The 2018 F1 season continued and found itself in the heartland of America, the lone star state of Texas and the capital city of Austin, home to the Circuit of the Americas or as it is affectionately known as COTA.
The F1 calendar has featured COTA on it's array of races since 2012. It has had it's memorable moments including in 2015 when the area was bombarded with torrential rain, seriously limiting the running time of any cars or motorsport action full stop across Friday and Saturday. For the race on Sunday there was hope of a dry track and the glimmer of sunlight. As a result we witnessed Lewis Hamilton win his third drivers championship for the Mercedes AMG team.
We flick through the pages and the 2018 chapter appears before us. FP1 was held on Friday and again a memorable incident brought about the discussion of fans alike. Charles Leclerc, at his first US Grand Prix and making his final appearance in a Sauber badged car went off the track, dragging an amount of gravel onto the track. In the interests of safety, the FIA red flagged the session. Vettel, enjoying a leisurely practice lap of the 5.5 kilometre track is alleged to have not slowed down quick enough after having noticed the red flag and/or red LED trackside lights signalling an end to the session.
WHEN CRUISING THROUGH THE RED LIGHT AREA, YOU SHOULD TRY TO AVOID DRAWING ATTENTION TO YOURSELF
Vettel was of course, summonsed before the stewards and reprimanded with a three place grid penalty. Yes, this is consistent with other incidents like this which occurred involving Ricciardo during FP2 in Melbourne and for Ocon during FP3 recently in Suzuka. My question is this, was the penalty too harsh? They say that it is done in the interests of safety, but this is not a racing incident. It is free practice and at best, the drivers are never giving it the full beans. They are looking for setup and approach angles plus braking points.
In my opinion, the issuing of a time penalty would be more consistent. Say five seconds added to the race time and even ten seconds for a repeat offender. Of course, don't penalise the team as it is of course not there fault, but that of their employee. The same goes for mechanical issues, change of an engine or gearbox due to failure. Penalise the team financially or by some other means including taking away manufacturer points, not the driver. The FIA should seriously consider a full time driver and race stewards panel. It works in IndyCar and is needed for the current F1 series. Admittedly, they are using drivers that have been there and steered a car a full speed, ex-drivers like Mika Salo and Derek Warwick, but are they really in tune with the current driving requirements for modern F1 cars. Is it leaving open to criticism and challenges for teams to say that the FIA are using old drivers whom simply have a week off and are after a free ticket to a race? Consistency is the key and a full time race and driver stewards panel is the answer, three ex-drivers made up of various degrees of experience for a whole season.
The next two incidents both happened during the qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. The first matter related to the FIA whom had announced at the drivers briefing that following some breaches of the track limits at the 2017 race, that a number of sausage kerbs or speed humps would added to the exit of turn 15. These would be in place to act as a preventative measure so that drivers simply didn't go wide and would stick to the planned circuit path.
THERE IS A RUMOUR THAT VERSTAPPEN MISTOOK THE SAUAGE KERB FOR A DUTCH ROOKWORST SAUSAGE SERVED WITH STAMPPOT
Verstappen was pedalling his RB14 as fast he could during Q1 when he clipped one of the sausage kerbs and due to the intense torque built up within the drive shaft, it snapped ending his session for the rest of qualy. Fortunately for Verstappen, he had got himself a ticket into Q2 which meant that the worst case scenario was that he would landed the 15th grid spot. He arrived on the grid and delivered one of the most mature and resounding drives I have seem him deliver to date. Second place on the podium was well deserved, especially standing beneath one of the elder statesman in F1, the 'Iceman' Kimi Räikkönen.
The second part of the qualifying story related to turn 9 and turn 19. Both corners are watched by the FIA and race stewards to determine if the drivers have at any stage taken the whole of their car outside the track limit in trying to find and maintain the quickest lap time. The drivers were also informed of this at the drivers briefing except for one thing. They were told that breaching the limit of turn 9 was ok but not turn 19. Gassy had his time cancelled as it had been determined that his red hot lap time was a result of going wide into turn 19. A lot of people asked why wasn't turn 9 also included that ruling, to be honest, I don't know.
COTA TURN 9 - A MAGICAL PLACE WHERE YOU CAN DRIVE WHEREVER YOU WANT TO
All I can say is that Charlie Whiting in all of his wisdom should have gone down to the local Walmart store and bought a 90mm paint brush and a 10 litre tin of Dulux ceiling white paint. He could have got a lift to turn 9 with Bernd Mayländer and then re-painted the outside line of turn 9. Yes, it is a blind crested corner but the drivers need to learn to drive within the track limits or what is point of having them?
We then witnessed the race, Räikkönen grabbed the lead in the up hill approach to turn 1 with a perfect start, he then held it through turn 1 and then took off. It was a battle at the front between Hamilton and Räikkönen as to who was going to win the pit stop strategy war. In the end Räikkönen won out with a single pit stop and great management of his tyres. Vettel, despite trying to swap cars with Ricciardo on the first lap, drove back from the midfield to claim fourth place. The bid for the 2018 drivers title isn't over yet, despite Vettel now being some seventy points behind Hamilton as the teams and drivers head south to Mehc'icho for another back to back weekend of racing. Let's wait and see what the high altitude of the 4.3 kilometre long Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez will serve up for us.