Spanish F1 Grand Prix - Race

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.

Pirelli nominates soft, medium, hard tires for British GP

xxxx during the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 5, 2015 in Northampton, England.
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July’s British Grand Prix will feature Pirelli’s three hardest compounds – like Spain next weekend – with the tire manufacturer confirming the soft, medium and hard compounds for Silverstone.

The British GP nominations come on the heels of the Austrian GP nominations, where Pirelli will run its ultrasoft, supersoft and soft compounds.

That will tie for the biggest race-to-race tire compound change this season. From Spain to Monaco later this month, there will be the step from the same soft/medium/hard combination to the ultrasoft/supersoft/soft run. The ultrasofts – Pirelli’s new ultra sticky, short-life compound – make their race weekend debut in Monaco.

Arrivabene: Ferrari not giving up on F1 titles in 2016

during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 16, 2016 in Shanghai, China.
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Ferrari Formula 1 chief Maurizio Arrivabene is refusing to give up on either the drivers’ or constructors’ championships in 2016 despite the Italian marque’s poor start to the season.

Ferrari entered 2016 hoping to challenge Mercedes for both titles and end its recent run of dominance, only to score just 76 points in the first four races – less than half the total of its rival – and suffer a number of issues on its car.

Nico Rosberg has won all four of the opening races and enjoys a 43-point advantage over the field, with leading Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen sitting a further 14 points behind.

However, Arrivabene is refusing to give up on the titles, believing that anything is possible with 17 races still to run.

“If I have to define the championship, we love the fight,” Arrivabene told the official F1 website. “We are looking for big challenges! What has happened is part of the DNA of racing.

“I don’t think things can be explained as bad luck. There are mostly human mistakes behind the story. I prefer to have these kind of problems now instead later in the season.

“But of course we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Concerning the championship: we are not giving up! The team won’t give up and we will put all our energy from now on into the next 17 races!

“There are still 425 points to be taken. So by only winning the next five races everything is wide open again.

“Nothing is lost and we’re not giving up!”

Arrivabene is confident that the recent updates made to the Ferrari power unit will give the team a boost heading into the European leg of the season, starting next weekend in Spain.

“I trust that our performance is much better than what we’ve shown until now,” Arrivabene said.

“The characteristics of the tracks that are coming now, and because of the tokens that we’ve spent, will help us.

“Of course the others are not sleeping or waiting for us, so we have to fight.”

Verstappen: Surprise Red Bull promotion ‘an amazing opportunity’

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29:  Max Verstappen of Scuderia Toro Rosso and The Netherlands during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)
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Max Verstappen called his surprise promotion to a race seat at Red Bull Racing for the Spanish Grand Prix “an amazing opportunity” following the team’s announcement on Thursday.

Verstappen, 18, has made a significant impact on Formula 1 since becoming the youngest driver in the history of the series last year when he made his debut with Toro Rosso.

Following Daniil Kvyat’s calamitous start to last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, Red Bull took the decision to demote him back to Toro Rosso as of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Verstappen moves up to Red Bull in place of the Russian, marking his first opportunity to race with a top line team in F1.

“The next step in my relatively short career so far is an amazing opportunity,” Verstappen wrote on his official website.

“I really want to thank Red Bull Racing and Dr. Helmut Marko for the confidence they have in me. I’ll have the chance to learn a lot from the top team that is Red Bull Racing.

“I’m also looking forward to work with an experienced and proven team mate like Daniel Ricciardo.

“I can’t thank all the people at Scuderia Toro Rosso enough for all their hard work. Everyone back at the factory in Faenza, and Franz Tost in particular, have made an amazing contribution to get me this far in my career. We’ve had an amazing time together.

“Together with Red Bull Racing we’ll do everything to prepare me as best as possible for my first laps in the RB12 Tag Heuer, next week in Barcelona. I cannot wait for that special moment to happen.”

Verstappen will fly to Red Bull’s factory in Milton Keynes, England later this week for a seat fitting before completing some simulator work and getting to know the team ahead of his debut in Spain on May 15.

Vote in our poll below whether you love or hate the move.

Verstappen promoted to Red Bull, Kvyat back at Toro Rosso from Spanish GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01:  Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Scuderia Toro Rosso talks with Red Bull Racing Team Consultant Dr Helmut Marko in the Paddock ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Red Bull has announced that Max Verstappen will take the place of Daniil Kvyat at its senior Formula 1 team for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Verstappen, 18, swaps seats with Kvyat, who returns to Toro Rosso – Red Bull’s junior team – having made his debut with the Italian outfit back in 2014.

Kvyat came under fire following the Russian Grand Prix after hitting Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel twice on the first lap and ruining teammate Daniel Ricciardo’s race.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and team advisor Helmut Marko had face-to-face talks with Kvyat this week, before taking the decision to demote him to Toro Rosso.

“Red Bull Racing will have a new driver line-up from the Spanish Grand Prix,” a statement from Red Bull read.

“Max Verstappen will be joining the team to drive alongside Daniel Ricciardo. Daniil Kvyat will continue to drive for Red Bull and will re-join sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso.”

Horner was pleased to give Verstappen the opportunity to race for the senior Red Bull team after an impressive rookie season in 2015.

“Max has proven to be an outstanding young talent,” Horner said.

“His performance at Toro Rosso has been impressive so far and we are pleased to give him the opportunity to drive for Red Bull Racing.

“We are in the unique position to have all four drivers across Red Bull Racing and Toro Rosso under long term contracts with Red Bull, so we have the flexibility to move them between the two teams.

“Dany will be able to continue his development at Toro Rosso, in a team that he is familiar with, giving him the chance to regain his form and show his potential.”

The immediate response to the news was that of shock, given that barring his errors in Russia, Kvyat has enjoyed a strong stint with Red Bull.

The Russian beat the highly-rated Ricciardo across their first year together as teammates in 2015, and charged to third place in China just three weeks ago for his second podium finish in F1.

Red Bull has been known to make cut-throat decisions in the past though, with the likes of Jean-Eric Vergne, Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Sebastien Bourdais all being dropped from the energy drinks giant’s F1 programme in the past.

Bourdais was the last driver to be replaced mid-season in the RBR/STR setup, dropping the Champ Car legend after the 2009 German Grand Prix.

Verstappen now has the chance to prove his mettle and make the best of a top-line seat, but at just 18 years old, he still has plenty to learn.

As for Kvyat? It is difficult to see where his F1 career goes from here, at least with Red Bull. The sport is enjoying a boom in Russia and he is the face of it, yet being sent back to the ‘training ground’ of Red Bull is nothing short of humiliating.

Time will tell whether this was a canny move by Red Bull or a snap decision all parties will come to regret.

Vote in our poll below whether you love or hate the move.