Split in strategies to threaten Vettel’s dominance?

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He may have romped to pole position in qualifying for the Indian Grand Prix today, but Sebastian Vettel’s all-conquering record at the race could be at threat thanks to a variety of strategies that could be used on Sunday.

Following practice on Friday, many of the teams and drivers expressed their frustration with Pirelli’s tire allocation for the race in India, with the soft compound lasting for only a few laps before blistering and becoming unusable. However, Paul Hembery defended the Italian supplier’s decision, believing that it would spice up the racing and prevent the somewhat mundane one stop race that we saw in last year’s Indian Grand Prix.

However, the decision did have a knock-on effect in qualifying today. Even in Q1, it was clear that the majority of the field had to set a time on the option tire in order to be sure of a place in the second session. However, Sebastian Vettel and Romain Grosjean both risked running on the medium compound so they could save a set of softs. Vettel’s searing pace meant that he was never really at risk and finished a comfortable eleventh, but Grosjean was less fortunate. The Frenchman dropped out in Q1 because of the strategy call, exclaiming: “No way!” when he heard that he had not made it through.

Come the final session though, there was a fair argument for using the harder tire. Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Sergio Perez and Jenson Button all took on the white-ringed medium compound, effectively throwing in the towel in the fight for pole given Vettel’s pace in the previous two sessions. The German driver opted for the soft tire, immediately going 1.7 seconds quicker than Alonso with his first time, signalling to the rest of the top ten that resistance was futile: pole position was his and his alone.

However, Webber managed to qualify a respectable P4 on the medium tire ahead of three soft runners and just a tenth behind Lewis Hamilton who also ran on the option compound. The Australian driver can now go far deeper into the race than his teammate, which also means that Vettel’s record of leading every single lap at the Indian Grand Prix is likely to come to an end. For Webber, it will be about ‘sticking with’ the front-runners on the slower tire and then trying to lay down a competitive pace on the mediums before his first stop. Just as Vettel and Button did in China, the plan will be to take on the softs at the final stop (the tire equivalent of a ‘splash and dash’) before blitzing the medium runners at the last possible point. He may be fourth on the grid, but Mark Webber is very well placed to claim his first win of the season.

Fernando Alonso’s win in China was an example of how clever strategy can pay dividends, and he too will also be happy to be starting on the prime tire. However, P8 is not the result he would have been wanting, leaving the Spaniard with a great deal of work to do on Sunday. That said, there have been few races this season where he hasn’t faced an uphill struggle during the race, but once again, his strategy could see him come into the picture if he can shadow Webber and stick with the Red Bull throughout the race.

Vettel may be keen on sewing up the championship with a win in India, but should the German driver come under threat in the later stages of the race, it would come as little surprise to see Red Bull inform him of a problem (be it fact or fiction) and settle for a podium finish that would clinch him a fourth world title. However, with a variety of strategies available to all of the teams, we could be in for a fascinating race in India tomorrow.

Josef Newgarden wins for 3rd time in 4 years in rain-shortened Honda Indy GP of Alabama

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Given how well he’s done there, they may want to consider renaming Barber Motorsports Park to Newgarden Motorsports Park.

Josef Newgarden won for the second straight year and third time in the last four races at BMP to capture Monday’s rain-delayed Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“I like it here,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We could do the whole series at Barber. That’d be great.”

Newgarden won his ninth career IndyCar race on what he considers his home track, just three hours from his home north of Nashville, Tennessee.

Monday’s race on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course was a timed event of 75 minutes after Sunday’s rain-postponement after 22 laps of the scheduled 90 laps.

As it turned out, both ends of Sunday’s start and Monday’s finish, a total of 82 laps were contested.

Rain once again became an issue in about the last 15 minutes of Monday’s rescheduled event but Newgarden – who started from the pole – made a stop for rain tires with 14 minutes left and that proved to be the winning strategy. He also regains the lead in the IndyCar point standings from Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi.

“The rain made it more eventful than I would have liked,” Newgarden told NBCSN. “We had good fuel mileage and good reliability, that’s what we needed to win this race.

“It seemed like smooth sailing for the most part — we had no yellows, which we were hoping for no yellows — and then the rain crept in. … Fortunately, we had a big gap, which helped us win the race, just building that gap over the beginning part. … It’s a great day for Team Penske.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, followed by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens, with Sebastien Bourdais finishing fifth.

“Solid weekend for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 in qualifying and two cars in the top 5 in the race. Pretty proud of these boys. It’s good to get a couple Hondas up there. Maybe not the top steps in the podium, but we took the rest of it.”

Bourdais had hoped to finish the race on slicks and win. But he was forced to pit with 7:15 left after his car became too difficult to control in heavy rain, swapping to rain tires.

Unfortunately, pitting essentially cost Bourdais the win.

“We were in the catbird’s seat for second and were hoping that he’d get some good times on the drives in the wet, but the wet just kept coming and we had to bring him in,” team owner Dale Coyne said.

Added Bourdais, “We’re in it to win it, did everything we could, it was seemingly going to be good enough. … I think we had beaten (Newgarden). Yet, the sky opened and that was it.”

Scott Dixon finished sixth, followed by Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti.

Eleventh through 20th were Rossi, Matheus Leist, Zach Veach, Jordan King, Spencer Pigot, Rene Binder, Gabby Chaves, Tony Kanaan, Zach Claman De Melo and Ed Jones.

Rounding out the final three finishing positions were Will Power, Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball.

INCIDENTS:

* Spencer Pigot and rookie Zach Claman De Melo got into a tangle early on, but both were able to get going and damage appeared minimal.

* With 8:30 left, Rossi spun into the Turn 5 gravel but was able to get going.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* Will Power’s team was able to get his damaged car repaired and he was back on-track roughly 10 minutes into Monday’s action.

* Scott Dixon lost much of the electronics on his car with about 28 minutes left. He essentially had to handle things old school, going by feel. He wound up being penalized for speeding on pit road when his dashboard went out.

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