Feature F1 Unlocked
STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Austrian Grand Prix?
Just one practice session and then two rounds of qualifying followed by a wet Sprint have left the teams with limited data in Austria which adds intrigue for race day. So here are a few of the options that are likely to be available to them when the lights go out at the Red Bull Ring…
What’s the quickest strategy?
With Friday the only data point that teams have in terms of high fuel running on dry tyres, it’s a two-stop that looks to be the way to go at this stage of the weekend.
With the soft tyre not appearing to be suited to race conditions – Pirelli has brought the softest three compounds to this race – the medium is likely to be the preferred starting compound as it will balance the grip required off the line with better range than the soft.
The medium is some 0.3-0.4s per lap quicker than the hard, and so the quickest strategy would be to use it for two stints – but the teams will run the hard compound for the second stint in order to fulfil the requirement to use two different compounds in the race.
That means a first pit stop window of between 18 and 26 laps, and then a longer middle stint before a second stop between Lap 45 and Lap 51 to return to the medium. Those windows are theoretically wider, though, given how little degradation is expected on both compounds, with tyre life the bigger factor.
This is a strategy that Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes are all locked into if they want to two-stop in this manner, as they have just one set of hard tyres available for each of their drivers.
How about a different option for the top 10?
As you might have guessed from the end of the above section, another quick strategy is also a two-stop but completing two stints on the hard compound.
The advantage of this approach is that drivers can be even more aggressive in the first stint and don’t have to worry about looking after the mediums on high fuel, making an earlier first stop between Lap 15 and Lap 23.
Once again there would be relatively wide pit windows depending on track positioning and traffic, but the middle stint would likely be slightly shorter to try and make use of fresh rubber before those making a later second stop have pitted. That means taking on a second set of hards any time from Lap 40, leaving a stint of up to 31 laps to the flag.
The third realistic option is a one-stopper, but again features a start on the medium tyre. Drivers would need to coax at least 27 laps out of the tyre before switching to the hard, although the closer they get to Lap 37 will leave them less management to do on the hard compound in the second part of the race.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
Opting for the reverse one-stop option could provide a chance for a driver out of position – such as Sergio Perez in P15 – to try and make ground in the first part of the race both on pace and through strategy. As all of those on medium tyres make their pit stops, Perez would gain positions from drivers he was still up to 20 seconds behind.
The other benefit of this approach only comes with a well-timed Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car, but by having the hard tyre on for the first stint then it allows the widest window for something to happen that in turn lets a driver make a pit stop and lose less time (the pit stop loss under SC or VSC being a little under half that of a green flag stop).
There could also be a scenario where the soft compound does come into play, particularly in the latter stages of the race. If track temperatures are lower than Friday – as the forecast suggests they could be – then the soft might hold on better and be a usable option for the final stint.
That’s most likely to suit those two-stopping with two sets of mediums who have a shorter run to the flag planned anyway, or those struggling to make a one-stop work.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
Another time teams might want to lean towards running the soft compound is if there is any sort of rain in the air, with changeable conditions seen throughout Saturday. The soft is the best tyre to use when the track is damp but dry enough to run a slick, and would be preferred if there’s a chance of rain late on.
The forecast suggests a 20% chance of rain throughout the race – and while that might sound low, it is actually around the same figure that was predicted for the Sprint on Saturday, and that ended up seeing all drivers start on intermediates and the frontrunners make it to the end without switching to slicks despite a drying track.
Rain was simply appearing in patches around and over the circuit on Saturday, so it will be tough for teams to predict the timing of any showers, which are likely to lower track temperatures even if they don’t make it wet enough for intermediates. Should it stay dry, the high could reach 23C, which is a good six degrees higher than was seen during the Sprint.
Although there’s been limited dry track time, one other useful bit of data the teams did get from Saturday’s running was the crossover point between intermediates and slicks when on medium to low fuel loads, after a number of drivers swapped once lap times were around the 1m 16s mark.