2012 FORMULA 1 PETRONAS MALAYSIA GRAND PRIX
Sepang International Circuit, 24 - 25 March 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.
Sepang International Circuit; 5.54 kilometres. Race distance: 56 laps = 310 kilometres, 15 corners in total, a mixture of slow, medium and fast
Aerodynamic setup - Medium/high downforce. Top speed 312km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) - 300km/h without.
Full throttle – 70% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 153 kilos.
Time spent braking: 15% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 16.5 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 22.5 seconds.
The pit lane speed limit in Sepang is 100km/h, which means faster pit stops than Melbourne.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.36 seconds (average/high)
The 2012 FORMULA 1 PETRONAS MALAYSIA GRAND PRIX is the second round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship. The Sepang circuit is one of the first F1 venues to have been designed by architect Hermann Tilke and features his trademark long straights, hairpins and fast "esses". It also has a distinctive first corner which turns right and then left and always results in drivers winning and losing positions at the start of the race.
The circuit features a number of high energy corners, quite different in character from Albert Park, which hosted the opening round and much harder on the tyres.
The first and third sectors of the lap at Sepang feature long straights and hairpin bends, while sector two has some medium and high speed corners, which load up the tyres.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Sepang, Michael Schumacher has won the race three times, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel have won it twice while Jenson Button has also won here.
Pirelli tyre choice for Sepang: Medium (Option) and Hard (Prime).
Pirelli has chosen to bring the medium and hard tyres to Sepang, so a step harder on both choices than for Melbourne. The difference in terms of lap time performance between the two compounds is projected to be around 0.6 seconds, which is more than in Melbourne.
Sepang has three major differences from Melbourne, which make it more challenging from a race strategy point of view: higher track temperatures, a rougher track surface and the presence of medium and fast corners, which load up the tyre. There is usually also the threat of rain.
Temperature is critical; Sepang experiences track temperatures of up to 45 degrees, some of the highest of the year, which is at the top end of the tyres’ operating range. The opening stint with 150 kilos of fuel on board is very hard on the tyres.
The long straights at Sepang mean that the adjustable rear wing (DRS wing) is quite effective, making overtaking possible. This means strategists of leading teams will not have to be overly concerned about bringing their driver out into slower traffic after a pit stop.
Last year Pirelli brought the soft and hard tyres to Sepang and the winning strategy was three stops by Vettel.
This year with a different choice, there are a number of ways to approach the race, one of them to base a strategy on what happened last year with stops around laps 12, 23 and 40, running three stints on options and a final stint on primes. However before any practice running has been done, simulations indicate that two stops might be faster by around 3 to 4 seconds. This would envisage using a new set of options at the first stop on lap 16 and then a set of new primes on lap 34. Although the three stopping car is ahead after 40 laps, he is not able to gain enough margin to stay ahead after his final stop, nor to catch the two stopping car by the end. But it is close.
Rain can always affect the outcome at Sepang as it can come at any time and can be very intense. There must always be a degree of flexibility built into race strategy when planning for Sepang.
Teams will use the practice sessions to assess the fastest way to run a dry race; it will be important to establish how long the medium tyre will last in order to decide which strategy to pursue. It will be important to establish whether a pit stop might be saved by using the hard tyres earlier in the race. This will save over 20 seconds plus help gain track positions.
The chance of a safety car at Sepang is incredibly low, by F1 standards, at 14% over last 7 years and an average of 0.1 safety cars per race. Where a safety car has been deployed it’s usually been because of heavy rain, as in 2009.
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams.
We saw also a phenomenon, which could provide the key to the season for whoever wins the title; the ability to be fast on all types of tyre in all conditions. Because judging from the Sepang race, even more so than Melbourne, all the teams are finding it hard to manage that. Hamilton, the pole sitter, for example, wasn’t particularly fast in any condition, while the Sauber was very quick on used intermediates and hard slicks. Williams’ Pastor Maldonado was not particularly quick on intermediate tyres, but once he went onto slicks he was extremely fast.
It was a fantastic race and one that Sergio Perez could and should have won, even without the driving error he made six laps from the end, as we will see.
Race morning strategy predictions for a dry race had been that the hard tyre would actually prove faster in the race, with estimates of up to 0.2s advantage. In the event this proved true and what was critical was taking a new set of tyres versus a used set. This was to be proven by the duel in the closing stages for the lead.
Sergio Perez and Sauber were the fastest car/driver/tyre combination in two vital phases of this curious afternoon; in the long second stint on used intermediates and particularly in the final stint on slick tyres. But a historic victory wasn’t lost solely on his driving mistake. The strategy, while bold early on, became very cautious as the race progressed and this also cost him the chance to win.
As the rain fell heavily in the opening laps, Sauber pitted Perez on lap 3 for wet tyres. He was the first serious runner to make the move and everyone followed suit, but not for another two laps. On extreme wets Perez was three or more seconds faster than the leading cars and when everyone pitted on lap 5 he moved up to third place.
This bold move by Sauber had set up the platform for a great result. But then they started playing it cautious
Going into the second stops, Perez was ahead of Alonso. At the second stops, the move from full wets to intermediates, Perez stopped two laps later than Button and a lap later than Alonso. The track was drying out and by the end of lap 13, when the safety car was withdrawn and it was obvious that intermediates were the faster tyre to be on. But Sauber played it safe, leaving Perez out for another lap, in which he took the lead.
But critically, this mistake led him to lose track position to Alonso. When Perez came out of the pits on lap 15 he was still just in front of Alonso, but was now feeling his way on new intermediates, whereas Alonso had a lap’s worth of experience on them and was able to pass Perez early in the lap.
However Perez did gain a position over Hamilton who was held in his pit box by McLaren so as not to collide with the incoming Massa.
The Ferrari opened up a six second lead over the Sauber, but as the intermediates wore down, Perez came flying back at Alonso, closing the gap to 1.3 seconds on lap 39. By now Ricciardo, the pioneer on slick tyres, was lighting up the time sheets and it was clearly the moment to follow.
The Sauber strategists delayed again; they were cautious about putting their inexperienced driver on slicks too soon, they also had one eye on the weather, with the threat of more showers in the air. They lost the initiative; Ferrari went for it, bringing Alonso in. As the leader, Alonso needed to cover off the threat from clearly the faster car, which he did.
This second mistake dropped Perez back seven seconds behind Alonso. Sauber had chosen a new set of hard tyres, Alonso a used set of mediums. The Ferrari decision was an interesting one as many strategists weren’t sure whether the medium would last 16 laps, the distance to the flag from this point. But on paper the medium offered faster warm-up. In fact the hard tyre proved faster to warm up on the Sauber and was instantly quicker. Perez again caught Alonso easily and with the DRS wing activated and a tyre advantage was sure to pass him at some point in the final six laps.
However he lost focus when the team told him to protect his position and he made a mistake, losing four seconds. There were suggestions that with Sauber so politically aligned to Ferrari and a long-standing customer of its engines, had made some kind of “arrangement” with the Scuderia, but Sauber and Ferrari denied this on Sunday night. And it does look more like a case of Sauber not wanting to throw away the chance of its best result in five years.
Nevertheless in that final stint we saw something that gives great encouragement for the season ahead. After six laps we had reached a crossover point where the hard tyre was the faster tyre than the medium. This is something Pirelli had been hoping to achieve this year and it will make the strategies extremely interesting. With lots of cars close on performance and many strategic options, it’s going to be a great year of racing.
Toro Rosso’s technical director Giorgio Ascanelli used to be race engineer to Ayrton Senna at McLaren and is one of the wiliest old foxes in the pit lane. On Sunday we saw a couple of classic Ascanelli moves: first he left Jean Eric Vergne out on intermediate tyres as the torrential downpour hit. He had only to stay on the track as everyone pitted for full wets and he managed it. When the race director stopped the race, as Ascanelli knew he would, Vergne was in seventh place. And with the restart behind the safety car, this meant full wet tyres must be fitted so Vergne got a set of full wets without having to make a pit stop! It set him up for his eventual 8th place finish.
Meanwhile Ascanelli was at it with his other driver too; as the track dried out he decided Ricciardo should be the first to go onto the slicks. This made sense as he was 17th at the time and needed to get into the game. There was no need to risk Vergne’s position. So Ricciardo rolled the dice and gained three places; not enough to get him into the points, but well worth a try.
Risk and reward; it’s what F1 race strategy is all about.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from strategists from several teams.
The winner’s average lap speed is shown as the zero line.
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