Posted on March 11, 2014
By James Allen
Strategy has always been a vitally important factor in Grand Prix racing, the engineers and strategists who devise the best race plans are the achievers behind the achievers in the cockpit.
But this year the strategic dimension will be raised to a new level. As well as thinking about tyre strategy and selecting the optimum moments to make pit stops, the teams will also be able to work with the new Energy Recovery System, which gives drivers the option of a really quick lap at a strategically important moment, which could prove decisive for overtaking.
This year's racing will be dictated by the ERS hybrid system, which harvests electrical energy from braking and reinjects it. These are powerful hybrid devices, giving up to 160hp per lap of additional power for up to 33 seconds per lap.
As a rule, the teams will look to maintain the battery level at 80%, with drivers discharging and recharging in roughly equal measure. But if a driver goes for full discharge mode - the fastest way, but only for one lap - he will find an extra 1.5 seconds of lap time. Although this is unsustainable as the battery clearly needs to be recharged the next lap, it could give a vital strategic edge if used at the right moment.
Fuel consumption is also vital, with a maximum of 100 kilos of fuel (instead of around 150 kilos last year) permitted per car to cover the 300km race distance. This means that at times they will have to run the engines on reduced power to save fuel.
As with the ERS deployment, this means that there will be a cat and mouse element to the racing this year, which should prove fascinating.
The 2014 Pirelli tyres will be more durable than last year's and the drivers will be able to push harder on them. But the performance gaps between tyre compounds is greater than in 2013; for example the medium compound is 1.5 seconds slower than the soft. Ideally the gap should be more like 0.8 seconds to provide more strategic choices, but the larger gap will push teams to use more similar strategies, spending as little time on the slower tyre as possible.