Spanish F1 Grand Prix - Qualifying

It took a while, but the Spanish Grand Prix came alive late on

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When Bernie Ecclestone and Luca di Montezemolo arrived in Bahrain last month, their proclamation of “taxi cab racing” was immediately written off as the drivers served up a thriller under the lights.

However, at the halfway stage of yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix, their argument appeared to have some truth. Lewis Hamilton held an easy lead over teammate Nico Rosberg, and there was little going on further back.

In the final third of the race, though, it came alive. Not only did Rosberg threaten to rain on Hamilton’s parade and snatch the win away, but the split in strategies meant that the likes of Valtteri Bottas, Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean all went into battle. Who says that you can’t overtake in Barcelona?

Let’s start with the battle at the front. Mercedes’ decision to split their drivers’ strategies ensured that it was a fair fight. Theoretically, Hamilton had the advantage in the middle stint on the option tire, and Rosberg had an equivalent improvement in pace when he made the switch. However, Rosberg’s middle stint on the prime compound was simply superb.

The two sides of the Mercedes garage were setting targets for their respective drivers. The gap after both drivers had stopped for the first time stood at around four seconds, and over the following 20 laps, Peter Bonnington – Hamilton’s engineer – wanted that advantage to double. On the other side of the garage, Tony Ross informed Nico Rosberg that he was to cut the gap to two seconds, largely matching the pace of Hamilton on the option tire. Frankly, Hamilton didn’t deliver during this period, and instead saved a lot of fuel that he ultimately didn’t use. Maybe he was right when he said that Rosberg had the edge?

So in the final stint, Rosberg managed to use low fuel and the quicker tire to carve into his teammate’s lead, but ultimately fell six-tenths of a second short. The German driver said that he needed one more lap, and again, he is probably right. He never actually was close enough to make a move on Hamilton. It was a tantalizing battle at the front, and although it was a big psychological victory for Lewis, Nico certainly proved that he was no push-over.

Further back, the split in strategy that Pirelli had predicted – two or three stops – made things very interesting in the closing stages of the race. Romain Grosjean ran well to score Lotus’ first points of the season in eighth place, but he just wasn’t quick enough to finish any higher. Williams’ race was lost in the later stages, with Felipe Massa’s decision to run a low downforce setup costing him dearly. Valtteri Bottas finished a solid fifth, but again the decision to pit him late at the first round of stops cost him a shot at the podium, and ultimately Sebastian Vettel also found a way past.

The Vettel-Alonso-Raikkonen battle was a particularly interesting one. Ferrari made the mistake of pitting Raikkonen too late for his second stop, and this meant that both Alonso and Vettel could find a way past. The raw pace of the Red Bull allowed Vettel to come out ahead of Alonso when the Spaniard pitted for a final time, but the real masterstroke with his strategy came with the early first stop. By running in clear air, he was able to easily pass the likes of Hulkenberg and Button who would have otherwise compromised his pace.

All in all, it was a ‘good’ race, with ‘good’ being the perfect adjective. It was by no means Bahrain, but the mix of strategy that Formula 1 has craved for so long was on display for us all to see.

Let us hope that we see more of the same in Monaco, given that overtaking is nigh on impossible around the streets of the principality.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.