the 11 mark or so and with Toyota n.8 becoming significantly faster afterward.
Closing with LMP1, this latest race was clearly dominated by car n.8, but it is always interesting to notice how each team interpret the rules and the car setup/configuration, producing better performances in certain tracks or section of a track and being a bit penalized in others. This was again the case in this race, with Toyota being so much stronger in sector 2 thus to allow them to compensate for a worse pace and sector 1 and a pretty much identical pace in sector 3, compared to the Porsche.
Hopefully, the new generation of LMP1 cars coming next year will offer the same technological interest and the same tension from a performance perspective.