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STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Dutch Grand Prix?
A dry – if interrupted – Friday gave way to wet weather on Saturday at Zandvoort, which has produced a mixed-up grid, and slightly less data than usual for the teams to work with when it comes to planning their races. Chris Medland explains the strategic options that are likely to be under consideration on race day at Zandvoort…
What’s the quickest strategy?
There are plenty of options available to the teams this weekend, as a result of both the weather conditions and how the tyres are behaving at Zandvoort. Compared to a year ago, the temperatures have been lower and that has meant relatively low degradation as three of the harder tyre compounds were selected for this event.
That makes it a tough call between a two-stop and one-stop strategy, but it’s the two-stopper that gets the nod as the quicker option because of the ability to then start on the soft tyre. The soft has a performance advantage of around 0.4 seconds per lap over the medium and over 0.8s compared to the hard, and that can be crucial in the opening part of the race.
Zandvoort is not an easy track to overtake on – although the banked final corner and early DRS activation point does help for moves into Turn 1 – so gaining track position in the first stint can have a major impact on the race result. Starting on the softs provides the best chance of making progress and picking up a place or two, but the tyre would need to be managed to reach a first pit stop window of Lap 20 to 25.
From there, fitting the medium tyre for the middle part of the race sets up another stint on the softs at the end, with up to 24 laps the ideal number on the run to the flag.
Fitting two sets of mediums rather than a second set of softs is only a possibility for one driver in the field, with Lando Norris the only one to have kept two sets of mediums at this stage of the weekend. Everyone else has one set of mediums and one set of hards to choose from as the alternate compound.
How about a different option for the top 10?
And given the tyre allocations left available to the teams (see the chart below), the quickest strategy other than the one listed above is not only using a different mix of tyres, but is also a one-stopper.
Starting on the mediums would lead to a longer first stint of at least 30 laps before fitting the hard tyre to run to the end of the race. While the hard might take a little while to warm up given the lower temperatures seen so far at Zandvoort this weekend, it has shown good consistency and is not massively far off in terms of lap time compared to the medium, so is expected to be a solid race tyre.
Should that strategy prove too difficult to execute for any reason – either because of a shorter first stint or a challenging time on the hards – then a switch to softs for the final part of the race would also be an option, seeing drivers use all three compounds.
Along a similar theme, it’s possible to start on the soft compound and run a more aggressive first stint – pitting as early as Lap 18 – before switching to the hard for the middle part of the race. That would open up the chance of going to the end and gaining an undercut on those yet to stop, as well as having the soft-tyre advantage early on, but more realistically would lead to a second stop between Lap 50 and 56 to return to the softs for the final stint.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
While starting on the hard tyre is regularly a choice made by teams when they have a driver out of position, the expected temperatures and need to gain positions early rather than risk losing them means this is an unlikely starting compound.
Instead, using the medium for the first stint would provide a bigger opportunity to take advantage of a Safety Car period – by virtue of being able to run longer on that tyre and having a wider first pit window – but then also opens up an aggressive two-stop strategy as the fuel load drops and the track grips up.
Pitting ideally as close to Lap 30 as possible, the soft tyre would then be taken on for the middle stint. For a driver out of position, it might mean little gain in that first part of the race but some clear air on softs would then put them in a position to undercut cars with a short middle stint, but still stay on the soft for the final part of the race if they can reach at least Lap 45.
The soft should be easiest to manage in the closing stages, which is why the final stint can be longer than the opening one, and with there estimated to be less than half a second per lap in terms of race pace between the top six teams, an aggressive strategy could be required to overtake in such a competitive field.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
Friday was dry so there was plenty of long run data available to the teams thanks to the FP2 running, but Saturday showed that the weather can play a major part in the main competitive sessions this weekend.
Rain is predicted this morning, with a 60% chance of some heavy showers up to midday, when the threat is expected to drop to around 40%. There are still forecast to be cloudy skies that will keep temperatures around the 17C or 18C mark, and that will not only mean tyre warm-up will be an issue, but also could mean the track remains wet for longer if there is rain close to the race.
There’s a slight to moderate chance of a light shower during the race itself too, but teams at least have data of the crossover point between slicks and intermediates, and intermediates and full wets, thanks to Saturday’s conditions.