For once, tire degradation wasn’t primary race focus

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Whereas some Grand Prix present the teams with two fairly similar strategic options, often one slightly faster than the other, but both feasible, this particular track and tire combination left no one in much doubt about the fastest way from lights to flag.

Pirelli’s two hardest compounds in the range meant tire wear was a minimal factor here and that, along with the circuit layout in Italy, meant one stopping the race was predicted beforehand to be around nine seconds faster than trying to two stop.

The softer compounds degrade quickly, which means drivers either have to control their pace to make them last, or turn their race into a series of short sprints with multiple stops, this weekend most were able to push from start to finish without suffering performance drop off.

It’s something that raises more questions about the show. Do we want, as fans, to watch races with an element of uncertainty and strategic battles, or see, as the drivers want, cars going as fast as they can all the way through, but with everyone doing more or less the same thing? Pirelli can’t win either way.

The other peculiarity about this historic circuit is the excessive pit lane loss time. A long pitlane, running parallel to one of the fastest points of the circuit, means that if you’re in the pits doing 80kph, at the recently introduced speed limit, your rivals going past on the main straight are doing over 300kph at the same time. It’s another key factor that pushes everyone towards the one stop race.

Sunday we saw just that, almost all of the main contenders starting out on single pitstop plan, starting on the medium tire and changing to the hard between laps 22 and 27. Some were forced into alternate strategies through incident, Kimi Raikkonen after a collision on lap one and Hamilton after an early slow puncture, possibly picked up after running over debris at the first chicane.

For Raikkonen the early pitstop effectively ruined any chance of a positive result, but the car did show remarkable pace and his overall race time from lap two to the end was faster than Alonso’s and just shy of race winner Sebastian Vettel’s. It shows what he might have done had he started in a good position and stayed out of trouble, but how many times have we said that?

Lewis converted to a two stop race after his puncture and again showed good pace, like Kimi, a fast car out of position. Where he struggled to make further progress up the order was a lack of ultimate top speed on the long straights. He, along with team mate Rosberg, had a quick car in terms of lap time, but they achieved the laptime with a higher downforce level than some others and that cost them at the overtaking points in the lap. It’s traditionally a key strategic differentiator around this unique circuit, the way you gear your car and the downforce required to keep enough grip through the slower speed corners.

Gear ratios have to be decided on a Saturday before qualifying and teams often make the decision based on where they think they can qualify for the race. If you’re Sebastian Vettel, you select your ratios on the basis you think you can get out front, break the DRS gap and stay there. If you end up out of position in qualifying or after an incident in the race and are forced into fighting your way back through the field, you want a top gear that’ll allow you to reach the higher top speeds attainable through DRS use, which you’ll have a lot of, approaching the slower cars in front.

The only top team to make a bit of a gamble on strategy today was Ferrari. Alonso made a great start and was quickly allowed to pass team mate, Massa to take the fight to Red Bull. With Alonso running in second behind Vettel as the pitstop window approached, the current world champion pitted first with his right front tire heavily flat-spotted. Ferrari then had decisions to make. The first of those surprised me a little.

Vettel had exited the pitlane behind Filipe Massa, with both Ferraris still to stop and yet the team brought their number two driver in almost immediately while Alonso stayed out in front. That decision allowed Vettel the free space and clear air to push on his new tires, where perhaps had he stayed out for another few of laps Massa could’ve been used to carefully control the pace of their main rival behind.

With Alonso still running at a competitive speed, the team opted to leave him out for another five laps, simply to gamble on something slightly different to Red Bull. The hope was that with Alonso on fresher tires at the end of the race, he may have been able to close the gap and make a last lap challenge for the win.

It was a brave call and the only thing they could’ve done today. Fernando’s part was executed flawlessly, but the pace of the lead RB9 was just too fast and whilst second was a great result from fifth on the grid, he could do nothing to stop the gap in the championship opening up just a little bit further.

Reaction to INDYCAR/NBC Sports Group announcement: Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal and social media

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Like countless others on the East Coast, Mario Andretti was fighting through a snowstorm Wednesday morning.

But emotionally and personally, it was a very bright and sunny day for the legendary Indy car driver.

In an exclusive interview with, Andretti spoke in glowing terms about this morning’s announcement of a multi-year media rights partnership between INDYCAR and NBC Sports Group beginning next year.

“I think this is awesome,” Andretti said. “It’s music to my ears and all of us. NBC has been very familiar with IndyCar racing, so they’re a great partner. I’m elated that it’s all nailed down, secured and I’m looking forward to the future.

“It’s also great for the young lads in Indy Lights coming on, and it’s great for all the sponsors to have that kind of exposure. It’s a good day for INDYCAR today.”

Andretti lauded the fact that all elements of INDYCAR coverage – TV, digital and streaming – will now be under one corporate roof, so to speak.

“Personally, I think it’s huge,” Andretti said. “Everybody is going to be very familiar with everything, the storylines are going to flow perfectly from event to event. There’s nothing like continuity.

“It’s okay sometimes if you have two networks, but to me, the best possible solution is this. That’s why I think this is really a great day for INDYCAR racing to have NBC involved and the continuity is huge for us.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

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Several other high-profile individuals within the IndyCar community also gave their take on Wednesday’s announcement, including statements from team owners Roger Penske and Bobby Rahal.

Roger Penske: “As an industry, we are very fortunate to have the NBC Sports Group grow their presence and coverage of INDYCAR racing and really invest in the future of the sport. We believe there is a great deal of positive momentum in the Verizon IndyCar Series right now, from the development of the new race car, to the very talented group of young drivers and new teams coming into the sport this season.

“With the announcement of the enhanced broadcast partnership with NBC, it certainly adds to the excitement for the future. We know that the ways our fans are watching races and viewing INDYCAR content is rapidly changing, so staying ahead of the curve and the developing technology with our partners is important to the growth of our sport. We look forward to working with the NBC team to continue to build INDYCAR and take the sport in new directions.

“We also need to thank ABC and ESPN for all their terrific coverage over the years. The ABC network helped bring some of the most memorable moments in racing to life – including many of our team’s Indianapolis 500 victories – and we appreciate all of their hard work and passion for INDYCAR racing.”

Bobby Rahal: “It’s great news. I think the fact that the IndyCar Series will be under one roof, so to speak, network-wise can do nothing but great things for our sport. To increase to having eight races on network TV is also great news of course.

“The quality of the NBC broadcasts have gotten better and better over the last several years. They do a great job of providing interesting and entertaining content for the viewers and I think that will only continue to grow with the relationship going forward. That type of storytelling is also what helps bring new fans to the sport.”



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