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STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix?
A disrupted weekend of practice gave way to a wet and wild qualifying session that tripped up a number of front-running drivers on Saturday and set up up the grid nicely. So here are a few of the strategic options that are likely to be available to the teams on race day in Montreal.
What’s the quickest strategy?
For a number of different reasons, the Canadian Grand Prix weekend has led to a fascinating strategic scenario, where teams will not have the usual levels of confidence in their plans heading into the race.
Friday was a frustrating day as CCTV issues robbed race control of the feeds they needed to ensure FP1 could take place safely, resulting in a 90-minute FP2 session that teams had to try and complete all of their usual Friday running in.
And that is all the dry weather track time that they’ve been able to enjoy. Saturday’s cold and wet day meant there was only a small window for slick tyres in Q2, but other than that all the running took place on intermediate or wet tyres. So last year’s strategies are coming to the fore.
That’s partly because of the fact that Pirelli have brought the same tyre compounds as 2022, but also because of the likely track conditions.
The lack of rubber on the track – due to Saturday’s rain washing it away – means the soft tyre is likely to suffer from graining, only adding to the reasons why the likely preferred tyre at the start will be the medium.
Offering good grip levels early on (admittedly on a relatively short run to Turn 1), the medium also provides a little more flexibility in terms of the first pit window. So the quickest strategy is deemed to be a two-stop, using the medium tyre until between Lap 16 and 24 before switching to hards for the second stint. A second stop between Lap 40 and 48 would see drivers remaining on the head until the end of the race, but that’s only an option for those with two sets of hards.
Only two teams have ruled that strategy out at this stage, with Mercedes – starting from the second row – and the Ferrari drivers in 10th and 11th the only ones without two sets of hard tyres entering the race.
How about a different option for the top 10?
For Mercedes and Ferrari, there’s a variation on the quickest two-stop strategy that is available to them both. Matching the above option, it involves starting on the medium until the same pit stop window – Lap 16 to Lap 24 – and then fitting hards. But the middle stint would need to be longer, ideally getting as close to Lap 50 of the 70-lap race as possible before returning to the medium compound for the final stint.
That strategy will require a little more management in the middle stint but would likely see a more aggressive final stint as the medium is expected to be around a quarter of a second per lap quicker than the hard in race trim.
It’s a plan that also opens up an alternate option if the first stint can be extended closer to Lap 30, as then there would be the potential to try and run to the end of the race on a set of hard tyres and complete a one-stopper.
A risk of graining on the medium due to the low grip levels does make this a less likely strategy though, with it particularly tough to extend that first stint when the track has not been rubbered in by multiple laps featuring 20 cars circulating.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
There are multiple drivers who will feel that they are out of position for today’s race and could look to try something different strategy-wise.
Given the fact Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll all start in a row from P10-P13, they do have to factor in what they’re each likely to do, because they risk losing out to one another. But there’s a one-stop strategy that appears to be a real contender for those drivers trying to recover from disappointing qualifying performances.
Starting on the hard compound as an alternate option – the hard being more robust and therefore expected to handle the lower-grip opening stint better – the target lap for a pit stop would be from Lap 43 onwards.
At this point, it should be possible to fit the medium compound and run to the end of the race, with the track having rubbered in a little more by that point and reducing the risk of graining as a result.
Starting on the hard also allows more flexibility in the case of a Safety Car interruption, with drivers able to two-stop if required, as well as having the ability to wait and try and take advantage of any interruption to save a bit more time in the pits.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
After the difficult conditions that were seen on Saturday, many of the teams are probably glad that the forecast for Sunday’s race is far more stable and familiar. Qualifying took place with numerous heavy showers around the circuit and the overcast nature of the day went hand-in-hand with rainfall at different points throughout the day.
Race day does carry a slight risk of rain – 20% according to the FIA’s weather predictions – but more importantly the forecast is for overcast conditions that will keep the air temperature relatively low below 20C, in turn also ensuring that track temperatures do not climb too high.
While the latter might not seem a major development, on a track that is putting relatively low-energy through the tyre there could be some teams that struggle with tyre temperatures and a lack of grip when they want to leave the circuit.
Should it rain during the race, Pirelli estimates the crossover time from intermediate to slick tyres to be around 112% of the fastest dry weather tyre, and the switch to full wet coming at closer to 116%.
In qualifying trim that meant a 1m 21s lap time and 1m 27s lap respectively, but those times would be slower with high fuel loads.