On the face of it, coming away from a grand prix with third and seventh place isn’t always much to write home about but during the hectic pack-down in Austin on Sunday night before the bug-out for Brazil, the general consensus was that of a job well done.
Daniel had turned fifth on the grid into a podium finish while Seb, starting from the pitlane, had scythed through the field to finish in the points. He'd said on Saturday that he'd consider seventh a good result – and Seb always likes to set the bar a little higher than what looks possible. Here's our weekend in numbers.
Seb and Daniel cumulatively ran 1389km over the weekend. They did 579km on the prime (medium) tyre, and 810km on the option (soft) tyre across practice, qualifying and the race, using 11 sets of each.
The first two US Grands Prix run at COTA were one-stop affairs, largely because Pirelli brought their two toughest tyres to the race to cope with the high-speed, fast changes of direction that make up the wonderful, dramatic run down from Turn Two to Turn Ten. This year Austin was going to be different with Pirelli supplying the medium and soft compounds. Their post-practice analysis suggested a three-stop strategy of soft-soft-soft-medium was the theoretical optimum for the top ten qualifiers, with drivers pitting around laps 12, 25 and 38. For those qualifying outside the top ten, a two-stopper of medium-soft-medium would be nearly as quick, pitting on laps 22 and 36.
As you might expect, Pirelli's predictor concentrates on tyre life and they acknowledged that in real world conditions the two-stop strategy was the more likely. Our own analysis factors in the difficulty of overtaking, the possibility of Safety Cars and various other permutations. Before the race we reached the conclusion that a two-stop strategy would be quicker by around 11 seconds.
The cars were likely to be on different strategies. Daniel qualified in the top ten and so would be starting the race with his used set of Option tyres from Q2. Seb, starting from the pitlane after swapping out his power unit, would have a choice of compounds. Daniel took the textbook approach, pitting on lap 14 to switch from the soft to the medium compound, and then made another stop on lap 31 for a second set of mediums.
Seb's race was rather more complicated. He started on the medium compound but a first lap Safety Car gave him the opportunity of 'free' pitstops in that he was at the back anyway, so wouldn't lose positions or time by coming into the pits. He pitted for the soft tyre on lap one, and pitted again on lap two to switch back to the medium. This freed him of the need to run the soft tyre again. His stint on the medium lasted until lap 26, when he pitted for another set. This might have taken him to the end – but he opted to pit for a final time on lap 48, finishing the race on the soft tyre.
Overtakes on track
As you might imagine, this was a busy day for Seb as he threaded his way through backmarkers and midfielders, and then did it again after his late stop. He passed Esteban Gutiérrez in the opening stint but really began to make ground in the second stint, when he had newer rubber than many of the cars he was chasing. He passed Romain Grosjean (lap 35) and Kevin Magnussen (lap 42). Seb took P6 when Fernando Alonso pitted for fresh tyres, but when Alonso took the place back, Seb pitted soon after and dropped back from seventh to 14th (of 15 cars running) with eight laps remaining. Shod with new soft tyres, he barged and cut his way through from the back, passing Daniil Kyvat, Kimi Räikkönen, Grosjean, Jenson Button, Pastor Maldonado and Magnussen to reclaim his seventh spot.
Daniel's race was rather less adventurous, but nevertheless claimed some early scalps. Daniel spun his wheels on the grid and was passed into Turn One by Alonso and Magnussen. He lined up Magnussen and took the place back at Turn 12 with a move from quite a long way back, then he snatched back P5 on lap five, diving to the inside at the multi-apex Turn One and then defending against Alonso as the pair raced side by side down the hill.
The fastest Red Bull speed recorded through the trap was 337km/h (209mph) set by Seb at the very end of the race. This made Seb the fastest driver through the trap overall. Daniel, contrastingly, was only 12th quickest with a maximum of 325km/h (202mph). Seb's advantage in all-out speed came from having made a late pitstop, and thus carrying more speed onto the straights when the fuel load was at its lowest. He also had a lower-downforce setup to compensate for starting last.
Unsurprisingly, Seb also set the fastest lap of the race with 1:41.379 on lap 50. That was his first flying lap with his fresh set of soft tyres. Daniel's best was a 1:42.831 which left him seventh on the list. He set it on lap 33, his first flying lap on his final set of medium rubber.
Daniel ran a very conventional race – though not a strategy that he's used very often this year. Daniel's preference for much of the season has been to extend stints and leave himself in a position to attack at the end of the race with a shorter burst on fresher rubber. At COTA he went the other way, electing to pit earlier than his rivals and make an undercut work.
Daniel was following Williams' Valtteri Bottas in the opening stint. Daniel elected to pit on lap 14, following in Bottas' team-mate Felipe Massa as the first of the front runners to stop. Bottas came in a lap later and, while he only spent a tenth of a second longer than Daniel in the pitlane, Daniel's strong out-lap was enough to get him ahead of the Finn. Daniel then used exactly the same strategy the next time around to pass the other Williams. He came in on lap 31. Massa responded a lap later but emerged behind Daniel – though the Williams lost over a second in the stop that time around with a minor problem.
After the early Safety Car, the original plan for Seb had been to split the race into two long stints on the medium tyre, having done the mandatory lap on the soft tyre under the caution. Seb, however, suffered more tyre wear than was expected – potentially as a consequence of giving him a setup that made following cars difficult in the middle sector – and the decision was taken late on to cut short his second stint on the medium tyre and switch him to a short burst on the soft tyre. He was seventh when he made the switch and seventh at the end of the race. While the decision had an element of risk at the time, it proved to be a good insurance policy. Jenson Button, running a similar strategy, having ditched his soft tyres on lap one, lost out badly in the closing laps, dropping from ninth when Seb pitted to 12th at the flag. There's no guarantee that same fate would have befallen Seb but equally nothing to suggest it wouldn't.