2012 FORMULA 1 QANTAS AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX (Melbourne)
Albert Park, March 16-18 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.
Albert Park Circuit; 5.303 kilometres. Race distance: 58 laps = 307.574 kilometres 16 corners in total, none particularly fast.
Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 318km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) - 308km/h without.
Full throttle – 65% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 152 kilos.
Time spent braking: 13% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: High.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 20 seconds.
Total time needed for pit stop: 25 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.34 seconds.
The 2012 Formula 1 AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX is not always a reliable guide to the season ahead as it is a unique circuit, based in a park, with a very low grip track surface and corners which are not typical of F1 circuits around the world.
Red Bull won the race last season and based on performances over the winter testing season, are expected to be the front runners at the first race, with McLaren also looking competitive.
Mercedes look more competitive than in 2012 as do Lotus, while Ferrari have had a difficult winter of testing and their competitiveness is a question mark going into the new season. The midfield battle looks very close and results are likely to be dependent on good race strategy planning and execution.
McLaren has won the Australian Grand Prix five times and Ferrari has won six times.
McLaren has won two of the last four Australian Grands Prix and Jenson Button is a two time winner. Of the current drivers Michael Schumacher has won the race four times, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso once.
Pirelli tire choice for Melbourne: Soft and Medium.
This is Pirelli’s second season of F1 since returning as sole tire supplier and the aim for 2012 is to get the tire compounds closer together in performance than in 2011. Last year the gap was too large, with the result being that at many events teams ran the faster tire for most of the race and then put on the slower, usually harder, tire right at the end.
For 2012 Pirelli is aiming for around 0.8s per lap difference between compounds, which would give the teams a number of different strategy options and would mix things up.
The signs from testing are that the soft and medium tires at this stage are a little too close in performance, probably around 0.3 seconds per lap at Albert Park.
The soft is likely to have a range of around 20-23 laps while the life of the medium will be 22-25 laps. This will be less for the opening stint of the race when the cars are full of fuel.
The new Pirellis offer more rear grip relative to the front tires than was the case in 2011. The 2012 Pirelli tires are designed to last longer than last year’s and the drop off in performance isn’t as sudden. The tire warm-up isn’t quite as fast as last year because of the wider contact patch of the new tires.
The tires often experience graining at Albert Park. Graining is where the rubber shears away from the top surface, caused by a high level of sliding at high loads, both lateral and longitudinal. Lateral comes from sliding in corners, longitudinal comes from acceleration and braking.
Temperature has a lot to do with it, probably more than any other factor. If the tires are being used below their operating range the rubber will be less compliant and will shear off more easily.
The track surface at Albert Park is quite old and has low micro and macro roughness, which basically means that the stones in it are small. The result of its age and smoothness is that the surface is very low grip and this means that the tires grain laterally here because the car slides in the corners.
Based on all the above considerations, plus tire performance data from testing, the expectation, before any practice running has been done, is that the teams will intend to make two pit stops in the race. Last year we saw a range of strategies; among the top seven finishers we had one car which stopped just once, two cars stopped three times while the three podium finishers all stopped twice.
There are some advantages for a fast car qualifying outside the top ten to start the race on the harder tire and do one stop less than the others, as Sauber’s Sergio Perez did last year, moving from 13th on the grid to 7th at the chequered flag.
The chance of a safety car at Albert Park is 57%. The average number of safety car interventions for the race is 1.7 (in 2006 there were four).
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 this is the first race of the 2012 season - no start data has been established yet.
Good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics; last season we saw tire stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds this year.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews in 2011, based on their average time for a stop, taking out anomalies.
|Rank||Team||Pit stop time|
|4||Force India||+ 0.4s|
|8=||Toro Rosso||+ 1.3s|
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams.
This was a great win for Jenson Button, with Sebastian Vettel using race strategy and a piece of fortunate timing with the safety car to steal second place away from Lewis Hamilton.
For the second consecutive year Sauber’s Sergio Perez was a trailblazer, covering the race with just one stop and his performance on the medium tyre in the first stint changed the thinking of many of the top teams about how to approach the race.
As the first race of the season the Australian Grand Prix is always something of a test case for how race strategies have been affected by new generation of tyres and rule changes, such as the one banning the exhaust blown diffuser.
This weekend we saw clearly that the 2012 Pirellis are more suitable race tyres for F1 than last year’s; they allow the drivers to push a bit more and they wear differently from the 2011 versions, which would wear quickly along the shoulder, whereas the 2012 models wear evenly across the tyre, which is positive and makes them slightly more predictable. But performance still drops sharply if you stay on them too long.
The expectation going into the race was that the leading drivers would do a two stop race, starting on used soft tyres, taking a second set of used softs at the first stop around lap 19 and then pitting for medium tyres around lap 39.
McLaren controlled the race from the front row of the grid and the victory was only threatened 22 laps before the end, when the safety car neutralized the field and removed Button’s lead, with Vettel right behind him. Lewis Hamilton didn’t have the pace to stay with Button and some bad luck with strategy cost him second place.
The start was the decisive moment. Hamilton had qualified on pole, but Button had gained the strategic advantage over his team mate by winning the start, which meant that he had first call on when to pit.
He made his first stop on lap 16 and moved onto the medium tyre. This meant Hamilton had to come in a lap later. Hamilton’s tyres were already going off significantly and he lost 3.4 seconds on lap 16 and on his in-lap to the pits on lap 17. He lost a further 1.4 seconds on his out lap. Worse still, he rejoined behind Raikkonen and Perez, who was on the medium tyre and one-stopping. By the time he passed Perez he was 11 seconds behind Button. More significantly, Vettel had gained seven seconds on him through this period. The world champion also stopped at the ideal moment - lap 16 - before the tyre performance dropped off and was now just two seconds behind Hamilton. This time lost for Hamilton would prove decisive at the second stops. Vettel had opted for the soft tyre, while Hamilton and Button were on medium.
With an 11 second gap between Button and Hamilton at the end of the second stint and the tyres going off on both cars, the McLaren team decided to pit both of their cars at the same time, on lap 36. Their in laps were identical, but Hamilton’s out lap was 3 seconds slower than Button’s, meaning he was vulnerable to Vettel.
People have questioned the wisdom of pitting the two cars on the same lap and it’s something that McLaren have been working on, as it’s hard to achieve and requires a very well drilled pit crew, to have the second set of tyres ready to go. Being able to double stop has significant strategic advantages in multi-stop races, where an extra lap on fading tyres can cost a lot of time. But in a two stop race, it was an interesting decision to try it.
The Red Bull team had seen McLaren stopping, but left Vettel out as he was lapping faster than the McLarens at that point.
So he was on target to jump Hamilton at the second stops anyway, but it was guaranteed when the safety car was deployed as Petrov’s car had broken down on the pit straight.
Vettel dived into the pits from the lead and rejoined in between the McLarens, ahead of Hamilton. From 6th on the grid after a disappointing qualifying session, Vettel had made the most out of the opportunity presented to him by McLaren and Hamilton.
The total time needed for a pit stop at Albert Park is 25 seconds, which is one of the longest of the year. This is because the pit lane is long and the speed limit is just 60km/h, rather than the usual 100km/h, for safety reasons. This encourages drivers to do less stops rather than more. Even though Raikkonen, for example, had three sets of new soft tyres at his disposal, he didn’t go for a three stop sprint strategy because of the time that would be lost in the pits.
So from outside the top ten there were always going to be a few cars that would start on the medium tyre and try to get to lap 28 or 29, then switch to the soft. The front runners would never have planned to do this as simulations showed it to be 20 seconds slower than a 2 stop if you can run in clear air.
Last year Sergio Perez did a one stop race and finished seventh (although he was later disqualified for rear wing irregularities). It was assumed that several drivers would try this. In the event only three started on the medium tyre: Perez, Vergne and Petrov. Vergne did a two stopper, but Perez managed to go from 22nd on the grid to finish 8th. More importantly his pace around the time of the leaders’ first pit stops showed that the medium tyre as not only more durable than the soft, but was fast too.
Going into the race the strategists knew that on one single qualifying lap the soft tyre had been 0.8secs faster than the medium. But they believed that in the race that gap would be smaller, probably around 0.5 seconds. If you had a new set of options - as Raikkonen did for example – that was a faster choice than a new set of mediums. But the gap between the two tyres turned out to be so close that if you only had used softs, as all the front runners had, then a new set of mediums was better for most.
With the leaders forced to stop as early as lap 16, Perez was lapping comfortably in the 1m 33s which convinced several strategists that the medium was the best tyre to be on that day. Webber went to it first, followed by Button, Hamilton and Alonso. Vettel, Raikkonen and Kobayashi went for soft. The Japanese driver then underlined Sauber’s gentle action on the tyres by extending his middle stint on softs to 23 laps; longer than Alonso managed on new mediums in the Ferrari !
Perez’ strategy saw him rise to second place by lap 20 before the tyre started to really go off – he dropped five places and ten seconds in three laps as the cars that had pitted for new tyres overtook him. But he made his only stop on lap 24 and drove to the flag on a set of new options. He was racing Maldonado, Rosberg, Kobayashi and Raikkonen and finished 8th, having started at the back of the grid. The Sauber’s ability to run long stints on the tyres will bring them plenty of points this year.
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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