The F1 season resumes this weekend with the classic Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps.
It’s the 12th round of the 20 race season and there are lots of talking points in this Strategy Briefing around how this race will be run strategically and who it will favour. Pirelli have made some changes after the controversy last season when their tyres suffered severe blistering on the Red Bull and other cars.
The choice of hard and medium compounds and the changes made to the shoulders of the tyres should ensure that the drivers can push to the limit. Spa these days, with high downforce cars and DRS wings, is flat out for most of the lap. The track presents one of the highest possible usages of the DRS with over 60% of the lap. Only Monza is higher. DRS is worth 1.2 seconds a lap here, so if you can amplify that with a double DRS device, there are significant gains to be had in qualifying. DRS use is not permitted in Eau Rouge corner.
So it should be a very interesting race.
Once you’ve read the analysis, go to our RACE STRATEGY CALCULATOR and see if you can find the best strategy for the race.
Spa Francorchamps – 7.004 kilometres. Race distance – 44 laps = 308.052 kilometres. 19 corners in total. Average speed 238km/h. Circuit based on public roads.
Aerodynamic setup – Medium downforce. Top speed 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 312km/h without.
Full throttle – 70% of the lap (high). Total fuel needed for race distance – 144 kilos (high). Fuel consumption – 3.2kg per lap (high)
Time spent braking: 14% of lap. Number of brake zones – 8. Brake wear- Low.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 18 seconds (average)
Total time needed for pit stop: 21 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.38 seconds (high)
The Spa Francorchamps circuit has a very strong history in F1, going right back to the first year of competition in 1950 and is one of the drivers’ favourites. It has the longest lap of any modern F1 track at over seven kilometers and it provides one of the sternest tests of an F1 engine, with around 70% of the lap spent at full throttle. The run from La Source hairpin to the braking point for Les Combes features 23.5 seconds of constant full throttle. For this reason teams rotate the engine use from their allocation of eight engines per driver for the season, so they do not use the same engine at the next race in Monza, another tough one on engines.
Qualifying is not hugely significant to final race result; the pole sitter has only won the race three times in the last 11 years. Overtaking is not a problem at Spa and the DRS wing makes it very straighforward anyway.
In addition to the long straights there are quite a lot of high G-force corners, similar to Silverstone, which take their toll on the tyres. This year Pirelli has brought medium and hard tyres, last year it was soft and medium. They have done a lot of work on blister resistance, as Red Bull and other teams found tyres blistering when they ran extreme camber angles on the tyres.
The Belgian Grand Prix is the twelfth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship and comes after the teams’ enforced two week factory shutdown, during which no development or fabrication work may be carried out.
This does not mean that there will not be any new parts on the cars, as most teams will have been planning a significant Spa upgrade for in the weeks prior to the shutdown. The high speed nature of the circuit will suit Red Bull, Lotus and Williams in particular.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned; Sebastian Vettel won last year’s race while Kimi Raikkonen has always been outstanding here, winning four times. They are the two favourites this year. Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa have both won here, while Michael Schumacher has 6 wins. He will celebrate his 300th Grand Prix this weekend. Fernando Alonso has never won at Spa.
Spa is notorious for fickle weather. With such a long lap, it can be raining on one part of the circuit and the rest can be dry. Also the temperatures can fluctuate dramatically, so it can be 30 degrees one day and 15 degrees the next. The forecast for this weekend is for temperatures around 20 degrees and rain showers, with a 30% chance of rain on Sunday.
However the weather can change very quickly at Spa and it’s always a good idea to factor in a solid wet weather plan.
Pirelli tyre choice for Spa: Medium (while markings) and hard (silver markings). This combination was seen in Malaysia.
Last season Pirelli brought the soft and medium tyre, this year they appear to have gone a step harder, but as the whole range has moved towards softer tyres, in fact the difference is slight. But there are some important differences in the way the tyres will work at Spa.
The medium tyre has a lower working temperature range so will be easy to warm up if the track temperatures are cool. It will be the main qualifying and race tyre. The hard will be more difficult to warm up but is more durable. If the temperatures are right it could offer an alternative strategy with longer stints on the hard tyre.
Pirelli had problems with blistering on some cars last year, most notably the Red Bulls, when they ran extreme camber angles. This led to very early first pit stops in the race, which rather dictated strategy. Also the harder tyre last year was much slower so drivers wanted to spend the minimum time on it and that led to more stops.
This year Pirelli have done work on blister resistance to avoid a repeat of the problem. Meanwhile they also reduce the tread thickness of the tyres by ½ mm to avoid the heat build up caused by the very high wheel rotation speeds.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The time needed for a stop at Spa is average at around 21 seconds. Although it’s a long pit lane, with a slow exit, the cars staying on the track must navigate a slow hairpin so the lost time isn’t as great as it might be.
Last year, because the uncertainty over the blistered tyres in the early part of the race forced the strategy, we saw the top four finishers using four different strategies; a mixture of two and three stop strategies, with different tyre combinations. The winner did three stops. Two or perhaps three seems likely, the key will be in finding the fastest combination. In the two races before the break the harder of the two chosen compounds was the preferred race tyre for doing two stints on.
Chance of a safety car
The chance of a safety car at Spa is statistically very high at 80% and 1.4 per race. Rain is one reason, but also accidents tend to be high speed and so there can be quite a lot of debris. Last year’s race saw a safety car.
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. Much can change. In Hungary, for example, only three drivers completed lap 1 in the same position as their grid slot.
As far as 2011 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows:
+25 Massa *****
+ 23 Glock,
+18 Alonso, Kovalainen
+15 Senna * *****
+5 Schumacher* ******
+4 Hamilton , Maldonado****
+3 Di Resta *****, De la Rosa ****, Petrov*****
Held position: Vettel, Webber
-1 Hulkenberg Rosberg
-3 Grosjean** **** *****
Note- This table is intended as an indicator of trends. Where drivers have had first lap incidents which dropped them to the back of the field, they are not included above, but are detailed in the notes marked * below. This affects other drivers’ gains, but shows prevailing trends of places won and lost at the start.
* 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
***Perez punctured on lap 1 in Spain and went to back of field
**** Eliminated by or involved in first lap accident in Monaco
***** Di Resta eliminated lap 1 at Silverstone, Petrov did not start
***** Massa, Senna and Grosjean involved in first lap collisions dropping them to the back
****** Schumacher forced to pit lap 1 in Hungary (lost six places)
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. The record is a 2.31s stop in Germany by McLaren.
It is clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Hungarian Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The positions from the previous race are in brackets.
1. Red Bull 18.964s (2)
2. McLaren 19.059 secs (1)
3. Ferrari 19.365s (3)
4. Toro Rosso 19.600s (8)
5. Williams 19.755s (9)
6. Lotus 19.772s (4)
7. Sauber 20.065s (10)
8. Mercedes 20.352s (6)
9. Force India 20.352s (7)
10. Marussia 20.383s (5)
11. Caterham 20.515s (11)
12. HRT 21.259s (12)
Now you’ve read the analysis, go to our RACE STRATEGY CALCULATOR and see if you can find the best strategy for the race.