Ross Brawn reflects on a massive week for Formula 1, on-track and off-track, in the United States which was topped by Kimi Räikkönen’s superlative return to the top step of the podium in Austin but it wasn’t just in Texas that the sport enjoyed an amazing weekend.
Formula 1 Managing Director, Motorsport, Ross Brawn report from Circuit of the Americas:
It’s taken 113 races to see Kimi Räikkönen back on the top step of the podium and his win in Austin was truly well deserved.
Kimi produced a perfect drive, making no mistakes after a brilliant start. He managed the tyres intelligently and kept his cool in the closing stages when he had Verstappen and Hamilton breathing down his neck. His victory owed much to his choice of running Ultrasofts to make the cut from Q2 in Saturday’s qualifying, while his teammate and the Mercedes duo opted for the Supersofts.
I imagine that Ferrari had suggested this to him partly in light of Vettel’s penalty, thinking he could get the better of Hamilton and let the German catch up. The plan worked, given that Kimi immediately made the most of the extra grip of the softer tyres to pass Hamilton at the start.
However, because of Vettel’s mistake and subsequent spin it fell to the Finn to at least try to win the race. And that’s just what he did with great style. With only three more races to go until the end of his second stint at Ferrari, Kimi has put the icing on the cake, towards the end of what has been a very strong season; definitely his best in recent years.
He really deserves the success, because he has always been unstintingly professional and a true team player. He is one of the most popular drivers with the fans, which was clear to see in Austin. I’m really happy that he’s managed to achieve this goal which I’m sure is really dear to him.
Brawn: Sebastian is a bit out of sorts at the moment
On a weekend on which Kimi demonstrated that the Ferrari was once again really quick, the other side of the coin is represented by Sebastian Vettel, who was again no stranger to mistakes.
On Friday there was a small one, when he failed to slow sufficiently for red flags, and he paid the price with a three-place penalty. Then, in the race, he yet again collided with a Red Bull, this time Ricciardo’s, and once again Vettel came off worst.
It was another lost opportunity to close the gap in the title fight, especially when we saw what Räikkönen did with the same car. I certainly don’t want to put Vettel in the dock, but these incidents can no longer be seen as coincidence, but rather they would seem to indicate that Sebastian is a bit out of sorts at the moment.
It’s a shame because this year, the Maranello team has been able to give him a really competitive car right – right from the start of the season. Since the start of the hybrid era, Mercedes has never faced such stiff opposition and has never had to push development as much as it has this year. That’s down to the men and women who work at Ferrari and obviously, that includes the drivers.
Now, any hope of bringing the Drivers’ title back to Maranello is dwindling and the time has come to do the maths. Their most important task is to work out how to help Vettel make the most of his massive talent.
Brawn: The decisive moment of the Grand Prix came on lap 11
You don’t become a four time world champion for no reason and Sebastian has definitely not forgotten how to win. In a sport as complicated as Formula 1, you only reach your goals if all the pieces of the jigsaw fall into place. If just one piece is missing everything is compromised.
The decisive moment of the Grand Prix came on lap 11, when the Virtual Safety Car was deployed in order to allow the marshals to clear away Ricciardo’s Red Bull.
Hamilton and his strategists elected to use the caution to make a pit stop that would cost them little time. Indeed, with the field having to drive slowly, Lewis rejoined the race having lost just one position, and only a few seconds, to Räikkönen.
However, while that was the plus side, the downside was that Hamilton lost out to the Finn in terms of the tyres compounds chosen, given that the Supersoft was probably the better tyre over a long stint, as Verstappen also proved.
So, with what was still quite a heavy car, the series leader had to really push hard to close up to the Ferrari man and that definitely impacted on tyre life. He thus had to make a second stop on lap 37.
At this point, there was still a possibility that he could recover and try to go for the win, but Lewis again took on the Softs, a rather conservative choice, given that even with fresher tyres he could not get past Max Verstappen.
Of course, it should be stressed that Lewis didn’t have to win, given that at the time of his first pit stop, Vettel was still a long way back.
Brawn: Hamilton must has to be patient and delay the festivities for at least another week
However, Hamilton’s run of four straight wins has come to an end, but he still edged slightly closer to his fifth title. Now, he just has to be patient and delay the festivities for at least another week.
The three drivers on the podium crossed the line within the same three seconds. They all ran different tyre strategies, through choice in the case of Räikkönen and Hamilton and by necessity for Verstappen who started from the penultimate row of the grid.
That’s unusual in Formula 1, where the level of sophistication in terms of simulation and strategy is so high that one doesn’t usually get such a variance, especially when it involves the top three teams.
This was probably down to the fact that no one had been able to run dry weather tyres on Friday as the track was wet throughout the three hours of practice. That meant the teams had less data than usual on which to base their race plans, and thus the margin for error increased.
To use a football metaphor, when two teams play perfectly, a nil-all draw is the logical conclusion. In Formula 1, when the simulations are all worked out to the smallest detail, then they all converge towards the same best possible strategy.
So does less data produce a better show? It’s definitely more uncertain and therefore another topic for discussion when looking at ways to make our sport even more exciting, from the first lap to the last, as was the case this Sunday in Austin.
Brawn: It was a drive worthy of a champion: well done Max!
Max Verstappen is visibly maturing as a driver. In Austin, the Dutchman did not get demoralised after qualifying went wrong. Nor did a further drop down the grid to P18 due to a gearbox change cause Max to overcompensate.
Instead he retained his focus, made a stunning start on Soft tyres and shot off in overtaking mode. By the end of the opening lap, he was already ninth, though some of that was down to the misfortune of others ahead of him. He quickly rose to fifth and then claimed fourth place on lap nine, following the retirement of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
From then on, the Verstappen switched to tyre management mode, which meant he had a real chance of winning the race from the midpoint onwards, when it was clear that the Supersofts his team chose for his second stint worked better than the Softs his rivals were running.
Verstappen tried to overhaul Räikkönen, but even on a track where overtaking opportunities exist, following a leading car remains a tough task. In the end the Red Bull driver had to focus more on fending off a hard-charging Hamilton than on attacking Kimi and over the final few laps he was forced to switch to defensive mode, which was admirable and I can well understand why he was so happy at the flag. It was a drive worthy of a champion: well done Max!