Ferrari will need no reminding of how painful the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was for the team; it highlighted how critical Race Strategy really is and how a bad call can cost the world championship.
Following a strategic blunder by the Ferrari engineers, Fernando Alonso came out of a pit stop behind a slower car, which he could not then overtake. It cost him the world championship, which was won by the man he challenges again this year for the title, Sebastian Vettel.
Yas Marina is tough circuit on which to overtake and so qualifying and race strategy are going to be critical. Here is our guide to what the teams will be doing to ensure that they make the right steps on strategy.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is Formula 1’s only day/night race. The race begins at 17-00hrs local time, in the dusk and ends in darkness, with floodlights illuminating the track.
Yas Marina is another 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.
Overtaking has historically been a problem at this track, although in the 2011 race there were 56 overtakes, of which 50 were with DRS, according to Mercedes Benz data.
Yas Marina – 5.554 kilometres. Race distance – 55 laps = 305.355 kilometres. 21 corners in total. Average speed 197km/h. A marina based circuit hosting its fourth F1 Grand Prix.
Aerodynamic setup – Med/High downforce. Top speed 325km/h (with DRS open) 315km/h without.
Full throttle – 70% 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 round 18 of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
Sebastian Vettel is the form man at the moment, having won the last four races, all in Asia. He has won two of them from pole and three from the front row, underlining how critical qualifying is. This will be the case again this weekend.
In India he led every lap of the race, for the third race in succession, making it the first time that feat had been achieved since Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s!
As far as Yas Marina Circuit is concerned, Vettel won the inaugural 2009 event and the 2010 edition for Red Bull, but this is a track where Lewis Hamilton has always been very fast, he won last year and was leading from pole position in 2009 when forced to retire and also has a podium from 2010. Fernando Alonso finished second last year for Ferrari, Jenson Button has been on the podium twice.
In short, during its three year F1 history, Red Bull and McLaren have been the form teams at Yas Marina Circuit.
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.
Pirelli tyre choice for Abu Dhabi: Soft (yellow markings) and Medium (white markings). This combination was seen six times already this year, including Australia, China, Bahrain, Valencia and Hungary.
This is the same combination of tyres that Pirelli brought last season to Yas Marina, although the compounds have changes slightly since then.
At the most recent race in India, Pirelli went too conservative with the tyre choice and it led to a largely one stop strategy race. The selection for Abu Dhabi again looks fairly conservative. And with overtaking very difficult at Yas Marina, track position is vital, so many teams will be looking to see whether this race can be done on one-stop. This will force drivers who stop twice to overtake in the later stages of the race, which will be tough.
So race strategy could once again be the decisive factor on Sunday and making the commitment to doing one will be closely studied in practice.
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, as always. 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.
It is estimated that the soft will be around 0.7 secs per lap faster than the medium in qualifying trim. Estimates of tyre life are that the soft will start to experience a degradation in performance and lap time after around 15 laps, while with the medium it will kick in after around 25 laps. Although it is hot in Abu Dhabi, the lower temperatures in the evening should help with tyre life.
Last year all three podium finishers did a similar strategy, of running two stops with a longish middle stint on soft tyres of around 24 laps before a short final stint on the mediums. But this was because the performance gap between the two tyre compounds was quite significant and everyone wanted to spend the minimum time on the medium.
This year that is not expected to be the case and with recent trends it is quite likely that we will see one stop strategies as we did in India. It is also a safe bet in the event of a safety car and it gives track position, which is important given the difficulty of overtaking.
Although the overtaking situation was made a little easier last year with the introduction of adjustable DRS rear wings and two DRS zones on the circuit, 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 slow moving midfield car, which might be running a longer first stint on new soft or medium tyres. So they will want to build a gap of well over 20 seconds before stopping.
Expect the two stoppers to pit around lap 16 and lap 40.
Chance of a Safety Car
There have been three races at Yas Marina Circuit, the 2009 and 2011 races did not feature a safety car, while the second one in 2010 featured five laps under the safety car after a crash at the start of the race. So the probability of safety car is 33%.
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.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows. Please note that where a driver has been eliminated on first lap this has been noted and removed from the sample as it skews the table. So this is intended as a guid of trends, rather than a definitive list.
+33 Massa ***** *******
+27 Senna* ***** ********
+22 Perez***, Pic
+20 Vergne **********
+14 Raikkonen, De la Rosa ****
+11 Schumacher* ****** **********
+7 Kobayashi**** *********
+4 Di Resta *****, Petrov***** *******
-5 Grosjean** **** ***** ********
* 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)
*******Massa (puncture) and Petrov (broken nose) pitted for repairs on lap 1 in Singapore after making contact.
******** Alonso, Rosberg, Webber, Senna and Grosjean either retired or dropped to the back following first-lap accidents in Japan
********* Button eliminated, Kobayashi pitted for repairs, on lap 1 after collision in Korea
********** Schumacher and Vergne pitted for repairs at the end of lap one after first-corner collision
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 best total time in the pit lane in the recent Indian Grand Prix
1. Red Bull 20.707secs (2)
2. Ferrari 20.800secs (3)
3. McLaren 20.852secs (1)
4. Lotus 20.976secs (6)
5. Mercedes 21.322secs (4)
6. Sauber 21.336secs (9)
7. Force India 21.654secs (7)
8. Toro Rosso 21.658secs (5)
9. Williams 22.003secs (10)
10. Caterham 22.445secs (11)
11. Marussia 22.692secs (8)
12. HRT 23.830secs (12)