The final race before the mid-season break is upon us and it’s beautifully staged with a new pole position and a mixed grid, so let’s take a look at the various strategy options available to teams on race day in Hungary. ..
What is the fastest strategy?
Teams were caught a bit off guard this weekend after struggling with the hard compound as it slipped and wore in hot conditions on Friday, making it comfortably slower than the medium and soft. The result of this is that a one-stop strategy is suddenly much harder to execute without the hard, making the theoretical fastest strategy a two-stop strategy.
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But remember that these Pirelli calculations are made without a number of variables that differ from team to team, as each manufacturer’s strategists must consider things like the specific use of their tires. and traffic.
So when it comes to the quickest route to the end of a race, starting on the soft compound is considered best as it will allow for the best launch off the line for one of the longest races. until Turn 1 this season. The opportunity to gain positions would then be followed by a first stint of 16 to 21 laps before switching to medium tires.
The mid stint would be anything up to 32 laps depending on how quickly the first stop is made, with a second pit window between laps 42 and 48 for another set of mediums.
Depending on potential safety car interruptions and lower fuel load, it is also possible to switch to soft tires instead for the final stint, although this is more likely to be reactive to the situation of the race and to arrive around the 50th lap.
How about a different option for the top 10?
The problem with the two-stop strategy above is that it will give up track position on a circuit that is notoriously difficult for overtaking, and there is a slight unknown how difficult it will be to pass on the track this year .
The new regulations have seen much tighter racing so far this season, and drivers can push behind another car. But that’s not to say overtaking is easy, so it’s likely teams will prefer to make fewer stops so they don’t risk getting stuck behind a slower car and ruining their strategy.
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The fastest one-stop option uses the hard compound, but starts on the middle and heads into a pit window between lap 26 and lap 34, before switching to hard and racing to the end. It’s still a long stint that the riders will have to manage on the hard and tire wear could become a limiting factor if they slip even more than on Friday, but despite the slower pace they should be able to defend their position.
This one-stop should only be three to four seconds slower than the fastest two-stop strategy, showing how tempting it will be for teams to prioritize the lower number of pit stops. The risk, however, is that while overtaking is easier, drivers could be vulnerable on the hard compound in the second half of the race.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
There is another one-stop option that requires even more tire management, as it uses the soft compound for the first stint of the race.
The attraction here is to start on the fastest compound that will provide the best launch off the line, with a nearly half-mile run from pole position to the first braking zone to utilize that extra grip.
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The challenge will be to extend that first stint long enough with plenty of fuel, with a need to get as close to lap 25 as possible before switching to the hard compound to go all the way. With a 70 lap race, that would leave a final stint of 45 laps.
For a different two-stop option, it is possible to use all three compounds throughout the race. By starting with the medium tires, a more aggressive first stint would be possible before tackling the hard ones between lap 20 and lap 25.
From there, the tough wouldn’t need to be managed as much, with riders able to push harder to try and maintain the temperature – crucial for doing the hard work – before heading into a series of softs at any time after turn 48.
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Doing a two-stop strategy that uses two sets of soft tires – with a medium stint on the mediums – is also likely to be seriously considered only by those who are not in the top ten and have an extra set of soft tires. available for the race they did. t use in qualifying.
Wait, what’s the weather like?
The fact that there are so many potential permutations shows that even teams are unlikely to be clear on their ideal plan, and that’s because the weather has changed significantly since Friday. Practice temps were well into the 30s and track temps were up in the 50s, but despite that, the hard tire didn’t perform particularly well.
The race is expected to take place in temperatures around 10°C lower and on a track that has seen quite a bit of rain in the last 24 hours, so the level of grip is not as high as it should be. nor would it normally be. All of this adds up to making it more difficult to understand how the tires will react and to choose a strategy.
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After some heavy showers and thunderstorms on Saturday, there is also a chance of rain for the race, although forecasts suggest the greatest chance is in a four-hour window before the lights go out.
Even if it does not continue to rain until the start of the race, if there is enough before the start there is a chance that there will be a wet track due to the lower ambient temperatures compared to previous days.