Formula 1 returns to Austria this weekend for the first time since 2003 on a revamped circuit in Spielberg.
It is essentially the same layout as the old (A1 Ring) circuit, very simple with just nine corners, four flat out stretches where the cars hit 300km/h and a very short lap time of around 68 seconds.
Most teams have only simulations to go on and some of the details which will be important to deciding race strategy – such as the exact pit lane length and pit stop time – will be measured and worked out during practice on Friday.
It looks similar to Canada in terms of the amount of energy and loading going into the tyres, so Pirelli has brought the same soft and supersoft tyres and it predicts a two stop strategy to be the default for the race.
The key to doing well this weekend will be in getting the front tyres warmed up and balancing the temperature of the fronts and rears. With quite a few low speed corners, good traction will be vital and the rear tyres will certainly be warmed up, but the fronts could struggle, especially with the soft compound. The team that gets that right will prosper.
Spielberg – 4.326 kilometers. Race distance – 71 laps = 307.146 kilometers. 9 corners in total. A circuit made up of four straights and a few tight corners.
Aerodynamic setup – Medium/High downforce. Top speed 315km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 304km/h without.
Full throttle – 70% of the lap (high). 10 seconds unbroken full throttle on main straight. Fuel consumption – High
Time spent braking: 14% of lap (high). 7 braking zones. Brake wear – High.
Total time needed for pit stop at 80km/h (est): 22 seconds.
Sectors 1 and 3 are quite stop-start, with some tight corners in S1 and 90 degree turns in S3, where traction will be crucial. The middle sector has a long double left-hander Turn 5/6, where we will clearly see the cars that have not got the front tyres working properly.
The track is at an altitude of 700m above sea level. With normally aspirated engines this would lead to a 7% power loss, but with turbo engines this is not an issue. However the turbo is more stressed as it spins at a higher rate at altitude to compensate for the lower atmospheric pressure. This will put the turbos on the limit.
The Austrian Grand Prix is the eighth round of 19 in the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.
Mercedes is the dominant force at the moment with six wins and seven pole positions. This track is likely to be another strong circuit for them, with four 300km/h straights and traction out of slow corners another Mercedes strength,
Red Bull has improved its car significantly, as witnessed by the win for Daniel Ricciardo in Montreal, but it was still well behind the Mercedes before they hit reliability issues. Red Bull owns the circuit and is the promoter of the race, so they will certainly have prepared well for the event.
Montreal showed Ferrari continuing to struggle for top end power and traction out of slow corners, so this weekend could be challenging for them. However if they are able to run the new sidepods and engine cover they tested in Montreal, it looks like that will give them a useful gain.
Of the current drivers only Jenson Button, Kimi Raikkonen, Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso have raced on the old circuit (which was known as the A1 Ring).
The forecast for this weekend looks good with temperatures in the high 20s and little chance of rain.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Austria: Prime tyre is Soft and Option tyre is Super Soft. This is the same combination as in Monaco and Montreal
This combination of Pirelli tyres in Monaco proved very durable and quite hard to warm up and this is likely to be repeated this weekend. This will be particularly noticeable for the fronts on the soft compound. The working temperature range of the soft is higher and the track temperatures may be a little low to get them working to the optimum.
Pirelli is not sure until they test on Friday of the exact difference in lap time performance between the soft and supersoft tyres. The estimated range is between 0.7s/lap and 1.4s/lap.
The difference will be important to planning race strategy – Pirelli simulations show that the teams are likely to repeat what they did in Canada with an initial stint on the supersofts and then two longer stints on the softs.
There could be a chance for cars to jump another through strategy, by staying out an extra lap, if the warm up on the new softs takes a lap or more.
It looks like degradation, rather than tyre wear, will be the limiting factor in Spielberg.
Race Strategy: Number and likely timing of pit stops
Despite having four 300km/h straights and two DRS zones, overtaking might not be all that straightforward on this track due to the nature of the corners. Time will tell. So strategy will de decisive as it was in Montreal. Before a wheel has turned it looks as though a likely strategy could be to do an initial stint on the supersoft of around 14 laps and then two equal stints of around 28/29laps on soft. There could be some good racing as the cars, which have just stopped and are getting the front tyres up to temperature, struggle to hold back cars who have stayed out.
Chance of a safety car
As this is a revamped circuit, there is no current data for this.
Recent start performance
The start will be crucial as it always is. There was the odd start-line accident on the old A1 Ring and the long straight after Turn 1 tends to sort the cars out on the opening lap.
As far as 2014 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate (taking total places lost away from total places gained), as follows –
Net Gained places
9 Bianchi, Bottas
8- Hulkenberg, Ericsson
6 Perez [See notes]
4 – Bianchi, Sutil [See notes],
2 – Chilton,
Net Held position
Net Lost places
11 – Vergne
3- Magnussen Kvyat, Hamilton
2 – Ricciardo
Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.
Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1
Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact
China Notes: Sutil lost power at start and dropped 8 places, retiring soon after.
Monaco notes: Maldonado did not start, Ericsson started from pit lane, Perez crashed Lap 1.
Canada Notes: Gutierrez started from pit lane; Bianchi and Chilton crashed lap 1; Ericsson pitted lap 1
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.
With heavy penalties already handed out for unsafe release from a stop and loose wheels, teams have calmed down their stops to aim for consistency and no mistakes.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Canadian Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.
1. Red Bull 23.274s
2. Williams 23.448s
3. McLaren 23.479s
4. Mercedes 23.554s
5. Sauber 23.703s
6. Ferrari 23.790s
7. Lotus 23.856s
8. Force India 23.902s
9. Toro Rosso 23.975s
Caterham and Marussia – No stops (retired early)
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli