The 2013 F1 season kicks off this weekend with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Testing indicates that it will be close, but also that managing tyre degradation will be of paramount importance.
So here is our guide to the considerations the teams will make when deciding the all important strategy for qualifying and the race.
Albert Park Circuit; 5.303 kilometres. Race distance: 58 laps = 307.574 kilometres; 16 corners in total, none particularly fast.
Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 318km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) – 308km/h without.
Full throttle – 65% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 152 kilos.
Time spent braking: 13% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: High.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 20 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 25 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.34 seconds
Winter testing is a notoriously unreliable guide to the pecking order in the opening race and this was never more true than this year. The field looks to be very closely matched, with the top five teams hard to separate.
Red Bull is believed to have a small edge, but Mercedes, Lotus and Ferrari showed speed and consistency in the tests and have clearly improved from their 2012 performance levels while the new McLaren is a more adventurous design, so may not be a front runner at the first race, but is likely to develop strongly as the year goes on.
McLaren won the Australian Grand Prix last season and also won the season finale in Brazil.
The midfield battle looks very close once again, but with the top five teams looking strong, it could be hard for the midfield teams to qualify in the top 10 and score points as readily as they did in 2012. There will be opportunities, however, and results are likely to be dependent on good race strategy planning and execution.
McLaren has won two of the last four Australian Grands Prix and Jenson Button is a three-time winner. Of the current drivers Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso have all won once. So all five F1 champions in the field have won this race.
* For further insight into the form from Mark Gillan, who ran Williams’ strategies last year, click HERE
The forecast for Saturday and Sunday is for a warm dry day with temperatures around 21-22 degrees and only 20% chance of rain on Saturday.
Pirelli tyre choice for Melbourne: SuperSoft and Medium.
Pirelli has changed the tyres for 2013 and they are taking some getting used to; the teams will still be learning about them in Melbourne. It’s the first time that Pirelli has brought the softest compound in the range for Melbourne. They hope that the step between the compounds will ensure a performance gap of around 1 second per lap between the cars that will increase the importance of strategy.
As recent years have seen cool temperatures at this race, the two compounds chosen are the ones which have a lower working temperature range. The medium operates at 90-115 degrees and the supersoft at 85-110 degrees. If it is very hot in Melbourne we are likely to see tyre blistering.
It could be warm in Melbourne; the city has experienced a heatwave in the build up to the race. However the forecast is for it to drop to the low 20s just before the race weekend.
The key to these tyres is to get the fronts warmed up quickly, for grip on turn-in to the corner. But it’s vital to get the temperature balanced between the fronts and rears. In the race, keeping the rear tyres cool is essential otherwise performance drops off sharply. There is more lap time to be gained from mastering this than there is from any of the aerodynamic developments the teams spend millions on in the wind tunnel.
The tyres often experience graining at Albert Park. Graining is where the rubber shears away from the top surface, caused by a high level of sliding at high loads, both lateral and longitudinal. Lateral comes from sliding in corners, longitudinal comes from acceleration and braking.
Temperature has a lot to do with it, probably more than any other factor. If the tyres are being used below their operating range the rubber will be less compliant and will shear off more easily.
The track surface at Albert Park is quite old and has low micro and macro roughness, which basically means that the stones in it are small. The result of its age and smoothness is that the surface is very low grip and this means that the tyres grain laterally here because the car slides in the corners.
As the pitlane in Melbourne is the longest of the season (just a fraction more than Singapore) because of the 60km\h limit it is not desirable to make multiple stops, even if the tyre degradation is very high.
Based on this, and all the above considerations, plus tyre performance data from testing, the expectation, before any practice running has been done, is that the teams will intend to make up two or possibly three pit stops in the race, with some who are gentle on tyres having an advantage. A safety car could help teams to get away with one less stop. Last year we saw predominantly two stops. Sebastian Vettel used race strategy and a piece of fortunate timing with a safety car to steal second place away from Lewis Hamilton.
In recent years there have been some advantages for a fast car qualifying outside the top ten to start the race on the harder tyre and do one stop less than the others, as Sauber’s Sergio Perez did in 2011, moving from 13th on the grid to 7th at the chequered flag. Last year he did it again, driving to 8th from the back of the grid.
The chance of a safety car at Albert Park is 57%, although there have been safety cars in four of the last five years. The average number of safety car interventions for the race is 1.7 (in 2006 there were four).
Recent start performance of drivers and teams
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 this is the first race of the 2013 season – no start data has been established yet.
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams and from Pirelli