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Red Bull made all the right moves this season

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I’ve written much this year, about Formula One teams’ race strategies, the ways they go about deciding those strategies and the way the best laid plans have panned out over each race weekend. I’ve talked about the way teams operate from top to bottom, how drivers have performed and analyzed whether things could’ve been done differently to maximize potential. Looking back, there are very few things one team in particular could, or should, have altered for a better outcome.

During the course of each season, those on the front line at every team are faced with a massive series of challenges to overcome, ever-moving goal posts through which to score and constantly unpredictable sets of circumstances and conditions in which to do it. Those who do the very best job, over the entire season, the ones who predict the unpredictable, make the best decisions and react best as events unfold, are normally crowned World Champions.

No one can say Red Bull Racing is undeserving of that title.

The design department, led of course by Adrian Newey, did a good job of developing a car over the winter from the one that finished the 2012 season as arguably second fastest. The RB9 began 2013 as a real contender, but ended it in a completely different class than everybody else. The team continued to bring upgrades even to the last few races of the season, despite already winning both championships and just got further and further in front.

McLaren took a strategic decision with the design of their new car at the tail end of 2012, citing the fact that the relatively stable regulations for the following year meant there was little scope for teams to continue developing an already well used concept under the same set of rules. Somehow Red Bull have not only managed to do just that, but by working hard on specific areas of aero, tire management and engine usability, they’ve pulled out the kind of gains not often seen in any season, let alone one where rules have remained this restrictive.

Alongside car development, the team managed to excel in just about every area of Formula One.

Strategically, the engineers on the pit wall, together with the team operating from their Milton Keynes base, have managed to execute some inspired race plans to leave rivals wondering where they went wrong.

In the pitlane, the boys and girls in blue have moved forward too. From a team that were perhaps third quickest and occasionally unreliable a year ago, they’ve developed technology and procedures to move themselves to the forefront of the pitstop league and perhaps fittingly, set a new world record for the fastest F1 tire change ever, in 2013.

It’s often too easy to say that with the fastest car, the job of the team, engineers and strategists becomes an easy one. I can tell you, from experience, that’s not true. I’ve been involved in campaigns over the years where we’ve had the pace setting cars, yet failed to take overall spoils because every single element of the F1 team’s job wasn’t carried out to perfection, so I take my hat off in admiration at what’s been achieved.

To finish Sunday’s race with a 1-2 standing is representative of the way Red Bull finished the season. Dominant in so many areas, the current era of our sport comes to an end in Brazil with the rest of the field squabbling over the scraps left behind.

It’s a tough job getting it all right at exactly the right time, but that’s exactly what this Red Bull Racing team has done in 2013 and, together with a much celebrated young driver, still writing his own incredible passage of history, they need to applauded as much as he is.

Who knows what 2014 will bring, but one thing’s for sure, whatever order of competitiveness the new rule book throws up in March, come December it’ll be those who’ve adapted, developed, planned and reacted best that stand on the top step again.

Abt quickest on final day of first Donington Formula E test

PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA - NOVEMBER 22: Daniel Abt of Germany and Audi Sport ABT Formula E Team prepares during the Formula E Championship race on November 22, 2014 in Putrajaya, Malaysia.  (Photo by Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images)
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Daniel Abt made the most of drab conditions at Donington Park on Thursday to close out the first collective Formula E pre-season test at the top of the timesheets.

Overnight rain left the track damp at the start of the morning session, and although the skies remained overcast throughout the day, times were just a few tenths off the benchmark set on Wednesday by Jean-Eric Vergne.

Abt’s fastest lap of 1:30.073 from the morning session held out as the fastest time overall on Thursday despite a late flurry of full-power laps in the afternoon.

Nick Heidfeld finished the day second for Mahindra ahead of Nico Prost, while afternoon leader Vergne was fourth-fastest in the overall timesheets.

Jaguar Racing continued its driver evaluation by drafting in Ford WEC driver Harry Tincknell to partner Adam Carroll. Tincknell finished with a fastest lap of 1:33.927, good enough for P16 in the morning session.

Thursday also saw Indy Lights title contender Dean Stoneman make his first Formula E appearance, driving for NextEV in place of Oliver Turvey – en route to Japan for Super GT – and Nelson Piquet Jr. – who had to leave early to go to the Red Bull GRC event.

Collective Formula E testing resumes at Donington Park next month, with another three days of running scheduled from September 5-7.

Gateway confirmed to return to IndyCar schedule

MADISON, IL - AUGUST 10:  A general view of the race during the IRL (Indy Racing League) IndyCar Series Emerson Indy 250 on August 10, 2003 at the Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Gateway Motorsports Park is back on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, adding another oval and another Midwest track to the 2017 slate.

Next year’s race, which will run August 26, will be the first North American open-wheel race at the facility located in Madison, Ill. outside St. Louis since 2003.

Track owner and CEO Curtis Francois joined Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co. (INDYCAR parent company) for the announcement.

“Today is a monumental day for the people of the St. Louis region,” Francois said in an INDYCAR release. “I am proud of the progress we’ve made at my hometown track. I knew someday we’d be making an announcement like this because I have such confidence in the people of this region and their commitment to great sporting events.

“More than a dozen track operators around the country sought this INDYCAR race for their communities,” he added. “I firmly believe we came out on top because of the energy, loyalty and commitment to great sports that sports fans of all kinds demonstrate each day in this community.”

Added Helio Castroneves, who won the most recent race there in 2003, “I think it’s great that we’re going back to Gateway. Personally, I like it because I’ve had success there but also that I used to race for Hogan (a St. Louis-based Indy car team in 1999) which makes it a special place to me. I won there with Team Penske in 2003 and there was an all-Brazilian podium with Tony (Kanaan) and Gil (de Ferran).”

The Gateway return has been several years in the works. Ed Carpenter tested a couple years ago to re-establish the track as a possible testing venue for IndyCar. Track officials, meanwhile, made several visits to IndyCar races in the interim, including this year’s Indianapolis 500.

“I’ve always felt Gateway was a great place to host IndyCar. This has been on my mind since 2012,” Francois told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before the formal announcement. “I reached out and we had some substantive conversations. But it took time, effort and a lot of discussions to make sure we had the right date, right fan participation and just the overall atmosphere to host the race.”

There were seven prior open-wheel races at Gateway from 1997 through 2003. CART ran on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend from 1997 to 1999 before the race moved to mid-September in 2000. Once the Indy Racing League took over in 2001, the race ran in late August.

There were seven different winners, and all are fairly big names: Paul Tracy, Alex Zanardi, Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Al Unser Jr., Gil de Ferran and Castroneves.

2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule released

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet, practices for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule has been released on Thursday, which follows on from INDYCAR President of Competition and Operations Jay Frye’s thought process that the calendar would come out “sometime in August” and is definitively earlier than in recent years.

It also features a clear road map for the next two years with most dates and tracks pretty much established through 2018.

A number of tracks or series had already released 2017 IndyCar dates, so today’s release only produces a handful of extra announcements that weren’t already known inside the beltway.

Twelve dates and 13 races were already known either from tracks or other series that have released elements of their 2017 calendars. Additionally, start times for NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR races in the second half of this year gave an idea of what time IndyCar races could start as well.

Here’s the changes of note, then, for 2017:

  • Phoenix moves from the first weekend in April to the last weekend in April, owing primarily to the NCAA Final Four in Phoenix next April 1 and 3. Yes, this makes less logistical sense given that Long Beach is April 9, but you get the move from a TV and local hotel/fan awareness possibility.
  • Texas resumes in its usual June date, as it was intended to this year prior to the rain-delayed and postponed date in late August.
  • Gateway becomes the sixth oval to join the 2017 calendar, back on a North American open-wheel schedule for the first time since 2003 with a Saturday date of August 26. It will be one of two races in August, along with Pocono, which was confirmed for a two-year extension in August this year.
  • Watkins Glen is also confirmed to return as well in a multi-year agreement, this time with a whole year-plus of preparation as opposed to three months since being announced for this year in May as an eleventh hour replacement for Boston.

Otherwise, this is a pretty similar and pretty good schedule for IndyCar in 2017 – which fittingly, will have 17 races.

“The release of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule continues to build upon the success INDYCAR has experienced the last three years and establishes continuity and consistency in our event calendar,” Mark Miles, CEO of INDYCAR parent company Hulman & Co., said in a release.

“As a series we are working diligently to create long-term relationships with our promoters to establish date equity and to provide them with the opportunity to initiate ticket renewals and event promotions earlier, which is pivotal to continuing the increase in attendance at our events.”

Per that release, INDYCAR has experienced a 38 percent growth in both television ratings and viewership from 2013 to 2015 and the same numbers are up this season by a total of 7 percent compared to this time last year. Attendance at INDYCAR events is also on the rise, with six events this season drawing crowds at or near record highs.

Broadcast times and start times will be finalized at a later time.

The Mazda Road to Indy will also be present on most of these weekends. But the Andersen Promotions-run and operated three series is yet to put out its full 2017 calendars.

2017 Verizon IndyCar Series dates, plus additional content

  • March 12, St. Petersburg (Pirelli World Challenge)
  • April 9, Long Beach (IMSA WeatherTech Championship, Pirelli World Challenge)
  • April 23, Barber (IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup, Prototype Challenge)
  • April 29, Phoenix
  • May 13, Grand Prix of Indianapolis
  • May 20-21, Indianapolis 500 qualifying
  • May 28, Indianapolis 500
  • June 3, Detroit Race 1 (IMSA WeatherTech Championship)
  • June 4, Detroit Race 2
  • June 10, Texas (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series)
  • June 25, Road America (Pirelli World Challenge)
  • July 9, Iowa
  • July 16, Toronto
  • July 30, Mid-Ohio (Pirelli World Challenge)
  • August 20, Pocono
  • August 26, Gateway
  • Sept. 3, Watkins Glen
  • Sept. 17, Sonoma (IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup)

In infographic form:

2017IndySchedule

F1 teams to use prototype Pirelli tires in Belgium practice

GP GERMANIA F1/2016 - HOCKENHEIM (GERMANIA) 31/07/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)
© Pirelli
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Pirelli has confirmed that it will give all 11 Formula 1 teams two sets of prototype tires for use in practice for the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend.

Last year’s race at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps saw Sebastian Vettel suffer a tire failure late in the race, while Nico Rosberg also suffered a problem in practice at almost 190 mph.

Over the Austrian Grand Prix weekend in June, further concerns were raised about the strength of the tires supplied by Pirelli after Vettel again suffered a tire failure.

The Italian company tweeted out on Thursday that it would be providing teams with unmarked prototype tires for practice to evaluate and help minimize the effect of external bodies such as debris and curbs.