RACE DEBRIEF

    After a thrilling opening race where strategy was crucial, here’s a look at the strategic options that are available to the grid in today’s race at Imola.

    What are the likely strategies for the frontrunners?

    A one-stop, pure and simple. Imola is a beautiful venue and a real test of driver skill in Formula 1 machinery, but it is not conducive to lots of overtaking. All of the teams have recent data thanks to a race here at the end of last season, and if that taught them anything it’s that track position is king.

    So the one-stop strategy is the way to go, and we’ve got a mix of options at the front of the field. Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen will both start on medium tyres – as will Valtteri Bottas down in eighth – but Sergio Perez splits Hamilton and Verstappen on softs, along with the rest of the top 10.

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    Realistically, those top three will all be looking to do the same thing, with Perez trying to extend his stint until it’s safe to switch to medium or hard tyres for the rest of the race, and aiming to pit at the start of that window in case an undercut is possible. Starting on softs and switching to mediums is theoretically the fastest way to the finish, but regardless of whether Perez opts for mediums or hards, the pit window is largely the same - anytime from lap 16 to 25 - and the earlier he stops the safer bet the hard tyres are.

    And as the hard tyres look good enough for the full race distance, that could lead to an early stop depending on track position. For Hamilton and Verstappen, a longer first stint is possible, where they’ll be waiting for pit stops further back to ensure they can rejoin in clear air rather than get stuck in traffic.

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    The expected strategies for the Grand Prix at Imola

    How about the rest of the top 10?

    For all of those starting on the soft compound tyre, the concern will be about graining, with the cool-er temperatures meaning there is a spell where the tyre is not performing at its best. The robust hard compound means they could pit as soon as they hit that stage, but if that means rejoining in traffic further back in the field then they might push on to try and get through that phase in the hope the tyres clean up again.

    Any drivers successfully extending their first stint on soft tyres beyond the lap-15 mark will have a choice of compound and may well opt for mediums given the easier warm-up than the hard.

    Starting on the mediums, Bottas is likely to go longer to try and get clear air once the soft tyre run-ners pit, and then utilise his pace for what would effectively be an overcut.

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    What are the options for the bottom half of the field?

    As always, everyone outside the top ten get to choose the tyre compound they want to start the race on, and that could lead to a variety of options, even if everyone will be focused on a one-stop. A new set of soft tyres would provide the best grip off the line at the start, and with it the potential to make up ground that could prove crucial on a track where overtaking is so tough.

    If there were no other factors to take into account, then the medium is the ideal tyre to start on giv-en its pace and longevity, but there’s also the consideration that soft tyre runners might get a better launch and also pit earlier to try and undercut. Plus if there’s an early Safety Car period then it’s likely everyone will pit for hard tyres, and the advantage of the life of the medium tyre will be lost.

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    The risk for drivers opting to start on softs is that they could be on very worn tyres if there is an interruption late in the race - as there was a year ago - but pitting to give up track position is a risk. So the other option is to start on the hard compound, and gamble…

    As was seen in 2020, there’s always the possibility of a late Safety Car, especially at a track where mistakes are punished so heavily due to the gravel traps and harsh kerbs. Those further back in the pack have the ability to start on hard tyres (the downside being slow warm-up and tough opening laps) and run as long as possible, essentially goal-hanging for a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car that could allow a free pit stop and therefore a chance to gain multiple positions.

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    Wait, but what’s the weather doing?

    This is when things could get interesting. There’s a threat of rain on Sunday, with the highest chance of showers before the race. But with a forecast high of just 13C, any rain that falls in the morning is unlikely to clear up particularly quickly in overcast conditions.

    The teams haven’t had any wet tyre running at Imola this weekend or last season, so it would be a step into the unknown for all, and would also remove the need to run two different dry tyre com-pounds if either the intermediates or full wets are used.

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