Analysis: Palmer’s pace is matching Hulkenberg, despite the numbers

palmer_pace.jpg
In the past months, rumors have circulated online Formula 1 community that either Robert Kubica or Carlos Sainz would take Jolyon Palmer’s sought after seat at Renault.

In recent months, Jolyon Palmer has faced mostly negative feedback of his performances from fans through various social media platforms. A simple Twitter search of his name instantly brought up a particular tweet from ‘@Nadal_LH_Fan’ which referred to the British driver and “embarrassment.”

But it’s not just him. In a recent poll conducted in the popular Facebook group, ‘Formula 1 Unlimited’ – opinion was split on Palmer’s deservedness of a race seat. From 22 people who voted, 15 of them felt Palmer wasn’t quick enough.

But, these detractors of Palmer do have some numbers to justify their harsh criticism.

On average, 0.735s separated him from team mate Nico Hulkenberg over the British Grand Prix weekend. And, that gap has been calculated using fair and reasonable data.

The specific number is produced when averaging Palmer’s gap to Hulkenberg during FP2’s short sims, long run sims, FP3 qualifying sim and finally their pace difference during the second part of qualifying.

palmer_pace_1
This graph shows the pace comparison of Renault team mates Palmer and Hulkenberg throughout the British Grand Prix weekend.

In these four competitive situations, Palmer was behind Hulkenberg’s pace by considerable margins on all occasions. In fact, the closest the Brit even got to his team mate was during the whole weekend was during his supersoft long run simulation in FP2, when he found himself just 0.510s behind, on average.

Renault’s upgrades

Firstly, let’s make it adamantly clear: Hulkenberg had a major advantage over Palmer this weekend specifically because he was the only one of the two drivers with Renault’s new upgrades. These included tweaks to the diffusor, which were an attempt to improve drivability, with new elements also present on the floor and bargeboards.

Hulkenberg made no attempt to conceal the success of these various new parts, telling media after his season best P5 in Saturday’s qualifying, “The upgrades we brought here this weekend seemed to also have played their part in our step forward.”

Unfortunately, we can’t decipher and determine the exact time advantage these upgrades would give, but, let’s remember, the upgraded package was brought in to ultimately improve the aerodynamics and drivability of the RS17 chassis.

That’s particularly important because Silverstone has some of the most iconic fast corners on the Formula 1 calendar, including the Maggots/Becketts complex, Stowe and Copse. These corners, in-particular, demand an efficient aerodynamic package which can keep the car planted to the ground whilst rapidly changing direction simultaneously.

In short, the gain in performance Hulkenberg found from Renault’s upgrades would definitely equate for more time around Silverstone than any other track, due to its aerodynamic demands.

This is definitely one of the main reasons which explains Palmer’s lack of pace in comparison to Hulkenberg.

How setup played a major role

Sadly, Palmer’s chances at a truly successful weekend during his home Grand Prix were compromised from Friday morning as he lost valuable time to decipher the setup challenges at Silverstone because of reliability issues.

Over Friday’s two 90 minute practice sessions, Hulkenberg successfully completed 56 laps in total; by comparison, Palmer could only clock 41. The 15 lap difference, which equates to roughly 88km, was caused by two separate mechanical issues for Palmer.

The first of these was an MGU-K issue which needed replacing in the first 45 minutes of FP1. Palmer’s FP2 session was victim of the second problem when it ended prematurely due to a faulty clutch.

The MGU-K problem during the first 45 minutes of FP1 is absolutely critical because it meant Palmer lost 50% of the time he would normally have to find a decent setup before FP2.

In a statement after Friday’s sessions, Renault themselves admitted the difficulty of finding that perfect setup at Silverstone because of the strong winds, “which can make finding the right balance tricky.”

So, without that suitable setup heading into the most important practice session for conducting race simulations, trouble would predictably hit Palmer with his long run on the supersoft tyre.

palmer_pace_2
This graph, exclusive to Green Flag F1.com, compares the long run simulations of Palmer and team mate Hulkenberg during Friday’s Second Practice Session for the 2017 British Grand Prix.

The run would last six laps and would eventually be just 0.510s slower (on average) than that of Hulkenberg. Palmer’s post-session summary of the performance paints a telling picture; he told media, “when I put on the supersoft tyres I found there wasn’t any grip.” He did admit to spinning the car, which didn’t help because he “struggled to get [the tyres] working correctly [after that].”

And although Hulkenberg admitted there was room to improve ahead of the race, his statements were not nearly as concerned and troubled as Palmer’s.

The mental mindset: a major factor

Jolyon Palmer’s whole mindset is another potential reason which adequately explains his lack of pace throughout the British Grand Prix race weekend.

On the eve of the third free practice session, rumors began circulating in German media that Palmer would be replaced at the Hungarian Grand Prix by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. In the end, the stir within the media prompted Renault Sport Racing Director Cyril Abiteboul to tell Palmer face-to-face that they were absolutely false.

“I wanted to clear that off his mind before the start,” Abiteboul told Motorsport.com after the race.

Either way, it was one heart-stopping moment to add to a few recent for Palmer, which would certainly be affecting his performance in some way.

The first of these moments of apparent doubt in Palmer was actually his very own public shaming from Abiteboul. Despite his defense of Palmer’s place in the team during this weekend’s Sainz accusations, the Renault Director did tell media ahead of the recent Azerbaijan Grand Prix, “Jo has to deliver.”

“The fact is that Jo has a car which is a points-scoring car, and he has to enter into the points. Full stop,” he conceded.

The public shaming of Palmer came after some questioned if Palmer would be replaced by Robert Kubica, who recently completed two trouble-free test sessions for Renault.

Though, it must be considered, Abiteboul has grounds for the ridiculing, as by the end of the British Grand Prix, Hulkenberg has scored all of Renault 26 points. In 10 races, Hulkenberg has finished in the points on 5 occasions, with a best finish of 6th in Spain and Britain.

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Jolyon Palmer during the 2017 Russian Grand Prix, a race where he faced criticism for his crash in qualifying.

Palmer, on the other hand, has absolutely no points to show and with the aforementioned criticisms and rumors of replacement, pressure would be building on him.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, Palmer’s lack of points have not always been caused by his own wrongdoings.

Funnily enough, the magnitude of his bad luck and unreliability has been just as considerable as his gaps to Hulkenberg.

In Australia, Palmer had an unidentified roll bar issue throughout the whole weekend. He couldn’t qualify well in China because of untimely yellow flags, he had a chassis change after Friday in Russia, an aggressive strategy backfired in Spain and he lost his long runs to reliability problems in both Monaco and Austria.

The point is: anything that could have gone wrong for Jolyon Palmer in 2017 has gone wrong through pure bad luck. In Britain, multiple upgrades, a weak setup and the mental game were the main reasons Palmer was, on average, 0.735s behind team mate Hulkenberg.

Let’s remember, Palmer’s experience dwindles in comparison to Hulkenberg’s 7th season of Formula 1 competition, you have to give him a little bit of leeway there too.

In essence, with all these factors taken in to account, can you actually criticize a gap that would likely end up so minuscule?


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