How the teams will tackle the first Grand Prix of the season
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  13 Mar 2012   |  10:25 am GMT  |  94 comments

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

Track characteristics

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

Form Guide

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.

Likely tyre performance

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.

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Max Nalborczyk

Hi James,

Where do you get the values for the fuel needed for the total race? Do you have this information for the remaining races of the season?

I am writing an extended essay on Formula One being carbon neutral and this information would be incredibly useful to me.

Many thanks,



Check the pre race strategy briefings for each GP – it’s all there


Why would my comment about where the posts are on the site get deleted by mods? :p


So how are you finding the weather James?

I bet Jenson is rubbing his hands together at the thought of rain & safety cars.

Edouard Valentine

It will be interesting to see which of the drivers who qualify outside the top 10 will score points in Australia. I would really love to see how tyre management plays out. Hopefuly there will be no safety car conditions to skew the results.


As a Melburnian, just thought I’d let you guys know it is thunder storming here and has been for a few hours (current time is 20:52 Thursday evening), and tomorrow looks patchy along with early Saturday, but all looks clear of water from then.

The Albert Park track always evolves big time with rubber going down and they are going to be so much quicker each session, going to have to wait for 0.00 of q3 to see what the haps is.


james will bbc stream practice sessions online with your commentary ?


I’ve admired your insight and enthusiasm as a commentator James, and now enjoy your site. While this isn’t directed at you, but rather at media in general, and may seem punctilious to the F1 crowd, I thought that I might defend the language (something of a hobby / burden) and establish that each team is a group, and groups are singular in status; thereby demanding that each be referenced as subjects of one, not many.


Ferrari is (not “are”) struggling out of the gate.

Ferrari, and any team would be referenced as “it”, not “they”, given its singular nature. Once one begins to pay attention to such things, you can’t help but recognize how widely this is incorrectly used. I enjoy F1 and the language, and each is at its most pleasurable when done well.


It would be an interesting season to watch if Red Bull doesn’t win any of the first five races. Besides, the year has begun with bad news for the company:

Red Bull said Wednesday it has dropped an advertisement in South Africa after an outcry from both Christians and Muslims for its portrayal of Jesus Christ walking on water.

South Africa’s Roman Catholic bishops urged Christians not to drink Red Bull in traditional fasting for Lent ahead of Easter celebrations next month, stopping short of calling for a full commercial boycott.


Those religious people are an enigma. In the past, they didn’t have a problem that black people were ‘apartheided’ in their own country, on the other hand they do have a problem with a drinks ad?


Thanks James. As always you have provided us with excellent insight. All the indicators point to it being a very close season, so it will be vital that the teams and drivers score from the very first race, and keep scoring..! If any of the big names don’t score at Melbourne and Sepang, then drawing comfort from the number of races still to come in which to recover a season, will assign that team to an also-ran position. Ferrari in particular cannot afford to fall into this category. This is a totally different season to 2010. Gentlemen, let the racing begin!


I hope Mercedes can come out of the gate strong in Melbourne, and stay there all season.

At the time of writing most of our voters think Schumi will win the title this year. Do you agree? Vote now …


Hi James, with the 2012 tires lasting longer and offering more grip at the rear – does this mean that Lewis Hamilton will have a better season as such?



Hi James,

how long do think it will take other teams to copy the new Mercedes f duct system ?

thanks for your great articles


Grayzee (Australia)

A question for you and your readers:

Does anyone know if there is much difference in the fuel consumption between teams/engines, and are there different strategies?

With .34 sec for every 10 kg and a race requirement of 152 kgs, would there be teams trying to run with, say, 140kgs, in order to gain time?

Seems there would be quite a lot of time to be gained…….


Great article James. Had a few off-topic questions for you – What is your assessment of Force India’s testing form and where they may end up? And over the course of the season, who of Di Resta or Hulkenberg are you backing to come good? I’m very excited to see these young guys go at each other!


I think they’ll start the season strongly. Both cars in Top 10 then we’ll see if they have the budget and development ideas to stay there. It’ll be a good year for them, both drivers are pushing hard, there won’t be much between them


Am really looking forward to your commentary at 5 Live. All the best to you.


I don’t give a cr*p who wins this race as long as it’s not Vettel sprinting to the front and win from first corner. All the better if several of them fighting it out other than Vettel.


LOL! Can’t take it anymore right. Anyone but Vettel, I like Sebastian though.


Yer I like him too, especially when he lose races or crashes out.

I.e. Canada 2011; Turkey 2010.



Great article, cheers for that. I can’t wait for the season to start… I’ve ordered Sky F1 yesterday (£10.25 pm with HD package, not that expensive)… so I’m starting my engine 😀


Good briefing – thanks James! It’s going to be a cracker of a season. Slightly off-topic, but — is there any move towards more “normal” wheels and tyres? F1 runs on massive tyres so the car’s suspension has to cope with a relatively high unpsrung weight and considerable “bounce” in the tyre. A move to really low-profile tyres would make a big reduction in change the unsprung weight and give designers a chance to do much more with the car’s suspension.

Grayzee (Australia)

Interesting idea, but I would imagine the amount of downforce these cars generate would overheat and crush the low profile tyres….


This week seems to be going terribly slow and just cannot wait for Sunday. Also Sunday is the day when Mclaren would know if their design is right or they need to make overnight changes!.


I think the point about Q1 and strategy is that because the window between the 2 tyre compounds is less than last year, some of the mid-rear pack will be more likely to try and get through on the faster tyre, potentially threatening a faster team on the slower tyre



I still reckon the top teams will use the prime in Q1. The large performance difference of the cars vs the small performance difference between the tyres makes it a no brainer. Then again, I’m not known for my brains…

Go Webber!!!


“One factor of the tyre compounds being close together on performance is that the top teams may no longer be able to get through the Qualifying 1 session on a set of hard tyres. They may need to use a set of softs to be certain of getting through to the next stage.”

James, I would argue against this point by saying that a Red Bull or McLaren may do just that, use their hards to get through because they know a Ferrari or Merc can’t challenge them on pace. If as you say the difference in performance of the tyres is about 0.5secs, and you know that your car is at least that much faster mechanically, you would naturally use the hards and keep the performance advantage of the softs for Q3 or even for the race… I think having the compounds so close together in pace and durability has been a bad move by Pirelli and reeks of pressure from the teams. It has virtually negated the necessity for different compounds when we’re talking about 0.5secs difference and 20laps to 22laps durability difference. Who cares what tyres you run and when if there is virtually no difference between them?.. As long as your car is 0.5secs faster than everyone elses you’re golden.

If a team like Red Bull has a slight edge in pace (and it will ultimately prove that one team or anther WILL have a slight edge – after all there has to be a leader, second, etc), I am sure that that fastest team will then have the freedom to position their softs to the prime phase in the race because they qualified on pole with the only slightly slower harder tyre. And because the compounds are so close together the other teams will have no opportunity to challenge the fastest team by boldly running a different tyre strategy(again because the softer compound will not make up the car’s speed deficit).

A hypthetical example: Let’s say McLarens’s car is 0.7secs faster than Merc’s, even if the Mercs start the race on softs while McLaren starts on hards, McLaren would pull away by 0.2secs per lap because the soft tyre is only giving Merc an extra 0.5secs. Now if the speed difference was larger between the two compounds – say 1.2secs, Schumacher might actually have a chance of challenging Button/Hamilton early instead of falling away. He may/may not lose out at the end of the race when the compounds are reversed but at least we would see a fight between champions at two different periods in the reace, and not just a precession all the way through.

I think we all agree that at the begining of the last season we saw some of the best races ever in F1. To me at least the obvious speed difference between the tyre compounds was exactly why we saw such great racing then.

This year, I have a bad feeling we’re about to witness a precession. I truly hope I’m wrong…


“Of the current drivers Michael Schumacher has won the race four times, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso once.” — Kimi won it in 2007 also. Thanks for the whole info about this race. It would be nice if you give similar info about every race (at least track characteristics) for every race. Many of us are not aware of such details.



“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.”


Why were HRT’s stops so poor last year? Was it because they weren’t really racing anyone? An average of 3.2 seconds slower is a huge difference!


nice post thanks james


You missed Kimi winning in ’07 🙂


Scrap that. Just saw you said the last 4 years. 🙁


Very interesting and exciting:

– I believe that Pirelli will be closer, i.e. slightly more different pit-stop strategies. However, soft in the first stint is a no-brainer.

– Temperature is a key issue and heating the tyres: Can Ferrari perform better 2012 to heat the tyres than 2011 (it can’t be much worse).

– Who has shown their real speed at testing? Lotus was fast, but did the others show anything? Merc, RB and McL will be the natural favourites.

– Who can perform from day 1? RB sure, but whatabout the others?

I’m so excited – even without Pointer Sisters!

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