UBS STRATEGY BRIEFING
2012 FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX OF EUROPE
Valencia, 22-24 June 2012
Contents - the Key Strategy considerations
|2011||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2010||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
Valencia - 5.41 kilometres. Race distance - 57 laps = 308.8 kilometres. 25 corners in total. A street circuit around the docks of Valencia. Smooth surface, few bumps, some fast corners.
Aerodynamic setup - High downforce. Top speed 325km/h (with Drag Reduction System active on rear wing) - 315km/h without.
Full throttle - 69% of the lap (high). Total fuel needed for race distance - 154 kilos (average/high). Fuel consumption - 2.7kg per lap (average/high).
Time spent braking: 16% of lap. 9 braking zones. Brake wear- High.
Loss time for a pit stop = 16 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 21 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.3 seconds.
This year’s race at Valencia will again hinge on race strategy, as this is a particularly hard track on which to overtake.
Last year the top three all used a three stop strategy, with used Soft tyres for the first three stints and new Medium tyres for the final stint. This year with the gap in performance between the two tyre compounds likely to be smaller, we should see more variety than that.
And as the trend this year seems to be for one less stop at most of the venues, the decision is likely to be between one and two stops this weekend, with track position in the final stint the key, as overtaking will be tough even with degrading tyres and the DRS wing. Teams which can look after the tyres like Sauber and Lotus may well try to do one stop. And with a high safety car probability, it might bring them another surprising result.
Valencia is a street circuit, which loops around the docks of Valencia and the America’s Cup boatyards. By street circuit standards it is quite fast, with cars reaching speeds of 315 km/h on the long straight. With 25 corners, it is one of the most complex circuits on the F1 calendar, making for a long lap at 1m 40s.
It is also a track where the likelihood of a safety car is high, as it is lined with barriers and there are some difficult access points for cranes to lift the cars off the track.
The European Grand Prix is the eighth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship. So far there have been seven different winners, the only time in history this has happened in the first seven races of an F1 championship.
Qualifying is vitally important in Valencia because of the difficulty of overtaking.
However the statistics for this season show that the car which leads on the opening lap is likely to win the race; this has happened in four of the six dry races to date. This is because it is beneficial to the tyres to drive in clear air rather than following another car. They last longer and perform better, by a significant margin.
Red Bull has come into form since Bahrain with two wins and three pole positions from the last four races.
Ferrari has dramatically improved its car in the last month and there was little to choose between them, Red Bull and McLaren in Montreal.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned, Sebastian Vettel has won the race for the past two seasons, while Felipe Massa won the first race in 2008.
The weather for this race is usually very stable, with temperatures in the high 20s and little rain. The forecast for the weekend looks like it will be hotter than seasonal averages with temperatures of 30 degrees likely.
Pirelli tyre choice for Valencia: Prime tyre is Medium (white markings) and Option tyre is Soft (yellow markings)
This is the same combination of tyres as we saw in Bahrain, where the temperatures again were very high. This seemed to suit the Red Bull and Lotus cars in particular and they were very competitive in the hot conditions on these tyres.
The two compounds will be much closer together on performance than last year. The difference between the two tyres is estimated to be around 0.7 secs per lap in qualifying trim. Estimates of tyre life are that the soft will start to experience degradation in performance and therefore lap time after around 18 laps, while with the medium it will kick in after around 25 laps.
This year we are seeing the tyres lasting 4-5 laps longer than last season and this is enough to mean that teams can do one less pit stop at most venues than in 2011.
Because it is so hard to overtake in Valencia track position is vital and being ahead in the final stint will be very important, even if a car is struggling on its tyres. Unlike Montreal, where the adjustable DRS wing made overtaking a car very easy, this will not be the case in Valencia.
The front runners are likely to do the fastest race strategy which is to stop twice, with stops around lap 19 and 42. But we are likely to see the Sauber and Lotus cars trying to do one stop less than their rivals, which will save them 21 seconds. As they are able to maintain good pace on worn tyres, this could give them a good result, particularly if they qualify well.
With the track lined with walls and several blind corners, there is scope for accidents and dangerous conditions for the marshals when clearing an accident. So the chances of a safety car at Valencia on paper are high. But last year’s race was notable for featuring the fewest retirements and the most finishers of any race in F1 history with all 24 cars making the chequered flag.
Of the four races in Valencia, only the 2010 race featured a safety car.
The run to the first corner in Montreal is short and there have been many first corner incidents over the years. But it is also a first corner where there are many lines and making up places is possible.
In the last dry race here in 2010, for example, only the front four cars ended the first lap in the same position in which they started!
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows -
+10 Perez, Senna
+ 7 Pic, Vergne
+ 5 Schumacher* Hamilton, Kobayashi, Di Resta
+ 4, Karthikeyan
+ 2 Vettel
+1 Button, Rosberg
- 2 Grosjean
- 3 De la Rosa , Petrov
- 5 Hulkenberg
- 7 Webber
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 seven teams’ fastest stops were within 3/10ths of a second of each other in Canada! 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 FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DU CANADA 2012, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The positions from previous race are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Caterham did the fifth fastest stop, well ahead of its championship position, also that Williams is losing a second to its rivals in pit stops.
|Rank||Team||Pit stop time|
|3. (3)||Red Bull||21.254s|
|7. (7)||Force India||21.489s|
|9. (5)||Toro Rosso||21.689s|
The UBS Race Strategy Briefing is written by James Allen with input and data from several F1 team strategists and from Pirelli
Formula 1 finally got its first two time winner of the season in the eighth round, after a fascinating race, in which Fernando Alonso came from 11th on the grid to win.
His victory owned a lot to an excellent start, where he made up three places, to some fine pitwork from the Ferrari mechanics (Alonso’s first stop was two seconds faster than Raikkonen and allowed him to jump the Lotus) and to race strategy. He also rode his luck when the safety car was deployed on lap 28, one of the race's defining moments.
He had several slices of luck in fact; Sebastian Vettel was running away with the race when his Red Bull car stopped with an alternator failure and a similar problem sidelined the second fastest car, the Lotus of Romain Grosjean. And another pit stop problem for McLaren, moved Lewis Hamilton out of Alonso's way at the crucial second stop, under the safety car.
It had looked a very unlikely win after qualifying, where Ferrari made a tactical error in not sending the car out early enough in Q2 and then not using a second set of soft tyres to ensure that he made it into the top ten shootout. They were trying to ensure that they had two sets of new soft tyres for the Q3 session, but misjudged the competitiveness of the field and missed the cut.
So although his starting track position was poor, ironically this qualifying error also helped on race day as Alonso had one new set of medium tyres and two new sets of softs to play with. It meant that he could use new tyres for all three stints in the race and as everyone’s tyres were fading at the end of stints, ultimately it was the thing that kept his nose ahead.
By making a great start and taking all his opportunities to overtake and gain positions, Alonso gave himself the chance to win the race.
Before the start, the feeling was that one stop was slower than a two by 16 seconds, which is almost an entire pit stop, but that the one stopper would be ahead after the final stops and that track position could prove significant. A new Medium tyre was expected to last 25 laps and the soft 20 laps.
Most teams looked at the tyre degradation figures from Friday practice and concluded that it would not be possible to do the race competitively on one stop.
What the teams are looking for is the point in the wear cycle where the degradation becomes so bad that the tyre performance drops off a cliff. What makes this so tricky is that it varies from circuit to circuit. At some venues it is when the tyre is 70% worn, at others it's later in the tyre's life. You don't know until you get there. On hotter tracks it tends to be closer to the 70% level.
Some teams felt that one stop might be possible; Force India's Paul di Resta and both Mercedes drivers considered it and started the race with that as the plan. But only di Resta saw it through. Arguably he would have been better not to; had he opted to cover the late second stops of the Mercedes drivers and fitted a set of soft tyres as they did, he could have finished ahead of his team mate Hulkenberg.
A strange race tactically speaking
In the past at Valencia, overtaking was always very hard and therefore track position in the race was everything. But with this generation of Pirelli tyres and the DRS wing things have changed.
A perfect example of this was the way that Michael Schumacher, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg’s races evolved in the final 20 laps.
Webber and Schumacher qualified outside the top ten; Webber had a technical problem and qualified 19th, while Schumacher was 12th. Both men started on the medium compound tyre, which made a one-stop strategy a possibility. Mercedes planned to do this with Schumacher, but once again the predictions based on the tyre performance in Friday practice turned out to be wrong on race day. The rear tyres were overheating on some cars within the first five or six laps, so one stop was a major challenge.
Rosberg was also planning on one stopping, but his pace was very slow and by the time Sebastian Vettel made his first stop, Rosberg was already 32 seconds behind him. But the safety car helped bring him back into the pack and he too made a late switch onto soft tyres and he ended up sixth. Di Resta was 2 seconds behind Hulkenberg and 27 seconds ahead of Rosberg after that late stop and should have covered it by pitting himself. He would have stayed ahead of Rosberg and, looking at the relative pace on new tyres, would easily have overhauled Hulkenberg for 5th place in the closing stages.
From lap 46 onwards Schumacher and Webber were a second a lap faster than the leaders and so could make progress through the field towards the podium, which Schumacher eventually got.
The front runners all made their second stops when the safety car was deployed on lap 28, meaning that they had 29 laps to go to the finish, of which five were at low speed behind the safety car. Webber and Schumacher had been helped by the safety car closing the field up and they were able to pit ten laps later and on new softs to cut through the points positions towards the podium. Nico Hulkenberg, for example, was 16 seconds ahead of Schumacher on lap 42, but he was passed by the Mercedes driver on lap 56.
The safety car always changes the game from a strategy point of view. In Valencia it did a number of things. First it put all the front runners on a lopsided strategy, whereby the middle stint had been shorter than planned; they intended to go to around lap 32 and the safety car obliged them to stop on lap 28. So they were committed to a long final stint on medium tyres. This provided an opportunity for Mercedes and Webber. It also provided an opportunity for Di Resta, but as we've seen, Force India didn't take it.
Second it led to a shake up of the order at the front as another McLaren problem pit stop for Hamilton dropped him behind Alonso and into a pack of cars. Had that stop gone smoothly, Hamilton would have been ahead of Alonso in the final stint, would have avoided the collision with Maldonado and would have fought Alonso for the win, arguably having to settle for a podium as his tyre wear was clearly not as good as the Ferrari's.
RACE HISTORY GRAPH
Kindly provided by Williams F1 Team
Notice 1) How strongly Vettel was driving away from the field; 2)The speed of Webber and Schumacher on their new soft tyres in the final stint, relative to the other leading cars. Note also the drop off in pace of Hulkenberg and Di Resta at the end.
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