This weekend’s Hungarian GP will be fascinating from a strategy point of view as it sees the debut of a new specification of Pirelli tyres at the same time as safety measures come in after the incident with a flying wheel in Germany. As a result the pit lane speed limit has been lowered to 80km/h from 100km/h which will add over three seconds to the time needed to make a pit stop. This makes multiple stops less attractive.
At the same time extremely high temperatures are forecast as mainland Europe experiences a heatwave. We could see track temperatures in the 50s this weekend.
Testing of the new Pirellis at last week’s Young Driver Test in Silverstone showed that these new tyres degrade less than the ones they are replacing, so – heat permitting – it will lead teams to want to run with as few stops as possible.
Although teams like Force India, Ferrari and Lotus blocked a change of tyre specification earlier in the season, it may be that with their more gentle action on the tyres means that they still have a benefit- especially in the heat – as pit stops take longer and are therefore less attractive. Being able to do one less stop than the opposition, or in Lotus’ case being able to run the faster soft tyre for longer still carries an advantage.
To make the situation more intriguing, the Hungaroring circuit is rarely used and so the track is usually dirty at the start of the F1 race weekend and the grip improves as the weekend goes on. This means that it’s very easy to be misled by the tyre performance on Friday and the only really meaningful work that can be done on car set up and planning race strategy is often the one hour session on Saturday morning.
The track is tight and twisty with generally a low grip surface and it is also quite bumpy.
The start is always crucial at the Hungaroring, as the slow second and third corners tend to open the field out. The run down to Turn 1 is quite long; from pole position to the braking point before Turn 1 is 400m. KERS will be important at the start, but in the race it will be less effective; there is not a lot of high energy braking time so it’s hard to get the KERS fully charged during a lap of the race.
Hungaroring – 4.381km kilometres. Race distance – 70 laps = 306.630 kilometres. 14 corners in total. Average speed of 196km/h is the lowest of any permanent track on F1 calendar.
Aerodynamic setup – High downforce. Top speed 301km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 291km/h without.
Full throttle – 55% of the lap (low). Total fuel needed for race distance – 150 kilos (average/high). Fuel consumption – 2.11kg per lap (average)
Time spent braking: 14% of lap. Number of brake zones – 11. Brake wear- High.
Total time needed for pit stop: 16 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.35 seconds (high)
The Hungarian Grand Prix is the tenth round of the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship and thus marks the half way point in the 19 race season.
Red Bull has control of both championships, but Mercedes has taken a big step forward in the second third of the season and has had two wins in the last four races. Sebastian Vettel, the clear championship leader, has also scored two wins in the last four. Mercedes has the clear edge in qualifying and is likely to dominate again in Hungary, but the race will be very tough as temperatures of 40 degrees are forecast.
The circuit and temperatures should suit Lotus, which ran Red Bull very close in Germany and they have to be the pre-race favorites if they can qualify in the top two rows of the grid. Raikkonen finished a strong second in Budapest last year behind Lewis Hamilton, despite starting fifth on the grid.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned; it has been a happy hunting ground for Hamilton with three wins and Jenson Button who has won the race twice. Fernando Alonso won in 2003, Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 and Mark Webber in 2010.
With a heatwave in Europe, it could be one of the hottest Grands Prix on record. The forecast is for temperatures around 38-40 degrees, but there are often thunderstorms in the air, which could bring rain, as in 2011.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Budapest: Soft (yellow markings) and Medium (white markings). This is the same as last year, but this year the compounds are softer so the pace should be faster.
The tyre specification is new for this race, with 2012 constructions married to 2013 compounds, pushed through on safety grounds after the spectacular tyre failures in Silverstone.
With the predicted heatwave, track temperatures of 50 degrees plus could be on the cards. The strategy will probably come down to fine margins with two stops being the target. It will be interesting to see whether the soft or the medium turns out to be the better race tyre; if the low degradation seen in the recent test at Silverstone is carried through, the soft could be the better tyre to race on, with a performance advantage of 0.8s to 1s per lap. Lotus is likely to explore this option carefully. Raikkonen did two stints on soft tyres last year, with a middle stint of 25 laps.
The crucial thing for teams to understand will be the crossover point where the medium becomes better over the long run.
The target for the first stop will be around lap 17-20.
The Hungaroring is notoriously hard on the front tyres, partly due to all the long corners and partly due to the balance of the car being much more forward. High temperatures will also take their toll.
In the past, overtaking was extremely difficult at the Hungaroring and it is still tricky. There were few passes after the opening laps of the race last year.
But the DRS adjustable rear wing zone, situated on the pit straight, has helped create some overtaking opportunities into Turn 1.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The time needed for a stop at Hungaroring has now extended due to the lower pit lane speed limit, which discourages pit stops.
As these new tyres are more like 2012 tyres than those from the first eight races of 2013, we are likely to see a similar picture to last season.
Last year two stops was the way to go and three stoppers lost out, surrendering track position at the final stop and struggling to regain it despite faster tyres at the end. With lower degradation tyres this is even more likely to favour the two stoppers.
It’s likely that we will see a mixture of predominantly two stop strategies this weekend, with some interesting things going on with stint lengths and compound choices. It could be a really interesting battle at the front if Mercedes, Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari all play to their strengths.
Chance of a safety car
Safety cars are rare at the Hungaroring.
In fact the chances of a safety car are only 10% and there have been only two in the last seven years.
Recent start performance
The start of the Grand Prix is absolutely vital in terms of executing the ideal race strategy. A few places gained means a team has more options, while a few places lost usually means switching to Plan B and being more aggressive to make up ground.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line during this season, on aggregate, as follows (taken after the German Grand Prix)
+15 Van der Garde*****
+9 Di Resta
-15 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
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.
It is clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the German Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.
1. Red Bull 18.979 secs
2. Mercedes 19.316
3. Lotus 19.378
4. Ferrari 19.476
5. McLaren 19.692
6. Sauber 19.816
7. Toro Rosso 19.846
8. Force India 19.910
9. Marussia 19.953
10. Williams 20.331
11. Caterham 20.545
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists, from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan and from Pirelli