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STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?
For the second weekend in a row there have been interruptions that have left the teams with limited data heading into the race. So here are a few of the strategic options that are likely to be open to them for the final race of the season on Yas Island…
What’s the quickest strategy?
Friday practice saw 10 replacement drivers taking part in FP1, and then the second session – that starts at the same time as qualifying and therefore was the most representative – was hit by two red flags that accounted for half of the session time.
That means the teams didn’t get a huge amount of long run data when conditions were similar to how they will be in the race, while they also were able to save sets of tyres they usually wouldn’t.
With every single team except Alfa Romeo saving two sets of hard tyres for the race, they are likely to be conservative with their strategies.
A one-stop in this instance looks the best bet, with teams starting on the medium compound tyre to get the balance between first-lap performance and a manageable stint length that will then allow them to switch to hard tyres to the end of the race anytime between Lap 20 and 26.
That first stint could also be lengthened if drivers feel comfortable to do so, allowing a more aggressive second stint to the flag. This strategy is open to all teams and drivers, as the Alfa Romeo duo only need the one set of hards to execute it.
How about a different option for the top 10?
After qualifying, some drivers referenced the degradation level being higher than they expected so far this weekend, and therefore throwing a spanner in the works when it comes to trying to make a one-stop strategy work.
But trying to pull off the one-stopper is still a safe starting point because all of the teams then have the ability to switch their strategy if the medium is degrading too quickly in the first stint.
Making the first pit stop between Lap 12 and Lap 18, switching to the hard tyre would still potentially allow a run to the flag if towards the end of that pit window, but more realistically could see a two-stop race attempted.
With all but Alfa Romeo having the possibility to run a second set of hard tyres, the second stop would likely be between Lap 33 and 39, or roughly the halfway point between the first stop and the end of the race to split it into two equal stints.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
For Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, a two-stop strategy using the medium for the final stint would still be a similar option, although would likely see both trying to get closer to the Lap 40 mark for a bit of security in that case.
They are also the only drivers who are able to attempt this, so if the medium tyre proves to be the better race tyre when the lights go out then the Sauber-run team could be in a good position to make up some ground from the back of the field.
Alternatively, with multiple drivers feeling like they’re slightly out of position after failing to reach Q3 in such a close field, a more aggressive one-stop strategy involves starting on the soft compound tyre.
The soft will provide an advantage off the line compared to the other two compounds, so the likes of Carlos Sainz in 16th or Lewis Hamilton in 11th could consider it to try and gain positions in the opening laps.
Matching the first stint length of those two-stopping on mediums – the pit window being Lap 12 to Lap 18 – then running one set of hards to the end of the race could be attempted.
You also don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that the same opening stint length as the two-stop strategy means a two-stop could also be on the cards, again with two sets of hards if required by most teams, or Alfa Romeo utilising all three compounds.
The more likely alternative for those further back, though, would be to start on hards and run as long as possible, knowing a few positions may be lost in the opening lap or two but then the stint would come to them as others start to struggle with degradation.
Being able to run long on the hard tyre can then provide a greater chance of still being out on track before their first pit stop for a potential Safety Car period. Being able to make a pit stop under those conditions rather than at racing speeds would save drivers some seven seconds in terms of the time lost in the pit lane.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
In one of the more predictable weather, er… predictions, the forecast is for a warm and dry race under the lights. With the Grand Prix starting at 1700 local time and sunset set for 1734, the opening part of the race is likely to see higher track temperatures as the sun has most recently had an impact on the track surface.
The air temperature will stay relatively high, however, with it expected to remain in the high-20s (in terms of Celsius) throughout the race.
The track temperature will drop considerably though as the sun sets and the floodlights take effect after dark, and the teams will have to manage the challenge of a change in car balance as that happens, as well as trying to predict how the tyres will react later on in stints.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you, but rain is highly unlikely for this Grand Prix, so Pirelli’s wet weather tyres look like their work is done for the 2023 season.