Tyre strategy - Pirelli on perfect planning 10 Aug 2011
Tyres - and the ability of a driver to use their tyres well - have always been critical to success or failure in Formula One racing. But its been especially true this season.
With new tyre supplier Pirelli pushing the established boundaries with aggressive compounds specifically designed to increase the importance of tyre management, teams and drivers are being challenged in 2011 like never before. So getting race strategy right is vital...
While strategic choices depend on a number of different factors, one of the most important questions for teams to decide is during which point of the race they wish to be fastest.
Opting for the quickest tyre - which usually corresponds to the softest available compound - at the start of the race will enable drivers to make a quick getaway and pull out an early advantage: but this may come at the price of being overtaken by drivers who are on the quicker tyre during the middle and final stints of a race.
Conversely, drivers who start on the harder tyre may be able to jump, or undercut their rivals at the first pit stops in order to gain track position, but they will come under a lot of pressure during the early phases of the race due to their rivals making the most of the faster tyres.
At the first round of pit stops, there is another crucial decision to be made: should the driver move onto a different type of tyre to the one on which he started, or duplicate his original choice?
Going onto a different choice creates more flexibility in the strategy, as the rules state that you have to use each nomination at least once. If, by contrast, you duplicate the choice with which you started then you have to make one more stop.
Teams use complex computer programmes to simulate their race speeds using different strategies, but one thing that these systems cannot take into account is the strategies that other people are adopting and the likelihood of being blocked, either by slower competitors, the nature of the circuit, or racing incidents such as accidents and safety cars.
Teams study the likelihood of such occurrences carefully and these have a major influence on the strategy. The weather is also a big factor, as the arrival of rain often sends most strategies out of the window.
How easy the track is to overtake on also forms an integral part of the strategy. If there are a number of passing opportunities it means that teams can afford to use a more adventurous strategy, if it suits them. But a lack of passing places tends to lead to more conservative strategies.
Ultimately, the key ingredient to every strategy is flexibility. The teams with the most reactive tacticians often score the top results, as they are able to respond in real time to unforeseen events and the initiatives from their rivals. And with Pirellis new range of PZero tyres providing another exciting but changeable element to the races this year, speed of reaction is more vital than ever.
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