Jul 8, 2013, 7:30 AM EST
Saturday’s qualifying showed it was clear certain teams had decided to play a tactical game this weekend, over going all out for the highest possible grid slot.
It’s not something the purists like to see, but a Formula One team will analyze every situation and do what they think is best for them, not what’s best for those watching.
With teams opting to either sit out the final qualifying session, or set a time on the slower, more durable race tire, it provided something of an anticlimactic Saturday afternoon, but set the scene for a fantastic strategic battle Sunday.
This weekend Pirelli not only brought a new rear tire construction as part of measures to ensure no repeat of the Silverstone fiasco, but brought two compounds which, at this track, gave a significant performance difference between the two. Typically, when this situation occurs between two tire types, we’re served up a Grand Prix with a mixture of different strategies and it’s rarely clear until the last few laps, how things might pan out. Today was no different.
Before the race began we all tried to calculate how the front six cars, starting on the soft compound, might fare against those starting farther back. The soft was only likely to last a handful of laps with cars full of fuel from the start, while the rest would potentially come into play in the last 10 laps when they too, fitted the considerably faster, soft-option tire.
Questions surfaces whether Mercedes had come up with fixes for their, now traditional, heavy race tire degradation. The answers came early. A poor start from Lewis Hamilton on pole position gave up track position to both Red Bulls, but more telling was his pace and early lap 6 pitstop to switch to the primes. Mercedes’ race with both cars was severely compromised by excessive thermal degradation of the rears, something today’s high track and ambient temperatures made much worse than earlier in the weekend.
The team desperately need track time to work on this area, but while everyone else we be learning at the upcoming Young Driver Test, Mercedes will miss out due to their penalty from the International Tribunal a few weeks back.
The predicted time difference between a two and three stop race was minimal here and the race finish proved it so.
Out front it looked like a three car battle, with both Lotus’ chasing down Sebastian Vettel on similar race plans. With Lotus unable to find enough pace to get past the Red Bull, they were forced to try something a little different to get past.
Romain Grosjean, running second, tried to undercut the leader and dived into the pits on lap 40 for new mediums, but couldn’t find enough on his out lap to jump Vettel, who responded a lap later. Kimi Raikkonen, now leading, but with one less stop, was faced with a tough call and a number of options to see the race out.
He could follow the other two and pit for mediums and race them to the flag, but the status quo would’ve likely resumed.
He could stay out and try and get to the end without another stop, hoping to hold off Vettel and co when they inevitably caught up by the last couple of laps, but the stint length would’ve been 36 laps on his medium tires. After Friday’s running this looked possible, but the higher temperatures today meant it was a long shot.
In the end, with Vettel and Grosjean held up slightly in traffic, Kimi opted to stay out. This gave him the option of gauging tire life a bit longer and deciding wether to try and get to the end, or attempt to open up a gap big enough to stop again and come out in front.
Clearing the traffic quickly meant the chasers just stopped Kimi from edging out the required gap and his choices were limited again. His big push had taken valuable life from his medium compound tires and the decision was taken to get to lap 50 and switch to softs.
The hope was that the faster soft tire would enable him to take the challenge to the Red Bull in the last couple of laps, despite the pitstop bringing him out at the back of the three car train.
Fernando Alonso, who’d remained largely anonymous during most of the race, did the same and came out behind Kimi.
Where the Lotus plan failed to a certain degree, was that the soft tires that went onto Kimi’s car were used ones from qualifying, they had no fresh ones left. This meant the expected gain in laptime wasn’t quite there in the first couple of laps and he didn’t close up quickly enough. Coupled with a delay in issuing team orders to let Kimi past Grosjean, it meant Vettel had just enough in the bag to hold on for his first win on home soil.
Teams all look to a variety of reasons why their races weren’t quite perfect in the end. Backmarkers, safety cars at the wrong time, temperatures or bad starts, but in the end perhaps using the extra set of soft tires in qualifying was the difference. Alonso, who did save soft tires on Saturday and pitted at the same time as Kimi, put in some blistering lap times at the end to bring himself right back into contention, challenging for third place.
You can follow Marc Priestley on Twitter @f1elvis.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:41 PM EST
Negative backlash following ad’s premiere on Tuesday’s “Today” show leads to GoDaddy pulling it from Sunday’s big game.
Jan 27, 2015, 8:55 PM EST
The Lights contingent finish their two-day session on the Homestead road course before heading to the oval on Thursday.
Jan 27, 2015, 7:12 PM EST
Following a dramatic Sprint Cup title victory in 2014, Harvick enters 2015 with less pressure – but not less motivated to continue his success.
Jan 27, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
Gene Haas provides an update on his F1 team’s progress during NASCAR Media Tour.
Jan 27, 2015, 5:28 PM EST
In a new promotional video for the XFINITY Series, Richard Petty says the next great NASCAR driver may be in the sport’s junior league right now.
Jan 27, 2015, 4:58 PM EST
Don’t miss this special event on Friday, Jan. 30, at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN.
Jan 27, 2015, 4:34 PM EST
Kurt Busch says he’s unsure when a decision will be made in the protective hearing case sought by his ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll
Jan 27, 2015, 4:22 PM EST
In an effort to attract new drag racing fans, the National Hot Rod Association has embarked upon a new marketing and social media program for 2015: “Baptism by Nitro”, featuring the sport’s fastest cars, Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars.
Jan 27, 2015, 3:46 PM EST
Car owner Gene Haas confirms this is the final year of Danica Patrick’s contract but says he wants Patrick back.
Jan 27, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Yeley ran the final seven races of 2014 in BK’s No. 83 Toyota.
Jan 27, 2015, 2:53 PM EST
While teammate Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Cup championship in 2014, Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart all came up short. Which driver will bounce back the most in 2015?
Jan 27, 2015, 2:45 PM EST
While some media may think 2014 was a sub-par year for her, Danica Patrick believes last season was just the opposite, a season of growth and improvement that she hopes to extend into the 2015 Sprint Cup campaign.
Jan 27, 2015, 2:15 PM EST
Al Unser Sr. gets a day of honor at IMS this month of May.
Jan 27, 2015, 2:08 PM EST
RTA chairman Rob Kauffman deflected several questions Tuesday about the organization, which represents virtually every team in NASCAR’s premier series.
Jan 27, 2015, 2:05 PM EST
Former Sprint Cup champ finished sixth in first ‘500’ appearance last year.
Jan 27, 2015, 1:32 PM EST
One year after his last comeback effort fell short, Bobby Hamilton Jr. is back to try it again with Carter 2 Motorsports in a full-time ARCA season racing effort.
Jan 27, 2015, 1:15 PM EST
Sauber will have its new car launch on Friday, and also has confirmed HP partnership.
Jan 27, 2015, 1:00 PM EST
The 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule and race times was announced Tuesday.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:40 PM EST
Race times for the inaugural season of the new Xfinity Series were announced Tuesday.
Jan 27, 2015, 12:32 PM EST
Annett will bring his Pilot/Flying J sponsorship with him to HScott Motorsports, where he’ll team up with Justin Allgaier.
- Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick: “I’m as comfortable as I’ve ever been” 0
- Danica Patrick enters final year of contract but wants to stay at Stewart-Haas 7
- Start times for 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races 8
- Bowyer on Gordon: “You’re never good with somebody when it got that ugly” 21
- NASCAR considers unveiling 2016 rules at Sprint All-Star Race in May 2
- Kyle Busch says Toyota teams are “idiots” by not working close together 20
- Brian France: State of NASCAR is in a good place and getting better 6