Why couldn’t Lotus catch Vettel? Look to the tires


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.

Fong to test for Sauber in Abu Dhabi next week

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Thursday 26 November 2015.
Adderly Fong (HKG, Carlin) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL5941
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Sauber has confirmed that Adderly Fong will take part in next week’s Pirelli tire test following the conclusion of the 2015 Formula 1 season in Abu Dhabi.

Fong, 25, first tested for the team in October 2014 before taking part in practice for last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Fong has since been racing in the GP3 Series and in the GT Asia series while also working with Lotus F1 Team as part of its development programme.

On Friday, Sauber announced that Fong would be returning to one of its cars for next week’s tire test in Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit.

“I am very pleased and thankful to have another opportunity to drive for the Sauber F1 Team,” Fong said. “I will do my best to give valuable feedback. I am looking forward to it, as well as the aim of extending my superlicence after completing 300 kilometers.

“Last year it was great to have the chance to drive the Sauber C33-Ferrari during FP1 here at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Now I am curious about testing the current car.”

Team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added: “We are pleased to have Adderly in the car again and to give him the opportunity to drive a current Formula One car.

“He immediately put in a solid performance in his last opportunities for us. We are confident Adderly will again put in every effort in this tire test.”

Rosberg edges Hamilton in second Abu Dhabi practice

xxxx during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
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Nico Rosberg responded to the early pace shown by Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in Abu Dhabi by edging out the Briton for P1 in second practice on Friday evening.

Hamilton beat Rosberg by less than two-tenths of a second to finish at the top of the timesheets in the opening practice session at Yas Marina, but the German bounced back in FP2 to finish 0.138 seconds clear of his teammate.

Starting at dusk and finishing under floodlights, second practice offered the drivers far more representative conditions of what to expect on Saturday and Sunday than FP1 had, prompting the teams to complete a usual practice programme featuring qualifying simulations and heavy fuel race runs.

Once again, it was Mercedes who set the pace as Rosberg posted the fastest lap of 1:41.983, heading up a one-two finish for the German marque.

Sergio Perez produced a fine lap to finish less than half a second off Hamilton in third place for Force India, narrowly beating Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Sebastian Vettel showed few signs of a possible challenge to Mercedes from Ferrari in Abu Dhabi as he finished three-quarters of a second behind Rosberg, ending FP2 in fifth place. Daniil Kvyat and Kimi Raikkonen followed in sixth and seventh place respectively.

Nico Hulkenberg finished eighth in the second Force India, while Fernando Alonso enjoyed an improved, trouble-free session to end the day ninth for McLaren, giving the team hope of points at the end of a tough season.

Pastor Maldonado finished tenth for Lotus ahead of the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa, who in turn were followed by Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. Sainz’s session came to an early end after a technical issue on his car forced him to park up at the side of the track with 30 minutes to go.

Romain Grosjean and Jenson Button finished 15th and 16th respectively, leading home Sauber drivers Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson. Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi propped up the order for Manor in P19 and P20.

Red Bull secures engine deal for 2016 F1 season

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 26:  Members of the Infiniti Red Bull Racing team take part in a pit stop practice session during previews for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 26, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Red Bull Racing’s engine saga appears to have finally come to an end after team principal Christian Horner confirmed that an agreement had been struck with a supplier for the 2016 Formula 1 season.

Red Bull’s participation in next year’s championship had been uncertain after the team expressed a desire to cut ties with existing supplier Renault over frustrations with the performance of its power unit.

However, the team failed to strike a deal with Mercedes and turned down Ferrari’s offer of a 2015-spec power unit for the new season. Talks were also held with Honda, but this deal was vetoed by McLaren CEO Ron Dennis, forcing Horner to rekindle negotiations with Renault.

A deal appears to have finally been struck that ensures Red Bull will still be racing in 2016, with an announcement due in the near future.

“We have an agreement with an engine for next year which hopefully will be confirmed in the coming days,” Horner is quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Red Bull is thought to have agreed an amendment to its deal with Renault that will allow the team to race with unbadged or rebranded engines in 2016 while the French manufacturer focuses on the impending takeover of Lotus and the revival of its works team.

B-team Toro Rosso is poised to take on 2015-spec Ferrari engines for the new season, ending its relationship with Renault after just two seasons.

Hamilton quickest in opening Abu Dhabi practice

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 27:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP returns to the garage during practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 27, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton kicked off the final race weekend of the 2015 season in impressive fashion by setting the pace first practice in Abu Dhabi on Friday.

With the weekend’s key sessions taking place far later in the day and therefore in different conditions, first practice offered the drivers little in the way of meaningful running ahead of the race.

However, what it did provide was a chance to evaluate some early updates ahead of the 2016 season, acting as a glorified test session that allowed the drivers to head out and get in some laps before turning their focus to race setup in FP2 later today.

Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg led the way once again, with the Briton coming out on top thanks to a lap of 1:43.754 to give him P1 by just over one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton’s session was not without its issues as he narrowly avoided spinning twice before telling the team “my car doesn’t feel good” with a few minutes remaining.

Nevertheless, it was still a strong start from Hamilton as he looks to end Rosberg’s recent resurgence and pick up a first victory since the United States Grand Prix last month.

Ferrari posed the most stringent challenge to the Mercedes drivers once again as Kimi Raikkonen finished six-tenths of a second back in P3. Teammate Sebastian Vettel finished fifth as Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat split the Ferrari drivers.

Daniel Ricciardo underpinned Kvyat’s pace in the sister Red Bull by ending FP1 in seventh place, slotting in between Force India teammates Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez. Pastor Maldonado and Felipe Massa rounded out the top ten in P9 and P10 respectively.

FP2 will offer the drivers more representative conditions, given that it will start at dusk just as qualifying and the race will, meaning that we are likely to be offered more of an indication of the pecking order.

You can watch second practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Friday.