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Tactical check GP Mexico 2018: The fear of the safety car

Tactics check GP Mexico 2018
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D he number of pit stops already tells the story of the GP Mexico. 28, more than since the German GP. But constant weather changes provoked the high number of tire changes. At the GP Mexico it was the track and the tires that Pirelli provided.

The Hypersoft was too soft, the Ultrasoft was on the limit. So the Supersoft remained as the ideal racing tire. And of all things, the teams had ordered the smallest contingent. Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll, Nico Hülkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson only ever had one set in their inventory.

Weak point left front tire

The teams just didn't expect it that the softer mixes would be so badly affected by the graining. The weak point was the left front tire. At Hypersoft, there were also grains on the rear tire.

Most teams were only able to do one long run on the Supersoft tire on Friday due to a lack of tires. Some don't. Renault found out with Carlos Sainz: The tire lasts forever. Sainz drove a set for 97 laps. Sergey Sirotkin managed 58 laps in the race.

On the day of the race, only Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso had two sets of Supersoft in reserve. A luxury, as it turned out later. Not for Alonso anymore. The McLaren driver parked after just three laps. But for Verstappen the second set of the hardest mixture was a welcome safeguard.

When Sebastian Vettel switched from Supersoft to Ultrasoft on lap 47 to lure Red Bull out of the reserve, Verstappen was able to unpack his second set. “We didn't have to. Max could have gone through super soft with the first sentence. But we wanted to protect ourselves against a safety car. Otherwise we would have been on used super softs against Vettel with fresh ultrasofts ”, explained motorsport director Helmut Marko.

Ferrari back to old strength

A one-stop race was basically no problem. Kimi Räikkönen was third. After 17 laps, the Finn swapped his ultrasoft soles for super soft rubbers. Raikkonen lasted the longest on the middle mix. Sebastian Vettel was able to ride Attack longest of all drivers in the middle stint. The Ferrari driver reduced his gap to Verstappen from 14.1 to 8.2 seconds.

In laps 41, 42 and 43, he drove 24 lapsold Supersofts three times in a row best time. Which shows that Ferrari has regained its former strength. The car is gentle on its tires, although the Ferrari has lost ground to Red Bull and Mercedes in the configuration for maximum downforce.

Red Bull was the ideal racing car for the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. Renault lost less in the thin air Performance than usual against Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes turned back the power for safety reasons. You were at the limit with the cooling, which the huge opening on the crest of the airbox clearly showed.

The Red Bull showed their superiority especially with the mechanical grip and the downforce. The fast corners in sector 2 and the narrow stadium passage were the territory of the winners. Ferrari dominated the straights. The big loss of time in the corners leveled out a bit in the race.

Vettel only found one champion, and that was Verstappen. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner was of the opinion: “Seb would not have got Ricciardo. His ultrasoft tires were already breaking in. ”Vettel confirmed:“ The ultrasofts only brought an advantage for a few laps. ”

His only weapon against Ricciardo was the 8 km /h better top speed. The problem resolved itself. Ricciardo dropped out with a faulty clutch. It was the eighth zero this season, the seventh for technical reasons. This time the Red Bull construction site again.

Good start as the key to victory

The key to victory for Max Verstappen was the start. Vettel couldn't play out the advantage on the straight in the first 890 meters: “I was trapped. Max and Lewis were driving side by side in front of me, Bottas was on my left. ”Would Verstappen have won if he hadn't taken the lead at the start? With Ricciardo in front of your nose, definitely. The Australian didn't finish and was also significantly slower. With Hamilton as the front runner too. The Mercedes ate their tires.

With Vettel it would at least have been interesting. But Verstappen had a strategic trump card with his two sets of Supersoft. He could have chosen the undercut as early as possible at the first stop because he had enough fresh tires in reserve. The pit stop window to midfield opened after just 9 laps.

The Mercedes were not a candidate for victory in Mexico on Sunday. “We were only number three today,” stated team boss Toto Wolff. Both drivers suffered from extreme tire wear as a result of heavy grain. Front left and back, through all the compounds.

“It ate so deep that there was no more rubber in the end. That's why our tires never recovered. With everyone else, the grain was gone at some point, ”said the engineers. In the end, Mercedes almost ran out of tires. 'The Hypersoft sentence for Valtteri in the fourth stint was the last we had.'

For themOne-stop racing was impossible for Mercedes drivers. This presented the command post with a difficult task. “The plan was of course to cover the distance with one set each of Ultrasoft and Supersoft. We noticed early on in the first stint that it wasn't enough. ”

On lap 11, Hamilton and Bottas were the first from the leading group to pit. That drew Verstappen, Ricciardo and Vettel. You couldn't have guessed what kind of tire drama would be looming at Mercedes. Only Raikkonen drove six laps longer. Ferrari thus covered two tactics.

VSC phase invites Bottas to the third stop

The early pit stops put Mercedes in a dilemma. The drivers had to survive as long as possible on their supersoft tires despite the problems. “If we put on ultra-soft tires on lap 25, we won't hold out until the end. Our prediction was a service life of a maximum of 20 laps for the Ultrasofts. ”

The Mercedes lost track with the tire problem.

Hamilton delayed the second stop until lap 47, Bottas one lap longer. Nevertheless, the Finn had to pit a third time. The strategists' declaration: “The VSC phase invited us to do so. We were worried about strong vibrations in the rear tires. ”If Mercedes hadn't had an easier time with two sets of Supersoft up their sleeves. At least it would have been possible with Hamilton. The world champion had two sets of the toughest mix in the pool.

But chief engineer Andrew Shovlin explains the dilemma: “We could only have held back a second set of supersofts if we had a supersoft long run with Lewis in the second training session would have waived. But then we would not have had any information about this type of tire. And on Friday it didn't look like we might need two super soft tires either. ”

Controlled slow driving faster

The GP Mexico once again consisted of two separate races. This time more obvious than usual. Everyone from Nico Hülkenberg in 6th place was lapped twice. The class difference cannot be clearly documented. It's the biggest problem thatFormula 1 has to fight. Unfortunately, she only does it half-heartedly.

The midfield teams were doubly handicapped. They lacked the speed and that practically imposed a one-stop strategy on them. Although two stops would have been faster on paper with a full attack.

Hulkenberg made sure with a moderate pace that he could make the rounds with a stop is coming.

The top teams had the luxury of choice because they didn't have to be afraid of falling into traffic. Renault, Sauber, Toro Rosso, McLaren and Force India first had to defend their position on the track. 'From our point of view, rolling around with one stop was better than attacking with two stops,' said Nico Hülkenberg, summarizing the situation in Formula 1B.

The two Renaults thus had the easiest game. Right after the start you were at the top of the midfield. It was about doing at least 10 laps, then switching from Hypersoft to Supersoft and managing this tire to the finish.

“That made our race slower than it could have been, of course. But even if I could have driven at full speed, I would still have crossed the finish line one and a half laps behind Max ”, Hülkenberg is certain. Hülkenberg and Leclerc have shown in the last few laps that it was faster. When it was clear that the tires would hold up, they suddenly turned up and were two seconds faster.

McLaren's tactical coup brings four points

Hülkenberg drove a race of his own. The crowd behind had to fight. The key to Charles Leclerc's 7th place was good teamwork. Marcus Ericsson was instructed to slow down the pursuers. When Leclerc pitted on lap 13, he was already 13 seconds ahead of the crowd behind.

So he was comfortably ahead of his opponents even after the series of first stops. Ericsson was not rewarded for the good deed. A problem at the front left during the pit stop cost the Swedes 9 seconds. “Otherwise Marcus would have finished eighth”, team boss Beat Zehnder is convinced.

The big unknowns in the game were Force India and HaasF1, the ones with supersoft tireswent into the race. It would have been worth it for Sergio Perez. He would have finished seventh if the brakes hadn't played a trick on him. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean never had a chance for World Cup points, but they compressed the midfield and gave Hülkenberg additional cover.

So Stoffel Vandoorne was even a threat to Leclerc for a short time. McLaren had called the Belgian in the first VSC phase for a pit stop. That gave him 10 seconds. The slow train behind Magnussen also helped the Toro Rosso drivers. They came back from the depths of the field and got involved in the battle for championship points. For Pierre Gasly it was still enough for 10th place.


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