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Thoughts from Austin

While the race in Austin may not have been the thriller we were expecting after a tense qualifying session, it did leave us with some questions that need answers.

Firstly, the use of the Virtual Safety Car came heavily into question. With Max Verstappen out of the race with a gearbox failure he pulled over to the side of the track, and the VSC was deployed, under which the drivers must stick to a delta time.

But of course, because other cars are not going full throttle on the pit straight, making a pit stop costs you significantly less time. This is what Nico Rosberg took advantage of to retake second place from Daniel Ricciardo.

For a system set in place to neutralise the field in the event of a collision or parked car, it does still have an impact on the race.

While I disagree with the use of delta times and much prefer the use of the pit lane speed limiter under VSC, or Full Course Yellow as it is known as in other series, that still does not change what impact it will have on a race.

Of course, the VSC is highly necessary as yellow flags will always leave a grey area as to how much a driver slowed down. Drivers used to get away with lifting off the throttle for half a second before continuing flat out, which is simply unacceptable going through a danger zone.

It is a tough debate, but perhaps it should be considered that the Safety Car itself is used more. The field being packed together should not be seen as a bad thing, as it will make for a more exciting race.

It also tends to not interfere too heavily with the race already had, which is exactly what the VSC did in Austin. There were some 40 laps of build-up in strategy with Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari all splitting their strategies between their two drivers, which was set to give the audience a climactic end to the race.

However what we got instead because of the VSC was anybody that had not already pitted changing onto the medium tyre for the final stint and a processional finish.

Interestingly both Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel felt cheated out of a position or two, but almost certainly Rosberg would have used the soft tyres in the final stint and would likely have been quicker than Lewis Hamilton on mediums.

Alas, we shall never know, and while Hamilton has made a dent in Rosberg’s championship lead, the German holds the upper hand; still with the capability of being crowned champion if he follows his team mate home for the remainder of the season.

Rosberg indeed has a chance to secure the championship this weekend in Mexico, although it is highly unlikely as it would require another DNF from Hamilton. But nobody expected Marc Marquez to wrap up the MotoGP championship in Motegi two weeks’ ago.

For Hamilton to win the championship now it would need a DNF from Rosberg and two win two races where he has yet to do so; Mexico and Brazil. While the Mexican round is only one year into its return, Rosberg well and truly had the measure of Hamilton there last year, as he did in all the remaining races after the Briton took the title in Austin.

Further behind the battle between Williams and Force India for fourth in the Constructors’ Championship continues to twist and turn. With both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez in the wars on the opening lap of the race, it looked like an open goal for Williams.

But Valtteri Bottas was also battered and bruised on the first lap, with him and Hulkenberg retiring from the race.

It certainly was an epic drive from Perez to claw his way up the field and get himself into a solid eighth place. Performances like that make him eye candy for a team like Ferrari for when Kimi Raikkonen eventually retires from the sport.

After the race, it seemed like a lot of fans were intensely eager to see who had won the Driver of the Day vote. After seeing a high volume of angry messages on social media from fans about the delay in the announcement, I could only imagine how they would have reacted when they found out the winner was Max Verstappen.

It was described by some as another example of how Formula One is behind the times when it comes to fan engagement. In all honesty, however, the sport is not far off the bullseye, they have just missed it ever so slightly.

Mid-race voting in a strong option as it means the winner can be revealed on the cool down lap, similar to how the Man of the Match is revealed shortly after the final whistle in football. But there needs to be some stipulations.

First of all voting needs to start later into the race, so that more of the performance can be evaluated before voting. Also drivers who retire from the race should not be eligible so that the situation in Austin cannot be repeated, having already happened at the first race in Australia when Rio Haryanto secured the most votes via his vast Indonesia fan base, despite not finishing.

When all is said and done however, the DOTD vote is a minor part of the overall experience, and is purely a way of getting the fans into interact with the sport. It separates itself from the likes of Formula E’s FanBoost, as it does not have an effect on the race which is absolutely correct. Does anyone expect Jose Maria Lopez to go many races without a FanBoost, for example?

Fans may have their moments with the sport but it remains a question of racing ethics if they should have an actual impact on the outcome of the race.

About Chris Stevens

Chris is one of the graduates of a new blogging era of journalism. Moving from that to fully blown websites, covering Formula One and Formula E, has seen him become an FIA accredited journalist. He also podcasts with various websites and recently was accepted onto the Autosport junior programme.

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