Last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix showed how critical Race Strategy is in F1 and how a bad call can cost the World Championship. Following a strategic blunder by the Ferrari team, Fernando Alonso came out of a pit stop behind two slower cars, which he could not then overtake.
So this year’s Abu Dhabi race will be the ultimate acid test of the extent to which the DRS wing and Pirelli tyres have improved overtaking opportunities in Formula 1. There are two DRS zones on the circuit and with the long back straight out of the hairpin, overtaking slower cars at least should be no problem.
After the 2010 event, the Yas Marina Circuit organizers were going to make changes to the circuit to improve overtaking, but with the success of the DRS wing and Pirelli tyres they decided not to do so.
Yas Marina is a Herman Tilke designed circuit with two long straights and some tight turns which take the track underneath the landmark Yas Hotel and around the marina. The Yas Marina Circuit features six corners below 100 kph – only Monaco, Singapore and Valencia have more. But there are also four straights of 275km/h or above, as in Monza.
So here are the considerations the teams’ strategy engineers will use when deciding how best to attack this weekend’s qualifying and race.
Yas Marina – 5.554 kilometres. Race distance – 55 laps = 305.361 kilometres. 21 corners in total. Average speed 197km/h. A marina based circuit hosting its third F1 Grand Prix.
Aerodynamic setup – Med/High downforce. Top speed 320km/h (with DRS open) 307km/h without.
Full throttle – 60% of the lap time (ave/high). Total fuel needed for race distance – 151.25 kilos (ave/high). Fuel consumption – 2.75 kg per lap (ave/high)
Brake wear- medium. Number of braking events – 12, Time spent braking – 16% of the lap.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 16 seconds
Total time needed for a pit stop: 21.2 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.4 seconds (ave/high)
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the penultimate round of 19 in the 2011 FIA F1 World Championship. Sebastian Vettel is the only driver to have won at Yas Marina, taking the 2009 and 2010 races. He has already clinched his second consecutive world championship and won five of the last six races. In India he also broke the record for most laps led with 711. No other driver has surpassed 100 laps in the lead this year.
Red Bull has been on pole position for 16 of the 17 rounds to date this year, which establishes a new record for a team in one year. For the past two years Red Bull and McLaren have been the form teams at Yas Marina Circuit.
Lewis Hamilton has finished on the podium once in Abu Dhabi and had a pole position, while team mate Jenson Button has twice finished on the podium here.
Only 7 drivers have finished on the podium in 2011 – a very low number – and if that remains the case after the final round at Brazil it would tie the record low in one year, set in 1992, 2000 and 2002.
The forecast for the weekend is stable with temperatures in the low 30 degrees C. But as this is a dusk/night race it’s worth noting that the night time temperature is set to fall to 19 degrees C.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for India: Soft (yellow markings) and Medium (white markings). This combination was seen in Valencia, Germany, Belgium, Italy and Japan.
Although it is their first year in F1, this is a circuit that Pirelli knows a lot about as it conducted extensive testing here in 2010. The track tends to be covered in sand at the start of the weekend and again each morning, but the improvement is significant and once plenty of rubber goes down the lap times tumble.
It is therefore very important to get the timing right in qualifying so you are on the track at the end of the session, when it is at its fastest.
The performance gap between the soft and medium Pirelli tyre is going to be critical to race strategy. This is an area where the teams are still finding surprises after almost a whole season on the Pirellis. Recently they have been finding that the harder compound tyre is more competitive than expected in the final stages of the race.
However in Germany the gap between soft and medium was 1.5 seconds per lap and team strategists tried to run on the soft tyre for as much of the race as possible, taking the medium tyre briefly at the end – with the extreme solution by Vettel and Massa of pitting on the last lap for the mediums. In Japan the difference from soft to hard was 1.2 seconds.
The cooler temperatures of the evening for qualifying and the race will help boost tyre life, so the data the teams gather on tyre wear in Free Practice 1 and 3, where the temperatures will be much higher, will not be as relevant as the Free Practice 2 session on Friday evening.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The last time these two tyre compounds were used in Japan, the top three finishers all did three stops with a final stint on mediums. But Suzuka has more high energy corners, which takes the life out of the tyres, than Yas Marina. So it’s more likely that we will see two stops being the favoured way. Also the lower temperatures in the evening should help with tyre life.
Although the overtaking situation should be easier with DRS Wings, the strategists for the top teams will nevertheless be watching out for the gap to the midfield cars in the first stint, to make sure that their driver does not come out of the first stop and lose time behind a Mercedes or a Toro Rosso which is running a long first stint on the soft tyres. So they will want to build a gap of well over 20 seconds before stopping.
Chance of a Safety Car
There have been two races at Yas Marina Circuit, the first did not feature a safety car, while the second one featured five laps under the safety car after a crash at the start of the race.
Recent start performance
Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.
In India, the winners off the line were Ricciardo (gained 5 places) and Senna (gained 4 places), while Button gained a crucial two places to leap from fourth to second. The losers were Barrichello, Kobayashi and Trulli who were involved in first lap incidents and Buemi who lost 3 places after qualifying strongly in the top ten.
As far as 2011 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows:
+28 Schumacher *
+14 Buemi #
+8 Di Resta,
+4 Trulli, Heidfeld ******
-2, Chandhok, +5 Kobayashi**
-10 Sutil ##, Maldonado
-14 Perez ###
-15 Petrov,****, Senna
- 24 Webber
-25 Barrichello #####
* Schumacher had one bad start in Australia, losing 8 places but since then has been the season’s outstanding starter. He gained 9 places in Spa and four in Monza.
** Kobayashi lost 10 places in Spain, prior to that he had gained 8 in 4 starts. He lost 7 places in an incident at the start in India.
*** After losing places in the first three races, Alonso has reversed that trend. His starts in Barcelona and Monza were outstanding.
**** Petrov had a good record until he lost 4 places at the start in Valencia. He was on a +2 balance before Monza where he was taken out at the start.
***** Rosberg lost four places at the start in Silverstone and was on a +6 balance before Monza where he was taken out in the first corner
****** Heidfeld had gained 20 places but lost 12 at the start in Germany
******* Di Resta had consistent start form and gained 7 places in the first nine races, but lost 12 at the start in Germany.
# Buemi made up nine places at the start in Hungary having started 23rd on the grid
## Sutil had a positive start balance until Hungary where he lost 12 places at the start
### Perez lost nine places off the start in Hungary.
#### Alguersuari was doing well with a +6 record prior to Spa, where he was hit by another car and lost 18 places. In Monza he gained 7 places at the start.
##### Barrichello lost 7 places at the start in India
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and there have been some amazing performances; we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds this year.
The league table below shows order of the pit crews based on their average time for a stop through the first 17 rounds of the world championship.
1= Red Bull Best
1= Mercedes Best
3 McLaren + 0.3s
4 Force India + 0.4s
5 Ferrari + 0.5s
6 Renault + 0.9s
7 Williams + 1.1s
8= Lotus + 1.3s
8= Sauber + 1.3s
8= Toro Rosso + 1.3s
11 Virgin + 1.6s
12 HRT + 3.2s
The UBS Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams.