STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2022 Emilia Romagna GP?
The first Sprint weekend of the season has seen a different schedule over the first two days of running at Imola, and there’s just the familiar challenge of the Grand Prix left, so let’s take a look at the options available to the teams at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari...
What’s the quickest strategy?
A one-stop is definitely the way to go at Imola, even more so than at many other venues when teams tend to prefer making as few stops as possible. That’s because the pit lane loss time is one of the biggest of the season, with it taking nearly 30 seconds to enter the pits, change tyres and rejoin the track.
Although DRS played a big role in the Sprint, it was clear overtaking is not simple if cars are closely-matched in terms of performance, so teams will want to minimize the opportunities to lose track position in the pits. That means the majority are likely to start the race on the medium compound tyre, opening up two main possibilities.
The first – and most likely – will see a first stint of around 30 laps (although the pit window is a fairly wide one) on the mediums before switching to hard tyres for the remainder of the race.
Starting on the medium also means the soft can come into play if that opening stint can be extended to the lap-40 mark, perhaps aided by a Safety Car when the tyres can be preserved for a spell.
How about a different option for the top ten?
If any of the front runners want to try something else at the start of the race to offset their strategy, then the soft compound has potential. That’s because it can provide a grip advantage off the line and enough of a performance gain to maintain position early on.
The difficulty will be dealing with graining as seen on Saturday – especially if it rains overnight and reduces the grip level – although the lower working range of the soft tyre will suit the expected cooler temperatures a little more if it stays dry.
The opening stint is likely to be around 18 laps on full tanks of fuel before drivers will start suffering from degradation and need to make a stop, but the hard compound tyre should be able to be managed from that point to the end of the race as the fuel load burns off. However, this will involve giving up track position earlier than those starting on mediums.
Rain also isn’t a bad thing for the softs, as they are the best slick compound to be on if there are a few spots that impact track conditions but don’t require a switch to intermediates. With a 60% chance of thunderstorms, that could be a consideration for teams.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
Even if it’s a likely one-stop race, all three tyre compounds do have the potential of being used at the start, especially for teams at the back. Alex Albon delivered a remarkable performance on the C2 compound in Melbourne – the same compound as this weekend’s hard tyre – to run nearly the whole race before pitting at the end of the penultimate lap.
The pace shown by Albon will encourage Williams that they can deliver similar in Imola, and given the starting positions of 18th for Albon and 19th for team mate Nicholas Latifi, they are the most likely candidates for such a strategy.
Starting on the hard would allow a long stint that would open up flexibility, either to switch to the mediums when the right gap opens up (or there’s a Safety Car) or run as long as possible hoping for an interruption before moving onto the softs for the final 20 laps.
If there’s rain that hits later in the race, too, it could mean needing to make just the one stop for wet weather tyres.
The two-stopper is not completely out of the question either, depending on the tyre allocations left available to different drivers. To make that work, the hard tyre is unlikely to be used at any stage, with a combination of medium and softs the quickest route to the end.
Starting on mediums with the intention of switching to hards could evolve into a two-stop with two 15-lap stints on the softs – especially if a Safety Car allows a much quicker change than under green flag conditions – or a middle stint on the soft before returning to the medium tyre with anything up to 30 laps remaining. However, track position and clear air will be crucial to any two-stop considerations.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
It hasn’t been the warmest weekend in Imola, with heavy rain on Thursday and Friday and cool temperatures making things tricky. Saturday was much improved, but even so the temperature barely climbed above 20C and Sunday isn’t expected to be as warm.
As highlighted above, the chance of heavy showers and thunderstorms is currently anywhere between 40% and 60% according to the latest data, which is described as “unsettled” and with only limited accuracy at this point of the weekend.
The threat of rain currently increases around three hours before the race and remains throughout the afternoon into the evening, with temperatures at best reaching 21C but likely to be a few degrees lower.
That means teams have to factor in tyre warm-up and graining phases, with the hard set to be particularly tricky out of the pits and requiring a lot of work on the front tyres in particular to generate the required temperature to get performance out of them.
They’ll also need to be ready to react to what could be potentially heavy showers, although they do have data on the crossover points from Friday’s qualifying that saw the intermediates used in a session that started dry enough for slicks.