IDEAL LAP: Bottas is the fastest, but Hamilton returns ready to attack

Valtteri Bottas set the pace in Friday’s practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but if all the drivers had managed to gather their best mini-sectors, would the Finn have finished on top? The data suggests that not …

The graph below shows a driver’s rated lap time versus his ideal lap time. What is an ideal lap time? Let us explain …

The ideal lap explained

An F1 track is divided into three sectors for timing purposes. However, these sectors are also divided into smaller “loops” or mini-sectors. In our ideal lap calculation, we summed up a driver’s individual fastest loop times from a session, regardless of which lap they were set on.

This gives us a best theoretical lap for each driver, that is, what their fastest lap time would be like if they set their best times at each circuit on the same lap. If there is a big difference between a driver’s actual lap time and their ideal lap time on the graph, it suggests that they are potentially capable of a much faster lap than they showed in a given session. All they need to do is get a perfect lap …

What the graph shows

1 Hamilton ready to be the only one to beat

Lewis Hamilton said he was grateful to be back in his Mercedes after missing the first Grand Prix of his career following a positive test for Covid-19. And although he didn’t turn on the timesheets, it was clear he hadn’t lost any of his rhythm. The Brit should have gone faster, having set a lap that was two tenths faster than Bottas’ best, only to be knocked out for exceeding the limits of the track. But it should have been even better based on our mini-sector data, with Hamilton leaving 0.8s on the table on his first day back in the car.

2 Much more to come from both Red Bulls

Max Verstappen’s soft tire race was ruined when Sergio Perez of Racing Point stopped him, who was on a long race so he was ultimately unrepresentative. Had he had a clean lap, with all his best mini-sectors, our data suggests that he could have gone almost a second faster, which would put him close to Bottas. It could explain why you are optimistic about your chances this weekend against Mercedes.

3 Norris the best of the rest

There is an extension between Mercedes / Red Bull and the rest of the field at Yas Marina. The leader of the chasing group was Lando Norris on Friday and even when all the best mini-sectors are taken into account, the McLaren driver remains in that position, with a further advantage having left almost two-tenths of a second on the track.

4 Ocon and Pérez get almost everything out of their cars

Esteban Ocon was in a good mood on Friday night, the Frenchman was still on top after his first podium last time in Bahrain, and it was understandable given that he appears to have pulled everything out of the car based on our data. However, if everyone had connected their best mini sectors, Ocon would have dropped to P12. And Perez, who was only one place behind him in qualifying and will face a hefty grid penalty after engine component changes, would drop to P13.

5 Gasly should be one of the top 10 contenders

Pierre Gasly found himself unusually outside the top 10 in practice on Friday, but had he rounded up all of his best mini-sectors, the Frenchman could have gone 0.629s faster. That would have put him ninth overall in the rejig. Only Hamilton, Verstappen, and Albon had bigger profits to find. Midfield is very close, with fifth to twelfth separated by just two-tenths of a second, so the AlphaTauri driver, a 2020 race winner, should be in contention for points.