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.

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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