This weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has many points of interest, despite the 2013 drivers’ and constructors’ championships already having been decided. There is a tight battle for second, third and fourth places in the constructors’ race between Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus, which is worth a significant amount of money to the teams involved. Force India and Sauber are also fighting for sixth position.
Race Strategy has always been crucial to the outcome of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Last year’s race was a fascinating one from a strategy point of view as Sebastian Vettel had to start from the pit lane after a fuel irregularity in qualifying but good strategy around the two safety car periods helped him to reach the podium, while Lotus got the race victory with Kimi Raikkonen, who went from fourth to second at the start and then managed the race, despite the two safety cars.
The 2010 race here was another, which highlighted how critical Race Strategy really is and how a bad strategy call can cost a world championship. Following a strategic blunder by the Ferrari team, Fernando Alonso came out of a pit stop behind a slower car, which he could not then overtake. It cost him the world championship.
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. The temperatures drop during the race and this has a bearing on tyre performance and thus race strategy.
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.
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 fifth 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.
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 17 of 19 in the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship.
Sebastian Vettel has already clinched the drivers’ world championship and Red Bull have won the Constructors’ Championship for a fourth straight season.
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 in 2011 and was leading from pole position in 2009 when forced to retire and also has a podium from 2010. Kimi Raikkonen won in style for Lotus last season. Fernando Alonso has had two podium finishes there for Ferrari. Jenson Button has been on the podium three times.
In its four-year history, Red Bull and McLaren have generally been the form teams at Yas Marina Circuit. Mercedes’ best result is a 4th place finish in 2010.
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 Abu Dhabi: Soft (yellow markings) and Medium (white markings). This combination was used in India last week, with mixed results as the soft tyre blistered on a number of cars and Pirelli issued guidance on maximum usage for both compounds, which Force India and Lotus ignored.
This is the same combination of tyres that Pirelli brought last season to Yas Marina and after last weekend’s experience in India the tyre performance will be closely monitored in the practice sessions. In India the difference in performance over one lap between soft and medium compound tyres was between 1 second and 1.3 seconds.
Abu Dhabi is unique in that the race starts at dusk and ends in the dark, so the track temperature falls as the race goes on and the teams have to factor this in. For teams looking to do longer runs at the end of the race, the temperature drop helps, so teams are encouraged to try some bold strategies to win.
There are few high speed corners, but a number of low speed corners so wheelspin on corner exit is the thing to watch out for.
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.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
Last season, most teams did a one-stop strategy as the tyre wear and degradation were not particularly high. But with the 2013 soft tyre being something of a question mark, it’s likely that two stops will turn out to be the better strategy this year. Friday’s practice sessions will be vital for working that out.
In 2011 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 there were some other variations and alternative strategies tried, showing the importance of strategy in this race, when the tyres are on the edge. This did not happen last year, but compounds are softer this year.
Although the overtaking situation at Yas Marina has been helped a lot by 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.
Chance of a Safety Car
There have been four 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.
However the 2012 edition featured two safety cars and these proved game changers for Sebastian Vettel, who was coming through the field after starting from the pit lane. The timing of the safety cars is crucial, particularly if they fall in the pit stop windows.
Recent start performance
Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, as Mark Webber found in India, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.
As far as 2013 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 guide of trends, rather than a definitive list.]
+25 Van der Garde*****
+19 Sutil*** /*********
+18 Massa ********
+16 Di Resta
-5 Raikkonen *******
-23 Vergne ****
*Webber dropped from second to seventh after a clutch problem in Australia ** Hulkenberg did not start in Australia *** Sutil suffered puncture from contact with Massa in Bahrain ****Vergne retired following collision. *****Van der Garde and Maldonado made contact in Monaco. ******Bianchi started from pit lane in Monaco after stalling *******Raikkonen crashed into Perez at the first corner at Monza ********Massa spun at hairpin in Korea *********Sutil had collision in Korea ********** Hamilton suffered puncture from contact with Vettel in Japan,
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 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. Ferrari 23.332s
2. Red Bull 23.459s
3. McLaren 23.517s
4. Mercedes 23.546s
5. Lotus 23.648s
6. Force India 23.662s
7. Sauber 24.096s
8. Toro Rosso 24.232s
9. Marussia 24.445s
10. Williams 25.530s
11. Caterham 26.970s
The UBS Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams and from Pirelli.