How Mercedes’ tire strategy derailed them in Barcelona

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All the talk after the Spanish GP was, once again, dominated by tires. The grumbles in certain areas of the paddock are becoming louder and louder as race strategies were again decided by a team’s ability to make a set of Pirellis last long enough to complete a sensible stint.

Certain teams are better at this than others and, at the end of the day, it could be said that it’s a result of them doing a better job than the ones who struggle. A Formula One team’s job, after all, is to design a car to meet the challenges of the sport in its current form. It has to be said that the loudest complainers are noticeably the ones not finding things easy right now.

With that in mind I’ll take a quick look at two differing ends of that spectrum from Sunday’s race.

Race strategies are complicated things to plan; many factors that go in to making the decision and even once the decision’s made, it has to be flexible to cope with the unpredictable parameters.

Mercedes have a car, evident from the last three races, capable of being faster than anyone else over a single lap in qualifying and indeed that’s exactly what they were on Saturday.

Planning a race strategy from pole position’s a different prospect to planning one from further down the field and should clearly be a huge advantage at a circuit where overtaking is difficult. Assuming a good start, the driver in front should be able to dictate the race to a certain extent and pole sitter Nico Rosberg, starting along with all of the other front runners on the medium compound tire, did indeed get away in front.

His biggest problem, and one that came as no surprise to all involved, is the fact that the Mercedes F1W04 destroys tires considerably quicker than everyone else. On Saturday evening when the drivers and their engineers at the team, and indeed all of the teams, sat down to figure out their best strategic options, they knew this and had to factor it into their race plans.

The white walled medium compound tire, faster of the two but less durable, was the one to qualify on, but on a Mercedes it was never going to last very long in race conditions. At the start every car’s carrying close to 150kgs of fuel and that significant extra weight, combined with a track not yet at it’s most grippy and the need to fight other cars at close quarters, has a dramatic impact on tire life and therefore race strategy.

Hamilton: Mercedes has “a lot of work to do”

Their plan was, in all honesty, a damage limitation one, staying on the medium tire for as long as they could manage while holding off the field at the front and then using the harder compound for the remainder of the GP. Initial calculations had a three-stop strategy completing the race distance about 6 or 7 seconds faster than a four-stop one and so was optimal, but it would all depend on drivers looking after the rubber to make that work. Rosberg opted for the 3 stopper of medium/hard/hard/hard, but with the only way to make the hard compound last was for him to drive at a pace so slow he became a sitting duck. He predictably fell back through the field. Perhaps a four-stop race might have helped him a little, but in truth he was never going to catch the car in front and did just about survive the challenge of Paul Di Resta behind, so the outcome would probably have remained unchanged.

The eventual race winner, Fernando Alonso, who began the race fifth, would have had to look at things slightly differently on Saturday evening to Nico Rosberg. Also having to begin the race on medium compound tires, his optimal strategy relied on a great start, something Ferrari are generally able to rely on at the moment and duly delivered.

I thought their initial plan was to three stop, probably medium/hard/hard/hard or medium/hard/hard/medium, as the the car in the last stint of the race would cope a little easier on a set of medium tires and theoretically be faster.

In the end the Ferrari, with a handful of updates for this event, was able to push at a good pace and still keep the tires in good condition for most of the GP, in direct contrast to the Mercedes. This, combined with his stunning first lap, enabled to team to switch to a more comfortable four-stop race, allowing Alonso to push hard in each stint on a medium/hard/hard/medium/hard plan and stay ahead of the struggling pack. Again the two early spells on hards allowed the fuel load to burn off and the track to rubber in, before using mediums to set some blistering laptimes and secure his position out in front. By the time the final stop came around, the only set the team had left were already used from earlier in the weekend and so, with his position fairly stable, a set of hards saw him comfortably to the end. The stop actually came two laps earlier than planned because of a suspected, and now confirmed, slow puncture, but the hard work early on ensured it didn’t cost him track position. It was a superb drive by Alonso and ensured the team had options to play with when it came to deciding how to see out the race. They weren’t forced into anything or have to react to anyone else and so could use the four stop strategy to good advantage, pushing all the way.

To win from fifth position is unprecedented at this circuit and, while perhaps a sign of the Pirelli era, it’s actually more a sign of how badly the problems are at Mercedes. Their two cars, in P1 and P2 on the grid, finished in sixth and 12th, freeing up easy places for those further back and Alonso and Ferrari made great use of their start, racecraft and ultimately their race strategy, to take a dominant, flat out victory.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

Prost stresses importance of keeping Formula E on city streets

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MONTREAL, Canada – Four-time Formula 1 world champion and Renault Formula E team chief Alain Prost has moved to clarify comments regarding this weekend’s event in Montreal, stressing the importance of it taking place on the streets of the city instead of a permanent circuit.

The all-electric Formula E championship visits Montreal for the first time this weekend, with a course being created using the city streets instead of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve that hosts Formula 1 race annually.

The Montreal ePrix acts as the season finale for Formula E’s third campaign, with Prost’s Renault e.dams operation in contention for both championships.

Formula E has enjoyed a strong ethos of racing on city streets instead of typical race circuits in a bid to promote electric vehicles and technology in the areas they are most needed for the future.

Reports in the Canadian press earlier this week claimed that Prost had said Formula E should have used the F1 track, but the Frenchman has moved to counter these comments and stress the importance of racing on inner-city street courses.

“I’ve never said that we should have gone to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, even if I love this place and I love the circuit. I think it is not adapted to the kind of race that we are doing at the moment,” Prost told NBC Sports.

“Obviously it’s too long and we need a shorter track, but most importantly we need the concept that we have from the beginning, supported by the FIA, that we want to be in the center of the cities. That is very important and I really support that.

“From the beginning that we heard about the project and we met the mayor two or three times, we were very happy and very positive to be in Montreal because we know the place, we know the fans that they love motor racing, and that will be something very different.

“We obviously give credibility to the electrical technology. We bring new people to watch the race. Maybe they are not interested by another sort of motor racing.

“We need a younger generation, maybe some children, they can see what is the car and technology for the future. So I’m very positive about that.

“I feel a bit sorry that I could be in the middle of a polemic. We want to be here for racing and we want to win the championship and celebrate in one of the best cities in the world.”

WEC ‘regrets’ Porsche’s LMP1 exit, working on plan for 2018 season

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The FIA World Endurance Championship has issued a statement following Porsche’s decision to close its LMP1 program at the end of the season, saying it “regrets” the departure of one of its most important stakeholders.

Porsche confirmed in the early hours of Friday morning that it would be pulling out of the WEC’s LMP1 class at the end of 2017 despite having one year remaining on its contract.

The German marque’s decision to quit and focus on a future Formula E entry leaves Toyota as the sole LMP1 Hybrid manufacturer on the grid for 2018, raising concerns about the future of the class.

Here is the WEC’s statement in full following Porsche’s bombshell.

Porsche, which recently confirmed its participation in the FIA LMP1-H World Endurance Championship as a manufacturer up to the end of the 2018 season, and which has been actively involved in the development of the technical regulations that will come into force in 2020, has just announced the withdrawal of its LMP1 hybrids from the end of the 2017 season.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, promoter of the WEC and organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, regrets this precipitous departure, as it does the abruptness of the decision from one of endurance racing’s most successful and lauded manufacturers.

However, the ACO and the FIA, guardians of the existence and quality of the FIA World Endurance championship, have immediately set to work to put forward to everyone involved in endurance racing the outline of the 2018 season – a season which promises to be quite exceptional thanks to the introduction of new innovations.

Clearly, the reduction of costs and stability, but also inventiveness and audacity, will be vital in making it possible to stage an increasingly spectacular and attractive championship with the sport of endurance racing at the forefront.

This unprecedented 2018 World Championship will, without doubt, excite and enthuse competitors, partners and fans of endurance racing alike.

We look forward to seeing you in Mexico on September 2 and 3 for the next WEC event when further information will be given.

A spokesperson from the WEC also confirmed that, regardless of LMP1’s future, the series will retain its world championship status for 2018.

“The WEC will still have three world championship titles in play, even if there are fewer than two manufacturers in 2018: World Drivers title (for which LMP1 and LMP2 drivers are eligible), GT Manufacturers and GT Drivers,” said the spokesperson.

“The WEC’s world championship status is therefore not in doubt.”

Sauber announces multi-year F1 engine deal with Ferrari

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Sauber will continue to race with Ferrari power units in Formula 1 next year after announcing a new, multi-year deal on Friday morning.

Sauber has enjoyed an engine supply from Ferrari since BMW pulled its factory support ahead of the 2010 season, but announced in April that it would be working with Honda from 2018.

The deal was thrown into doubt when CEO Monisha Kaltenborn left the team following a dispute with its owners, with ex-Renault F1 chief Frederic Vasseur drafted in to replace her.

Reports suggested that the Sauber owners were not keen on working with Honda in 2018, leading to the deal being canceled, as announced by the team on Thursday.

Less than 24 hours later, Sauber confirmed that a multi-year deal to use up-to-date Ferrari power units had been agreed, starting in 2018.

“I am very pleased to confirm that we will continue to work with Scuderia Ferrari as our engine supplier in form of a multi-year agreement,” Vasseur said.

“The shared experience between the Sauber F1 Team and Ferrari has built a strong foundation, which will allow us to move forward swiftly and efficiently, also in terms of the development of the 2018 car.

“I am convinced that together we can achieve the results which reflect the passion and determination that is, and always has been, behind the Sauber F1 Team.”

The confirmation of Ferrari power may open up a possible seat for one of its junior drivers for 2018, with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi both making strong cases to step up to F1.

It does, however, not appear to bode well for Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein, who has led Sauber’s charge alongside Marcus Ericsson. The latter is understood to have links to the team’s owners, making his seat secure.

Ricciardo quickest as Red Bull leads opening Hungarian GP practice

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Daniel Ricciardo made a flying start to the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend by topping the opening Formula 1 practice session at the Hungaroring for Red Bull, beating rivals from the Ferrari and Mercedes teams.

Red Bull has been running as the third-fastest team for much of the F1 season so far behind Ferrari and Mercedes, but hoped to make up some ground in Hungary given the tight and twisting nature of the circuit on the outskirts of Budapest, suiting the RB13 chassis.

Ricciardo was able to live up to the hopes through FP1 by soundly beating the rival teams, recording a fastest lap of 1:18.486 to finish two-tenths of a second clear at the front of the pack.

The Australian was tailed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in second place, with five-time Hungarian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton taking third for Mercedes ahead of Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull.

Valtteri Bottas took fifth for Mercedes, while championship leader Sebastian Vettel wound up sixth, more than a second behind Ricciardo at the front.

McLaren enjoyed one of its strongest sessions of the season so far as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne made the top 10, taking P7 and P8 respectively.

Renault was also able to get both of its drivers up into the top half of the order, with Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer ending up ninth and 10th. Palmer did suffer a late crash that meant FP1 ended under a red flag, continuing his recent plight.

The session saw Alfonso Celis Jr. and Antonio Giovinazzi, development drivers at Force India and Haas respectively, get some track time, but things did not go entirely as planned.

Giovinazzi suffered a shunt that cut his session short, forcing the Italian to return to the paddock on foot and leave the Haas team with a quick repair job to complete ahead of second practice later today.