Feature F1 Unlocked
STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Sao Paulo Grand Prix?
The pole-sitter didn’t win the Sprint and tyre degradation was a major factor throughout Saturday’s 24 lap race, which has left the teams with a challenge ahead at Interlagos. So here are a few of the strategic options that are likely to be open to them when the lights go out for the Grand Prix in Sao Paulo…
What’s the quickest strategy?
If you watched the Sprint you probably won’t be surprised to learn that this is a race that’s likely to see a lot of pit stops. Although the majority of drivers started on the soft compound of tyre, they were all having to do plenty of management as they kept other sets for Sunday.
Although degradation was high, the soft tyre was shown to be a usable race tyre, with the quickest route to the end of the race estimated to use the softs more than any other compound.
The first part of the race looks to be the toughest when starting on the soft, with a first stint needing to reach at least Lap 17 but perhaps as late as Lap 23 – almost the same distance as the Sprint but on high fuel and taking place earlier in the day – before a switch to the medium compound for the middle part of the race.
That fulfils the requirement of using two different compounds across the distance, and then a final stop between Lap 46 and 52 would lead to a return to the softs.
As similar to the Sprint as that final section of the race might be, not only do teams have the data from Saturday’s running, but the track is also likely to be at its most rubbered-in, helping protect against the highest levels of degradation at that stage of the race.
How about a different option for the top 10?
Another two-stop strategy offers a little more flexibility early on, by starting on the medium compound. Only three cars tried that in the Sprint – the Haas drivers and Logan Sargeant – and they weren’t in a position to move forward, with the Haas pair in particularly dropping back through the field.
Although estimated to cost about 0.3s per lap in terms of performance – but likely even less on high fuel when more management is taking place – the medium would mean the first stint could be closer to 26 laps before pitting for another set, potentially gaining positions by over-cutting those who hit trouble with their softs early on.
The downside of this strategy is that it makes certain that another stop will be needed to run a different compound, but the final pit window of between Lap 48 and 54 could provide a tyre offset compared to those on the above two-stop, and with Interlagos seeing the most overtakes on average each season (of tracks on the current calendar), then positions could be made up late on.
While not imperative, having two new sets of mediums available would help with this strategy, meaning it’s slightly less appealing to Mercedes, AlphaTauri, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Valtteri Bottas.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
In a sign of the high levels of degradation seen so far this weekend but also the performance gap between the soft and the hard tyre, the third fastest strategy on offer is a three-stop rather than one-stop.
Starting on the soft compound, committing to the three-stop allows a shorter first stint before pitting between Lap 13 and Lap 18.
It could also be that drivers trying to two stop need to make the switch to a three early on if they find their tyres are dropping off on high fuel.
The second stint on medium tyres opens up more options – including potentially using the hards to get to the end – but two more stints on softs allows an attacking approach, which is likely to be preferred given the ability to overtake.
Making a second stop any time between Lap 33 and Lap 40, the final two stints on softs can be relatively reactive to the race situation in terms of timings, with the last stop taking place between Lap 50 and Lap 56 depending on how early the previous one was needed.
For any team keen to take a completely opposite approach and able to get good pace out of the hard tyre, the one-stop could be attempted if they can make their mediums last long enough. Reaching at least Lap 25 – but ideally further into the race – could then open up the opportunity to try to get to the end on hard tyres.
Should there be a late Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car interruption then the less time lost in the pit lane under such conditions – 11 seconds rather than 21 in a normal race scenario – would also mean a switch to softs could be on the cards.
Only the Mercedes drivers, Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz and Oscar Piasri don’t have a new set available (see the chart above).
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
While there’s no threat of a repeat of the intense storm that hit on Friday afternoon, and only a 20% chance of rain is forecast, the weather is still where a significant difference between the Sprint and the Grand Prix could occur.
Saturday saw track temperatures exceeding 50C as the air temperature climbed to 30C at times. But the forecast for Sunday’s race is for much cooler weather.
The high is likely to be in the low-20s – and perhaps even lower depending on cloud cover – which will have a potentially decisive impact on the way the tyres work. The higher the track temperature, the more likely teams are going to struggle with rear tyres overheating, and teams that are gentle on their rubber will have an advantage.
In cooler conditions, cars that find it easier to switch their tyres on are more likely to have an advantage, as they’ll get better performance sooner but also be less likely to run into trouble with degradation later in the stints. So the pecking order from Saturday’s Sprint could be very different just based on temperature changes for the Grand Prix.