UBS RACE STRATEGY BRIEFING 2012 FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPAÑA SANTANDER 2012
Circuit de Catalunya, 11-13 May 2012
UBS Race Strategy Briefing
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing before each Grand Prix gives you the lowdown on all the vital considerations the F1 teams will take on board when deciding what Race Strategy to use in the forthcoming Grand Prix. A bad decision can cost a race victory, whereas a bold gamble can sometimes steal one from the jaws of defeat. So put yourself in the know and get the inside line on how the race will be won.
UBS Race Strategy Report
The UBS Race Strategy Report is a unique analysis of the key decisions on the pit wall and in the cockpit that decided the outcome of the latest Grand Prix. It's the indispensable guide to the who, the why and the how behind every Grand Prix result.
Circuit de Catalunya; 4.65 kilometres
Race distance: 66 laps = 307 kilometres
16 corners in total, considered the best test of an F1 car’s aerodynamic efficiency due to combination of medium and high speed corners.
Aerodynamic setup: High down force
Top speed: 317km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) - 305km/h without
Full throttle: 60% of the lap
Total fuel needed for race distance: 154kg (quite high)
Fuel consumption: 2.34 kg per lap
Time spent braking: 12% of the lap (quite low). 8 braking zones.
Brake wear: Medium/low
Loss time for a pit stop: 19 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 24 seconds
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.40 seconds (high)
Circuit de Catalunya is the track on which the F1 teams and the tyre supplier have the most data as they test there at least once before the start of each season.
Last year's Spanish Grand Prix at Barcelona was widely heralded as one of the most exciting race finishes of the season, largely due to the way race strategies played out, with an intense battle for the lead in the final third of the race between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Vettel managed to hold on to take the win.
Tyre degradation was very severe last year. Pirelli have made the same tyre selection as last year with the hard and soft compounds, but this year’s specifications are much closer in performance than last year, which means that the strategies will not be as polarized as they were, with multiple stops.
The FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPANA SANTANDER 2012 is the fifth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
Qualifying has historically been critical in Barcelona; the last 11 races on this track have been won from pole position while overtakes have been rare, although the DRS and the tyres contributed to there being 90 overtakes last season, whereas in three of the previous four races there were less than five overtakes in 66 laps of racing.
This season we have seen four different race winning cars and drivers in four races, the first time this has happened for 30 years and there have been three different polesitters.
Barcelona is likely to see many teams bring through some major car developments, largely around the exhaust area, but also there are aerodynamic updates to most cars in the field. Force India and Ferrari are two teams hoping to make significant steps forward.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Barcelona, Felipe Massa, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are all previous winners. Lewis Hamilton has never won the event.
The long range forecast looks good with temperatures around 20 degrees and a low chance of rain.
The wind is often a significant factor at this track; sudden crosswinds can upset the balance of the cars.
Pirelli tyre choice for Spain: Hard and Soft.
Catalunya is a tough track on tyres, with the long Turn 3 the most difficult corner. It is taken at 240km/h and the corner lasts for four seconds, which puts a heavy load on the left front tyre. The surface is also quite abrasive.
Last year the soft tyre showed a degradation rate of 0.1625sec per lap in the first stint, which is quite high. This year the soft tyre is again expected to be a little bit on the edge for this track, so Friday practice will be vital in establishing how long a set of tyres will last in the first stint in particular. The drop off will come quite quickly.
On paper the difference between the soft and hard tyre will be 0.5s to 0.8s per lap depending on the car. In the race this will reduce to 0.2s per lap.
In the winter testing at Barcelona, the hard tyre performed pretty well so the picture is quite different from last year’s race when the teams wanted to avoid the hard tyre which was 2 seconds per lap slower than the soft.
A new set of soft tyres should last up to 20 laps, with a set of hards lasting between 24 and 27 laps.
With some high energy right hand corners, the limitation will be with the tyres on the left side of the car when their performance starts to drop off it will be time to pit.
Track conditions in Barcelona are notoriously changeable from morning to afternoon due to changes in temperature and wind conditions. This will make it particularly tricky to set the cars up for qualifying and the race.
Going into the 2011 race if a driver had new tyres available after qualifying to use in the race, a three-stop strategy was four seconds quicker than a four-stop on paper. We also saw that new tyres carried a premium in Bahrain this year for example with Kimi Raikkonen, so teams will be assessing the value of saving at least one set of new soft tyres and a new set of hards.
This year the degradation will again be decisive in picking the moment to stop. Three stops are likely to be the preferred route, the plan that Jenson Button followed last year. The key is to keep the tyre alive until around lap 14, for the first stop, which few drivers could manage last year.
As the performance gap between the soft and hard is likely to be as low as 0.2s in the race, teams will not be trying to avoid using the hard tyre and this will mean fewer stops than last year, as they will be able to run the hard tyre competitively, rather than attempt to spend as little time as possible on it. In fact the hard tyre’s performance in Malaysia shows that it was a popular race tyre and we should again see a mixture of strategies.
There have been 5 safety car periods in this race since 2003, and 4 of those were for first lap incidents.
The 440 metre run from the grid to the first corner at Barcelona is the second longest of the season after Sepang, Malaysia. So a fully functioning KERS is vital.
Starts are crucial in race strategy and can make or compromise a race.
Glock, Massa and Alonso are consistently good starters who gain places off the line at most races.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –
+12 Alonso, Kovalainen
+6 Kobayashi, Senna
+2 Di Resta, Karthikeyan, Vergne
+1 Button, Hamilton, Grosjean, Petrov
Held position: None
- 1 Rosberg , Vettel,
- 3 De la Rosa
- 4 Hulkenberg
- 6 Webber
- 13 Ricciardo
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 this area, as well as on track performance, with 7 teams within 1 second of the fastest pit stop by Mercedes. This is much closer than last season and shows how much work has gone on in this area.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the 2012 FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Force India continues to perform above its championship table position and within 0.2s of the best team showing that they’ve done a lot of work in this area. Also worth noting is that HRT did a faster stop than Marussia for the first time.
|Rank||Team||Pit stop time|
|3. (1=)||Red Bull||22.017s|
The FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO DE ESPANA SANTANDER 2012 was a perfect example of how a race can be won or lost on a fine margin and a good or bad strategy decision. Pastor Maldonado beat Fernando Alonso and won the race for Williams due to a good strategy call half the way through the race, while Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen again had the car to win, but was a fraction off due to race strategy and conditions and he ended up third.
There were several key moments and decisions which decided the outcome of this race. The main one was the early second stop of Maldonado. But there was another before the race had even begun.
Due to a refuelling error, Hamilton’s car did not have enough fuel in it to complete the lap and be legal at the end. Team boss Martin Whitmarsh has since admitted that he should have told Lewis Hamilton to abandon his hot lap, as the team had realised by then that it had not put enough fuel in his car. Had he done this Hamilton would have started the race from 6th place, with a time set earlier in Q3. Instead McLaren did not act, Hamilton completed the lap, switched the engine off and then the team tried to argue force majeur for the error. The FIA Stewards sent him to the back of the grid from where 8th was the best result achievable.
Hamilton made up four places at the start from 24th on the grid and managed to get his tyres to last 14 laps in the first stint, the longest of any front-runner. He had climbed to fourth place when he stopped and rejoined in 14th place. He made his way through the field with a combination of overtakes and a two stop strategy which meant he did 21 laps on his second set of tyres and 31 on the final set, both of which were the hard compound. He lost time in the second stint behind Massa, otherwise a better result might have been possible. He got ahead of Massa when the Brazilian served a drive-through penalty on lap 29 for using DRS in a yellow flag zone.
By extending the stints, Hamilton was able to make up places when the three stoppers made their final stop and he kept the tyres alive for 31 laps, losing only one place at the end to Vettel and almost getting one back from Rosberg. It was a fine drive, but he and McLaren know that his first win of the season was there for the taking this weekend, had they made a different decision in the heat of the moment in qualifying.
This led some teams to plan to save three new sets of hard tyres for the race, as these have a lower working temperature range than the softs and would therefore come into their own in those conditions. This turned out to be the correct thing to do; the track was at 44 degrees on Saturday and this dropped to 32 degrees on Sunday and the hard was the faster tyre. Williams and Maldonado did this, Alonso scrubbed two sets of hards in 3rd practice and then used a set in Q1. This set would be the one he would use in the final stint. Red Bull were also one of the teams to save three sets.
However the plan didn’t quite work out for them as they didn’t have the pace in qualifying or the race. Sebastian Vettel was forced to use up all his soft tyres just to get through into the final part of qualifying. This meant that he had no new sets of softs for a run in Q3 and was only 8th on the grid. Both cars required a front wing change during the race, the team combined it with a tyre stop but it wasn’t ideal timing tactically. Vettel also had a drive through penalty, so he did well to finish ahead of the McLarens in 6th place.
This means that qualifying well is still important. Once again the race was fought out between the two cars on the front row of the grid.
Spain was only the second time in five races (the other was Malaysia) where the car leading the first lap did not go on to win the race. This was all down to strategy. Williams believed that they had a pace advantage over Ferrari and expected the challenge for the win to come from Lotus. However they knew they were vulnerable to Alonso’s excellent starts. Maldonado duly lost the start to the Ferrari driver and then Alonso had enough pace in the opening two stints of the race that Maldonado wasn’t able to get close enough to attack.
Importantly, however, the Williams had better tyre life at the end of the stints and at the end of the second stint, Maldonado closed up on Alonso, from over three seconds to half of that. Williams pitted him two laps before Alonso for the second stop and Ferrari allowed their driver to stay out and run into slower traffic. This is something they have allowed to happen before.
The call to try the undercut (pitting earlier than opponent and using pace of new tyres to get ahead when he stops) was made by Williams’ head of strategy Mark Barnett. He brought Maldonado in on lap 24 when he was 1.5 seconds behind Alonso. Having saved the sets of new hard tyres, Barnett calculated that he would then have the tyre life to do 42 laps with one more stop to make without losing pace at the end.
It was brilliantly executed; his in-lap was 0.4s faster than Alonso’s, the stop was only 0.2secs slower than Ferrari’s, but crucially on new hard tyres his out-lap was 2.6 seconds faster and the first flying lap was also a second faster. With Alonso losing time behind Pic, Maldonado had done enough to take the lead from the Ferrari when it stopped to laps later than the Williams.
However as Alonso pushed hard in his wake to stay with him in the final stint, we got a graphic example of how following another car speeds up the degradation of the tyres, Alonso wasn’t able to stay with Maldonado until the end, as the degradation caused by running in traffic was more severe than running in clear air. Alonso’s tyres had done three laps in qualifying, so were the same age more or less as Maldonado’s.
Temperature has something to do with it; the drop to 32 degrees on race day took the edge off their speed (so fine are the margins now!). They also made a strategy mistake at the first stop, putting the cars onto a set of used soft tyres, rather than the hards. They pushed the stints out to make sure they’d have a chance at the end. As the temperatures rose towards the end of the race we got to see what the Lotus could do. The Lotus set the fastest lap of the race, over a second faster than the nearest car. Raikkonen's final stint was 18 laps, Alonso's 23 laps, Maldonado's 25 laps. Alonso was vulnerable to attack from Raikkonen in the final laps, but he ran out of laps. Perhaps if he'd stopped one lap earlier he would have passed Alonso at the end.
Starts are a vital part of race strategy and we saw the experience of Raikkonen over the nervousness of Grosjean at the start. Although the younger man was ahead on the grid, Raikkonen was ahead in the opening lap and Grosjean fell behind Rosberg, whose pace was much slower and so held him up. The Frenchman lost 8 seconds in the first 9 laps. Worse still, Mercedes pitted Rosberg first as a defensive move and he stayed ahead in the second stint, so Grosjean had to pass him on track.
The first win for Lotus this year is surely not far away.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input from F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.
This is the Race History chart from the Spanish GP, kindly provided by Williams F1 Team. The chart's main use is to show track position and also gaps between cars. The zero line is best viewed as a "ghost" car which is setting the average lap time of the winner (his race time divided by 66 laps) and you can see how the lap times evolve relative to it. Note Lotus' pace relative to the leaders in the final stint, for example, when the temperatures went up and they set the fastest lap of the race.
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