Issue 38: United States Grand Prix Review


4 November 2014

Race Summary: Lewis Hamilton won the United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) from team-mate Nico Rosberg who started on pole. Daniel Ricciardo put in another superb drive to overtake the Williams of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, finishing third, fourth and fifth respectively. Fernando Alonso came home sixth and Sebastian Vettel seventh.

Shootout in Texas!

The United States Grand Prix burst into life after the first round of pitstops from Lap 14 onwards. Rosberg had led from pole, but was closely tracked by Hamilton. After both drivers had stopped for new Medium tyres, Hamilton slotted in about 2.5 seconds behind the German on the road. But then came Hammertime! The Briton closed relentlessly on the leader. On Lap 18, the gap was 2.5 seconds. On Lap 19, the deficit was 1.8 seconds. Lap 20, 1.4 seconds. By Lap 22, Hamilton was within a second. Then on Lap 24, Hamilton struck, passing Rosberg down the inside under braking into Turn 12. Although aided by the German’s difficulty in deploying power from his energy recovery system at that point, Hamilton’s move was a storming overtake that had big consequences for the world title. Hamilton then marched on, keeping Rosberg at arm’s length for the rest of the race.

As far as the intra-Mercedes battle is concerned, what was notable about the United States Grand Prix was how closely it followed a similar pattern to previous races this season. Rosberg had drawn first blood on Saturday by taking pole (his ninth of the year), but Hamilton achieved victory on Sunday (his 10th of the season). Yet again, for the seventh time in 2014, Rosberg had failed to convert pole position into a win. Yet again, for the sixth time this year, Hamilton had passed the German after starting behind him on the grid. The switch on to the Medium compound tyre and Hamilton’s decision to remove a couple of turns of front wing angle enabled him to get ahead at COTA. Removing front wing angle meant that his W05 Hybrid achieved a better balance once on the less grippy Medium tyre. Rosberg did not make the same change to his front wing at the first round of stops and struggled with balance and rhythm thereafter. The German said afterwards that he found a rhythm after the second round of stops, but Hamilton had him covered to the chequered flag.

A missed opportunity for Williams, but a great drive from Ricciardo

Behind the Mercedes, Ricciardo superbly stole third place from Williams. If I was a Williams team member or fan, I’d be a little disappointed. On a track where the Grove outfit should have had the edge over Red Bull they managed to concede the final podium position. And not for the first time, Red Bull and Ricciardo in particular got ahead of faster cars through good strategy work and by taking their chances. Ricciardo’s podium was even more impressive following his poor start where he dropped from fifth to seventh on the opening lap. Post-race, Williams said they had underestimated the lower rate of tyre degradation on the Medium tyre. Combined with Massa losing time in the pits on his second stop, this was enough of a margin for the fiercely competitive Ricciardo to jump ahead. His drive was in stark contrast to his team-mate’s pedestrian efforts in the first half of the race. The soon to be former world champion was nowhere on race pace in the early stages, setting lap times on average two seconds a lap slower than Ricciardo between Laps 5-13 and between Laps 17-25. However, in the final phase, when the fuel had burnt off and the Soft tyres had been bolted on to the Red Bull, Vettel flew along, passing the squabbling Lotuses, McLarens and Toro Rossos. Alonso took a similar approach, having stopped late on for Soft tyres. It was a pleasure to witness late charges by two world champions as they brought the final laps alive.

Sky F1 coverage leaves a lot to be desired

I was pretty disappointed with Sky’s pre-race punditry. According to their pre-race narrative, Hamilton had little chance as this was Rosberg’s race to lose. The basis of this conclusion was that Rosberg was over a third of a second quicker than the Briton in qualifying. A big margin, but everyone knows Rosberg is not 0.3 seconds a lap quicker than Hamilton. The influence of Hamilton’s brake troubles in qualifying were underplayed by Sky even though Niki Lauda had stated pre-race that these problems had been rectified overnight. Race on, in my view. But Sky unanimously tipped Rosberg. In doing so, Sky failed to give their (high-paying) viewers a contrarian perspective on how the race might unfold. For example, at no point was Rosberg’s poor pole conversion rate mentioned. And what happened? Rosberg failed to convert pole into a win again.

I like Damon Hill. And Martin Brundle. And Johnny Herbert for that matter. However, as pundits, they all suffer from the same problem; they’re all former F1 drivers. Drivers experience only one perspective of F1. Sky need to diversify their pundit panel to deliver more insight to their viewers. We need to hear from an ex-driver, of course. But the viewer also needs the technical engineering/aerodynamics point of view, a strategist’s perspective and the opinion of a former team principal. For example, at the United States Grand Prix, a strategist pundit could have gone into depth about whether Hamilton should have run the Soft tyre instead of the Medium in the second or third stint in order to attack and pass Rosberg. Only with a more diverse pundit line-up will Sky’s viewers be offered more insight into a complex sport.