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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.

Rosberg surprised by Hamilton’s sudden interest in F1 safety

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 28:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP walks in the Paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 28, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg is surprised by Lewis Hamilton’s sudden interest in Formula 1 safety as their dispute over the yellow flags shown in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix continues.

Hamilton was forced to abandon his final Q3 lap in Hungary after a spin for Fernando Alonso sparked double waved yellow flags at Turn 8.

Mercedes teammate Rosberg was one of the last drivers to come across the double waved yellow flags, lifting briefly through the incident site before taking pole by one-tenth of a second.

The stewards investigated the incident late in the day, reportedly at Hamilton’s behest, but felt that Rosberg slowed sufficiently despite setting a session-best middle sector.

Hamilton said on Thursday that the lack of penalty given to Rosberg has now set a precedent for all other drivers to follow, before airing concerns about the safety of the ruling.

“He’s not someone who’s regarded for being interested in safety up to now, so quite a change there which I just noted,” Rosberg told NBCSN on Thursday in Germany.

When asked if that was a widely-held opinion, Rosberg said: “I have no idea,” before telling NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton: “I’m sure you would share the opinion with me.

“There’s nothing to be biased about, it’s just a reflection. You can have the same one.”

Rosberg remained adamant that the rules regarding yellow flags in F1 are clear, reasoning his actions during Q3 in Hungary.

“It has been very clear, which is why I followed instructions totally and there was no issue,” Rosberg said.

“There’s no grey area – as long as you significantly slow down where there’s the incident where there’s the double yellow.

“Setting a purple lap on a drying track has nothing to do with the incident because the sector is huge.

“What’s important is you slow down in that one corner to keep things safe and that’s not changed. That’s the same as always.”

Hamilton: Hungary stewards’ Rosberg ruling sets precedent for all

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 28:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP talks to the media during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheimring on July 28, 2016 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton believes the FIA stewards’ ruling on Nico Rosberg’s pole position lap partly set under yellow flags in Hungary sets a precedent for all other Formula 1 drivers.

Hamilton was forced to abandon his final Q3 lap in Hungary after a spin for Fernando Alonso sparked double waved yellow flags at Turn 8.

Rosberg was one of the last drivers to come across the double waved yellow flags, lifting briefly through the incident site before taking pole by one-tenth of a second.

The stewards investigated the incident late in the day, reportedly at Hamilton’s behest, but felt that Rosberg slowed sufficiently despite setting a session-best middle sector.

Speaking on Thursday about the incident, Hamilton once again questioned the way in which the regulations regarding yellow flags are interpreted.

“The rule has been written and I’m pretty certain even before my time, but since I started racing when I was eight, the rules have been written exactly the same since then and meant the same since then,” Hamilton told NBCSN.

“They just seem to be interpreted differently from year to year. I think that’s really what’s in question.”

Hamilton believes that the lack of action taken over Rosberg’s pole lap has set a precedent to all other drivers about what is acceptable under double waved yellow flags.

“Right now, it’s clear from the last result that’s I think how all us drivers can approach it the same way as the precedent was set in the last race unless it’s rectified this weekend,” Hamilton said.

“That’s the precedent that’s been set. We’ve not been told any other way so all you have to do is do that little lift which is not good in the big scheme of things. It’s not good.”

Hamilton believes that the leniency could backfire in the future, but hopes it will not take an incident to prompt the stewards to get tougher on yellow flags.

“That’s why I made so much noise about it at the last race,” Hamilton said.

“One day there’s going to be someone on the track. Then they’re going to be like ‘you have to slow down half a second and not go faster in the sector’.

“But hopefully they’ll make that decision before then.”

F1 radio ban lifted ahead of German GP

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 23:  Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner on the pit wall during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Hungary at Hungaroring on July 23, 2016 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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The restrictions on radio communications in Formula 1 have been lifted ahead of this weekend’s German Grand Prix following an F1 Strategy Group meeting on Thursday.

New rules were introduced for 2016 banning radio messages that could be deemed to breach article 27.1 of the sporting regulations that states drivers “must drive the car alone and unaided”.

The thinking behind the ban was that drivers would have to manage their races more instead of relying on their engineers.

However, it was brought into question at Silverstone when Nico Rosberg was penalized after Mercedes gave him instructions on how to manage a failing gearbox.

Jenson Button called for a review of the rule after receiving what he called a “joke” penalty last time out in Hungary when McLaren informed him that his brake pedal was not working properly.

In a statement issued on Thursday after the meeting in Geneva, it was confirmed that the ban has been lifted, with the exception of the formation lap.

“At the request of the Teams and Commercial Rights Holder, the FIA has agreed to adopt a more liberal approach to the interpretation of Article 27.1 (that a driver must drive the car “alone and unaided”),” a statement from the FIA reads.

”With the exception of the period between the start of the formation lap and the start of the race, there will be no limitations on messages teams send to their drivers either by radio or pit board.

“This approach is aimed at providing improved content for fans and spectators, as teams will now be required to provide the Commercial Rights Holder with unrestricted access to their radio messages at all times that their cars are out of the garage.”

Mid-Ohio offers turnaround opportunity for several Andretti drivers

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It’s been a rough season for the most part for Andretti Autosport.

Sure, Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Alexander Rossi won the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May, but highlights other than that have been few and far between.

Still, with five races left in the season – beginning with Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio – there’s still time for all four drivers in the Andretti stable to improve where they are currently.

Let’s break down each driver and his season to date heading into Mid-Ohio:

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda), 7th place: Rossi made IndyCar history when he won the Indy 500. But the other 10 races he’s competed in have produced a mixed bag of results.

The 2016 ESPYS - Arrivals

His highest finish outside of Indy was sixth at Iowa. Next was a pair of 10th-place finishes in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Belle Isle Race 1.

Sandwiched around his sixth-place finish at Iowa, Rossi is coming off runs of 12th (Belle Isle Race 2), 15th (Road America) and 16th in the most recent race, at Toronto nearly two weeks ago.

While Rossi has struggled in qualifying (16.2 average start), his average finish is just outside the top 10 (11.9).

The California native has raced several times at Mid-Ohio in other series and hopes that past experience will lift him to a good finish Sunday.

“Looking forward to going back to Mid-Ohio,” Rossi said in a team media release. “It’s the second track on the schedule I have a history at, so the familiarity should make the adaptation a lot easier on Friday.

“I know the team has been working really hard the past couple weeks to improve the car and hopefully it can lead to a positive road course result.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda), 10th place: In his third full-time IndyCar season, Munoz for the most part has primarily been a 10th to 15th place finisher (six of 11 races). His best finish was a stout runner-up showing at Indianapolis for the second time in his career (also did so in 2013).

Firestone 600 - Qualifying

His average start is 12.5, including winning his first career IndyCar pole for the weather-suspended race at Texas that will be completed next month.

In addition to his Indy runner-up and sixth at Belle Isle Race 1, the Colombian driver has two other top 10 finishes: eighth in the season opener at St. Petersburg and 10th at Road America. Overall, he has an average finish of 11.8.

After a disappointing 17th place finish at Toronto nearly two weeks ago, Munoz looks to get back on track at Mid-Ohio.

“Mid-Ohio is one of the tracks I like the most in America,” he said. “It is a very challenging track and I’m looking forward to seeing how the weekend goes for us.

“We’ve had a really disappointing last few races and we really need a good result at Mid-Ohio. Hopefully we can change our luck around.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda), 12th place: After back-to-back season finishes of sixth and sixth in 2014 and 2015, Hunter-Reay had high aspirations coming into 2016. But somewhere between the season opener in St. Petersburg (he finished third) and the most recent race nearly two weeks ago at Toronto (finished 12th), things went sideways.

Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600

Even his best consecutive race run of the season – seventh and third at Belle Isle Races 1 and 2 and fourth at Road America – barely moved the needle for him in the standings (went from 13th to 11th – and now he’s back to 12th heading to Mid-Ohio).

Mid-Ohio has been an excellent track over the years for RHR. Including one start in the defunct Champ Car World Series, Hunter-Reay has zero wins, one pole, two podiums, four top-fives and five other top-10s at the 2.258-mile road course.

In fact, in all 10 starts he’s made at Mid-Ohio, Hunter-Reay has finished outside the top 10 just once (24th in 2012 due to engine problems). His average start there is 6.8, and average finish is 8.9.

Is it any wonder he’s looking forward to this weekend?

“It’s always a special weekend on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar,” Hunter-Reay said. “Mid-Ohio has been a big part of my career from my teenage years in Skip Barber to my first-ever Indy car podium finish.

“This place is certainly one of my top three favorite racetracks and is one of the best as an overall event as well. We’ll be looking to improve on our fourth-place finish at Road America a few weeks ago and getting the DHL Honda back on the podium.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda), 17th place: There’s no other way to say it – mired in 17th place in the standings, Marco Andretti is having the worst season of his IndyCar career.

Firestone 600 - Qualifying

In 11 races, the grandson of Mario Andretti and son of Michael Andretti has had little to be happy about: zero wins, zero podiums, zero top fives and just two top 10s (ninth at Belle Isle Race 2 and 10th in the most recent IndyCar race nearly two weeks ago at Toronto).

In a sense, Andretti’s performance is a conundrum of sorts. While he’s completed all but five laps this season, he has yet to lead even one lap.

Up to now, Andretti’s worst season has been 15th in 2012. But with an average start of 18.3 and average finish of 13.5, he’s on track to set a new personal worst.

Still, Andretti hopes he can break out of his funk and have a decent run Sunday at Mid-Ohio:

“Mid-Ohio this year is going to be a physical race with the current aero kits, but I’m looking forward to the competition,” Andretti said. “It’s always a fun event weekend with a lot of fan support and a great turnout for Honda in their backyard.”

With six top-10 finishes in nine career starts at Mid-Ohio, Andretti has little place to go but up.

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