Mexican Momentum: Lewis Takes Pole in Mercedes 1-2

It was a Mercedes 1-2 this afternoon in Mexico City as Lewis Hamilton took pole position with a 1m18.704s lap, more than two tenths faster than his teammate Nico Rosberg.  A Red Bull second row of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo looked like they would split the silver arrows for most of Q3, until Rosberg bested both on his final lap of qualifying for P2.

Both Ferraris were bested by a strong performance by Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India, who took 5th in the closing minutes.  Several teams found yesterday’s cooler temperatures and dusty track surface too difficult to improve their setups on today, with tires and brakes not reaching optimum temperatures.

Trailing by 26 points, Hamilton must finish 10th or better this weekend if Nico wins tomorrow’s race in order to keep his title hopes alive in the final two races later this month in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.  Several mechanical failures have plagued Hamilton this season, but he’s remained focused on the race at hand, sharing later:

“I turned up to do the job and I’m going to try to do the same thing as I did last week here.  So far this weekend has gone well…looking forward to the race, the long runs seem to be good, the car feels great, so I’m just looking forward to getting out on track.”

This was Hamilton’s 59th pole, and both he and Rosberg will start on soft tires tomorrow.

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Formula 1 Through a Veteran NASCAR Crew Chief’s Eyes

Circuit of the Americas, Austin Texas, USA. Friday 21 October 2016. World Copyright: Andy Hone/LAT Photographic ref: Digital Image _ONZ7532

Circuit of the Americas, Friday 21 October 2016   LAT Photographic

Stewart Haas racing’s VP of competition, Greg Zipadelli, visited the Circuit of the Americas before heading to Talladega for Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race and took some time to look around and observe a Friday in Formula 1 with Haas F1 Team.  Listening to radio communications with a different set of racing experiences coming from stock cars, Greg sat down to share some of what he saw on his first visit to an F1 paddock:

“For myself, this is something different. I’ve grown up with all forms of racing and different series, but you know F1 is looked at as kind of the ultimate.  It’s all over the world.  The way they do things for me is interesting.  This is my first time at race, and I’m here this weekend just to look around.  I just find it very interesting how they do things.  Obviously there are rules and the way things are done that allow them to do stuff a lot differently than we do in NASCAR and I love racing, so it’s interesting and I had the opportunity because it is in the United States.”

With so much specialization and technology in Formula 1, I asked Greg if there was anything he saw that would give him an idea how to do things differently on the NASCAR side?

“I’m mainly observing and trying to figure out how they do things, then there’s the next step:  Can you take any of it and apply any of it?  I got to join their debrief, listen to how they talk, and it’s similar to what we do.  Obviously they have a lot more data to process, so there’s a lot more people who have a little bit more of a particular job to do.  In our series, we don’t have data on race weekends, we get a throttle trace, a brake, and steer through our EFI data, but it’s not live.  We have to download it, and it’s more basic compared to what Formula 1 has here.”

With all the specialization in roles and triple the crew members involved in a F1 pitstop, I was curious to know if there was one tool that Greg saw that he wished he had the most in NASCAR:

“The data, logging, and the way that they do things here.  But that does take a huge element of the unknown out from our standpoint.  I’m listening to [Haas F1 Team] talk about where everyone is on the track using GPS.  If an F1 driver tells the team he’s feeling an issue with the car they can go back and find it in the data logged.  In [NASCAR] we have to go off of what the driver tells us, so you can’t look back and find brake issues that were talking about, or that one lap where they locked the brakes up.  We don’t have that, so a lot of it is about the driver, the driver’s attitude and focus on that day – that’s our data acquisition system.”

Interesting to note that at the heart of a NASCAR team’s success – the open radio communication between driver and crew chief – has lied the source of controversy in Formula 1 over team orders and profanity over live air for fans.  Before he was VP of Competition at Stewart Haas Racing, Greg served as crew chief mainly with Tony Stewart in the longest crew chief-driver pairings in the sport’s history.  Greg went on to add the significance of this relationship, and what having more data might mean for motorsport:

“I think the driver and crew chief’s relationship, their willingness to be very open and candid with each other.  Here I look at it as everything you can control, how much fuel the car is burning, etc.  In NASCAR we tell a driver to save fuel and he spots a light pole along the wall and lifts 200 or 300 feet earlier.  We then try to do the math and figure it out with a calculator.  Here in F1 they are watching [fuel consumption] live, so I think the level of communication on our side is really, really important because we don’t have that data.”

“To F1 having all this data is just another day, but to me its like ‘holy cow’!  How would it change NASCAR?  Would it make racing better?  I don’t know.  It would take some of the suspense I think away, and I hate to say it but also some of the calculated guesswork out of our day to day, which I think makes NASCAR a little more difficult than others because of that element.  I think it also brings some fun and excitement, not really knowing sometimes.”

Recently, there has been talk in the paddock around Romain Grosjean taking interest in driving a stock car, so who better to ask which new skills he thought would be needed to get in order to cope with a new experience on track?

“I don’t know Romain or his driving style that well, some drivers are very adaptable, and some it takes longer.  I think that him getting in one of our cars and having to learn the weight and how much those car move and roll compared to [F1] – that’s a very unsettling feeling.  Our cars don’t feel planted like these cars do, so I think that would be a really big adjustment for him.”

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Qualifying at the 2016 United States Grand Prix

Sunday’s USGP marks the 5th anniversary of Formula 1’s return to the United States at Circuit of The Americas, as well as the return of America to the starting grid, with Haas F1 Team racing in front of their home audience.

For Haas F1’s qualifying debut on home soil, Romain Grosjean’s day ended early, landing him P17 in Q1 while teammate Esteban Gutierrez made it to the second qualifying round to place 14th in the session. Both drivers struggled yesterday in practice with mechanical failures to their new front wings and low grip as they tried to optimize their setups for the weekend.

Lewis Hamilton, who trails his teammate Nico Rosberg by 33 points, took his 9th pole position of the season and his first ever at Circuit of the Americas, while besting his teammate by over two tenths of a second. Interestingly, all of Lewis’ victories have come from second on the grid, the only other race winner at Circuit of the Americas being Sebastian Vettel.

Haas F1 Team is currently 8th in the constructor’s championship standings, having scored 28 points and a double points finish at the last race in Japan. Speaking in yesterday’s team principal’s press conference, Red Bull’s Christian Horner commented on Haas F1 Team’s inaugural season:

“I think they’ve had a great first year. First of all, it’s super to have a credible team on the grid. Haas has got a great track record in motorsport in this territory and to come into Formula One is no insignificant challenge so, to have come in, to have come in credibly and efficiently and gone about scoring a good portion of points, being competitive, I think it’s very, very positive.”

Renault team principal Cyril Abiteboul was also complimentary, adding:

“I think they’ve done a great job and in particular because they are ahead of us so they are some form of nightmare to us, to the championship. Mostly, I think it is interesting because they are showing that, as always, the points you are taking at the start of the season are very important.”

This weekend marks the first time an American F1 team has taken part in a Grand Prix weekend in three decades.

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