x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pit tactics have come to the fore this F1 season

Pirelli tyres have changed the face of the sport, meaning more stops and overtaking, writes Gary Meenaghan.

The McLaren-Mercedes pit-stop team had a day of mixed fortunes at the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul on Sunday.
The McLaren-Mercedes pit-stop team had a day of mixed fortunes at the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul on Sunday.

Pit stops proving pivotal

The Turkish Grand Prix produced 82 pit stops, which is more than any other Formula One race since the wet European Grand Prix at Donington Park in 1993. With the increased number of stops, there is more pressure on both the drivers and mechanics to perform a rapid but flawless turnaround.

At Istanbul Park we saw the best and worst of McLaren-Mercedes. First, Lewis Hamilton came in directly behind Ferrari's Felipe Massa on lap nine, but following a quick change of tyres, was able to edge out in front of the Brazilian. However, the England-based team's good work was undone when, 25 laps later, a wheel nut appeared to get stuck and the Briton lost valuable time before, in a cruel twist of fate, he was forced to wait a few seconds longer before departing his garage as Massa was coming in.

Turkey tests teammates

Just as the Bosphorus splits Europe from Asia, the 5.3km track on Istanbul's Asian side appears to have a knack for causing splits in teams.

Last year, with the Red Bull Racing pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber comfortably heading towards a one-two finish, the two drivers needlessly collided, handing the top step of the podium to Hamilton.

This year, while the Red Bulls learnt their lesson to bring home the maximum points victory that had escaped them in 2010, it was the turn of Renault to pit teammates against each other.

Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld appeared destined to produce a shunt in the 13th lap, when the Russian stubbornly refused to concede his position to his German teammate and the two cars touched.

Heidfeld was furious and Eric Boullier, Renault's French team principal, would have been relieved as he watched both drivers finish in the points.

Red resurgence

The Prancing Horse is galloping again. After enduring a slow start to the new season, Ferrari have found their feet and Fernando Alonso could be well placed to please his patriotic Spanish following at the next grand prix, his home race at Circuit de Catalunya in two weeks time.

Race pace has proven good all season, but with an improved qualifying this week, Alonso showed the Maranello-based team can challenge.

His battle from fifth up to third was not solely impressive because it was the Italian manufacturers' first podium since November, but it also caught the eye because, on the softer tyres, Alonso was clocking quicker laps than Red Bull's Webber.

In fact, were it not for the Australian having an extra set of new soft tyres, thanks to doing one less run in qualifying, and being able to attack Alonso in the closing stages, the Spaniard might have been able to finish even higher.

Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, is already talking of improvements and he will not be content until his team are capable of stopping the domination of Vettel.

Istanbul Park could stay

With dwindling attendances and a complete failure to promote the event in Istanbul, the Turkish Grand Prix was expected to disappear from the calendar next year. The government appeared unwilling to meet Bernie Ecclestone's £26 million (Dh156m) staging fee and the sport's 80-year old rights owner had vowed that he would take his race elsewhere.

However, there is not a driver in the paddock who does not enjoy the challenge at Istanbul Park and many spoke in favour of retaining the venue for next year.

Ecclestone is not one to be bullied into decisions, but the image of him standing on the grid pre-race and holding the Turkish flag beside the country's minister of sport would indicate the two men's earlier meeting had proved productive. No decision has yet been made, but Turkey's six-year contract may yet be extended.

Super Sunday shunts Saturday

There was a period during Michael Schumacher's dominance that, such was the difficulty in overtaking, the Saturday qualifying session was more exciting than the largely processional race the following day. Drivers, aware that improving their race position on a Sunday would be no mean feat, would dedicate everything they had to finish as high up the grid as possible during qualifying.

Now, however, with the new regulations - none more important than Pirelli's quick-wearing tyres - overtaking is rife and Sundays are proving chaotic for commentators.

Webber went from 18th to third in Shanghai and, at Istanbul Park, Kamui Kobayashi showed it is not only the Red Bulls who can pass.

Sauber's Japanese driver started at the back of the grid after suffering mechanical failure in qualifying, but he was so confident in his ability to overtake, he promised team Peter Sauber, the owner, some points. And, finishing 10th, he delivered.