The Korean Grand Prix is working to establish itself in the F1 calendar and win a place in the hearts of the participants, but it is an uphill struggle. However the circuit does tend to provide quite a good race and there are important decisions to be made on car set up and strategy which can affect the outcome. This year with a big step between tyre compounds, it should make the race more interesting, as Singapore was.
With Sebastian Vettel 60 points clear of Fernando Alonso in the championship and with a car which is now fully optimised, the Ferrari driver is going to need some luck to close the gap down. He is a former winner at this event and he knows he needs to take risks now.
The circuit came onto the calendar in 2010 and it is a mix of different concepts, with a long straight and some high-speed corners early on in the lap, and then a series of tight blind bends at the end, around which the organizers hope to build a Monaco-like cityscape with a harbour. The slow sections contribute to making this one of the slowest average speed laps of any permanent circuit.
This makes it quite a tough track to set the car up for, with a debate over whether straight line speed should be prioritized or higher downforce for the lower speed corners.
This has a bearing on race strategy, as a car which qualifies with high downforce cannot afford to qualify poorly, as it will find it very hard to overtake in the race.
Last year we saw that it was quite hard for teams starting outside the top ten positions on the grid to come through and get a result, bucking the trend of other races. Toro Rosso was the only exception, with Vergne and Ricciardo both coming through the field, thanks to a lower downforce setting to finish 8th and 9th. It was one of the strongest races of the season last year for Toro Rosso.
The Pirelli tyre choice for this race is different from the last two years with medium and supersoft in place of the soft and supersoft tyres.
One of the notable features of last year’s race at Yeongam was that there were lots of tyre marbles which got lodged in the front wings of cars, affecting downforce levels. F1 cars are sensitive to 1mm of difference in the slot gaps between wing elements so a large lump of rubber lodged in will have a big effect and will adversely affect lap time and tyre life.
The weather has been quite cool in general here over the three years to date; the inaugural race was very much affected by rain, with the Safety Car forced to spend almost half the race distance on track. This year the forecast for race day has a possible threat from a tropical storm, similar to the one which stopped qualifying in Japan in 2002.
Although the track surface is quite abrasive, which can lead to higher tyre wear the cooler conditions help with this generation of Pirelli tyres. So a two stop strategy looks the most likely way.
Yeongam – 5.615 kilometres. Race distance – 55 laps = 308.630 kilometres. 18 corners in total. Average speed 209 km/h. A new circuit hosting its fourth Grand Prix
Aerodynamic setup – Medium to High downforce. Top speed 316km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 304km/h without.
Full throttle – 55% of the lap time (ave). Total fuel needed for race distance – 148.5 kilos (ave/ high). Fuel consumption – 2.75 kg per lap (ave)
Time spent braking: 20% of lap (low). Number of brake zones – 9. Brake wear- ave/high.
Total time needed for pit stop: 20 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.37 seconds (high)
The Korean Grand Prix is the 14th round of the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship.
Red Bull continue to be the form team at the moment, the car has been the one to beat since the summer break on both low downforce and high downforce circuits. Its superior traction out of slow corners will help in the first and third sectors in Korea.
In terms of driver and team performance at this event, Fernando Alonso won the 2010 edition for Ferrari, while Sebastian Vettel has won for the last two years for Red Bull and after his performance in Singapore he is the hot favourite to win again, moving him closer to his fourth world title.
The Yeongam circuit’s position, close to the coast, means that it is susceptible to weather fronts and a tropical storm known as FITOW by the Japanese Typhoon Warning authorities, could be headed for the Yeongam area on Sunday or Monday.
The 2010 race start had to be delayed and then the race was suspended due to heavy rain, while rain also blighted Friday practice in 2011.
Pirelli tyre choice for Korea: medium (white markings) and super soft (red markings). This combination – with new specification tyres – was seen in Singapore.
Pirelli has changed tactics on tyre choice for this weekend. Normally they bring the soft and supersoft, but this year they’ve put an extra step between compounds, to try to create some more interesting strategies.
The performance differential between these two compounds in Singapore was significant, with up to two seconds per lap in qualifying. It was the favoured race tyre, especially for drivers who had new sets to use.
The supersoft lasted for longer in the race than many teams expected and this is likely to carry through to this race. Traction out of slow corners is at a premium here and this will favour the Red Bull and Mercedes cars.
The front tyres take a hammering at this track and last year’s winner Vettel was told to take it easy in the closing stages of the race due to concerns over wear on the shoulders of his front tyres.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
This race looks like a fairly clear two stopper, as it was last year but there should be more variety in tactics compared to last year where most of the leading runners did a stint on supersofts and then two stints on the soft tyres, with stops on laps 15 and 35. This year we could see two stints on supersofts and the beginning and end, with a longer stint on mediums in the middle or a variety of different approaches.
We could see teams like Lotus and Force India that are more gentle on the tyres once again trying something different. Ferrari have already shown themselves willing to take risks on strategy as their situation in the championship becomes more difficult.
Chance of a Safety Car
There was at least one Safety Car in both the 2010 and 2011 races at Yeongam, but last year did not feature one.
There was a Safety Car due to the heavy rain at the start of the 2010 race and then the race was suspended. In total that race featured 26 laps, or 47% of the race distance, behind the Safety Car!
In 2011 there were four laps spent behind the 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.
As far as 2013 starts are concerned here is a table with indications of drivers who have gained or lost places at the start. This table is for the season up to and including Singapore GP.
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 the sample still shows prevailing trends of places won and lost at the start.
+20 Van der Garde*****
+17 Di Resta
-4 Raikkonen *******
-17 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
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 table below shows the fastest single stop by teams in the recent Singapore Grand Prix, from entering the pit lane to leaving it.
1. McLaren 28.032 secs
2. Red Bull 28.787s
3. Mercedes 29.032s
4. Ferrari 29.040s
5. Sauber 29.364s
6. Marussia 29.421s
7. Lotus 29.469s
8. Force India 29.667s
9. Toro Rosso 29.736s
10. Williams 29.966s
11. Caterham 30.141s
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several of the leading teams’ strategists and from Pirelli