UBS RACE STRATEGY BRIEFING 2012 FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO 2012
Circuit de Monaco, 24-27 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.
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Monte Carlo: 3.34 kilometres
Race distance: 78 laps = 260.52 kilometres
19 corners in total. The slowest lap of the season at an average lap speed of 160km/h.
Aerodynamic setup: High downforce
Top speed: 295km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) - 285km/h without.
Full throttle: 45% of the lap (lowest of year)
Total fuel needed for race distance: 120kg (very low)
Fuel consumption: 1.55 kg per lap (very low)
Time spent braking: 12% of the lap (high); 13 braking zones.
Brake wear: Medium; 48 gear changes per lap.
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): 0.28 seconds (very low)
Monaco is a unique street circuit, which offers no real reflection on the way cars will perform at other venues. It is a one-off.
The track layout is tight, with no high speed corners, two short straights and the lowest average lap speed of the season at 160 km/h.
Traditionally Monaco is the hardest circuit on which to overtake. The track is narrow and lined with barriers and there are few opportunities for a car to get alongside another. The only possible overtaking place is the exit of the tunnel into the chicane, but drivers must be careful as it is very dirty off line in the tunnel and they can lose grip by picking up dust and discarded rubber from the tyres, which is a particular feature of the Pirelli tyres used in F1 today.
From a strategy point of view it’s a very tricky race as running in slow traffic is always a problem and there is a very high (71%) chance of a safety car, which can turn strategies on their heads.
The FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO is the sixth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
Qualifying well is critically important at Monaco and it is also true in general of this F1 season, despite the shake up in the form book imposed by the way the Pirelli tyres degrade. This season we have had five different winners in five different teams (the first time it’s happened since 1983) but four of the five winners have come from the front row of the grid and on three of five occasions the leader on the opening lap has gone on to win the race.
Cars that tend to go well in Monaco have plenty of downforce and good traction in slow corners. The Williams was the fastest in the slow Sector 3 in Barcelona, which is usually a good indicator of pace for Monaco, the Lotus also has good low speed traction, which is a weakness of the Ferrari. The McLaren is the best qualifying car at the moment with 3 pole positions out of 5 (albeit one was later rescinded) but its race pace doesn’t match it.
Monaco requires a particular technique of driving close to the barriers and this is a venue where a driver can make a real difference.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Monaco, Sebastian Vettel won the race last year, while other previous Monaco winners in the field are Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber.
The long range forecast looks good with temperatures around 21 degrees and a low chance of rain. Being coastal however rain can arrive quite suddenly.
Pirelli tyre choice for Monaco: Supersoft and Soft.
Monaco is generally quite gentle on tyres, the track surface is smooth and there are no high energy corners.
This race sees the first appearance in 2012 of the supersoft tyre, which is largely unchanged from 2011; the compound is the same, but the profile is slightly different with a wider shoulder to reduce blistering. Last year the tyre lasted around 15-16 laps in the first stint before requiring a change.
The teams have done little testing on it this year.
The soft tyre is the same one that has appeared at every race so far in 2012. It is slightly softer than the 2011 soft compound. The difference in performance between the two tyre compounds is expected to be around 0.6 seconds per lap in qualifying and slightly less in the race.
Last year the winner Sebastian Vettel managed to make a set of softs last 56 laps, so there will be some teams thinking about doing only one stop in the race.
Last year saw three different strategies in the top three finishers; Vettel stopped once, Alonso twice and Button three times.
They had all started the race on the same tyre (supersoft) and all ended up on the same tyre (soft) but in between had done three completely different strategies.
This year it’s likely that the contenders will be more aligned, mostly doing two stops, with three stops and one stop both a bit of a risk.
The pit lane at Monaco is long and slow so the time needed to make a stop is quite long at around 25/26 seconds. This encourages teams to make less rather than more stops.
With the performance gap between the soft and supersoft tyre it is likely that everyone will qualify on the super soft and then two stoppers will mostly run on the soft, while three stoppers will take an extra run on supersofts.
The top ten will start on the supersofts they qualified on. Depending on how long they can keep the first set of tyres going will determine whether they make one, two or – if they have to - three stops.
The first lap is always very costly for the midfield and back of the field. With having to follow through the tight corners, it’s common for the cars in the bottom third of the grid to do a first lap which is 20 seconds slower than the leader, who is running in free air.
There is a 71% chance of a safety car and and if it falls at the right time it can make your race. But if it falls at the wrong time, your victory plans fall apart - as they did for Jenson Button last year, who was trying to drive flat out uninterrupted on three stops, a risky plan given the likelihood of the safety car.
The run from the start to the first corner at Monaco is very short and always chaotic. The first turn, St Devote, is tight and slow and cars go through it in single file.
Last year there were six changes of position in the top ten cars.
Although he’s having a poor run of results, Felipe Massa is the outstanding starter of 2012, having made up and average of over 4 places at every race start. Ferrari team mate Fernando Alonso is also making good use of the starts with an average gain of 2.6 places off the line.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –
+13 Alonso, Glock
+8 Perez *
+6 Kobayashi, Senna, Vergne
+1 Rosberg, Di Resta, Petrov
Held position: None
-1 Grosjean, Vettel,
-3 De la Rosa
- 5 Hulkenberg
- 7 Webber
* Perez punctured on lap 1 in Spain and went to back of field
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. Here again Ferrari leads the way consistently this year.
It is also clear that the field has significantly closed up in pit stops. The top four teams fastest stops were within 4/10ths of a second of each other in Spain. It 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 Spanish Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The positions from previous race are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Force India continues to perform well above its championship table position and Lotus has seen a massive improvement from 8th in the league to 3rd. Also worth noting is that Marussia did a faster stop than Caterham.
|Rank||Team||Pit stop time|
|6. (1=) (6)
||Mercedes, Toro Rosso
History will show that Mark Webber was the winner of this race, ahead of Nico Rosberg with Fernando Alonso third. Rosberg tried a strategy gamble, to get the lead, by pitting first on lap 27, but it didn’t work out as Webber reacted to it. Sebastian Vettel surprised everyone with his strategy and came close to an upset.
Fernando Alonso made a gain of two places to score a podium and he was happy with that. But with the benefit of hindsight, Alonso could have won. However to do so he would have to have taken a gamble, which there was no obvious reason to take. Such is racing and the finely balanced world of race strategy.
In many ways the most important observation to make about this race is that for the fourth time in six races, the car leading on the first lap has gone on to win the race. Although some have described the 2012 season as a “lottery” due to the unpredictable behaviour of the Pirelli tyres from track to track and from day to day, this pattern shows that getting the basics right in qualifying and the start is still the foundation of a winning result.
It’s a significant point for several reasons; it highlights the importance of qualifying and starting well, but it also shows how much better the Pirelli tyres perform when they are able to run in clear air, rather than in the wake of another car.
On a circuit like Monaco where overtaking is hard, good race strategy is the only way to make up places as we will see by studying the strategies of Ferrari and Red Bull on Sunday. As last year, the tyres lasted longer than expected and the race turned out to be quite different to what was predicted by strategists, who forecast two stops for the top six cars. Vettel’s performance in the opening stint forced many to rethink.
Pre-race strategy plans were that the leading cars would stop twice around laps 26 and 52, starting the race on super soft tyres, then taking new softs at each of the pit stops. But this was based on limited running on the super soft tyre in practice due to poor weather. In the race they lasted much longer than expected.
Several things happened in the race which disrupted this plan and moved everyone to a one stop plan: first there was a forecast of rain around 28 laps into the race, which forced most teams to leave their cars out, as they would not want to have to stop again for rain tyres having made an initial pit stop. Second, Sebastian Vettel ran a long first stint on soft tyres, which showed that the softs were still very fast even after over 40 laps of running.
Once everyone saw this, there was no question of the leaders making a second stop, as this would give the win to Vettel. So they lapped very slowly in the second stint, preserving the tyres to the finish. Rosberg ended up doing 51 laps on his set of soft tyres.
How Alonso went from fifth to third
Understanding that the tyres needed clear air to run in, Fernando Alonso dropped back from Lewis Hamilton in the opening stint of Sunday’s race, in order to preserve the tyres. He was also practising a technique on the super soft tyre which gave him better tyre life on a stint: the super soft doesn’t like wheelspin out of slow corners (longitudinal slide) and it doesn’t like it combined with lateral sliding. Alonso was straightening the wheels before applying the throttle, taking a little less out of his tyres at every corner than some of the others. This paid dividends at the end of the opening stint.
Alonso had started well, survived a tangle with Romain Grosjean in the run to turn one and almost passed Lewis Hamilton. He tucked in behind him in fourth place on the first lap. But he then dropped back to around three or four seconds behind the McLaren, focussing on preserving the super soft tyres.
However by the time Hamilton pitted on lap 29, Alonso had moved back up close to him. As soon as Hamilton went in, Alonso pushed hard and took advantage of the problems Hamilton was having with warming up the soft tyres, to jump him for third place when he made his own stop a lap later.
However with hindsight, Alonso could have won the race by staying out another lap or two on the super soft as it was faster than the new soft tyre, which Webber and Rosberg were struggling with. Webber did a 1m 24.518 on lap 30, which was 3 seconds slower than Alonso’s last lap on supersets.
What probably stopped Ferrari from taking that gamble and going for gold, was Rosberg’s sector times on his first flying lap on new softs on lap 29, which was 1m 19.181s.
Seeing this and thinking quickly, Ferrari would reason that Rosberg was straight on the pace on new tyres and therefore Hamilton would likely be the same, so it was time to bring Alonso in.
But Rosberg, Webber and Hamilton all then struggled on the soft on laps 30 and 31 and the window of opportunity was there to jump them after all.
The downside of the gamble not paying off is that Alonso would have slipped to fifth place. So on balance it would have been an unreasonable gamble on Ferrari’s part and as consistency is the name of the game in 2012, the 15 points Alonso gained on Sunday took him to the lead of the championship.
By not running in Q3, he had given himself a choice of starting tyre and went for the soft, planning a long first stint.
The prediction of rain around lap 28 laps into the race also played into his hands. The front-runners were slow on the worn supersets by the time they pitted and the gap back to him was not as large as it would have been if they were two stopping.
By lap 31 he was leading and his pace on worn soft tyres was far better than that of the leaders on new softs, which were still struggling to warm up.
The quirk of the Pirelli tyres is that they operate in a very narrow temperature range and if you can’t get the tyres into that range they don’t perform. For lap after lap Vettel pulled away from Webber; by lap 37 the gap was 16 seconds. If Vettel could get the gap up to 21 seconds, he would be able to pit and rejoin ahead of Webber and go on to win the race.
But this was the high point of Vettel’s charge; on lap 38 Webber’s tyres started to work and he began reducing the gap. Now Vettel and the Red Bull strategists were focussed on when to bring him in and who he would slot back in front of.
Vettel stayed out longer, still getting good performance from the soft tyres. It was clear that Hamilton was the one they could beat and as he fell back from Alonso and was 21.4 seconds behind Vettel on lap 45, they picked that moment to bring Vettel in. He rejoined ahead of Hamilton in fourth place. Hamilton complained to the team about not warning him of Vettel’s threat. He was now down to fifth place, having started the race in third.
No wonder he was frustrated that Alonso and Vettel had beaten him through superior strategy and tyre management.
Di Resta also had a very strong result by starting on the soft tyre, pitting for the super soft on lap 35. He did extremely well to keep them alive for 43 laps and went from 14th on the grid to 7th at the finish.
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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