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.

Ricky Taylor to run next three FIA WEC races in Larbre Corvette

BRASELTON, GA - OCTOBER 03:  Ricky Taylor, C, sits with member of his crew before qualifying for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 3, 2014 in Braselton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images)
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Ricky Taylor and Larbre Competition have worked together before, with Taylor having driven for the Jack Leconte-led team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice in both an older spec Corvette C6.R (2013) and an LMP2 class Morgan Judd (2014).

He’ll be back for a bigger bow with the team for the next three upcoming races of the FIA World Endurance Championship, in the team’s No. 50 Corvette C7.R at Mexico City next weekend (Sept. 3), Circuit of The Americas (Sept. 17) and Fuji Speedway in Japan (Oct. 16).

Taylor fills in for Paolo Ruberti alongside the team’s other two drivers, Pierre Ragues and Yutaka Yamagishi. Additionally, Corvette will provide support with a new engineer, Charlie Ping, joining the French squad.

The story was initially reported by Sportscar365 back in July, but was formally confirmed by the team late last week.

“I am very excited to join Larbre for these three rounds of the WEC championship,” Taylor said in a relase. “The team has proven its great pace this season by clinching good results. I am looking forward to supporting the squad to more success and to do my part to contribute to some points for the championship for Pierre, Yutaka and the team.

” I have enjoyed my other experiences with the outfit so it will be a nice experience to be back. Thanks to Jack and Larbre again for thinking of me and giving me the opportunity to fly their colors again.”

This will mean Taylor will be one of likely several drivers pulling double duty at Circuit of The Americas between the FIA WEC and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races; that’s the penultimate round of that series’ season. He co-drives with brother Jordan Taylor in the No. 10 Konica Minolta Corvette DP for Wayne Taylor Racing.

RC Enerson back in Coyne’s No. 19 car for Watkins Glen, Sonoma

Enerson. Photo: IndyCar
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This will come as little to no surprise given his impressive debut at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but RC Enerson will continue in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda at the final two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. The team confirmed this at Pocono to NBC Sports and others.

Enerson will take over the Boy Scouts of America entry at the two permanent road courses at Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway. Enerson hasn’t raced at Watkins Glen but did test there in August.

Meanwhile he won a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race at Sonoma in 2014 and nearly snatched that series championship at the final weekend, before being edged by Frenchman Florian Latorre. He should test at Sonoma before racing there.

The 19-year-old Floridian could have made it out of Q1 in his IndyCar debut at Mid-Ohio and ran in the top-10 in the early stages at the Honda Indy 200 before a bad pit stop saw his race go awry. Nonetheless, he had the third fastest race lap and arguably the best 19th place finish in recent memory.

Enerson will have had three starts in the No. 19 car this year, as one of four drivers in the seat. Gabby Chaves has had seven, following the conclusion of Texas on Saturday, with Luca Filippi five and Pippa Mann one (Pocono).

F1 Paddock Pass: Belgian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 28:  Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo leads Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP), Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer and the rest of the field at the start during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 28, 2016 in Spa, Belgium  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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An at-times chaotic Belgian Grand Prix has kicked off the run to the finish of the 2016 Formula One season, with Nico Rosberg winning and Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso both turning in great drives from the rear of the field to the points.

Meanwhile Daniel Ricciardo got his countryman Mark Webber to do a “shoey,” Max Verstappen squared off with the Ferrari boys again, and Kevin Magnussen survived a heavy accident exiting Eau Rouge largely unscathed.

It’s all those elements and then some that make up the post-race edition of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series, from Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales check in below. You can see all three parts below.

Wild and fearless Verstappen is just what Formula One needs

SPA, BELGIUM - AUGUST 27: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB12 TAG Heuer on track during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 27, 2016 in Spa, Belgium.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) He’s very fast, very young and very confident. He races on the limit, upsets other drivers and cares little when he does. He’s also great for Formula One.

Max Verstappen may not be winning many friends among other drivers – especially those from Ferrari – but his aggressive, unapologetic, fearless driving is wonderfully entertaining for fans.

The 18-year-old Dutchman is the youngest to win a race and to start from the front row of the grid, and he’s also just what F1 needs in an era of fading former champions.

Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button are all in their mid-30s. Although three-time champion Lewis Hamilton is clearly very much on top of his game, and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg is highly competitive, both drivers are 31.

Verstappen’s star factor drew more than 20,000 Dutch fans to the Belgian Grand Prix last weekend. Legions of orange-clad fans queued at the entry gates. Dutch flags were dotted around the Spa grandstands.

“He is refreshing for me. He is a young boy that I like a lot,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “He comes in here, no fear, no respect. He puts the elbow out and it reminds me of the great ones. It reminds me of Lewis and it reminds me of Ayrton Senna.”

High praise indeed, from Wolff, who might have added that Verstappen also has some of the brashness that typified seven-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher. Wolff has expressed regret that Mercedes was not able to snap Verstappen up before Toro Rosso did last year.

“You can clearly see that some guys around are starting to think twice how to overtake him,” Wolff said, before adding a note of caution about Verstappen’s high-risk driving. “I just fear that it might end up in the wall heavily one day. For me it is refreshing, but it is dangerous.”

In May, Verstappen drove brilliantly to win the Spanish GP on his Red Bull debut – joining from feeder team Toro Rosso after just four races of this season – and he followed that up with three more podium finishes.

At the Belgian GP, his second place in qualifying set another record as the youngest driver ever to start on a front row of the grid.

His talent is unquestionable, but his attitude is, and the feeling in F1 circles is that Verstappen’s tender age means he gets away with things that other drivers do not.

“The FIA has not penalized him. The only thing that happened was that he was given a hard time in the drivers’ briefing,” Wolff said. “Maybe next time he will have an even harder time in the driver briefing.”

Especially from Raikkonen and his Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen criticized him after last month’s Hungarian GP and again after the Belgian GP.

There was a high-profile tangle between Verstappen and both Ferraris on the first turn on Sunday. Later in the race, Verstappen infuriated Raikkonen with some aggressive blocking moves when the 36-year-old Finn tried to get past him at high speed.

“Maybe it needs an accident before things get more clear to everybody,” Raikkonen said. “Hopefully not because it can be bad for somebody, and nobody wants to see something like that happen.”

Verstappen, however, appears to care little for reputation, does not get pushed around, and his vitriolic words match the intensity of his driving.

Blaming Ferrari, he was quoted as telling Dutch TV after Sunday’s race “I’m not going to let them past, I’d rather force them off the track,” reportedly adding “in the end I’m the victim.”