Feature F1 Unlocked
STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Mexico City Grand Prix?
An all-Ferrari front row and multiple teams looking competitive will have the strategists on the pit wall looking for every little advantage they can find ahead of the race at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez. So here are a few of the strategic options that are likely to be open to them all on race day in Mexico…
What’s the quickest strategy?
While the track layout in Mexico City looks like it should lend itself to plenty of easy overtaking – an extremely long pit straight into a heavy braking zone usually presenting the perfect opportunity – this is actually one of the tougher venues to pass on.
That’s because of the altitude and the cooling impact that has on the cars, as they don’t get the same amount of airflow through their various inlets due to the air density. So overheating is already an issue even before you factor in traffic, and that leads teams towards trying to make a one-stop strategy work.
With track position key, starting on the medium compound tyre provides the balance between grip off the line for the extremely long run down to Turn 1 and enough longevity to reach a first pit window between Lap 27 and 34. From there teams will likely opt for the hard compound to run to the end of the race.
Unless a following car has a clear pace advantage then expect to see the pit stops happening in the earlier portion of that window in order to protect from the undercut threat and retain track position, even if it means a little bit of tyre management will be required.
Degradation levels have been relatively low so far this weekend and that means all three compounds have good tyre life.
How about a different option for the top 10?
To be more aggressive, there is a two-stop strategy that could come into play for those who find themselves in traffic after the opening stint.
After an opening stint on the mediums, an earlier first stop between Lap 17 and Lap 23 to take on hard tyres could open up the opportunity to gain track position through an undercut, and then push on if degradation levels are relatively high. Then a second stop to return to the mediums between Lap 45 and Lap 51 would see a final stint that would require overtaking.
Of course, this is only a potential route for teams and drivers that have retained two sets of the medium compound tyre for the race, who are both from Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Haas, as well as Sergio Perez and Yuki Tsunoda.
It’s also a strategy that would require teams to weigh up the value of track position over clean air, with the chance to get out of traffic with the extra pit stop, but then the need to do some overtaking late in the race.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
Even for those targeting the same one-stop as above initially, if degradation levels are higher than expected or they take the decision to make an earlier first stop to try and gain clear air, then all three compounds could come into play.
Starting on the mediums but then making a first stop between Lap 17 and Lap 23 to take on the hards would mirror the two-stop strategy above, but for those that don’t have a second set of mediums then the soft is still an option for the final stint.
That would likely need drivers to get to at least the mid-50s in terms of laps before making that extra stop.
For the likes of Tsunoda – starting out of position at the back of the grid as a result of a power unit change – then an alternate strategy is on offer. As is so often the case when a one-stop strategy is on the table, teams could look to reverse the order they run the tyres in and go long in the first stint.
Starting on the hard compound comes with a wider single pit window, because there are two choices that can be made for the second stint in the race.
If there’s a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car interruption – the latter seen on average 71% of the time since 2015 – at the right time then a move to the mediums for the final stint would be possible between Lap 40 and 50, but anything beyond that could see the soft tyre considered.
Verstappen and Tsunoda are the only two drivers with two sets of hard compound tyres still available to them for the race, but unless there are multiple Safety Cars it is unlikely that both sets will be required.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
One thing the teams have had in their favour throughout the weekend so far is relatively stable weather. FP2 saw a spell of light rain that was unexpected, but the rest of the sessions have played out in largely sunny conditions, with temperatures between 20-25C throughout.
That’s allowed them all to get good data across practice and qualifying, and the forecast for the race is for more of the same, with a warm and sunny day expected and a high of 26C.
That’s still going to be warm enough that teams will be wary of getting stuck in traffic due to overheating issues – something that could play a part in the strategic choices they make as the race unfolds – but it should mean there aren’t major headaches in terms of track or ambient temperatures.
Officially there is only a 20% chance of rain a the time of writing, but as Friday afternoon showed, a shower can bubble up completely unexpectedly to throw a curveball into proceedings.