Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel has taken his 12th win and first at the USA Grand Prix Sunday race. The German chose a one-stop strategy, starting on the P Zero White medium tyre and then changing to the P Zero Orange hard on lap 27. Vettel also became the first man in Formula One history to win eight consecutive races during a season. Hungary is the only Grand Prix left on the calendar that the newly-crowned champion is yet to win.
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The drivers’ biggest challenge throughout the Austin weekend was hugely variable track temperatures, ranging from 18 degrees centigrade on Friday to a maximum of 37 degrees centigrade for the race on Sunday. This obviously affected tyre behaviour, making it very difficult for teams to predict wear and degradation – and, therefore, the strategy.
Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne was the only driver to start on the hard tyre from 14th on the grid, with the strategy also affected by a two-lap safety car period right at the beginning of the race: when the cars are at their heaviest and tyre wear is most significant.
The first pit stop of the race was for Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez on lap one, who picked up a puncture due to debris from a start incident. He put on the hard tyre and ran with it to lap 36 when he returned to the medium. Another early stopper was Williams driver Pastor Maldonado, who went onto the hard compound on lap eight while accident damage to his car was repaired.
The first scheduled stop was Heikki Kovalainen for Lotus on lap 17, who put on the hard tyres and managed to make up three places by ‘undercutting’ his direct rivals before losing time with a nose change.
Vettel pitted for his set of hard tyres from the lead on lap 27, handing the lead briefly to Lotus driver Romain Grosjean for three laps until the Frenchman pitted. Grosjean finished runner-up, six seconds behind Vettel, to equal his best-ever Formula One finish.
The top 12 finishers all used a one-stop strategy, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa the highest-placed finisher to adopt a two-stop strategy, ending up 13th.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said:
The temperature variation we saw over the course of the weekend was quite remarkable, meaning that the drivers encountered different track conditions in every session. With such a wide spread of asphalt temperatures, you would ideally need more than just the two compounds stipulated in the regulations, but these were highly unusual circumstances, and that was obviously not an option! As a result, the teams did not really have a proper read on the wear and degradation rates heading into the race. Nonetheless, most drivers chose a one-stop strategy, as we expected, helped by the safety car period at the beginning of the Grand Prix, which then led to a race with less strategy and fewer variables than we have been accustomed to recently.