Strategy could play decisive role in Hamilton and Rosberg's "Duel in the Desert"
This year Abu Dhabi hosts the “Duel in the Desert” for the drivers’ world championship with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Nico Rosber...
This year Abu Dhabi hosts the “Duel in the Desert” for the drivers’ world championship with Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes team mate Nico Rosberg battling for the title.
So a lot is at stake this weekend and it’s worth remembering that a bad strategy call was the decisive factor the last time the drivers’ title was settled at this track.
Back in 2010, when Bridgestone was in its final race as F1 tyre supplier, an early safety car brought several cars in to the pits on the opening lap and they went to the finish without stopping again. Ferrari brought Fernando Alonso in for a stop and he came out behind them and could not pass, losing the world title as a result.
The advent of adjustable DRS rear wings has made overtaking a little easier, but it is still challenging and making the right strategy calls is still vitally important.
And this race offers double points, which opens up all kinds of possibilities and the likelihood that teams with nothing to lose will try some ambitious strategy calls to try to get an unexpected result.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is Formula 1’s original day/night race. The race begins at 17-00hrs local time, in the dusk and ends in darkness, with floodlights illuminating the track. The temperatures drop during the race and this has a significant bearing on tyre performance and thus race strategy. This was shown by the race in Bahrain, which also followed this format for the first time this season.
The Yas Marina Circuit features six corners below 100 kph – only Monaco and Singapore have more. The track surface is smooth.
Track characteristics - [Click on map to enlarge]
Yas Marina – 5.554 kilometres. Race distance - 55 laps = 305.355 kilometres. 21 corners in total. Average speed 197km/h. A marina based circuit hosting its fifth F1 Grand Prix.
Aerodynamic setup – Med/High downforce. Top speed 320km/h (with DRS open) 307km/h without.
Full throttle – 60% of the lap time (ave/high). Fuel Consumption - Med/High (Max Downforce, lower average speed, frequent acceleration events)
Brake wear- medium. Number of braking events – 12, Time spent braking – 17% of the lap. Third or fourth most severe circuit of the year on brakes.
Total time needed for a pit stop: 23 seconds
Ease of Overtaking - Low (difficult to overtake even with double DRS zones)
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the final round of 19 in the 2014 FIA F1 World Championship.
Mercedes have won the Constructors’ Championship and one of their drivers will be world champion. Lewis Hamilton has won 10 races, Nico Rosberg five. The only other driver to win this season is Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.
As far as Yas Marina Circuit is concerned, Sebastian Vettel has won three of the five races to date with Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen winning the other two.
This is a track where Lewis Hamilton has always been very fast; he has had two pole position, he won in 2011 and was twice leading when forced to retire. However last year he was outqualified here by Nico Rosberg. Fernando Alonso has had two podium finishes there for Ferrari. Jenson Button has been on the podium three times.
The forecast for the weekend is stable with temperatures in the low 30 degrees C. But as this is a dusk/night race it’s worth noting that the night time temperature is set to fall to 19 degrees C.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Abu Dhabi: Soft (yellow markings) and Supersoft (red markings). This combination was used in Monaco, Canada, Austria, Germany and Singapore.
The five events featuring super-soft tyres have produced most strategically varied races so far, with some 3 stoppers, so that could still be an outside possibility for this race, given a large enough performance difference.
The race starts at dusk and ends in the dark, so the track temperature falls as the race goes on and the teams have to factor this in. For teams looking to do longer runs at the end of the race, the temperature drop helps, so teams are encouraged to try some bold strategies to win. The added factor of double points will encourage some higher risk strategies.
There are few high-speed corners, but a number of low speed corners so wheel spin on corner exit is the thing to watch out for.
The track tends to be covered in sand at the start of the weekend and again each morning, but the improvement is significant and once plenty of rubber goes down the lap times tumble.
It is therefore very important to get the timing right in qualifying so you are on the track at the end of the session, when it is at its fastest.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
The expected Default strategy is two stops – Laps 12/32 SuperSoft/Soft/Soft)
Last year saw a mixture of one and two stop strategies, with two being the more popular option. In 2012 most teams did a one-stop strategy as the tyre wear and degradation were not particularly high.
There have often been alternative strategies tried at this circuit and this is likely to happen this year with teams pushed to try more high risk strategies with double points on offer.
Overtaking remains a concern; despite adjustable DRS rear wings and two DRS zones on the circuit, the strategists for the top teams will nevertheless be watching out for the gap to the midfield cars in the first stint, to make sure that their driver does not come out of the first stop and lose time behind a slow moving midfield car, which might be running a longer first stint on new tyres. So they will want to build a gap of well over 22 seconds before stopping.
Chance of a Safety Car
Although at 40% the statistical chance of a safety car appears quite low, there have been three in five races at Yas Marina Circuit.
The 2012 edition featured two safety cars and these proved game changers for Sebastian Vettel, who was coming through the field after starting from the pit lane. The timing of the safety cars is crucial, particularly if they fall in the pit stop windows.
Recent start performance
Starts are a critical part of the race and strategy can be badly compromised by a poor start, while good starts can make strategists change their plans in the hope of a good result.
As far as 2014 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season on aggregate as follows. [Please note that where a driver has been eliminated on first lap this has been noted and removed from the sample as it skews the table. So this is intended as a guide of trends, rather than a definitive list.]
Net gained positions
7 Hamilton, Magnussen
6 Bottas, Sutil, Button, Perez
4 Lotterer, Vettel
Net lost positions
Melbourne Notes: Kobayashi, Massa eliminated in a first corner accident; Perez, Gutierrez pitted at the end of Lap 1; Bianchi, Grosjean started from pit lane.
Malaysia Notes: Perez started from pit lane, Bianchi pitted at the end of lap 1
Bahrain notes: Vergne pitted at the end of lap 1 after contact
China Notes: Sutil lost power at start and dropped 8 places, retiring soon after.
Monaco notes: Maldonado did not start, Ericsson started from pit lane, Perez crashed Lap 1.
Canada Notes: Gutierrez started from pit lane; Bianchi and Chilton crashed lap 1; Ericsson pitted lap 1
Austria Notes: Grosjean started from pit lane
GB Notes: Raikkonen and Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident
Germany notes: Massa eliminated in 1st lap accident, Magnussen and Ricciardo dropped back as a result
Hungary Notes: Hamilton, Magnussen, Kvyat started from pit lane
Belgium Notes: Grosjean and Bianchi collided on lap one, Kobayashi absent and replaced by Lotterer.
Italy Notes: Ericsson started from pit lane.
Singapore notes: Kobayashi did not start; Rosberg started from pit lane
Japan notes: Race started behind Safety Car.
Russia: Rosberg and Massa pitted at the end of Lap 1
United States notes: Vettel started from pit lane; Sutil and Perez crashed on Lap 1
Brazil notes: Sutil started from pit lane
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and there have been some amazing performances; we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two seconds this year.
The league table below shows order of the pit crews based on their best total time in the pit lane in the recent Brazilian Grand Prix
1. McLaren: 22.620
2. Red Bull: 22.746
3. Lotus 22.865
4. Force India: 22.997
5. Ferrari: 23.077
6. Williams: 23.220
7. Mercedes: 23.240
8. Sauber: 23.418
9. Toro Rosso: 23.782The UBS Strategy Briefing is prepared by JA on F1, with input and data from several F1 teams, from JA on F1 technical adviser Dominic Harlow and from Pirelli.
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