Six things we learned from the US Grand Prix

While the US Grand Prix’s slogan may be “keep it weird”, nobody could have foreseen the spectacle caused by the treacherous weather, the crowning of Lewis Hamilton as the 2015 Formula 1 World Champion and the dramatic ebb and flow of Sunday’s race.  While the history books will always show that Hamilton secured yet another victory, Sunday’s proceedings were far from simple, resulting in many points that warrant further discussion…

The difference summed up in a single moment

While it has become clear over time, and during this season in particular, that Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are not on the same level, nothing could have highlighted the difference between the two more clearly than Rosberg’s mistake on lap 49 of Sunday's race.  

Rosberg, to his credit, drove excellently for 95% of the race. After a less than ideal start, the German fought back strongly and adapted well to the drying track to find himself at the front of pack, comfortably managing the gap to Hamilton. On lap 49, however, with victory in sight, the German ran off track, allowing Hamilton to pass him and secure the win.  

The overall result is that Hamilton, now officially the 2015 Formula 1 world champion, continues to secure his place amongst the greatest names of the sport while Rosberg slips further still into a role that involves plenty of second places and helping the team win the constructor’s title. Unfortunately for Rosberg, history does not smile particularly warmly on such drivers.  

Williams are yet to address their issues fully

The Williams FW37, the team’s 2015 challenger, is well-known for its strong straight-line performance and acceleration out of corners. While this has been to the team’s advantage on several occasions this year, tighter, twistier circuits have not suited the car nearly as well. Despite Williams’ best efforts this season, this weakness has not yet been eliminated from the FW37.  

Although the Austin circuit is not particularly twisty, the weekend’s wet conditions meant that downforce became more important than ever, and the team’s frailty in this area was exposed as Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas qualified down in ninth and twelfth places respectively.  

While both drivers had their races cut short due to factors outside their control, it is unlikely that the pair would have been able to challenge the Mercedes pair, the Ferrari duo, or even the two Toro Rossos.  

Question marks remain around the Honda engine update

With Honda making a revised version of their thus far uncompetitive engine available to Fernando Alonso for last weekend’s race, Jenson Button (who is due to receive the updated engine in Mexico) expressed hope that the Spaniard would “annihilate me all weekend”.  

While the Spaniard did outqualify the Briton by a substantial 0.9 seconds, Sunday’s race saw Button turn the tables and finish well-ahead of Alonso.  

In fairness, the changing conditions and Alonso’s early puncture make it difficult to draw concrete conclusions from their respective performances. However, Button’s wish for Alonso to annihilate him all weekend did not come true by any stretch of the imagination, and only time will tell whether the upgraded Honda engine takes McLaren closer to the front of the pack on a more routine race weekend without rain.  

The false Red Bull dawn

After locking out the second row of the grid for Red Bull on Sunday morning, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed a strong opening half of the race and proved themselves to be more than a match for the Silver Arrows pair, leading to hope that perhaps Red Bull were about to secure their first victory of 2015 as Daniel Ricciardo briefly led the race and set some rapid lap times.  

Unfortunately, the team’s strong pace on the intermediate tyres did not translate to strong pace on slick tyres, and the pair slowly found themselves losing touch with the Mercedes duo and being reeled in by Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari.  

In the end, the Austrian team had to settle for a solitary point courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo, making it clear that any miraculous improvement in the Red Bull RB11’s performance was only temporary and due to the unusual weather conditions, with the team’s old weaknesses, such as low top speed, quickly undoing the drivers’ good work in the opening stages of Sunday’s race.  

An opportunity missed for Kvyat

Daniil Kvyat, perhaps to his own surprise, enjoyed a majestic start to Sunday’s proceedings, overtaking both team-mate Daniel Ricciardo as well as Nico Rosberg on the opening lap of the race. The Russian then proceeded to hound Lewis Hamilton, stubbornly refusing to allow the Briton to pull away from him.   

While the Virtual Safety Car on lap 7 halted Kvyat’s charge as he was preparing to overtake Hamilton, his performance after the race restart was, quite frankly, disappointing.  

The youngster, who never really regained his rhythm, was soon overtaken by both Ricciardo and Rosberg and failed to threaten from there on. Worse still, as conditions improved and his Red Bull became less competitive, Kvyat made critical mistakes, running wide several times, which made him an easy target for cars behind.  

While the eventual dry-weather pace displayed by Mercedes and Ferrari was always going to make it impossible for Kvyat to write his name into the sport’s history books by winning the race, an error strewn middle part of the race that ended when he spun and hit the wall on lap 43 put paid to any chance of the Russian impressing paddock observers.  

With Red Bull’s future in the sport remaining uncertain, Kvyat can only hope that such a performance will not negatively affect his bid for a drive at a different team next year, should Red Bull fail to find an engine partner for 2016.  

The virtual safety car could use a few tweaks

Formula 1’s virtual safety car (VSC) is a good idea on paper. By forcing the drivers to maintain a certain lap time for as long as race control deems necessary, it allows for any collisions or other incidents to be dealt with by track officials without neutralizing the whole race, which is what happens when a “normal” safety car period occurs.  

While the VSC succeeded in maintaining the delicate balance of the race when it was deployed on lap 7 of last Sunday’s grand prix, more attention should be given to the part of the process where the race is restarted.  

With the race ready to restart on Sunday, the VSC period was ended while the leading group of cars was negotiating a series of corners that followed quickly on each other. The result was a sudden, slightly disjointed restart to proceedings that left Daniel Ricciardo (who was running in third place at the time) to question quite vigorously how Nico Rosberg had managed to overtake him, despite replays suggesting the German was well within his rights.  

Perhaps a restart procedure similar to that of the “normal” safety car, where the race leader sets the pace until he is ready to return to full speed, would be preferable.  

It would create a uniform restart procedure for both the virtual and “normal” safety car periods and reduce the risk of any incidents occurring at the restart, which would bring some much-needed simplicity back into a sport that has a tendency to overcomplicate relatively simple ideas.  

Adriaan Slabbert

Comments