Feature F1 Unlocked
STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix?
A grid full of teams with unexpected opportunities and challenges usually means strategy takes on added importance, especially at a venue where overtaking can be difficult. So here are a few of the strategic options that are likely to be open to the teams on race day in Singapore…
What’s the quickest strategy?
The Marina Bay Street Circuit can often throw up a real conundrum for teams, and this year looks like being no different.
As a street track, the initial tendency would be to lean towards a one-stop strategy to prioritise track position at a venue that can tough to pass on. But at the same time, the high number of corners that can put stress through the rear tyres can lead to degradation levels that make a two-stopper attractive.
Perhaps aided by this year’s track layout that sees four corners bypassed and a longer straight in the final sector – helping keep tyre temperatures under control – the one-stop strategy is deemed the fastest way to the finish this weekend, with the medium tyre the compound to start on.
That’s because the medium offers the balance between grip and longevity, and opens up a bigger pit window of anywhere between Lap 20 and Lap 30 before a driver would need to switch to the hard compound until the end of the race.
That big pit window is crucial because of the likelihood of Safety Car interruptions in Singapore, with an average of at least one Safety Car per race since 2015.
How about a different option for the top 10?
One of the main reasons that teams will be wanting to try to one-stop is the amount of time it takes to make a pit stop in Singapore, with the pit entry on the inside of two fast final corners and the exit similarly taking a tight line inside Turn 1. Plus, the speed limit is set at 60kph, so the pit lane loss time is estimated to be over 28 seconds.
And that means even the most likely alternative strategy is a one-stopper, despite it creating a challenge for the opening stint of the race. Starting on the soft would provide some advantage compared to the medium off the line – although the relatively short run to Turn 1 limits the impact somewhat – but would then require some management.
If drivers can reach at least Lap 15, and ideally closer to Lap 20 or even beyond, then the hard compound comes into play for the remainder of the race.
The main issue here is keeping the soft tyre alive for a long enough opening stint, especially on high fuel, but also the fact that the pit window is likely to be smaller as a result, which means less flexibility when it comes to trying to take advantage of a Safety Car.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
As usual, one such strategy that could be adopted is to do the opposite of what those ahead are likely to do.
Starting on the hard compound would deliver the longest first stint possible and therefore the most amount of time where a Safety Car could be required that would allow for a less time-consuming pit stop.
Compared to the near-half-a-minute loss that a stop under green flag conditions comes with, making a pit stop when the Safety Car is deployed is estimated to cost around 15 seconds, so anyone starting on the hard could run as long as possible hoping for an interruption that allows them to switch to the medium – or even soft if it gets that late – with a smaller time penalty.
But there’s also an aggressive option of the two-stop strategy that could come into play. Starting on the softs, if teams find that the tyre is not holding up long enough to make the one-stopper work, then an earlier switch to the hard compound would allow a long middle stint that again has flexibility in terms of the timing of a second stop.
If there’s a Safety Car and it comes early, then the medium is an option, but if there isn’t one or it’s late enough in the race, then the soft could be used for the final 20-25 laps.
Reading all of this, you might wonder where the Mercedes approach comes into play that George Russell spoke about. He believes his team have a strategic advantage by still having two sets of medium tyres available for the race, with only Williams making the same choice.
What that does is provides Mercedes with the chance to be aggressive, because if Russell and Lewis Hamilton start on the medium and make an early pit stop trying to undercut the Ferraris for track position, then they also still have all the strategic options available to them if there’s a Safety Car later on. If it comes early, they have another set of mediums to use that their rivals don’t.
The likes of Ferrari and McLaren would have to weigh up whether it’s the best idea to respond to cover the undercut instantly – but potentially hit a situation where they have to switch to softs or stay out on old hards in the case of a Safety Car – or run longer in the hope that they can build up enough of a tyre advantage to be able to overtake on track.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
Being a night race, you’re not going to see me say the forecast is hot and sunny, but it is hot. Temperatures are still predicted to be around the 30C mark for the race at 20:00 local time, and the cloud cover has little impact as there is no sun to influence track temperatures anyway.
There is an outside chance of rain, however, with the risk currently sitting at around 20%. There was a low risk on Saturday too that actually saw a heavy shower around two hours before FP3, and if there’s a repeat then while the track may well be dry by the time the race starts the grip levels could be lower after rain.
That scenario would see teams having to respond quickly to the track evolution, as more rubber is put down and degradation levels fluctuate.