How will the teams approach the first race of the season? What difference will the new Pirelli tyres make to the racing? Will there be more stops or less? What is the likelihood of a safety car in Melbourne? You will find the answers here.
The new season kicks off this week ‘Down Under at Melbourne’s Albert Park and we welcome back the JA on F1 Race Strategy content strand, in partnership with UBS, which was so popular last season.
For each race we will produce a pre-race briefing and a post race analysis. The content is prepared by JA on F1 with data and insight from a variety of race strategists currently working for F1 teams, who are helping to give fans an insight into this fascinating and important area of the sport.
Australian Grand Prix – the Key Race Strategy considerations
• Track characteristics
• Form guide
• Weather forecast
• Likely tyre performance
• Number and likely timing of pit stops
• Chances of a safety car
• Recent start performance of drivers and teams
* Pit stop league table of teams
Albert Park Circuit; 5.303 kilometres. Race distance: 58 laps = 307.574 kilometres 16 corners in total, none particularly high energy.
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
The Australian Grand Prix is not always a reliable guide to the season ahead as it is a unique circuit, based in a park, with a very low grip track surface and corners which are not typical of F1 circuits around the world.
Red Bull won the race last season and based on performances over the winter testing season, are expected to be the front runners at the first race, with McLaren also looking competitive.
Mercedes look more competitive than in 2011 as do Lotus, while Ferrari have had a difficult winter of testing and their competitiveness is a question mark going into the new season. The midfield battle looks very close and results are likely to be dependent on good race strategy planning and execution.
McLaren has won the Australian Grand Prix five times and Ferrari has won six times.
McLaren has won two of the last four Australian Grands Prix and Jenson Button is a two time winner. Of the current drivers Michael Schumacher has won the race four times, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso once.
Pirelli tyre choice for Melbourne: Soft and Medium.
This is Pirelli’s second season of F1 since returning as sole tyre supplier and the aim for 2012 is to get the tyre compounds closer together in performance than in 2011. Last year the gap was too large, with the result being that at many events teams ran the faster tyre for most of the race and then put on the slower, usually harder, tyre right at the end.
For 2012 Pirelli is aiming for around 0.8s per lap difference between compounds, which would give the teams a number of different strategy options and would mix things up.
The signs from testing are that the soft and medium tyres at this stage are a little too close in performance, probably around 0.3 seconds per lap at Albert Park.
The soft is likely to have a range of around 20-23 laps while the life of the medium will be 22-25 laps. This will be less for the opening stint of the race when the cars are full of fuel.
The new Pirellis offer more rear grip relative to the front tyres than was the case in 2011. The 2012 Pirelli tyres are designed to last longer than last year’s and the drop off in performance isn’t as sudden. The tyre warm-up isn’t quite as fast as last year because of the wider contact patch of the new tyres.
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.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
Based on 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 two pit stops in the race. Last year we saw a range of strategies; among the top seven finishers we had one car which stopped just once, two cars stopped three times while the three podium finishers all stopped twice.
There are 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 last year, moving from 13th on the grid to 7th at the chequered flag.
Chance of a safety car
The chance of a safety car at Albert Park is 57% . 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 2012 season – no start data has been established yet.
Pit Stop League Table
Good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics; last season we saw tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds this year.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews in 2011, based on their average time for a stop, taking out anomalies.
1= Red Bull Best
1= Mercedes Best
3 McLaren + 0.3s
4 Force India + 0.4s
5 Ferrari + 0.5s
6 Renault + 0.9s
7 Williams + 1.1s
8= Lotus + 1.3s
8= Sauber + 1.3s
8= Toro Rosso + 1.3s
11 Virgin + 1.6s
12 HRT + 3.2s
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams.