Finely balanced between 2 and 3 stops in Suzuka
Finely balanced between 2 and 3 stops in Suzuka
Posted By: James Allen  |  03 Oct 2012   |  5:04 pm GMT  |  34 comments

Here’s something you might find interesting. The strategy for this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix looks quite finely balanced, with teams forced to decide whether to do two stops or three. And it looks like a weekend where saving a set of new set of soft tyres from qualifying might be worth doing (by doing one run only in Q2 and Q3)

Three stops is actually faster, as the graph below shows, but it requires the driver to pass the two stoppers in the final stint. If there is a safety car, it will hand an advantage to the two stoppers.

Here’s your chance to play with the variables and see if you can find the fastest way to do the race strategy for Sunday’s Grand Prix, using our UBS F1 Race Strategy Calculator

The green line below is based on starting on used softs and then taking a set of new softs (if you have one left) on lap 12 and then new hard tyres on laps 26 and 39. The fastest two stop option looks like being to stop on laps 14 and 34 for new hard tyres (black line)

However if you do not save a set of new soft tyres from qualifying and you try to do a three stopper with used softs at the first stop you end up losing out to the two stoppers (green line below)

It could be a good race for the Saubers and Lotus cars, if they can get extended tyre life, as they have at certain races this year. Time will tell.

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Since there is almost always a safety car at Suzuka, I expect Lotus to go two-stops. They can probably make it on two stops anyways, but the safety car will seal it.

unless there is some change that slows the McLarens and Red Bulls, I expect that they are the favourites, and Sebastian Vettel is the hottest driver on the grid. If Vettel can get inside the second row, then I expect him to beat the McLarens in a tight fight.

Ferrari may bring some upgrades, and be able to challenge the McLarens and Red Bulls; Alonso has extracted the maximum possible from his machinery this year, that is why he leads the championship. Unless something drastic happens, he can be relied upon to do the same.

For Lotus to be successful, they obviously have to advance in their comparative advantage against McLaren, Red Bull, and Ferrari, and stay ahead of Mercedes; for that, they’ll need ‘the device’ to work, and give them the needed push down the straights and high speed corners.


I think qualifying on Saturday will be an exercise of tyre saving for sure. Probably trying only one run in Q1, Q2 and Q3 may seem a good option.


Instructive as always, James, but…

I suspect the accuracy of your simulation might be quite sensitive to variation in track conditions – and I wouldn’t assume that Sauber and Lotus are quite that far in front in terms of managing the tyres (McLaren, for example, seem to have improved a lot in this respect).

Throw in the possibility of a safety car, and there’s plenty of opportunity for the team strategists to get it wrong.

Running the race from the front will also confer an advantage, so whether or not to preserve a set of new options rather than have a second run in Q3 is going to be a fine calculation.

Strangely, while saving a set of tyres in Q3 would have been the best call quite a few times this season, the front runners have done this relatively infrequently when it was an option for them (Hamilton in particular seems unable to resist the lure of a second run).

btw, a two stop (15 & 35) using that saved set of new options is fastest of all in the simulation.


Good catch there Nige. Two stop with saved softs. It will be interesting to see if any cars excel with the hards, as we’ve been surprised to see in several GPs this year.


Maybe McLaren might have a large advantage in qualifying, so he might not need a second run in Q3.


Like in Singapore ?

Hamilton had a huge advantage – half a second – and still went out again.

As I said, it’s a fine calculation as to whether pole is worth more than a spare set of options, and you don’t always know how much of a margin you have until the end of Q3.


Some fair points, Kidza, although I note that Hamilton almost clobbered the wall in his second (slower) run.

As for the prime always being the ‘race tyre’, that depends on the track. We won’t know until practice how big the lap time difference is between the two. A big delta will make the option viable.

The option has been a pretty good race tyre on a few occasions this season for drivers who’ve kept a fresh set.


Lewis went out for a second Q3 run to cover Vettel (similarly with Alonso at Monza). Considering how quick Vettel had been, Lewis would have been foolish not to go out again.

Unlike in 2011 when we saw the likes of Lewis regularly saving a new set of the softer tyre, the harder tyre is the race tyre in 2012 so you are better off going for that second run in Q3.


Possibly larger.


Hi James, your thought about Safety Car handing an advantage to two stoppers is a bit presumptuous I think. Whether it helps two stoppers or 3 stoppers depends on the timing of the safety car.

If it appears during the 2nd stop window of 2 stoppers, it helps them as it prolongs the life of their tyres and helps them defend from 3 stoppers at the end.

If the safety car appears during the 3rd stop window of the 3 stoppers, it leaves the 2 stoppers on worn tyres to defend from those with fresh set of tyres at the end. The best example being Alonso in Singapore, had there not been a second SC, he would have surely fallen back towards di Resta who had stopped 5 laps later under the SC.

Also there is the number of laps under the safety car to be considered which might just reduce the race to a 2 stop for the front runners. So i feel its not really clear cut as to who will benefit but one thing for sure its going to be very exciting.


Like I said last week – we don’t need the safety car anymore – it ruins races and makes strategy a complete lottery.


But they do need a means of bunching up the field so that marshals can work on the track safely. Whether that is done by a safety car or by the leader running to a pace, the effect is the same.


a real and proper race track.

maybe shaping up to be the singular defining moment for the Championship!!!

OMG!! I simply cannot wait!!


Is it my imagination or are we seeing much longer tyre life and less sharp degradation late in runs over the last few races. Just teams getting on top of the tyres? Or changes to the tyres themselves?

(or as I say, just my imagination?)


Alonso for the win!


I wouldn’t mind another “finely balanced” Vettel win!


James, your strategy calculator seems to think a Lap 16 stop for new options, and Lap 33 for new primes, would be a fantastic option


James, your strategy calculator seems to think a Lap 16 stop for new options, and Lap 33 for new primes, would be a fantsatic option


It seems fairly straightforward to get a 5 second advantage? Am I doing something wrong? If you 2 stop, start on options, 1st stop on lap 16 switch to primes, 2nd stop lap 36 switch to options.

I wonder what you could do if you started on primes? Maybe 2 stop prime-prime-soft. A short final sting on options, at Suzuka, really push the car, I wonder…


Kobayashi on the podium.


mmm… are we going to see first Kimi’s win of the season?


I wonder if Force India will be quick here as well, or was it just at certain types of tracks that they excelled?!? Sunday will tell.


Excellent chart here. If 3 stops is quickest it will be very interesting. Raikkonen, Grosjean, and Vettel 1,2,3 – just because no one will take that result and because Lotus needs a win to be in the 2012 WDC sweepstakes.


It feels to me as though whenever we say ‘finally balanced between 2 and 3 stops’ – it almost always end up being 2 for the front runners and 3 for a few midfielders looking to try something different.

Whoever gets out of the first corner first will probably manage the race and take only two stops due to reduced tyre wear etc..


I hope Sauber have the speed and low wear (and quick pit stops) to help their drivers, Japanese fans deserve to see Kamui get a good result and Perez needs to show why he is being snatched to McLaren


Kimi Raikkonen – FOR THE WIN (quite literally)


James Wilson, I hope you are right.

But a few things will have to go against those teams with better pace over the past three races, McLaren and Red Bull, perhaps they’ll have to change the way their front wings flex around an axis at high speeds, delivering a better air flow to the diffuser, and Lotus will have to bring developments that keep them at least on terms with Ferrari in race, and qualifying.

In equal cars, I’ll take Kimi over Alonso, EVERY TIME. But, this season for sure, Alonso is extracting the maximum points out of his package, every chance he gets.


Still have fond memories of the ’05 race – Kimi the starting last and overtaking Fisi on the last lap of the race:


Yes yes, a million times yes! I’ll be there cheering him now


I woke up before 4 to watch that race in mid-terms week. Kimi gave us to one of the best drives we’ve ever seen! Also, Alonso on Schumi at 130R was sublime.

James, please tell Bernie to put up races on Netflix or somewhere online! We’d pay to watch all of these great races. The season reviews (which are also not available online) don’t do justice to races like Japan ’05 or Donnington ’93 which you’d want to watch from start to finish.


I honestly cannot believe BE do not see the prospect of making money out of online streaming F1 races. He just needs to do a search on YouTube and usually there are lots of video clips of F1 races soon after the race is over, only to have them banned soon after by FIA.

Maybe if they have these races readily available on or something, then he’d make money for himself an F1.


Really don’t understand why they haven’t already done this to be honest. It seems like it would be relatively simple to do and would probably make them a fair bit of cash…. something they are usually quite quick to recognise.



Matthew Conolly

It would be fantastic to be able to browse a convenient library for old races

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