By no means a classic, Sunday U.S. Grand Prix was all about controlling lap times to achieve strategic objectives.
Pirelli opted to bring the hardest two compounds in their 2013 range to Texas. Combined with a track surface that’s not too abrasive, that meant that the fastest way from lights to flag was always going to be a one-stop race, as it was last year.
Degradation of the tires was relatively low overall, but teams had to spend Friday and Saturday collecting as much data as possible on both medium and hard compounds, to calculate their optimum race pace and the right point in the Grand Prix to switch between them.
While I suspect everyone set out with the intention of completing just one pitstop, we did see a few opting to make two, in either an attempt to free themselves from early race traffic and run shorter stints in clear air at a faster pace, or because of poor tire management and running out of grip with a handful of laps still to go.
Those that tried to free up their races with two stops did so because they had no real choice. To run for long spells in queues of traffic overheats the car, hurts the tires much more and can lose way too much overall race time. DRS often gives little advantage when a string of cars all benefit from its usage at the same time and on a track that only really has two clear cut overtaking places, being held up like this can frustrate drivers to the point of making mistakes. It’s often more advantageous to abort plan A, even though theoretically quicker, to put your driver onto a different part of the race track with some fresh tires and tell him to go for it.
It’s no surprise that the guys at the front of the field all stuck with their one stop plan and managed to go as deep into the race as possible on the medium compound, to minimize the risk of getting into trouble with the hard compound towards the end. It was a safe, relatively risk free strategy that the front runners were all able to deploy as the field spaced out enough to ease pressure on each of them.
The early safety car of course played right into the hands of those on the one stop race, allowing them three less racing laps with which to take life from their used medium tires.
The main strategic decisions then, came from teams and drivers managing the use of their tires, knowing when to push and when to hold back, when to deploy KERS and when make the switch between compounds. This is where the work from Friday’s practice sessions really paid off and those that had the best understanding were able to be pro-active, whereas those who were caught out by changing conditions, higher fuel loads or race traffic, could do nothing but react.
There were the normal mixture of successes and failures at the Circuit Of The Americas, but one thing that’s become thoroughly normal in recent times is that Sebastian Vettel and his entire Red Bull team got things exactly spot on again.
A great start, laptimes managed to perfection to deliver optimum stint lengths and the guys in the pitlane even managed a new world record pitstop time on the sister car of Mark Webber. All in all, a decent day at the office.