Lewis Hamilton’s first pitstop key part to his victory

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Lewis Hamilton entered this weekend with his team yet to run the latest evolution of Pirelli tires, whereas the rest of the field got three days with them at Silverstone earlier in the month.

Having had just the free practice sessions to try and gain as much understanding as they could, Lewis delivered a simply stunning lap to take pole position on Saturday.

Ahead of the race today, all teams went in with limited knowledge about the way the current Pirellis would perform under race conditions, in the searing heat of the Hungaroring, but none more so than the eventual winners.

Today was all about keeping strategic options open for as long as possible and reacting to real time events as the race unfolded and two key moments, for me, determined the final podium order in Budapest.

The track in Hungary is traditionally difficult to overtake and that meant that options were limited for those at the front, starting on the soft tire, to find a way past using any other method. The first lap was crucial, as always, and Lewis did a great job to stay in front from there, but where most people assumed he’d suffer from the now synonymous catastrophic degradation, he managed to hold a decent pace throughout. The first real key moment came after Lewis’ first pitstop.

This was a strategic decision by Hamilton himself, not one made by the computing and simulating power of the team back at base, but his determination and ability to clear Jenson Button ahead of him quickly, made the difference between the race win and a probable third or fourth place finish.

The pitstop brought him out behind the McLaren and as we saw with Vettel in the same situation a short time later, if you don’t use the advantage of new tires in the first lap out of the pits, it can become very difficult to make the move around here.

Vettel’s car setup, although quick over a lap, wasn’t the fastest in sector one, whereas Hamilton had speed in that crucial zone to enable the pass at the vital moment. With the World Champion stuck behind Button for such a considerable length of time at that phase of the race, and indeed making contact in trying, he effectively lost out on the chance to stay with Lewis.

The second key strategic moment came at the point where Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus team made the decision to switch from a planned three stop race, to an adventurous two stopper.

The E21’s been good all season on its tires, but with some of the highest air and track temperatures of the year and still a relatively unproven tire on the car, it was a gamble. In truth it was a gamble they had to take, as a poor decision to leave him out perhaps a lap too long in the first stint had left him languishing out of position and amongst cars on alternate strategies after his first stop.

As the cars that started the Grand Prix on the medium compound began to disappear for their pitstops, the prospect of some clear air and careful management from Kimi opened up the exciting, but daunting prospect of the two stopper. If he could maintain a good pace and yet still look after the rear tires, it could put him in amongst the podium positions come the end. It did however rely on him managing a long twenty eight lap stint on the mediums, something no one else had thought possible before today.

Of course Kimi did exactly that and still had enough pace in the car to hold off a thrilling assault from Vettel in the last ten laps of the race and take a thoroughly deserved second place. Frustratingly for Lotus, had Raikkonen qualified up near his team mate on Saturday, the race win would’ve been a distinct possibility.

Red Bull might look back and wonder if the setup direction could have been different to allow higher top speeds at the key overtaking sections, but one suspects they never really expected to be having to do much overtaking.

In the end they were beaten by two guys who simply did a better job today and that’s not something we’ve been able to say too often recently.

The new ‘hybrid’ Pirellis played a big part as ever in the outcome of today’s race, but all in a positive way. Clearly some teams benefited more than others, but all leave here with far more data to look at than when they arrived and the summer break gives opportunity to find ways to make the best of them. You can shut down the factories for two weeks, but you can’t stop F1’s minds from thinking and the second half of the season looks like a scintillating affair to look forward to.

Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

Sainz keen to race in Russia; decision to be made on Sunday

xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been discharged from hospital in Sochi following his practice accident, and is now hoping to take part in tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix.

Sainz crashed at turn 13 with considerable force during final practice on Saturday, pitching underneath the TecPro barrier that made extracting him from the car difficult.

After 20 minutes, the rescue staff on site were able to remove Sainz from the car before transporting him in an ambulance to the medical centre.

Sainz gave a thumbs up to fans on the way there, and tweeted from hospital that he was unharmed after undergoing a number of checks.

In a statement issued by Toro Rosso after qualifying on Saturday, it was confirmed that Sainz had been discharged from hospital. The Spaniard has now set his sights on starting tomorrow’s race.

“My back and my neck are just a bit sore from the accident, but I’m totally ready,” Sainz said. “Hopefully tomorrow I will wake up in a good shape and maybe I can try and race – this is definitely the intention!

“Obviously we need to be cautious. I’ve always been conscious. As soon as the accident happened I tried to talk to the team on the radio, but it wasn’t working and those must have been some scary moments.

“I’d like to thank everyone for their support, it’s really nice to receive all your messages at a moment like this one! I hope to see you all tomorrow out there!”

Team principal Franz Tost confirmed that a decision will be made on Sainz’s participation following further medical checks on Sunday before clarifying the suspected cause of the accident.

“I’m very happy that Carlos is okay and out of hospital, this is the most important thing for us,” Tost said. “I hope he will have a good night’s sleep and tomorrow morning he will have to go through the FIA medical checks to decide if he will be able to take part in tomorrow’s race.

“Now, just to clarify what happened. Prior to the accident, Carlos had completed a long-run on the option tire, before changing to the prime to do two further laps. On primes the grip level is lower.

“In addition he had changed the brake shape on the steering wheel, which meant he had more braking rearwards. A combination of these two factors might have been the cause of the rears locking, which made the car uncontrollable.”

Should Sainz be deemed fit by the FIA medical delegate, he will have to start the race from the pit lane.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton unsure about Mercedes’ race pace in Russia

xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Lewis Hamilton remains unsure about Mercedes’ race pace after losing the majority of practice running to a number of incidents on Friday and Saturday.

The entire field was limited to just one hour of dry running on Friday when a diesel spillage caused the session to be shortened.

Heavy rain washed out FP2, and FP3 was red flagged after 35 minutes when Carlos Sainz Jr. crashed hard at turn 13.

Mercedes showed few signs of weakness in qualifying, though, as it locked out the front row of the grid with Nico Rosberg scoring his third pole position of the season.

Hamilton admitted that he made a mistake on his final lap in Q3, but is unsure how Mercedes will shape up in the race compared to the rest of the field.

“Everyone was in the same position today with the limited practice,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t get a hooked-up lap together but Nico did, so well done to him.

“It’s going to be a long race tomorrow though, so hopefully I might have a chance. There’s a long run down to turn two, so we’ll both be studying the line to take tonight. Maybe I can get a good start, we’ll see.

“We haven’t done a lot of laps, so I’m not really sure what our pace is like compared to the others. Our goal in the race as always is to finish well for the team, so we’ll be trying to do that.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6:30am ET on Sunday.