F1 Grand Prix of Great Britain - Race

Everyone’s Silverstone race strategy suffered on Sunday


The thing about Formula One race strategies is that they need to be adaptable to cope with the unforeseen circumstances that the sport invariably throws up. No matter the plan, teams must react quickly to whatever’s thrown at them.

When the strategists at each team sit down after qualifying on a Saturday evening to ponder their options, they look at data; weather forecasts; the cars around them on the grid; their own confidence in their race pace; start performance; the amount of tires used and those they have left, as well as many other factors.

Between strategists, engineers, management and the drivers themselves, they come up with at least two or three of the most probable scenarios or plans. Those plans will cover things like what happens if they have a good start or a bad start; where they are after lap one and what they do if it all goes wrong, have contact and an enforced first lap pitstop. They’ll have a ‘plan A’ which is the optimum strategy and considered the fastest way to the checkered flag and a ‘plan B’ to cover the possibility of the tires not lasting their intended stint length.

Sunday, everyone’s optimum race strategy was compromised in one way or another, by a number of issues.

After the practice sessions, analysis showed the fastest way for the top 10 to complete the race was a two stop strategy, starting on the medium tire, stopping around lap 17 for another set of mediums, before finally stopping around lap 35 for the hard. Whilst that may well have been what most intended, excessive graining on the options, unforeseen tire failures and safety cars changed things.

When Lewis Hamilton had the first failure whilst leading on lap 7, nobody thought it would be the start of a chain reaction.

Felipe Massa’s Ferrari was next to suffer the same left rear failure at the same point of the circuit and Jean Eric Vergne followed shortly afterwards with a similar and spectacular blow out of his own. That one, not only brought out the first safety car that stayed out for seven laps, but clearly raised eyebrows amongst the teams. It was clear there was an inherent problem affecting left rear tires and that meant that teams had to decide what to do.

Some pitted under the safety car, some drivers were told by their teams to try and avoid kerbs, some increased tire pressures in their pitstop sets to try and stiffen up the sidewalls, but the teams and Pirelli furiously tried to work out what was happening.

Avoiding kerbs clearly compromises race pace, as does running with higher than preferred pressures, and therefore can have an impact on strategy, but the possibility of more failures has even more dire effects. Those that pitted mostly switched to hard, prime tires after many struggled more than predicted on options, but were still on for the two stop plan to work, so they tentatively continued with the championship leader out front.

Vettel controlled the race pace well in the lead, keeping Rosberg behind until ten laps from the end when his Red Bull Racing RB9 ground to a halt with a failure of fifth gear. With the car in an unsafe position and Race Control more than happy to slow proceedings down to prevent anymore dangerous failures, the safety car was again deployed.

This was the point where teams had to make crucial, race defining and split second decisions.

For Rosberg, now out in front, it was easy, he had a worrying tire vibration and enough of a gap behind to make the unplanned third stop without losing track position.

For those behind it was make or break time and whilst Alonso and Webber also dived in and switched to a late three stopper under the safety car, Raikkonen’s Lotus team decided to leave him out.

That decision was a bad one and ultimately cost Kimi a podium spot as he struggled on old tires in the closing laps.

Whilst stopping meant that Webber and Alonso lost places initially, the fresh mediums for the short last stint allowed them to push hard to the flag and pass with relative ease to take second and third places respectively. Their teams got it right under pressure, Kimi’s unfortunately didn’t today.

All the planning, data and analysis in the world couldn’t have prepared for today’s events, so in those instances success or failure comes down to the decisions of the drivers and their teams. Despite the obscene amount of Dollars spent on strategic simulation and predictive tools up and down pitlane, when it comes to making a last minute, split second decision in the heat of battle, it often boils down to good old fashioned human reactions under pressure. Some are better than others.

You can follow Marc Priestley on Twitter @f1elvis.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field with fifth-placed Helio Castroneves.

Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet

  • 2014: 2nd Place, 1 Win, 3 Poles, 6 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 282 Laps Led, 5.7 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 5th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 4 Poles, 5 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 198 Laps Led, 4.9 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish

Much as you’d write about his fellow countryman and longtime friend and rival Tony Kanaan, age hasn’t slowed Helio Castroneves, but it’s instead fueled continued success. And while Castroneves went winless for only the second time (2011) in his illustrious 16-year career with Team Penske, he wasn’t down on performance.

Now 40, Castroneves continued to have several shining moments in 2015, which was particularly important to do to stand out against defending champion Will Power, this year’s primary title contender Juan Pablo Montoya and new driver Simon Pagenaud.

Castroneves scored four pole positions and boasted a 4.9 averaging starting position, second in the field to Power, which was very impressive to note. His run of form from Texas through Milwaukee, capturing three podiums in four races, was his best race stretch this season. Additional highlights included back-to-back runner-up results in the NOLA lottery and then on pure pace at Long Beach.

The month of May must though be viewed as a disappointment. Castroneves played a role in the first corner mess at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and got a points penalty (although the number was dropped) as a result. Then he endured another Indianapolis 500 where he was not the out-and-out fastest car in the Penske brigade. While Montoya and Power were dueling for the win and Pagenaud had speed to burn all month, Castroneves’ lone moment of note came with his accident in practice, which mercifully he emerged unscathed from.

As ever though, fifth in this field owed to his consistency and dogged determination to succeed. Castroneves has ended top-five in seven of the last eight seasons since the IRL/Champ Car merger in 2008 and if it wasn’t for Dixon’s top-three run hogging the headlines, we’d probably appreciate Castroneves even more so. As long as he’s continually competitive, he’s still worthy at Team Penske.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal
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MotorSportsTalk continues its driver-by-driver review of the field in the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Next up is fourth-placed Graham Rahal, who had a career year.

Graham Rahal, No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

  • 2014: 19th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 28 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 15.0 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 4th Place, 2 Wins, Best Start 5th, 6 Podiums, 8 Top-5, 10 Top-10s, 76 Laps Led, 11.0 Avg Start, 8.5 Avg. Finish

Formula 1 fans will remember the miraculous, shock rise of Brawn GP, which didn’t even exist as a team until mere weeks before the 2009 Australian Grand Prix having risen from the demise of the former Honda factory team, and then promptly proceeded to stomp the field en route to winning both the Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships that season.

It’s the best racing comparison in recent years – or perhaps any year – for what was done at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2015, courtesy of a career year from Graham Rahal, an instant chemistry renewal with the people father Bobby put in place, and the fact Bobby himself stepped back this year to allow his team’s key players to shine through.

Because quite simply, after finishes of 18th and 19th the last two seasons, no one in their right mind had Rahal winning races and contending for a championship this season.

It’s hard to say specifically which point was most important, because all played dividends. Bobby Rahal moved off the pit box, and actually missed a fair number of races this year, which allowed Graham and team manager Ricardo Nault to gel with Nault on the radio and pretty much running the team on the whole. Then there were the three key crewmember additions: Eddie Jones moving over to be lead engineer on the No. 15 car was clutch, as was Rahal getting the opportunity to reunite with Martin Pare and work for the first time with Mike Talbott. The addition of damper ace Stuart Kenworthy was not covered much this year, but undoubtedly a big help. Sponsor Steak ‘n Shake’s arrival also brought a wealth of attention.

And then there were the drives in the races themselves. Perhaps strangely, Rahal had a tough qualifying average – only 11th – but it was the best for a Honda driver this year. The strategy calls from RLL were damn near perfect all year and Rahal seized every opportunity at his disposal, be it his wins at Fontana and Mid-Ohio, his recovery at Iowa, and his numerous other podiums throughout the year. His charge to second at Barber stands out as one of the drives of the year.

Call Fontana lucky if you will, and he was fortunate to avoid a penalty for leaving with the fuel buckeye, but even so he still could have come back given where the race was at that point. And being on the receiving end of two ill-advised taps from Tristan Vautier and Sebastien Bourdais at Pocono and Sonoma, respectively, cost him huge results and huge points – the net effect of three races.

The single-car title charge was one of the stories of the year, even beyond Scott Dixon’s championship comeback and Juan Pablo Montoya’s consistent-until-Sonoma season. Rahal re-established his credentials on track if people had forgotten what he was capable of; additionally, he reaffirmed his status as one of racing’s best people with his work in the Justin Wilson memorial auction after that tragedy. It was truly a ’15 to remember for the driver of the No. 15 car.