The Qualifying Lap That Could Have Been: Belgium 2016

Vettel’s best qualifying lap for the Belgian Grand Prix was 1:07.108. His theoretical best lap time was almost a full tenth faster at 1:07.013.

Wait what? His theoretical best time?

A driver’s theoretical best time takes his best time from each of the three sectors throughout the qualifying session, no matter what lap or round they came in, and adds them together. This new theoretical best (from now on referred to as TB) is the best time the driver could have hoped to achieve if he ran all of his best sector times on the same lap.

Now, this isn’t a perfect indication of what could be done by the driver. For example, perhaps the reason one driver has such a low sector one time (helping his TB) is because he braked for the corner that began sector two way too late and ran off the track. That sector one time he posted will still be included in his TB, but it’s important to note that he could never complete a full lap while posting such a fast sector one time. So his TB time will be slightly above what you could actually expect from him if he were to qualify again at the track.

The Top Ten at Spa

Here’s a look at the data in full from Belgium for the top ten drivers who qualified. The light blue column shows where the driver would have started if the grid was set using TB lap times. I’ve also included a driver “TheoBest” in red whose time is the best sector times of the session not necessarily from the same driver. For this race TheoBest is made up of Rosberg for sectors one and three and Verstappen for sector two.

If a driver’s difference between actual qualifying time and ultimate (TB) qualifying time is zero, that means he ran all three of his best sector times on the same lap.

Click to enlarge

Some Quick Takes on the Results

  • Raikkonen had the most to gain from stringing together his three best sectors on the same lap. He would have shaved two tenths off of his time and jumped from the second row to first on the grid. 
  • Massa had the greatest difference between his actual and TB times with a 0.823 second difference. Even with such a large difference though, he would have only gained two spots and move into eighth place on the grid.
  • Rosberg was 0.264 seconds off of our made up driver, “TheoBest.” The only sector he lost time on “TheoBest” was sector two. 
If you’re interested in getting updates on ultimate qualifying laps for future grand prix let me know in the comments below.
by Drew