F1 Grand Prix of India - Race

Contrasting strategies at India show why Vettel continues to win

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The Indian Grand Prix proved to be another fascinating tactical battle between teams and drivers, showing that there’s often more than one way to get the best out of a race situation.

When the teams ran in Friday’s free practice sessions, it quickly became clear that the two nominated tire compounds had vastly different characteristics. The soft tire, or option, delivered a lap time around a second faster than the medium, or prime, but deteriorated significantly within a handful of laps. The medium was slower, yet withstood the abrasive surface of the Buddh International Circuit and showed almost no signs of degradation or wear for long spells, even on heavy fuel loads.

This all meant that race strategy, even more so than normal, had to be planned out before qualifying on Saturday afternoon.

The two most obvious race strategies were to qualify, and therefore start the Grand Prix, on the faster option tire, run that for a short spell, before doing two long stints on prime to the end; or conversely qualify and start on prime, even though it meant taking a hit on lap time and therefore grid position, before another stint of the same and switching to the options right at the end of the race.

There wasn’t much on paper between the two, but in fact most simulations had the latter version coming out as being slightly quicker by four or five seconds over the course of the entire race. Both were therefore feasible options and a few teams chose to cover both bases and split their two drivers.

You might ask why, if one strategy shows up as being four seconds faster than another, doesn’t everyone just go with that one?

There’re many factors to be taken into consideration before deciding on race plans, some aren’t always obvious to the outside world.

First, teams need to look at their two drivers and pinpoint their individual strengths and weaknesses. If one driver is clearly better than the other at looking after tires, he could manage a longer stint on options, or even in extreme cases, look at one less stop than his teammate. We saw this in Japan between the two Red Bull drivers.

Another consideration is a driver’s ability to cleanly overtake the pack if he comes out into traffic after a pitstop. Again, we saw the difference between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber in Japan when both of their strategies needed them to catch and pass Romain Grosjean’s Lotus. Vettel did it quickly and cleanly, without losing time or hurting tires behind his rival. Webber spent two laps fighting under the Lotus’ rear wing and lost time on the track to his teammate, but took valuable life from his Pirellis, which meant his strategy failed.

The ability to deliver a qualifying lap late in the session, under pressure and without the need to do multiple runs will determine how many new sets of tires the team have to use in the race. This obviously has a big impact on strategy.

In India, those who qualified and started on options had already taken three laps of life from their tires before the race had even begun, those who were able to save options and then set Q3 times on primes, were able to keep a brand new set for the last race stint. On a circuit where soft tires only lasted a few short laps, that was where part of those four or five seconds difference would come from over the alternate race strategy.

The team know their drivers inside out and so the best strategy for one, may not be necessarily the best for the other.

Other factors that come into play when deciding how to approach a race include the nature of the circuit. The first one or two turns can be crucial after the race start when the field’s bunched up, adrenaline’s high and nothing’s quite up to temperature. If the run down to turn one’s short and the corner tight, a team might prefer to go all out in qualifying to be at the front and in relative safety, over a seemingly preferable race strategy that might have them on alternate tires but further down the pack, like Webber did on Sunday. While Vettel got through the first few turns in the clear and unscathed, his teammate got caught up with other cars and compromised his original plan just a little bit.

The statistical chance of a safety car at any particular circuit can have a huge impact on deciding a team’s race decisions. The chance of the safety car playing a part generally diminishes after the first two laps of any race. In India, those who started on option, like Vettel, would’ve benefited had that happened early on, enabling them to pit and ditch the soft tire, spending the rest of the race on mediums.

When Webber stopped on lap 29 today, he took soft, option tires, perhaps not the ideal tire for that part of the race, but he did it with a safety car in mind. If an incident had occurred, he too could’ve used the ‘free’ pit stop to switch back to the prime and finish the race on them. If he’d taken primes at the stop and the safety car had then come out, it would’ve ruined his Grand Prix as he’d have been forced to stop and take options, having not yet used them, and been left with an unmanageably long last stint.

In hindsight this was over-cautious. In the three years we’ve been racing in India, the safety car hasn’t yet made an appearance and at that middle stage of the race, it was highly unlikely it was going to. His fastest way to the end was to stay on primes and take the new options for a very fast, but short final stint, when the car was at its lightest and the field at its most stretched. In the end it was academic as he retired with an alternator failure.

Weather; track evolution; the amount of time lost in pitlane for each stop; the car’s characteristics like top speed or traction and many other parameters are all carefully considered before heading into qualifying. Of course depending on the outcome of Saturday afternoons, the whole thing needs looking at again, the simulation models updated with grid positions, another look at the forecasts, start performance and so on.

Many people, both at the track and back at the team’s European bases work through the night to give the drivers and engineers the best possible scenarios before Sunday’s race, but once the lights go out it’s a constantly morphing model and the team need to be able to react as the race unfolds.

Often it’s the ability to think on one’s feet, that sets a good team apart from a great one.

Esteban Ocon secures Mercedes DTM seat for 2016

2015 GP3 Series Round 9
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Sunday 29 November 2015.
Esteban Ocon (FRA, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _G7C8733
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2015 GP3 Series champion Esteban Ocon will race in the DTM championship this year with Mercedes in tandem with a reserve role in Formula 1 at Renault.

Ocon joined Mercedes’ junior program in the spring of 2015 before becoming a fully-fledged member at the end of the year just days before his GP3 title success.

The Frenchman was known to be considering a move into either DTM or GP2 for 2016, but will now replace F1-bound Pascal Wehrlein at Mercedes’ factory team for the new DTM campaign.

“It’s an incredible feeling to be part of such a professional and strong racing series,” Ocon said.

“I’m very pleased to be driving for Mercedes-Benz. It’s the best team in the DTM and I’m very grateful for this fantastic opportunity.

“Mercedes is the most successful manufacturer in DTM history. You can only achieve that with real passion and hard work, and those are characteristics that we share. After driving in free practice during the final race weekend of the 2015 season at Hockenheim, I can’t wait to start a DTM race.

“I obviously have a lot to learn, but my goal – and that of everyone in the team – is to fight for wins as soon as possible.”

Trident completes 2016 GP2 line-up with Armand

2015 GP2 Series Test 3.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Friday 4 December 2015.
Philo Armand (INA, Status Grand Prix).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _L0U4261
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Trident has completed its line-up for the 2016 GP2 Series season by signing Indonesian driver Philo Paz Armand.

Armand has previously raced in a number of European Formula Renault 2.0 championships, and most recently took part in half of last year’s Formula Renault 3.5 rounds, scoring one point.

Armand will now step up to GP2 for the 2016 season, racing alongside 2015 GP3 runner-up Luca Ghiotto at Trident.

“We are very excited to start this collaboration with Philo and we are confident he will express all his talent thanks to the team’s help,” Trident team manager Giacomo Ricci said.

The grid for GP2’s support series, GP3, is also beginning to come together for the new season following the announcements of Tatiana Calderon and Honda junior Nirei Fukuzumi.

Calderon moves into GP3 from FIA F3 and will race for Carlin, while Fukuzumi joins ART Grand Prix, continuing the French squad’s association with Honda.

Marchionne calls for Alfa Romeo to consider F1 entry

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  The Alfa Romeo 4C on display at the Vanity Fair Campaign Hollywood Alfa Romeo Ride and Drive luncheon at The Polsky Residence on February 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)
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Fiat-Chrysler CEO and Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne believes that Italian car manufacturer Alfa Romeo must consider entering Formula 1 with a team in the near future.

Alfa Romeo last raced as a constructor in F1 between 1979 and 1985, but has enjoyed no involvement within the series since 1988 when it supplied engines to the Osella team.

Marchionne believes that a return to F1 would be an effective way for Alfa Romeo to grow as a brand and gain more public awareness.

“In order to restore their name, they must consider returning to Formula 1,” Marchionne told Italian publication La Gazzetta dello Sport.

“Alfa Romeo are capable of making their own chassis, just like they are capable of making their own engine,” he added, before conceding that it could enjoy an engine supply from Ferrari should it wish to enter F1.

Marchionne believes that adding more manufacturers to the F1 grid is key to safeguarding the long-term future of the series.

“In the end this sport must be saved,” Marchionne said.

“The important thing is to make other car manufacturers enter grand prix racing.”

Grosjean unveils new helmet design for first F1 season with Haas

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Romain Grosjean has revealed his new-look helmet design ahead of his first Formula 1 season with Haas in 2016.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas won the race to get an F1 team on the grid back in 2014, and has spent the past 18 months meticulously planning its arrival in the sport.

Haas F1 Team’s full debut is now just five weeks away, with the first on-track test of its new car coming on February 22 in Barcelona.

Grosjean walked away from Lotus at the end of last year to join Haas for the new season, where he will race alongside former Ferrari reserve Esteban Gutierrez.

In a post on his Twitter account on Saturday, Grosjean unveiled his new helmet design for the 2016 season, featuring plenty of Haas signage.

Grosjean also revealed earlier this week that he would be racing with a tribute to Jules Bianchi on his helmet, who died at the age of 25 last July.