Whose strategy paid off in Korea? Kimi Raikkonen

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The Korean Grand Prix provided another race full of entertainment and tactical battles, but it wasn’t always looking like shaping up that way.

The predicted wet weather never arrived on Sunday and with one pretty clear favorite in terms of race strategy for the teams, it could have easily turned into a somewhat processional event.

As it happened, higher than expected front right tire wear and two safety car periods forced the race into a very close and strategic affair.

The sums done by the teams on Saturday night had a two-stop race being the fastest way to the checkered flag, but it looked like the first stint on the supersoft, option tire needed to run for around 19 or 20 laps to be able to get the best out of the medium, primes, for the two remaining spells to the end of the race. In reality, a forced early stop for Jenson Button’s McLaren saw him change his front wing, but also discard the supersoft tires and move onto the medium.

His pace was so good on the prime tire that it triggered a flurry of early stops to do the same and everyone reacted to each other, with even race leader, Sebastian Vettel, stopping to make the switch on lap 11.

The circuit in Korea is a front limited one, meaning the pace and stint length are determined by the car and driver’s ability to look after the front tires. Wear, as well as degradation, were the limiting factors around this track and so it was important for teams to set the cars up in a way that controls understeer and drivers to manage their own pace, using the guidance of their teams, to make them last. The work put in during Friday’s free practice sessions is all about trying to understand the wear rates and generate the ideal laptimes to keep pace, but ensure the right front isn’t destroyed in the process, forcing an early, or extra, pitstop in the race.

Sunday, the two safety car periods closed the field up, meaning some great, close racing, but also and crucially for some, increased understeer from following in the aerodynamic wake of the cars in front. Fernando Alonso and then Lewis Hamilton both noticeably looked to struggle with the loss of front downforce when trying to follow Nico Hulkenburg and the reduced front grip meant more sliding and consequently hurt the fragile right front tires. Being in front after each safety car spell today was a big advantage and one that Sebastian Vettel used flawlessly once again.

Once again the Lotus, particularly in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen, used its tires well and managed to exploit that advantage over the others in a brave, but inspired strategy call and a bit of good luck with the safety car.

Kimi stopped earlier than most for his second set of new medium tires on lap 25 and managed to undercut some of the cars around him with some very fast early laps in clean air. When the safety car was deployed on lap 31, he stayed out, while many made their stops and found himself catapulted up the field. The fact that the Lotus E21 and Kimi are so good at looking after the tires, meant that, despite finishing the race on a set that had run for 30 laps, he still had pace to challenge, pounce on, and then hold off teammate, Romain Grosjean for a brilliant second place finish, having started the Grand Prix ninth on the grid.

Strategy was a mixture of meticulous team preparation, as always, but perhaps more than at some other events, the patience, intelligence and skill of the drivers played a big role in coping with a difficult tire challenge in Korea.

Grosjean: ‘Unbelievable’ to score Haas’ best F1 qualifying result in Australia

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Romain Grosjean hailed Haas’ Formula 1 qualifying performance in Australia as “unbelievable” after picking up its best Saturday result since joining the grid.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation into F1 last year, with Grosjean leading its charge through its debut campaign.

Haas enters its sophomore year in 2017 looking to build on its eighth-place finish in the constructors’ championship, and made a strong start in Australia on Saturday.

While new driver Kevin Magnussen dropped out in Q1 following an error on his hot lap, Grosjean was able to take Haas into Q3 before securing sixth place on the grid for Sunday’s season-opener.

The result marks Haas’ best qualifying result to date in F1, beating Grosjean’s run to P7 ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix last November.

“It was quite an unbelievable qualifying session for us. It’s a shame that we didn’t get Kevin there, but the car is looking good, even better than what we’ve seen recently,” Grosjean said after the session.

“We’ve made some good progress over the weekend. There’s a lot more we can understand and analyze but, generally, it’s a great start for us.

“It’s always good to start with a strong qualifying session. It tells you that if you keep improving the car, you could be in a good place very soon. If that’s our baseline, and you can fight between sixth and 10th position, where it’s so tight, it would be great to be there most of the time and enjoy some good times.

“Tomorrow’s start is a big unknown. We’ve been practicing and some have been good, others not so much. Hopefully, we’ll get the first one right tomorrow.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”