In a similar scenario to the Russian Grand Prix, the teams were limited in their dry weather race after Friday’s practice for the Turkish Grand Prix due to rain on Saturday. So we take a look at the different strategic options available to the teams ahead of today’s race at Istanbul Park.
What are the likely strategies for the favorites?
Unlike two weeks ago in Sochi, the equation is far from simple this weekend. The teams were greeted with a track surface offering a lot more grip than a year ago, and while conditions are expected to improve, it’s unclear how much.
It also slightly surprised Pirelli, who have brought in softer compounds than in 2020 and now find that they are an additional challenge – but it’s great from a strategic point of view because there is no obvious approach compared to what was planned at the start of the weekend. .
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All of the leaders switched to the medium compound tire in Q2, giving themselves more flexibility for the race itself, but a single stop is not the fastest way to the end of the race, even with this tire. starting point. It is certainly possible, with a first stint of 20-25 laps before going hard for what would be a long second stint, but it would require a lot of rhythm management.
The thing teams are wary of is the graining – when small pieces of rubber tear off the tire but then stick to the surface – which has been seen on all three compounds but is worse on the softer tires. So to shorten the first stint, a two-stop medium-hard-hard strategy provides the fastest option.
Both stops are more attractive due to the lower pit loss time in Turkey, with just 20 seconds lost in green flag conditions thanks to the pit lane inside the last corner and the first corner.
That would see a first stint of 12-17 laps, before two stints of 20 laps on hard, but it’s not as easy as you might think. As the high levels of grip – and therefore faster corner speeds – weren’t expected, the teams didn’t anticipate needing two sets of hard tires for the race, and so it is. not an option for Pierre Gasly, Lando Norris or Yuki Tsunoda at the start. in the top 10.
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What about the rest of the top 10?
So for Gasly, Norris and more particularly Tsunoda, other options will have to be taken into account.
Tsunoda is highlighted because he is the only one in the top 10 to start the race on soft rubber, and that presents him with a very different challenge. The sweet suffers from the highest graining and at an early stage. And with the recent rain having left the track similar to the start of the weekend, that will likely still be the case at the start of the race.
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Tsunoda will therefore have to try to extend his first stint to at least the 10th lap mark before making a pit stop, switching to hard tires at this point for as long a stint as possible. However, going all the way is not possible, so a second midrange stop will likely be needed around lap 40.
For those who will start on mediums but without the possibility of doing two stints on the hard – so Gasly and Norris – another option is to execute a strategy similar to that of Tsunoda. A first stint of 14-18 laps then opens the window to switch to hard tires in the middle of the race – hard ones would be used here as they are more robust against graining – then a return to mids also around lap 40 to run to ‘at the end.
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What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
We can safely say that the first stint on the soft tire Tsunoda will be forced to run is likely to be the only one we see, as graining will be a serious issue for him. The rest of the grid is likely to start on the mids, but the hard tire is a viable option for anyone who wants to try something different.
Using hard at the start of the race has its advantages, because while it was still suffering from graining on Friday, it was the least affected of the three compounds.
This could be even more pronounced when the cars are heaviest with high fuel consumption, and if the first stint is long enough – beyond 30 laps – this in turn could open up the possibility of a single stop, because the medium would be less susceptible to graining later in the race with less fuel once more rubber has been deposited.
This is likely a choice made by cars out of position such as Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz (both penalized for taking new powertrain elements) near the back of the grid, while Sebastian Vettel is the first car to have free choice of tires in 10th place following Lewis Hamilton’s penalty. Hamilton starts 11th but still has to use the medium tires with which he reached Q3.
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Wait, but what’s the weather like?
The weather has already played an important role in this weekend, after the heavy rains on Saturday morning resulted in the absence of slick tires in FP3 and allowed conditions to be tested in qualifying. This rain also cleaned the track of the rubber, so the grip level is low again.
There is also a threat of downpours for the Grand Prix – officially 40% at the time of writing, but that was diminishing as we got closer to the lights – which could certainly muddy the waters if they were to touch the circuit.
The challenge for the teams will be choosing the crossover point, as the intermediate tire proved particularly good on the high-grip surface on Saturday. The lap times were about four seconds faster than what we had seen in the dry a year ago, such was the improvement, so it will be below the 1.30m per lap mark which could trigger a shift to intermediates .
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And in the reverse scenario of trying to go from intermediates to slicks, teams will hesitate to go too early given the strength of the intermediary. If the slick tire cannot be warmed up enough due to the conditions, this also increases the risk of graining.
The air temperature should only be around 20 ° C, which will also have an influence on the degree of granulation that teams face. It’s a bit cooler than Friday, which would lead to increased graininess – but if the sun rises to warm the track, conditions will improve.