UBS RACE STRATEGY BRIEFING
2012 FORMULA 1 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX
Shanghai International Circuit, 13-15 April 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.
Shanghai International Circuit; 5.45 kilometres. Race distance: 56 laps = 305 kilometres, 16 corners in total, a mixture of slow, medium and fast,
Aerodynamic setup – Medium/high downforce. Top speed 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) - 310km/h without.
Full throttle – 55% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 148 kilos.
Time spent braking: 14% of the lap. 8 braking zones. Brake wear: Medium.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 17.5 seconds.
Total time needed for pit stop: 21 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.34 seconds (average).
Fuel consumption: 2.55 kg/lap.
Strategy decisions for the 2012 FORMULA 1 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX are always a knife edge; there are several ways to do the race, especially with the cars being close together on performance this year and with the two Pirelli tyre compounds also being close on performance.
The first sector of the lap features a series of slow corners, Turn one being a long, 270 degree tightening corner. Sector two features Shanghai’s only medium and high speed corners, Turns 7 & 8 as well as a pair of slow left handers. Then Sector three is a long sector with three tight corners and one of the longest straights on the F1 calendar.
In comparison to the first two venues of the season, the lower temperatures will be comparable to Melbourne, while the track is between Melbourne and Sepang in terms of the tyre wear and degradation.
The 2012 FORMULA 1 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX is the third round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
The first two races of the season saw McLaren dominate in Australia, with Malaysia hard to draw many conclusions from due to changeable weather conditions, although Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won the race from Sauber’s Sergio Perez.
The McLaren continues to be the fastest car in the field, with the Red Bull faster in race conditions than in qualifying and the Mercedes being the opposite. The W Duct drag reduction system on the Mercedes is likely to work to optimum effect on Shanghai’s long straight and Mercedes must be considered a contender for pole position. But the high tyre wear will knock them back a little in the race.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Shanghai, Lewis Hamilton is the only driver to have won the race twice, there are five other previous winners in the field; Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel.
It can often been overcast and cold in Shanghai and rain is quite common. The 2010 event was held in wet conditions, as was the 2009 edition. The race starts at 1500 hrs local time. The ambient temperatures are forecast to be around 18-20 degrees, quite low by F1 standards.
Pirelli tyre choice for Shanghai: Soft and Medium.
Last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was one of the most exciting from a strategy point of view and all the signs are that this year will be the same. The difference in performance between the soft and medium tyre is projected to be just 0.3secs/lap, much less than last year.
Last year in China we saw different strategies being used by the podium finishers. Lewis Hamilton won the race by stopping three times and crucial to this was saving a new set of soft tyres by not doing a second run in Qualifying 3. Sebastian Vettel paid the price of stopping just twice, while Mark Webber came through from 18th to 3rd with a counter strategy of running three stops using the harder tyre first.
There are more high energy corners in Shanghai than in Melbourne, but not as many as in Sepang and the temperatures will be much lower so this should mean that the tyre degradation is more normal.
However with the performance of the cars so close together, getting the right compromise on set up between qualifying and the race will be vital. With the banning of Exhaust Blown Diffusers, the teams have lost more downforce at the rear of the car than they expected and this is leading to problems trading off qualifying pace and race pace. The tyres seem to have a sweet spot and at the moment it is teams like Sauber and Williams who seem to be finding it more than the big teams. This will change with more running. Teams will be using Friday’s practice sessions in China to understand the best way to work the tyres for single lap pace and race pace.
Last season three stops was the way to go and the pre-race expectations are the same for this year. The winning strategy last year was to stop on lap 15 for soft tyres; Lap 25 for soft tyres and Lap 38 for harder tyres. However with the gaps between the tyres being much less this year, teams will use Friday practice to assess tyre performance and the exact difference between strategies.
The chance of a safety car at Shanghai is reasonably high, at 43% and there is an average of 0.7 safety cars per race. In the 2005 and 2010 races there were 2 safety car periods.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season as follows:
+ 8 Massa, Perez
+ 7 Alonso, Glock
+ 6 Raikkonen,
+ 5 Maldonado
+ 4 Pic
+ 3 Rosberg, Hulkenberg
+ 2 Vettel, Di Resta
+ 1 Button, Schumacher*, Petrov, Karthikeyan
- 1 Hamilton, Vergne, De la Rosa
- 2 Ricciardo
- 3 Grosjean**, Webber
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia.
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap.
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.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the most recent dry race, Australia, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.
|Rank||Team||Pit stop time|
The 2012 FORMULA 1 UBS CHINESE GRAND PRIX was a thrilling race, despite the comfortable winning margin for Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes.
Race strategy was crucial to the outcome and we also learned a lot about how F1 has changed in 2012, with the field closing up on performance, so the top teams can no longer rely on building gaps over the midfield to drop nicely into after pit stops. The leading teams will have to work much harder than last year on creative race strategy and the drivers will have to do a lot more overtaking.
During Friday’s Free Practice 2 it was clear that many teams have yet to master the best set up on their cars for both qualifying and the race, going from high fuel to low fuel.
How Mercedes surprised with its race pace
McLaren appeared to have race pace that was 0.5s a lap faster than Mercedes, but overnight on Friday Ross Brawn’s team made some changes to the set up to improve the tyre life and at the end of the Saturday morning session Schumacher ran a handful of laps on high fuel to confirm the changes. This was not noticed by many in the paddock, but proved crucial to Mercedes’ victory.
The track temperature was foremost in the minds of the team strategists as they prepared for the race; these 2012 Pirelli tyres are very sensitive to temperature changes and in qualifying it was clear that a drop of a few degrees created a disparity between different cars.
The rough rule of thumb is; Mercedes likes the colder temperature, as does the Sauber, while the Red Bulls, Lotus and McLarens operate better in higher temperatures. This is a trend that is likely to continue all season, so in Bahrain the picture may look different from China.
As with last year’s Shanghai race, the key strategy decision was between two pit stops and three and the timing of them. Pre race predictions showed that two stops was faster than three by up to 7 seconds, but the danger was that the two stopping driver would be vulnerable in the last five laps on worn tyres.
Crucially, the decision on which strategy was faster varied from team to team, depending on how fast they could run on the medium tyre. McLaren, for example, found it slower than the soft, while other teams including Mercedes, Lotus and Williams thought differently.
Rosberg vs Button vs Hamilton
McLaren went for three stops, Mercedes for two; the pattern was set. One of the reasons why Hamilton in particular was obliged to do three stops was because in qualifying he set his fastest time on a set of tyres that had done six laps by the time he started the race. This meant he would struggle to make it to lap 13, which was the window for two stops.
Mercedes knew this and planned to exploit it. Rosberg and Schumacher were instructed to get to at least lap 13, at which point they would switch to a medium tyre and do a middle stint of 21 laps, then a final stint on mediums again. Button was the greater threat to them on his three stop strategy, based on two stints on the soft tyre, but his challenge faded with a botched final pit stop, where the left rear wheel change was delayed by six seconds.
So when he rejoined, instead of being 14 seconds behind Rosberg with 17 laps to go and tyres that were 5 laps newer, he was 20 seconds behind.
The pit stop problem - not the first McLaren have suffered at critical moments this season - had a further knock-on effect in that it brought Button back out into the train of cars led by Massa and Raikkonen, who were two-stopping. Instead of gaining on Rosberg, Button could not take advantage of his new tyres, lost a second per lap to him and the race was over.
Most of Hamilton’s race was spent in traffic as well, due to starting down in seventh place after his gearbox change penalty. He could never get clear of the competitive midfield cars and run in clear air, so progress through the field was difficult on the three stop strategy he was obliged to do. A strategy like that requires plenty of opportunity to drive flat out on a clear track.
Intense competition in midfield
Quite a few cars in the midfield tried the two stop approach, based on two stints on the medium tyre, with mixed results; the key here was being able to extend the middle stint so as not to leave yourself too many laps at the end on the final set of tyres.
Vettel went for it, to try to get himself up from his lowly 11th grid slot, as did Massa from 12th, Senna from 14th and the two Lotus drivers. Raikkonen started 4th and Grosjean 10th.
It is interesting to compare the results these drivers achieved, all trying to do the same thing. The most stark example of it going wrong is Raikkonen – he fell from 2nd place, with just nine laps to go, to 14th at the finish! Partly this was due to worn tyres after a 28 lap final stint, but he also got off line trying too hard to defend his position from Vettel. His tyres got dirty and this allowed other cars to pass him. He got in a vicious circle; as he defended against them the tyres got dirtier still and all hope was lost.
The reason he found himself in this position was because he pitted too early for his second stop on lap 26. His middle stint was only 16 laps long on the medium tyre so he blinked too early on coming in for the second stop.
Conversely, Senna started on the medium tyre, did a middle stint on his new set of soft tyres, pitted for the second time on lap 29 back to the medium and managed to gain places when the three stoppers made their final stop. He held onto 7th, until Hamilton got him at the end. Senna’s drive showed how well balanced and competitive the Williams car is this year. He managed to get an 7th place finish. Vettel went from 11th to 5th at the finish, making the most of the strategy by pulling off a long middle stint on medium tyres.
Grosjean drove well, to collect his first points of the season, but it could have been better. He managed to go four laps longer than team mate Raikkonen in the middle stint and this set him up for a great result in 5th place. He was sitting there with 12 laps to go, but made a mistake when fighting Webber and lost three places. He managed to get two of them back, which shows that he still had life left in his tyres, despite them being only three laps fresher than Raikkonen’s.
The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli.
The Zero line shows the winner’s average lap speed and the lines show the pace relative to that. The gaps for each car behind the leader are shown in individually coloured lines.
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