Feature F1 Unlocked
STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Australian Grand Prix?
Albert Park’s a driver favourite but track position has often been key given how hard it is to overtake on the semi-permanent circuit – so strategy will play a crucial role in how a team’s race pans out. With that in mind, here are some of the options that are available to the teams in Melbourne.
What’s the quickest strategy?
For regular readers of this feature you’re about to notice something very similar to Jeddah, despite the vastly different conditions that have been seen so far in Australia.
A one-stop strategy is clearly the quickest option for the teams to target, and the hard compound is the preferred option for the second stint of the race, so the only question is which of the other two tyres to start on?
Well, as in Saudi Arabia, the main concern is around graining, albeit this time due to the much cooler temperatures that have been seen so far over the weekend and the ongoing forecast.
Both the soft and the medium have been susceptible to similar amounts of graining – when rubber tears off the tyre, immediately sticks back onto it and you end up with an uneven surface that means less of the tyre is in contact with the track, generating less grip – so the weather is actually central to which way the frontrunners are likely to go.
The colder the temperature is, the more drivers will lean towards starting on the softest compound.
That’s because the soft is quicker to warm-up and provide strong levels of performance, even if drivers were doing multiple preparation laps in qualifying in order to make sure they only activated the full grip amount when they started a flying effort.
In that instance, a first stint of between nine and 16 laps before switching to the hards for the remainder of the race will be the way to go, although if graining is avoided then it could be extended to nearer Lap 20. Teams are still more likely to trend towards an early stop though, with the hard able to complete almost the entire race distance, and track position key.
How about a different option for the top 10?
The other option is to use the medium in the opening stint, and it does come with greater risk but greater potential reward. The medium takes longer to warm-up than the soft and therefore will offer less performance at the start of the race – something that is particularly tricky off the line when positions can be gained or lost more easily.
However, it is also a compound that offers more strategic flexibility, with the ability to run further into the race – perhaps up to and even beyond Lap 23 – before making the switch to hard tyres.
Keeping that flexibility in mind is key, because any Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car periods earlier in the first stint will still allow drivers to pit for hards, but they can also run longer before an interruption that could benefit them.
The medium is likely to become the preferred tyre if the weather is warmer than forecast during the race, as the warm-up issue becomes less of a problem. There are still some question marks over both tyres and their longevity, however, due to the rain that curtailed any long running in FP2 on Friday afternoon – the session where teams usually gather a significant amount of their race pace tyre data.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
Much like in Jeddah two weeks ago, if a gamble is going to be taken by a driver outside of the top 10 then they’re most likely to be doing it based on the Safety Car potentially helping them out.
In much the same way the medium offers more flexibility in the two options above, starting on the hard tyre offers the biggest window to make a pit stop but really works if there’s a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car after Lap 23 – or put more simply after those on softs and mediums have made their stops.
If there is an interruption, then the medium is more likely to be used in the second stint, but if not then the hard will be run much longer before switching to softs.
A really early Safety Car – or two at different times – could trigger a two-stop race, where the quickest would be to start on the soft for the best launch and warm-up and switch to hards as in the fastest overall strategy, but then return to the softs for the final stint (or the mediums depending on the remaining stint length).
The reverse is also a possibility, starting on mediums, with an early first stop for hards followed by a low-fuel final stint on softs of up to 20 laps.
Red Bull are the only team that has saved both of their sets of hard compound tyres for the race (as you can see above), in a move that will be of benefit if there are multiple interruptions. It could theoretically do a soft-hard-hard strategy and not have to be overly concerned with graining or tyre life.
Mercedes and Williams each have two sets of mediums at their disposal, suggesting a real consideration to start on that compound but also potentially two-stop using it if required.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag during the race weekend so far in Melbourne, with cool temperatures and regular cloud cover and showers of rain.
The current forecast for the race is more promising, with rain not expected and the overall temperature rising slightly to around 17C (from 15C on Saturday).
That in turn could lead to higher track temperatures, with 5-10C increase helping grip levels a little but not having a huge impact. The sun will need to emerge to warm the track surface to provide a fresh challenge on that front.
There has been rain on both Friday and Saturday, though, so in case there is a shower at some point the slick tyres will be preferred as long as possible as a significant portion of a dry line emerges quickly at Albert Park – although there are often some slippery sections underneath trees that overhang the circuit, and in some braking zones due to painted traffic lines on the park roads.