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Engine deficit, tire struggles leave Red Bull off the pace in Brazil

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Red Bull was left to settle for fifth and sixth in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix as drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo struggled with a straight-line speed deficit, forcing them to overwork their tires and fade in the closing stages of the race.

Verstappen qualified fourth at Interlagos and was able to stick with the leading trio of Sebastian Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen through the opening stint, only to drop back after switching to the soft compound tire.

Red Bull’s performance deficit with its Renault engine compared to its Mercedes and Ferrari-powered rivals forced Verstappen to push hard through the middle sector in a bid to make up time, punishing his tires in the process.

The Dutchman was unable to fend off the recovering Lewis Hamilton as he rose up the order, leaving him P5 at the checkered flag.

“To manage the tires was really hard. It was the hardest race for us in terms of tire management this year, it didn’t click,” Verstappen told NBCSN after the race.

“We were OK the first few laps, but slower straight line speed. You saw how easy Lewis got us. We’ll see what we can do there.”

Teammate Ricciardo had a more eventful race, starting 14th after a grid penalty before getting caught up in a clash with Kevin Magnussen and Stoffel Vandoorne at Turn 2.

Ricciardo was able to escape the shunt without any major damage, eventually recovering to P6 at the checkered flag, albeit without putting pressure on the leading quintet as he too struggled with his tires.

“In Turn 2, I knew it’d be tight, but I figured start was a good chance to do something,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“I tried to do something then felt a bit of a hit. I was worried I had damage. But seemed OK, Iame into the pits to change it.

“We didn’t have as much fun as Lewis. But relatively a good race. I made the move pretty quick.

“At first we pushed then it looked like the tires were getting hot. The team was worried. We were able to push. I’d done all the pushing I could.”

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.