Vettel doubts extra Pirelli testing gave him major tire advantage

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Sebastian Vettel doubts that his extra test running with Pirelli last year to help test the 2017-spec Formula 1 tires has given him a notable advantage over his rivals at the start of the new season.

Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull worked with Pirelli through 2016 using ‘mule cars’ to help develop the Italian tire supplier’s new compounds after a redesign of F1’s tires to make them 25 per cent bigger.

Vettel completed the most testing of any driver, and was one of the few to offer no complaints about managing the ultra-soft compound in Australia at the F1 season-opener.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton decided to pit early from the lead in Australia as he struggled with the ultra-softs, allowing Vettel to move into the lead and trigger a strategy that saw Ferrari win for the first time in 18 months.

While Vettel’s extended testing with Pirelli was cited as a reason for his victory in Australia, the German doubts he gained a huge amount from the running, but was happy to have been involved.

“I’m not sure. I think maybe the right answer is ‘no’,” Vettel said when asked if he had a better understanding of the tires as a result of his test running.

“The reason why I’m generally happy to do it is because I love driving. So, when there’s an opportunity to test, even though testing can sometimes be a bit dull and boring.

“But still, you’re driving the car and that’s much better than sitting on the bike for a couple of hours or whatever training to be fit enough to drive the car. I think that generally track time is limited so every opportunity you get.

“That’s personal, but I can’t understand why you would reject it and as I said, I’m happy to drive the car and I think there’s always something you learn.

“So for sure the days I did last year with Pirelli to help them get feedback for the tires etc., for sure they also helped me.”

Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg also said that he doubted there was a huge amount to be gained in the private tests, particularly as the cars used varied from the 2017 models that are now racing the tires.

“Obviously it was these mule cars which were not fully representative and the tires were also not, I believe, the exact spec that we have now,” Hulkenberg said.

“But, you know, there’s always something that you can learn, and pick up, that you can use for your advantage. But that’s in the past. It’s history.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

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Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
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Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.