It’s interesting to note that the strategy predictors in the specialist press are beginning not to make predictions on number of pitstops and pit stop strategy. Part of the problem is that they want to give a nice simple answer to a problem which is not that straightforward. Autosport have suggested three stops at Abu Dhabi based on using the same tyre compounds as Japan. They may be correct, but the reasoning is flawed. Suzuka with its high speed turns, and Yas Marina with its straights and slower corners, are very different beasts. Suzuka was always going to see high degradation with the high lateral loads – Yas Marina is more of a concern in traction, like Singapore. It is worth noting that the tyre wear in Abu Dhabi was low last year – Alonso got stuck behind those who made their only stop under the safety car on lap one. So, with soft and medium tyres, it is most likely (but never certain) that the degradation will not be extreme.
Therefore, let’s apply the intelligentF1 model to the problem, starting with the assumption that the tyres will last about as long as we like so stops are made on trade-off of pitstop time loss against tyre degradation in a stint. We’ll start with the medium tyre being about 0.5s slower per lap than the soft, although the trade-off is not too sensitive to this until we get to a pace difference beyond one second. The theoretical race history chart looks like this, assuming one stint on new mediums, and the rest on used softs.
So the theory has a very close trade-off between one, two and three stops, with only 10 seconds covering all three. If we change the pace of the medium tyre, the slower it gets the more the strategy is skewed towards three stops, but it takes a lot (more than 1.5s difference) to make three stops the optimum strategy. As always, the wildcard is the length of time the tyres last. If they last a long time (as in India) we head towards a clear two stop strategy, with some teams trying a single stop. If we see degradation issues, key tyre life lengths are about 25 laps in order to make a single stop work, but the trade-off will still favour two stops over three until the tyre life goes as low as 16-18 laps.
With the Pirelli tyres, nothing really surprises, but this one looks like a two-stopper to me. This is the first race on intelligentF1 with a very clear strategy winner – and the analysis and trade-offs have been pretty successful so far. Let’s see how the tyres behave on Friday.