The Singapore Grand Prix is an iconic race, F1’s first night race and it produces lovely TV pictures.
But this race is probably the most difficult to manage for the strategy team and the race engineers on the pit-wall. This is due to it being a very long and stressful race, the very likely deployment of the safety car at any time and the management of the tyres, with the large penalty associated with an additional pit stop. There can often be a heavy weather front to deal with. It is not one for the faint hearted!
The race on the Marina Bay Circuit is also one of the longest and toughest of the year for the cars and drivers. The race can last up to two hours and with high temperatures, humidity and constant braking and turning, it is a real marathon.
Strategy wise it was a two stop race last season, largely because of two safety car periods. But with low pit lane speed limits (60km/h) and a 400 metre pit lane, it is one of the slowest pitstops of the year, so teams try to do the minimum number.
Another strategy consideration is the fuel: as the track is at sea level, the air pressure is higher, the air is more dense and this means that the fuel consumption is higher. The stop and start nature of the track further adds to this. So the cars start heavier than at many places with around 155 kilos of fuel on board -10 kg more than the average. This adds to the punishment of the tyres in the early stages of the race.
The track has undergone one significant modification; the chicane at Turn 10 has been removed, so the corner is now faster. This takes away the impact of the kerbs and slightly improves tyre life as it takes away a traction event from a low speed.
Marina Bay, Singapore – 5.073 kilometres. Race distance – 61 laps = 309.316 kilometres. 23 corners in total.. Street circuit around Singapore’s Marina Bay area.
Aerodynamic setup – High downforce. Top speed 305km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) – 290km/h without.
Full throttle – 45.5% of the lap time (low). Total fuel needed for race distance – 155 kilos (average/high). Fuel consumption – 2.26 kg per lap (average)
Time spent braking: 21% of lap. Number of brake zones – 16. Brake wear- Very high. Toughest race of season for brakes as no cooling opportunities.
Total time needed for pit stop: 29 seconds (very high)
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.37 seconds (high)
The Singapore Grand Prix is the 13th round of 19 in the 2013 FIA F1 World Championship.
This time last year Sebastian Vettel won the race and it was only his second win of the season. This year he already has six wins from 12 starts and has a strong grip on the world championship table. Mercedes has three wins, Ferrari two and Lotus one. McLaren has yet to score a podium finish in 2013.
As far as drivers’ and teams’ form at Singapore is concerned; Sebastian Vettel has won the race for the last two years; Fernando Alonso won the race in 2008 with Renault and 2010 with Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton won the 2009 edition for McLaren. Hamilton was on pole last year.
The weather forecast for the weekend is for high temperatures, around 31 degrees, with the possibility of rain. It has rained most evenings in the week before the event. However in five previous events rain hasn’t affected the actual race, so we must surely be due a wet race soon, given the nature of the weather in Singapore.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Singapore: medium (white markings) and supersoft (red markings). This is the first time this combination of tyres has been seen since Pirelli switched the compounds from the Hungarian GP onwards.
In Singapore the great challenge is to look after the rear tyres, which get damaged by the constant stopping and starting at the circuit’s 23 corners. With a very long pit lane, stops are slow and so teams want to make as few stops as possible. It’s quite an aggressive track and the risk here is overheating the rear tyres, leading to thermal degradation and a steep drop off in performance. The track temperatures at night, when it is dark, are significantly lower than in the FP1 and FP3 practice sessions, which take place in the early evening, so the tyres behave differently. The reduced track temperature helps manage the degradation, but in race conditions the high fuel load increases it again!
It is also one of the hardest races of the season for the brakes, not because of big stops from high to low speeds, but because of the frequent brake use and no straights to cool the brakes. This places an extra strain on the tyres as the red hot brakes inside the wheels cook the tyres from the inside, so tyre management is difficult.
Pirelli is bringing the medium and supersoft this year, a more conservative choice than in 2012. Last year with the soft and supersoft tyres the gap in performance between the two compounds was greater than expected. In qualifying it was as much as 1.6 seconds on some cars. In the race, many teams found that the soft tyres were not working to the optimum; they were designed to be more resistant to high temperatures, but didn’t perform grip wise on the slippery surface.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
Last year the teams looked set to stop three times, but with the intervention of two safety cars, that was dropped to two stops. The second safety car really spoiled the excitement of the race.
For the last two years Force India’s Paul Di Resta had got some excellent results through race strategy. Last year he was fourth, while in 2011 he got a sixth place finish from 10th on the grid by saving a new set of the harder compound tyre from qualifying to start the race on and then doing a two stop strategy with a middle stint on supersofts.
By making one less stop than his rivals he was able to get track position for the closing stint. This is a tactic we could see Force India or Lotus trying this year. However, the more conservative choice of medium and supersoft may mean that all the main players will be able to do the race on just two stops.
A strategy of stopping around lap 17 for new mediums and then again on lap 39 for new mediums looks like a competitive plan at this stage.
The time needed for a pit stop in Singapore is very long, which helps cars able to make one less stop. A safety car is likely to feature at some point and this can change the game, allowing cars which lost ground to close up and, if deployed around the time of pit stops, can change the order significantly.
Five or six laps behind a safety car also moves teams into a window of making one less stop, by extending the tyre life.
Chance of a Safety Car
The chance of a Safety Car at Singapore is very high. There has been at least one Safety Car at every Singapore GP so far with an average of 6 laps spent under Safety Car. Last year there were two safety car periods.
Recent start performance
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 far as 2013 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows:
+18 Van der Garde*****
+12 Di Resta
-4 Raikkonen *******
-14 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 *******Raikkonen crashed into Perez at the first corner at Monza
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 just over two seconds by F1 teams. From Singapore onwards teams must use a new type of wheel nut for safety reasons and this slows the stops down slightly.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Italian Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it.
1. Mercedes 24.079 secs
2. Red Bull 24.205s
3. Ferrari 24.208s
4. Toro Rosso 24.319s
5. McLaren 24.450s
6. Williams 24.665s
7. Sauber 24.668s
8. Lotus 24.764s
9. Marussia 25.541s
10. Caterham 25.569s
11. Force India 26.873s
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from some of the F1 team strategists, from JA on F1 technical adviser Mark Gillan and from Pirelli.