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STRATEGY GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the Las Vegas Grand Prix?
A weekend of disrupted practice and a brand new track to learn means it’s far from a clear picture when it comes to race day strategy in Las Vegas. So here are a few of the options that are open to the teams and drivers for the first race down the iconic Strip on Saturday night…
What’s the quickest strategy?
With the limited amount of data that there is for the Las Vegas Strip Circuit, there’s a little bit of uncertainty on which strategy should get top billing. But leaning into Charles Leclerc’s comments that he found overtaking a little bit more challenging than he was expecting during practice, I’m going to open proceedings with the one-stop strategy.
That’s because if overtaking does prove to be slightly more difficult than many were predicting, then track position will be prioritised and the number of pit stops reduced to limit how often a driver would have to deal with traffic.
All of the main options suggest starting on the medium compound tyre in order to get the right balance between the pace of the soft tyre with the longevity of the hard, which will be particularly important on the opening lap when drivers will want as much grip as possible to be able to try and gain – or defend – positions.
Looking after that first set of mediums on high fuel would see a target pit stop window of between Lap 18 and Lap 24, before switching to the hard to run to the end of the 50-lap race.
How about a different option for the top 10?
Once again starting on the medium tyre, a two-stop strategy is still a close challenger to the one-stopper in terms of overall race time if you factor in traffic.
The options available to teams will depend on the tyre sets they have returned to Pirelli but if they have two sets of mediums available then that provides the opportunity for the quicker of two similar two-stoppers.
With a shorter first stint length than the one above – running for as little as just 12 laps – a driver could then pit for a set of hard tyres for the middle stint of the race. This might see them find some clean air for a spell to use any better pace, but also ticks the box that requires teams to use at least two different tyre compounds during a fully dry race.
The second pit stop could come as early as Lap 32 – or perhaps marginally earlier due to the track evolution and lower fuel – at which point drivers would return to the medium compound again for the run to the finish.
For those who don’t have two sets of medium tyres available but do have an extra set of hards, a a similar strategy that could be used is a two-stop race using the hard compound for the final two stints.
That opens up the potential to make an even earlier first pit stop – somewhere between Lap 10 and Lap 15 – and then to run two stints of relatively equal length. With a second pit window from Lap 29 to 34, hards would be used for the rest of the race.
That’s a strategy open to many of the frontrunners, with only Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon, Logan Sargeant and Valtteri Bottas of the top 10 without a second set of hards.
Only one driver has managed to carry two sets of mediums and two sets of hards through to tonight’s race though, and therefore can choose which compound is best to use after trying both during the race. And that’s Max Verstappen.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
The beauty of the above two strategies is also the fact that they both allow for the potential of a third option using all three compounds.
They both allow a similar approach so a later decision on the final tyre compound can be taken, meaning drivers would start on the medium and pit between Lap 12 and Lap 17 to switch to the hard. Two different tyre compounds would have been used at this stage, and like Verstappen above they would then be able to work out which of the medium or hard was the better race tyre.
But if the driver then didn’t have a second set of the preferred tyre, they could look to extend the middle stint to Lap 35 at least, and fit a set of softs to the end.
While unlikely to be a race tyre early on due to graining – when little bits of the tyre tear off in colder conditions but then stick back to the surface instantly, reducing grip – the soft could prove useful when the cars are at their lightest with lower fuel loads, as well as when the track has been rubbered in the most.
Wait, but what’s the weather doing?
Not a big shock this one, because since track action got underway we’ve enjoyed relatively stable conditions throughout the weekend so far.
The late night session times have ensured there is not a major swing in temperatures – as there can be when the sun sets during a session – and a similar situation is expected on Saturday night thanks to the 10pm local time race start.
That means the high would be around the 14C mark – a level that means track temperatures are only a degree or two higher overall. In such conditions, the graining mentioned earlier can be a relatively prominent issue but Pirelli is confident drivers can continue through that phase to a point where their tyres are in a much better condition.
There is a 20% chance of rain according to the FIA forecast, but it’s a level that has been decreasing since the start of the day and it is far more likely to be relatively clear and dry. It’s not a certainty, though, as we saw fairly significant amounts of rain on Wednesday that caught most people in the paddock out, and that might remain on the strategists’ minds as the race unfolds.