F1 Grand Prix of Belgium - Practice

McLaren, Jenson Button nearly made one-stop race work

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Spa’s one of the greatest race tracks in the world and often produces some of the best races. It was still an amazing track on Sunday, but the race itself in Belgium may not go down in history as an all time great.

In terms of strategy, the teams this weekend had some difficult decisions to make for more than one reason.

Pirelli brought the two hardest dry compounds in their current range to this event and that brought with it a different set of challenges to those faced at some other circuits on the calendar. Degradation wasn’t so much of a concern, but the varying temperatures and conditions meant the goalposts for drivers and engineers trying to tune their cars or driving styles in order to switch-on the tires, was constantly moving.

With everybody setting their qualifying times on intermediate tires in mixed conditions, not only was the starting order shuffled, but the choice of Sunday’s starting compound became free in the dry. This opens up the possibility of various strategic options for everybody and calculations beforehand had a dry race being marginally faster using a two stopper than a one stop plan, albeit with not too much in it.

The major unknown variable of course, as is often the case here, would be the weather.

Almost everyone’s information said there would be rain today, no one could be confident of when or how much, but there had to be an element of flexibility factored into every strategy. That information, didn’t just affect teams on race day, but dictated the way they approached Saturday’s qualifying too.

This track has a long lap and two of its three sectors are very fast, long straights with high-speed turns. The middle sector is the opposite, tight, slow and twisty. There are different ways to approach the car setup, with either low or medium downforce levels helping for different parts of the lap, but whichever way you choose to go, there’s always a compromise to be made.

Lotus opted for a higher level of aerodynamic downforce than many of the other top teams, which helped them through sector two. In their case it was deemed to give them an overall laptime gain over being fast in the high speed sections, but losing out too much in the middle part of the lap. Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari all went the other way and set themselves up for a higher top speed.

Interestingly, the Red Bull, which traditionally isn’t the fastest in a straight line, came up with a low downforce package for this race that proved far more efficient than it’s rivals and it was that speed advantage which proved crucial to Sebastian’s victory.

In terms of tires, most of the leaders went with a similar medium/medium/hard strategy, which was the optimum, as everyone was in the unfamiliar position of entering the race with plenty of new sets available, having run much of the weekend in wet conditions.

The key for the eventual winner, as we’ve seen him do many times before, was to get past Hamilton early and break the DRS gap before the system was activated on lap 3. His extra top speed advantage enabled him to do just that and the aggressive move up the hill from Eau Rouge on lap one gave him the perfect opportunity. The dominance of the Red Bull at this circuit, a place where traditionally they haven’t gone well in the past, is an ominous sign for everyone else. Vettel was able to control the race with such ease, he was never out of the lead from that point on and was being reminded by his team as early as lap three to conserve the car.

Behind him, Hamilton faded with a car that simply wasn’t in the same league. The team got everything right in terms of their strategic options and probably got as much as they could from the weekend. Ferrari showed real promise here, a huge improvement after recent events, and Fernando was one of the biggest movers in the race. Good decisions on when to stop helped put him in a position to fight for positions and his great start meant he was Vettel’s closest challenger. However, the truth is that, try as he did, he had nothing left to close the gap that the triple world champion stretched out to seventeen seconds before backing off at the end of the race.

One of the more interesting strategic choices came from McLaren and Jenson Button. They decided to gamble on a one-stop race, hoping rain might play into their hands at some point. Although the rain never came, his pace was good, but he quickly realized that he couldn’t go far enough into the first stint to make the single stop work. The switch to a two stop plan still kept him firmly in the mix and he was running in the top six when it came to making the second stop. Having run mediums then hards, there was a moment when it may have been considered a worthwhile option to stay out and run to the end, but the team felt a long stint to the flag may have left him vulnerable towards the end.

It was probably  true, but had he managed to extend his early spell on mediums for another five or six laps, the option may’ve been a viable one. As it was, his second stop for hard tires dropped him back and although his pace was up there with the leaders, his track position left him with nothing more to fight for. Still, a far more positive weekend for the McLaren team.

The only one-stop strategy in the end came from Lotus and Romain Grosjean, but the high drag, high downforce setup left him unable to make up the ground he needed to and fighting in the middle of the pack cost him too much time in the end. He was another one who needed the intervention of rain to bring him back into play.

Lowe: Hamilton’s reaction to yellow flag saga in Hungary ‘regrettable’

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 28:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks to the media during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 28, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 technical chief Paddy Lowe believes that Lewis Hamilton’s reaction to the yellow flag saga in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix was “regrettable”.

Hamilton was denied pole in Hungary after Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg beat his time with the final lap of Q3, despite completing part of it under yellow flags.

Hamilton told NBCSN on Thursday in Germany that the saga had set a precedent for drivers to follow in the future, and believes it could cause safety issues in the future.

Reports over the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend claimed that Hamilton went to FIA race director Charlie Whiting and asked him to investigate Rosberg’s lap.

On Friday, Lowe said he believes Hamilton did go and see Whiting after qualifying to seek clarity regarding yellow flag rules, not to try and get his teammate stripped of pole.

“It’s my understanding that Lewis did go and see Charlie but it wasn’t in any way to seek a review of Nico’s lap,” Lowe said.

“It was for his own understanding of what should be done in the future, how that should work for him in the future.

“I think that was regrettable. Personally, he should have kept to advice from the team and we can obtain that from Charlie as necessary.

“But I don’t think there was any harm done. It was just a misjudgement from that point of view.”

Whiting confirmed on Friday that if double waved yellow flags are shown during qualifying from now on, the session will be red flagged immediately to prevent a repeat of the saga from Hungary.

Power leads before it pours in Mid-Ohio second practice

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Will Power topped the timesheets before the rains hit the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the second 75-minute Verizon IndyCar Series practice of the day – albeit only 45 of which was run before the Mid-Ohio circuit turned into a water park.

Times descended a bit from the morning’s 1:04.4 best lap achieved by Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Power clocked in a 1:04.1962 in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet this session at the 2.258-mile road course.

Power was one of 16 drivers in the 1:04 bracket, an improvement upon the morning session when only the top 11 were in the 1:04 range.

There were no incidents of note other than a couple off course excursions before the rains hit.

Times are below.

MidOFP2

NextEV wraps up private testing ahead of third Formula E season

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The NextEV Formula E Team has completed its private testing program ahead of the collective sessions at Donington Park next month in the run-up to season three of the all-electric series.

NextEV endured a difficult second season that saw it lack the pace to allow Nelson Piquet Jr. to defend the inaugural Formula E title he won with the team in season one.

Despite making significant progress across the course of the season under the guidance of CEO Martin Leach, NextEV was unable to avoid finishing at the foot of the teams’ championship.

Plans for season three have been moving swiftly for many months, with Leach telling NBC Sports earlier this month that things were going the right way during testing.

“Everything is on plan,” Leach said.

“When you’re going through a whole new development as we are, you’re constantly trying to identify issues and resolve issues.

“Everything is on-track so far.”

On Friday, NextEV issued a statement announcing it had completed its private testing program ahead of the new season, with 11 days’ worth of running under its belt at Calafat in Spain.

“We have been working incredibly hard for some time now on our new car for the 2016/17 season and have our sights firmly set on arriving in Hong Kong very well prepared and with a well-tested car,” Leach said.

“There are some interesting developments for next season, one of which is the increased regeneration levels, and so these technical upgrades have been a part of the work.

“We have been encouraged by our reliability and our programme progress is exactly in line with our planning.

“We look forward to getting on track at Donington for some comparison work against the other teams and to further cementing our strong pre-season testing work and performance.”

NextEV is yet to confirm its line-up for season three, but Leach told NBC Sports that the team has agreements in principle with season two drivers Piquet and Oliver Turvey, both of whom have expressed a desire to remain with the team.

“We have an agreement in principle. The physical contracts are not signed yet, but I don’t anticipate that being a problem,” Leach said.

“So we’re just going through some of the minutiae at the moment. My plan is to stay with Nelson and Oliver if I can.”

The third Formula E season kicks off in Hong Kong on October 9, with collective testing starting at Donington Park at the end of August.

Sirotkin beats Gasly to GP2 pole in Germany

2016 GP2 Series Round 7
Hockenheimring, Hockenheim, Germany
Friday 29 July 2016.
Sergey Sirotkin (RUS, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
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Sergey Sirotkin continued his mid-season revival by scoring pole position for Saturday’s GP2 Series feature race at Hockenheim.

Sirotkin picked up his first win of the season in Hungary last Sunday, rising to eighth place in the drivers’ championship in the process after a luckless start to the year.

Red Bull junior driver Pierre Gasly enjoyed the upper-hand for much of the qualifying session, setting two laps good enough for pole before returning to the pit lane and getting out of his car, believing he had done all he could.

As a result, the Frenchman was left unable to respond when Sirotkin put in a lap of 1:22.193, going one-hundredth of a second faster to snatch away pole for ART Grand Prix.

“It is the first time I’ve been to the track, so I didn’t have much expectation before we came here, and free practice didn’t go super good so you’re thinking more about getting a top three than getting a pole,” Sirotkin said.

“The first set of tires was pretty good but we were missing a bit of time to Pierre at that moment, but with every lap on the track I felt better and better, so we were quite confident for the second run.

“Unfortunately there was a bit of a mess on the warm up to the first push, so I just stopped pushing, did a cool lap, and the last lap I knew most of the people would not be as quick and I just pushed like crazy.

“I think I just squeezed everything I could from the situation. Probably we were not simply the quickest car, but we made it by putting it all together perfectly, every inch.”

Raffaele Marciello qualified third for Russian Time ahead of Prema’s Antonio Giovinazzi, while Oliver Rowland bounced back from a disastrous weekend in Hungary to qualify fifth.

Alex Lynn will start sixth for DAMS on Saturday ahead of Norman Nato and Nicholas Latifi. Jordan King and Marvin Kirchhofer rounded out the top 10 for Racing Engineering and Carlin respectively.

Saturday’s GP2 feature race is live on the NBC Sports app and online at f1stream.nbcsports.com from 9:40am ET on Saturday.