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STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2023 US Grand Prix in Austin?
Four teams covered by little more than a tenth of a second and Max Verstappen starting down in sixth creates the prospect of excitement at Circuit of The Americas. So here are a few of the strategic options that are likely to be open to the teams and drivers on race day in Texas…
What’s the quickest strategy?
The Sprint format means we’ve been able to see a glimpse of what is likely to happen in terms of tyre performance at COTA – and it still points to a two-stop race.
While Carlos Sainz started on the soft compound tyres and made them last for 19 laps without a massive drop-off on Saturday, the Spaniard was conserving tyres heavily early on and that management clouds just how big the level of degradation would likely be when pushing harder, which still makes the medium compound a likely more favoured option.
There was degradation on the mediums too, so the quickest strategy looks like being a medium-hard-hard approach for those who have the sets available. Starting on the medium compound provides the better performance off the line than the hard but also good longevity compared to the soft, and then drivers would be looking to switch to the hards between Lap 12 and 17.
That first stint is shorter than the Sprint was, but that is likely to be needed given the higher fuel loads that they start the 56-lap Grand Prix with compared to the levels used in the 19-lap Sprint.
With a middle stint taking the driver up to around Lap 35, then a second set of hards can be used to push to the flag. But as highlighted already, that’s only a strategy that is available to those who have retained two sets of hard tyres for the race itself, consisting of McLaren, Williams, Alfa Romeo, Haas and AlphaTauri.
How about a different option for the top 10?
So you might have been able to work out from the above list of teams that many of those at the sharp end of the grid need to do something different. While Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri can run the medium-hard-hard strategy, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull, Alpine and Aston Martin cannot.
There’s not a massive deviation in what is an option for those teams, though, with the next quickest strategy also seeing a start on the medium compound and switch to the hard around Lap 14 to 19, but then a further stint on the mediums needed to finish the race.
The final stop would be in a window of Lap 35 to 42, and teams will need to be wary of going too early and extending the last stint because the mediums that were used in the Sprint were starting to approach the limit of wear life at the end of the 19 laps.
That’s another reason the hards might be preferred by those with that option, even if they will also have mediums to choose from.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
Perhaps an option for those in the top 10 too, another two-stop strategy could see all three tyre compounds used.
Likely starting on the medium once again, a first stint of would then give way to the middle stint being run on the hards with the same pit stop window of between Lap 14 and Lap 19.
If able to reach at least Lap 40 though before needing to pit again, then the closing part of the race could see the soft compound fitted to sprint to the flag, although some management might be required if stopping right at the beginning of that pit window.
There is flexibility on that front as no team is tied into the strategy, with all having at least two sets of mediums available which means they can always run medium-hard-medium if they need to make the second stop earlier than originally planned.
A one-stop strategy is also deemed possible but unlikely to be attempted by many given the amount of tyre management that would be required to make it work – particularly during the first stint on the medium tyre when the field is bunched up – and the fact COTA is not the hardest of tracks to overtake on. With a pit lane loss time of around 20 seconds it’s also less penalising to stop twice than it is at some other venues.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
There’s a slight difference to the conditions expected on Sunday compared to the rest of the weekend but it’s a change that is likely to be welcomed by the teams and drivers.
After highs of 35C on Friday and a hot and sunny day throughout, Saturday saw temperatures reach 34C but cloud cover during parts of the Sprint reduced track temperatures a little. On Sunday the maximum air temperature is expected to drop further to around 30C, so while still hot it is not to the same level as was seen on Friday and should help drivers prevent overheating when it comes to the tyres.
That said, the fact that the race will take place at 2pm local time compared to the 5pm start for the Sprint means track temperatures could be comparable or even higher if there are spells when the sun breaks through, so drivers and teams will have to react to any impact that has on degradation.