[Updated] Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona was widely heralded as one of the most exciting race finishes of the season, largely due to the way race strategies played out, with an intense battle for the lead in the final laps of the race between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Vettel managed to hold on to take the win.
However tyre degradation was very severe last year and after the recent Bahrain Grand Prix there were complaints from Michael Schumacher, as well as from many fans, that the racing is suffering from drivers not been able to push to the limit. Schumacher told CNN this week that it’s “like driving on raw eggs”.
So how will this weekend’s race pan out and what will the team strategists do to ensure that their drivers are able to get the maximum out of their package?
Pirelli have made the same tyre selection as last year with the hard and soft compounds, but this year’s specifications are a step softer than last year. They are also much closer to each other in performance than last year, which means that the strategies will not be as polarized as they were, with multiple stops. The soft tyre looks on the edge, but here’s how we see the situation this weekend.
Once you’ve read up about the situation, remember to have a go on out Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can find the fastest strategy to do the race. You can try it here at Race Strategy Calculator
Circuit de Catalunya; 4.65 kilometres. Race distance: 66 laps = 307 kilometres, 16 corners in total, considered the best test of an F1 car’s aerodynamic efficiency due to combination of medium and high speed corners.
Aerodynamic setup – High downforce. Top speed 317km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 305km/h without.
Full throttle – 60% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 154kg (quite high). Fuel consumption: 2.34 kg per lap.
Time spent braking: 12% of the lap (quite low). 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium/low.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 19 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 24 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.40 seconds (high)
Circuit de Catalunya is the track on which the F1 teams and the tyre supplier have the most data as they test there at least once before the start of each season.
The Spanish Grand Prix is the fifth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
Qualifying has historically been critical in Barcelona; 10 of the last 11 races on this track have been won from pole position while overtakes have been rare, although the DRS and the tyres contributed to there being 90 overtakes last season, whereas in three of the previous four races there were less than five overtakes in 66 laps of racing.
This season we have seen four different race winning cars and drivers in four races, the first time this has happened for 30 years and there have been three different polesitters.
Barcelona is likely to see many teams bring through some major car developments, largely around the exhaust area, but also there are aerodynamic updates to most cars in the field. Force India and Ferrari are two teams hoping to make significant steps forward.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Barcelona, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber are all previous winners. Lewis Hamilton has never won the event.
The forecast looks good up to Saturday with temperatures around 20 degrees and a low chance of rain. However on race day there is a 60% chance of rain, with lower temperatures forecast, so this could play into the hands of Mercedes in particular.
The wind is usually a significant factor at this track, sudden crosswinds at the higher points on the circuit can upset the balance of the cars.
Pirelli tyre choice for Spain: Hard and Soft.
Catalunya is a tough track on tyres, with the long Turn 3 the most difficult corner. It is taken at 240km/h and the corner lasts for four seconds, which puts a heavy load on the left front tyre. The surface is also quite abrasive.
Last year the soft tyre showed a degradation rate of 0.1625sec per lap in the first stint, which is quite high. This year the soft tyre is again expected to be a little bit on the edge for this track, so Friday practice will be vital in establishing how long a set of tyres will last in the first stint in particular. The drop off will come quite quickly.
On paper the difference between the soft and hard tyre will be 0.5s to 0.8s per lap depending on the car. In the race this will reduce to 0.2s per lap.
In the winter testing at Barcelona, the hard tyre performed pretty well so the picture is quite different from last year’s race when the teams wanted to avoid the hard tyre which was 2 seconds per lap slower than the soft.
A new set of soft tyres should last up to 20 laps, with a set of hards lasting between 24 and 27 laps..
With some high energy right hand corners, the limitation will be with the tyres on the left side of the car when their performance starts to drop off it will be time to pit.
Track conditions in Barcelona are notoriously changeable from morning to afternoon due to changes in temperature and wind conditions. This will make it particularly tricky to set the cars up for qualifying and the race.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
Going into the 2011 race if a driver had new tyres available after qualifying to use in the race, a three-stop strategy was four seconds quicker than a four-stop on paper. We also saw that new tyres carried a premium in Bahrain this year for example with Kimi Raikkonen, so teams will be assessing the value of saving at least one set of new soft tyres and a new set of hards.
This year the degradation will again be decisive in picking the moment to stop. Three stops is likely to be the preferred route, the plan that Jenson Button followed last year. The key is to keep the tyre alive until around lap 14, for the first stop, which few drivers could manage last year.
As the performance gap between the soft and hard is likely to be as low as 0.2s in the race, teams will not be trying to avoid using the hard tyre and this will mean fewer stops than last year, as they will be able to run the hard tyre competitively, rather than attempt to spend as little time as possible on it. In fact the hard tyre’s performance in Malaysia shows that it was a popular race tyre and we should again see a mixture of strategies.
Chance of a safety car
There have been 5 Safety Car periods in this race since 2003, and 4 of those were for first lap incidents.
The 700 metre run from the grid to the first corner at Barcelona is the second longest of the season after Sepang, Malaysia. So a fully functioning KERS is vital.
Starts are crucial in race strategy and can make or compromise a race.
Glock, Massa and Alonso are consistently good starters who gain places off the line at most races.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –
+12 Alonso, Kovalainen
+6 Kobayashi, Senna
+2 Di Resta, Karthikeyan, Vergne
+1 Button, Hamilton, Grosjean**, Petrov
Held position: None
-1 Rosberg , Vettel,
-3 De la Rosa
– 6 Webber
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams. It is clear that the field has significantly closed up in this area, as well as on track performance, with 7 teams within 1 seconds of the fastest pit stop by Mercedes. This is much closer than last season and shows how much work has gone on in this area.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Bahrain Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Force India continues to perform above its championship table position and within 0.2s of the best team showing that they’ve done a lot of work in this area. Also worth noting is that HRT did a faster stop than Marussia for the first time.
1. Red Bull 21.705 (1=)
2. Mercedes 21.888s (1=)
3. Ferrari 21.963s (5)
4. Force India 22.069 (4)
5. McLaren 22.270 (3)
6 Toro Rosso 22.295s (8=)
7. Williams 22.310 (7)
8. Lotus 22.362 (6)
9. Sauber 22.758 (8=)
10. Caterham 23.323 (8=)
11. HRT 23.420 (12)
12. Marussia 23.423 (11)
THe UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the F1 teams strategists and from Pirelli.
Now you’ve read up about the situation, remember to have a go on our Race Strategy Calculator and see if you can find the fastest strategy to do the race. You can try it here at Race Strategy Calculator