With the recent performance of Mclaren in Suzuka discussions are again breaking out as to whether this is down to Mclaren or Honda.
I have gone through and updated the charts with the qualifying times from the last couple of races. All of the charts through this thread have updated themselves as well.
Once again we are seeing a divergence in the performances of RBR and Mclaren. Mclaren made ground on the leaders in Malaysia, whereas RBR were less competitive but then Mclaren struggled at Suzuka while RBR performed consistently.
Malaysia 2014 was wet and 2015 was "damp" but closer to dry times.
Looking at the last 4 races on the above chart, Mclaren are performing consistently slightly better vs pole than they did last year but only by a small margin and infact if we look at Japan their deficit has been very consistent over the last 3 years despite wildly varying power outputs. I am going to suggest therefore that Japan is one of the less power sensitive tracks. I am also going to state that I would have expected Mclaren to be a bit better here, I would have predicted them being at about the 2% threshold (around 0.3s per lap faster).
Suzuka continues to be a bogey track for Mclaren which is more suggestive of an underlying conflict between the track and their car philosophy. It puzzles me therefore why Mclaren were expecting to do well here.
If we go back to the RBR : Mclaren comparison shown above and look particularly at the races since Canada, we can see a clear trend of Mclaren losing ground at the downforce heavy tracks, Britain, Germany, Singapore and Japan but performing better at the more power focused tracks, Baku, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Malaysia.
I think we are getting to the point now that we have enough of a trend to confirm this hypothesis.
Finally I go back to this chart, the baseline here is the pole deficit in 2014 between Mclaren and Mercedes.
Where the traces are positive it shows that Mclaren have a larger deficit to pole than they did in 2014, and where the traces are below the line then they have gained ground against pole.
The average deficit in 2015 was 1.12%
The average deficit in 2016 is down to 0.22%
Now I am going to suggest that the main reason for the deficit between 2014 and 2015 was the lack of performance from the Honda PU and the whole integration of the new unit within the car. As discussed Malaysia 2014 was wet so is anomalous, however the general trend is that most of the deficit experienced in 2015 has now been recovered. Bearing in mind in 2014 Mclaren had the best PU on the grid, I would happily round up that 0.22% to 0.30% and say that roughly this is the current deficit in laptime between the Honda PU and the Mercedes PU there or thereabouts.
This still leaves an average 2.01% deficit between the 2014 Mclaren and the 2014 Mercedes. This remaining 2% gap I am going to say is generally a chassis / aero / tyre deficit and one that Mclaren are responsible for overcoming.
The counter argument would be that actually Mclaren's chassis has improved which is overcompensating for the power reduction. To this I would point out the Mclaren's worst performances vs pole are the downforce heavy tracks. Meaning that Mclaren's overcompensating chassis only appears on the power sensitive tracks, if somebody is going to hold that position then I think that is more based on faith than logic.
For the avoidance of any doubt it is clear as day that both Mclaren's chassis and the Honda engine have improved over the last season, however the rest of the field have also improved and there is the whole issue of tyres, this is why all of my comparisons are to pole laps. I am not suggesting that the 2016 car is little better than the 2014 car, in ultimate terms it is actually several seconds a lap faster, but so are Mercedes.