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Drivers not focusing on lap times at Phoenix test

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There’s an old cliche about statistics: “Numbers never lie.” Indeed, this is technically true. Numbers and statistics provide pieces of factual information that cannot be refuted. They are, in fact, incapable of lying.

However, they can often fail to disclose other elements of the story. Case and point: the timing and scoring results of the two-day Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway. The practice results reveal a driver’s fastest individual lap, both during a single session and across the two-day outing. The numbers themselves are 100% factual and cannot be disputed.

However, they do not indicate speed over a series of laps (e.g. 5 laps, 10 laps, 20 laps, etc.). Such data is far more crucial in that it indicates a car’s performance over a stint, the pivotal aspect of dialing in a strong race setup.

Further, the time sheets do not indicate chassis adjustments a team sampled. Test sessions often serve as big science experiments for the race teams. It is their time to take their research and development theories to the track to see what works and what doesn’t.

Did a team adjust suspension and damper settings between runs? Did they alter aerodynamics, either by adding downforce or taking it away with wing adjustments? Did they adjust gearbox ratios? Are they experimenting with engine maps? Did they run on brand new tires or a used set?

All these questions, and more, go unanswered by the time charts. What’s more, the data the individual teams gather about their experiments is proprietary, so they won’t be keen to share it with outsiders. Consequently, lap times need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti explained that new strategist Bryan Herta is keen to keep the focus on the No. 27 hhgregg Honda while blocking what other teams are doing. “Bryan is very good at keeping me focused on the 27. ‘How can we maximize the 27?’ And then it’s very easy to be, ‘Oh, Penske went this fast’ — we need to focus on what we can do to go faster.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay explained this point further, detailing how crucial it is to keep your attention away from your opponents. “It’s just like you’re here by yourself testing, and your teammates. And we’re just going to operate in our own little bubble and (we’re) not really worried about where anybody else is because people are on different trim levels, people are up and down on engine power, people are getting toes, some aren’t,” said the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda. “Everybody is on a different tire program, tire life, you name it. So we’re just going to stay on our end and focus on it, and like I said, try and bring back the best race car that we can.”

There are more factors to consider as well. Phoenix is one of only three short ovals, along with Iowa Speedway and Gateway Motorsports Park, on the 2017 schedule. The other ovals (Indianapolis, Texas and Pocono) are bigger speedways, and 12 events will be held on road and street courses, meaning the data acquired at Phoenix may be inappropriate to use at other tracks.

Complicating matters more are weather conditions. This open test was held on February 10 and 11, and the ambient temperature topped out at 80 degrees on Friday evening while the track temperature hit a max of 94 degrees on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. But Saturday was much cooler, only into the mid-70s ambient and lower still at night.

With the race itself not scheduled until April 29, weather could be drastically different on raceday, as Team Penske driver and defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud indicated. “It was interesting: we come here, the track is perfect right now, temperature is not too bad, and we’re going to come back here (on April 29). And then it’s going to be very greasy, very loose, and it’s going to be very different. So you need to be able to counter effect that.”

There are some observations we can take away. Team Penske looks as stout as ever, though Ed Carpenter Racing looks poised to remain a thorn in the side of all of the big teams in 2017. Chip Ganassi Racing came out of the box down on speed to their rivals, but they’re early in their development with Honda’s engine and aero kit and should find more speed as the year continues.

However, a number of unknowns persist, and they may not get answered until the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12.

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.