Two choices cost Romain Grosjean spot on Abu Dhabi podium

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The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix may not have been one of the season’s most spectacular, but it provided as many strategic headaches as any other.

After Friday’s practices, many within the paddock saw the race as a probable one stopper, perhaps removing some of the strategic options available. However, by Sunday morning, careful analysis of Saturday’s tire usage and the predicted temperature drop, almost all were resigned to stopping twice.

While eventual champ Sebastian Vettel got a great start and showed the levels of utter domination we saw in Singapore (meaning he could’ve almost stopped as little or often as he liked and still come out on top), there were a couple of team decisions that could be retrospectively questioned.

In the very early stages of the race, after a great start, Romain Grosjean found himself fourth, behind Mark Webber. Webber had not had the best of starts, as we’ve seen before, and by lap six and seven was beginning to suffer with his rear soft tires, dropping lap time by around .2 tenths a second per lap. The Lotus was close behind, still looking good on tires and pushing, was racing Webber. I’ve no doubt that Lotus would have originally set out to go deeper into the Grand Prix before pitting, but they made a key decision when Webber was forced into his early stop on lap eight for new medium tires.

Lotus opted to pit Grosjean at the same time in a bid to cover the Red Bull move, but it was perhaps that split second decision that ultimately cost him a step on the podium.

Two things surprised me a little about the call. I had expected Lotus to try and one stop;, their car is one of the best at looking after tires and though it might have been a brave call, it’s brave calls that are needed to take on the Red Bulls at the moment. I guess the memory of Kimi tumbling down the order last weekend as his tires ‘fell off the cliff’ was still too fresh in the mind.

The other option, even if they thought they’d have to two-stop, was to leave Grosjean out, let Webber pit and give him five or six laps in clear air to run at Nico Rosberg in P2. At that point there were only two cars ahead on the track, no back markers to worry about and with the tires still in reasonable shape, a chance to put in some fast laps before switching to mediums on or around lap 12. Rosberg had to stop on lap 10, so if the Lotus could’ve stayed out longer than that he’d have had a clear track to do his thing on soft tires.

As it was, Grosjean got held up behind the very fast-in-a-straight-line Force India of Adrian Sutil for a long spell in his middle stint which ultimately cost him the chance to take on Rosberg and Webber at the end of the race.

The other decision that looks questionable with hindsight was down at Ferrari. Felipe Massa, doing a great job and running one place ahead of his team mate in the middle, medium tire, stint of the Grand Prix, was brought in six laps earlier than Alonso, despite his laptimes remaining stable and consistent in the preceding laps.

Even if you accept the decision to bring Massa in in order to free up Fernando Alonso, who was arguably faster at that stage, it’s strange that the team then gave him a medium compound set of tires to go seventeen laps to the flag. The mediums were up to a second a lap slower in the race and although the team justified the decision by saying they didn’t think Massa could’ve got to the end on softs, it seems odd given that his opening stint on scrubbed soft tires, with a car full to the brim on fuel, went on for 18 laps.

Alonso, stopping later, took softs at his second stop and went on to set the fastest lap of the Grand Prix. The decision, in my opinion, cost Massa at least two places in finishing behind Hamilton and Sutil, but perhaps saved Ferrari the headache of a fiercely fought battle at the end between the feisty Brazilian, battling for his own career and the disgruntled and slightly less level-headed-than-usual Spaniard for fifth position.

Of course it’s very easy to make these points afterwards, but worth remembering the pressure that teams are under in the heat of the moment during a race. You can be sure that, whilst we in the media analyze the information we have each week, the teams themselves, with far more data to go through over the coming days, will be analyzing themselves more closely than anyone else to find out what they got right and what could be done better, should similar situations arise in the future.

Sauber’s Wehrlein rules himself out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: