FORMULA 1: RACE STRATEGY
1. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN
PRACTICE AND RACE CONDITIONS
The performance and degradation rates
of the various compounds are discovered
during the three hours of Friday practice.
Often the sessions are either disrupted by
rain/red flags (giving not enough data to
predict), or held at a very different track
temperature to that expected on race day
(completely altering how each compound
works). So, come race day, teams will
react and respond to the actual situation
they’re seeing, fine-tuning strategies in
real time. For example, if the degradation
is less than expected and stint lengths
can be extended, the optimum strategy
may change from three stops to two, or
two to one. Or even if it remains the same
number of stops, the optimum split of
laps for each compound may change.
A shrewd educated guess is required
when selecting how to split compounds
up between the 13 available sets.
2. THE PRESSURE OF THE UNDERCUT
You may not be able to keep to your
theoretical ideal spacing of pit stops
because either a) the car just behind you
as the pit stop window opens is close
enough that if it pits before you, its
new-tire pace on its out-lap as you
struggle to respond on your in-lap on old
tires will ensure you come out behind –
meaning you must pit in anticipation of
him. Or b) as the stops approach, you’re
the car just behind – and there’s an
opportunity to gain track position over
the car ahead by pitting before it.
In either case, you’ll have put yourself on
a slower strategy than the theoretical ideal,
but that’s the sacrifice in order to gain or
maintain track position over your rival.
The only way to be immune to the
undercut threat is to be so far in front
(the raw performance advantage...) that it
Starting at the back
because of pace (as in,
lack of), where’s the
harm in going out on
a strategic limb? If it
works, great. If not,
it’s still zero points...
ROLL THE DICE...
(RIGHT) Formula 1
has five dry-weather
compounds and will
three it brings to any
given track, along
with its intermediate
and wet tires. S t e
Each car is allocated 13 sets of
dry-weather tires (plus four sets of
intermediates and three of wets) for the
whole weekend and teams choose how to
divide those sets between the available
compounds (uniform sets on a car at all
times – no split of compounds permitted).
That forms the basis for a race strategy.
The theoretical fastest way to complete
the race distance is, superficially at least,
a relatively straightforward calculation for
each specific track. How fast is each tire
compound? How quickly does that
performance degrade in each case? How
many laps can each tire do before it
reaches its wear limit? How many seconds
do you lose by making a tire stop?
Once you have that information, the
theoretical fastest strategy suggests
itself. It could be one stopping, or two, or
even three (given that Pirelli compounds
are quite conservatively hard, it’s never
any more than three, and quite often one)
and the optimal spacing of each stop will
be a simple arithmetical sum.
But that’s just the basic, theoretical
structure of a strategy. The real world
introduces all sorts of complications...