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Curly's Corner: A Nerd's Eye on Formula 1 - Mexican Grand Prix

by David Zipf

 

Welcome back to our post-race breakdown of Formula 1! In case you missed it, MotoIQ will be bringing you its own particular nerdtastic take on the latest news and developments in F1. Impress your neighbors, stun your friends, and woo the ladies with your newfound F1 knowledge!

 

Round 16 Recap

The 2017 United States Grand Prix was one of the more interesting editions of the event. Lewis Hamilton started on pole, with title rival Sebastian Vettel alongside. As the field headed into Turn 1, Vettel was able to slip past Hamilton and into the lead. Vettel led for the first few laps before the quicker Mercedes overtook the German. Hamilton never looked back, only briefly handing over the lead during pit stops and cruising home to an easy win. Behind him, there was a bit of drama as Max Verstappen charged through the field, starting from near the rear of the field due to an engine change penalty, working his way into the top 5. He made a late race stop in an attempt to throw the leading teams off their original plans, but it did not work, as Vettel was able to stay ahead, and Hamilton chose not to pit. Verstappen made a daring pass on 3rd place Kimi Raikkonen, but was awarded a 5-second penalty and demoted back to 4th for cutting the track. A long discussion on track limits and penalties followed (you can find my thoughts on the matter here), but at the end of the day, Hamilton was still the winner, followed by Vettel and Raikkonen on the podium. With Hamilton’s win and Valtteri Bottas’ 5th, Mercedes was able to secure their 4th consecutive Constructor’s Championship. Their 147 point lead was more than Ferrari could earn in the final three races of the year, extending Mercedes’s string of domination through the hybrid era.  

 
 

A post shared by Mercedes-AMG (@mercedesamg) on

If you want a perfect example of how much of a team sport Formula 1 is, just take a look at this commemorative photo from Mercedes Benz. It takes the effort of every one of their team members to pull off.

Only 9 teams have ever managed to win consecutive world championships. Only three have managed to win four in a row: McLaren (1988-1991), Red Bull (2010-2013), and Mercedes Benz (2014-2017).  But the work is not over for Mercedes: Ferrari has managed to win a stunning six in a row!  From 1999 to 2004, Ferrari utterly dominated the sport. Could Mercedes match this record? It seems like a tall task, but on the grounds of their performance in the last four seasons, it is within the realm of possibilities. While that would be stunning, a new king would be much more interesting. Then again, even if Mercedes does win the next two seasons, as long as they have teams like Ferrari, Red Bull Racing, and maybe even McLaren and Renault, nipping at their heels, then it will be a hell of a ride for us fans. More importantly, with the Constructor’s title in the bag, Mercedes focus needs to turn to Lewis Hamilton to secure his driver’s championship.  So with only a few quick days to enjoy their success, the teams packed up and headed to Mexico.

There wasn’t a lot of news between Austin and Mexico City. Daniil Kvyat, after finishing a fine10th in the US, was told by Red Bull his services would no longer be needed. While Kvyat has slipped badly since re-joining Scuderia Toro Rosso last year, his treatment by the Red Bull team has been...less than professional. Yes, results are everything in F1, but sometimes politics trump all. The rumor in the paddock is the moment Kvyat collided with Red Bull’s former golden child in Sochi 2016, Jos Verstappen was in the ear of the Red Bull heads, petitioning that his son switch places with the beleaguered Russian. Max had shown plenty of promise in his first season with STR, but without that extra behind the scenes push by his father, it seems he would not have moved when he did. As we all know, Verstappen won his debut race, but it was a win based mostly on strategy. If not for the internal politics, it could easily have been Kvyat at the top step, the first ever Russian Grand Prix winner. I am in no way taking away from Max’s accomplishments: Red Bull’s decision was clearly the correct one and Max is now rising to the challenge of leading one of the top teams in the sport.

Sadly, that success has come at the price of a driver, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, got a demotion, and then watched as his own car went on to win a race later. If you don’t think success takes luck, here is proof positive that it does. Hopefully another team takes a chance on Kvyat to break him free of the Red Bull shadow (rumors are he could land with Williams to replace Felipe Massa). If not, IndyCar could be another home for the Russian. We’ll see where he lands.

Also, after the debacle that was track limits in Austin, the FIA took a proactive approach to enforcing track limits in Mexico (especially in the first series of Esses that caused such controversy a year ago) by installing a series of tall sausage style kerbs on the outside of Turn 1.  A physical deterrent is exactly what is needed to keep drivers between the lines. It’s not a permanent solution (those kerbs will send an out of control car airborne easily), but they will work for now untl the FIA settles on a rules or permanent physical solution.

 

Practice

FP1 started off with the top teams quite conveniently pairing up to fill the top 6 positions. Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were the quickest pair, followed by Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel, and Kimi Raikkonen. Sergio Perez, in his home race, made the best of a bad situation to place 7th. Fernando Alonso rallied to 8th, helping prove his argument all season that the McLaren MCL-32 is a great car, hampered by a poor engine.  

For FP2, Ricciardo topped the timesheets, shadowed by Hamilton, and RBR teammate Verstappen.  Vettel was able to work his way into 4th, with Raikonnen and Bottas behind. Once again, Alonso was punching above his car’s weight, now in 7th. Nearer to the back, the returning Pierre Gasly was relegated to 19th after only turning a handful of laps before a powertrain issue sidelined him for the session.

In FP3, Gasly again faced problems, this time only completing two laps before his Renault engine failed him. He had missed out on FP1 to make way for some testing with Sean Galel, leaving Gasly with only a dozen laps of practice under his belt. Not a great way to start off his third ever GP weekend. Up front, former STR driver Max Verstappen was making life difficult for the championship duo, inching out just a few hundredths over Hamilton and Vettel. Max is quickly becoming a spoiler in the field as both he and his Red Bull RB13 are coming on strong post-Summer break. With his pace in the morning session, he was looking to be a strong contender for a first ever pole position.

 

The Halo made its return in Mexico as McLaren tested the safety device, measuring airflow around the intake and roll hoop (you can see the pitot arrays in the airbox). It’s a reminder that the controversial safety device is on its way, whether we like it or not.  It is somewhat surprising we have not seen more Halo tests in 2017, but I guess with the rules still not fully defined, there isn’t much sense in working too hard on a concept.  Source
 
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