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.

Dakar Rally: Potential winners starting to come into focus after Stage 11

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Editor’s note: Check out expanded video highlights of Stage 11 Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Stage 11 of the 2018 Dakar Rally is history and things are really tightening up in the overall standings.

With three stages left – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – several competitors are either pulling away or the battle for the championship is getting tighter.

For example:

* In Trucks, we are seeing the tightest battle in the standings. Argentina’s Federico Villagra leads the overall rankings, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is only one minute, 7 seconds behind. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich is a distant third (3:07:22 behind) and likely won’t have enough time to recover in the final three stages to make a last-ditch bid for the championship.

* In Bikes, Austria’s Matthias Walkner has a 32 minute, 00 second lead over Argentina’s Kevin Benavides. In fact, second through fourth place in the overall standings are less than an hour behind Walkner, meaning anything can happen and there could still be a major shuffling in the final three stages.

* In UTVs, Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela holds a relatively slim 44 minute, 33 second lead over France’s Patricie Garroueste, with Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos a distant third in the overall standings at 1:53:58 behind.

MORE: Dakar Rally Stage 11 video highlights: Cars, Bikes, Trucks, Quads

Wednesday’s Stage 11 went from Belen, Argentina to Chilecito, Argentina.

Three stages remain to be completed in the 14-stage event, all in Argentina.

Stage 12 kicks off this morning from Chilecito, Argentina and ends in San Juan, Argentina

Here’s recaps of the top three classes from Wednesday’s Stage 11 – Bikes, Cars and Trucks – as well as how the Quads and UTVs look with three more stages remaining.

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BIKES

Australia’s Toby Price avenged his terrible round on Tuesday – when he lost almost an hour’s time after getting lost in a river bed – to bounce back and win Wednesday’s Stage 11.

Price, the 2016 Rally Bikes champion, finished ahead of Argentina’s Kevin Benavides and France’s Antoine Meo in the stage, and the win also allowed Price to move up to third in the overall standings.

Also of note, Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort, who came into Stage 11 ranked second in the overall rankings behind Austria’s Mathias Walkner, withdrew from the Rally. It’s unclear if the reason for Barreda Bort’s decision was mechanical or medical.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Australia’s Toby Price, KTM, 4:01:33
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Honda, 4:03:11
  3. France’s Antoine Meo, KTM, 4:08:04
  4. S.’s Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07
  5. Austria’s Matthias Walkner, KTM, 4:12:34

AMERICAN RIDERS

4th: Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07

13th: Andrew Short, Husqvarna, 4:37:55

14th: Mark Samuels, Honda, 4:38:00

23rd: Shane Esposito, KTM, 4:58:49

68th: Bill Conger, Husqvarna, 7:25:28

OVERALL 

  1. Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 32:00 behind
  3. Australia’s Toby Price, 39:17 behind
  4. Spain’s Gerard Farres, 49:17 behind
  5. France’s Antoine Meo, 59:05 behind

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CARS

The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, who has been doing some strong racing and high finishing in recent stages, was the top finisher in Stage 11.

It was ten Brinke’s second career stage win in the Rally, having done so the first time in 2016.

France’s Cyril Despres finished second, followed by Spain’s Carlos Sainz in third.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, Toyota, 4:10:54
  2. France’s Cyril Despres, Peugeot, 4:15:29
  3. Spain’s Carlos Sainz, Peugeot, 4:15:34
  4. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, Peugeot, 4:15:44
  5. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 4:16:50

OVERALL 

  1. Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  2. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 1:00:45 behind
  3. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 1:24:02 behind
  4. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, 1:27:35 behind
  5. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, 1:40:05 behind

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TRUCKS

Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich won his first career stage in the Rally, and maintained his third-place ranking in overall standings with three more stages to go.

Argentina’s Federico Villagra finished second while Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov was third.

But perhaps the biggest news in the class is the overall rankings, with Argentina’s Federico Villagra holding the lead, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is just one minute, seven seconds behind.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, Maz, 5:14:10
  2. Argentina’s Federico Villagra, Iveco, 5:15:34
  3. Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov, Kamaz, 5:43:01
  4. Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy, Tatra, 5:44:34
  5. Netherlands’ Gert Huznik, Renault, 5:48:23

OVERALL 

  1. Argentina’s Federico Villagra
  2. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, 0:01:07 behind
  3. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, 3:07:22 behind
  4. Russia’s Airat Mardeev, 4:40:00 behind
  5. Kazakhstan’s Artur Ardavichus, 5:28:39 behind

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QUADS

  1. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, Yamaha, 5:20:45
  2. Chile’s Ignacia Casale, Yamaha, 5:35:59
  3. Kazakhstan’s Dmitry Shilov, Yamaha, 5:55:34
  4. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, Yamaha, 5:57:40
  5. France’s Alex Dutrie, Yamaha, 5:28:24

OVERALL

  1. Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  2. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:34:13 behind
  3. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:09:15 behind
  4. France’s Alex Dutrie, 3:56:48 behind
  5. Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:22:22 behind

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SxS UTV

  1. France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 6:02:44
  2. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 6:06:23
  3. Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, Can-Am, 6:13:54
  4. France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 6:52:15
  5. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 6:54:13

OVERALL 

  1. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela
  2. France’s Patricie Garroueste, 44:33 behind
  3. Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos, 1:53:58 behind
  4. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 8:46:25 behind
  5. France’s Claude Fournier, 8:56:52 behind

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THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE:

Stage 12 takes place Thursday, going from Chilecito, Argentina to San Juan, Argentina

After Thursday, only two stages remain in the 2018 Rally on Friday and Saturday.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

MORE: Stage 4 wrapup

MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

MORE: Stage 2 wrapup

MORE: Stage 1 wrapup