The final race of the season is upon us and despite a two-by-two look at the starting grid at the front of the field, there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to strategies. So here are some of the different options available to the Abu Dhabi teams.
What is the fastest strategy?
At the same track where Pirelli first tested its final 2022 tires last year, the Italian supplier expected a one-stop would be the quickest option, as it did last year. But Friday practice (specifically in FP2 as the session that starts at the same time as qualifying and the race) has shown that a two-stop is faster.
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The unexpected problem has been higher levels of degradation, coupled with graining – when small bits of the tire rip from the surface but then immediately stick back on, creating an uneven contact patch that offers less grip – that has made it difficult to long enough stints to run a one-stop effectively.
Multiple options are available, with the majority starting on the medium compound tyre, but the outright fastest will see a first stint of between 16 and 23 laps on the medium before switching to hard tires for the middle stint, aiming for a second pit window from round 37 to round 44 to return to mediums. The problem for Sergio Perez, Ferrari, Alpine and AlphaTauri is that they all only have one set of mediums available, but for the rest of the field this is a viable option.
How about another option for the top 10?
So which is more likely for Perez, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Esteban Ocon and Fernando Alonso? It’s still a two-stopper, and they’ll probably still prefer the medium compound at the start to get good performance off the line, but a shorter first stint of 20 laps max would then mean a middle stint on the hard compound , and then another switch to hards between round 32 and round 39.
All the drivers mentioned above have two sets of hards available to try this strategy, and they are the only ones on the grid who can do it, which could prove to be a big advantage.
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However, the entire top ten – whether they have two sets of hards or mediums available – can also consider a one-stopper that uses the medium and hard compound.
Starting on the medium the crucial stint is the first as it needs to be extended to at least lap 22 but realistically as close to lap 30 as possible to then fit on the hard compound and have a chance to make it end of the match.
What are the possibilities for the bottom half of the field?
Some of the alternative strategies are quite interesting as they open up the possibility of using all three tire compounds during the race, as was the case in Brazil a week ago.
In a similar option to the fastest overall strategy, a first stint on medium, followed by a switch to hard tires and similar pit windows, but the middle stint on hard tires would have to be extended to at least lap 40 to allow for a change to soft tires to allow for the sprint to the flag.
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The same strategy could also be followed but with the soft tires before the start of the race to get the best possible performance off the line and into the first lap, although the higher levels of degradation with a heavy car would probably require a pit stop due to Lap 17. That puts a bit more pressure on the mid stint to get in range of Lap 34 to switch to mediums, but it’s an option open to everyone.
Likewise, the reverse of the one-stop strategy above is also possible, but less likely to be used by anyone in the top ten. Starting hard yields a performance loss of about 0.4s per lap compared to the medium, although that gap is regularly reduced by up to 50% in racing situations when drivers control the pace.
A final stint of around 25 laps could be run on the mediums, but if they got closer to the 15 laps remaining, the softs could even qualify for the latter part of the race.
Starting on the hard track is realistically a strategy for a driver who is at the back of the grid and willing to run as long as possible before hoping that a well-timed Safety Car would allow a pit stop that would be some seven seconds faster. are then green. flag conditions.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
Well, we are in Abu Dhabi, where the weather for races has been pretty much guaranteed in recent years, with sunny days and clear evenings as the race takes place at sunset.
The first part of the race will take place in temperatures above 30°C and will be challenging for the tyres, but as the sun goes down the track temperature will begin to drop significantly, even if the air temperature remains high.
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The lack of sunlight on the track surface has a major impact, and the biggest challenge these conditions present is the change of equilibrium a car goes through as track temperatures drop. For some they may be happier with their car early in the race, while others find it difficult to drive in the early laps but come to life as the Grand Prix unfolds.
The risk of rain? That’s 0%.