Saturday, 13 April 2013

Unpredictable Chinese GP: Strategy key to race

By Editor - 14 April 2013

The 2006, 2007, 2008 former world champions (left to right)

The 2013 Chinese GP is looking to yield some unpredictable results as reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button have chosen to qualify and start on the medium compound tyres.

With the first seven runners choosing to start on the soft option tyre, the majority of the front running teams (Mercedes, Ferrari, Lotus) seem to believe that a higher grid position will provide a better platform with which to achieve a race win.

Asked why Lotus did not choose to start on the primes, race favourite Kimi Raikonnen replied "We chose to do this [strategy] because we think it is the fastest way in qualifying and in the race."

However, on analysis, starting on the mediums could provide an advantage over starting the softs.

The medium tyres have demonstrated consistent performance in race simulations during free practice. Mark Webber was able to produce solid lap times over 20 laps on the medium tyres, whereas the soft compound seem only good for one or two laps before dropping off significantly.

At the start of the race, with the cars fully loaded with fuel, the soft tyre will have to endure higher loads and g-forces, which could take more life out of tyres. Further to that, a track not yet “rubbered-in” would be more punishing to the soft tyre. This suggests that starting on mediums and running the softs in better conditions at the end of the race would maximise the soft tyre performance

Drivers starting on the mediums will find themselves in the lead after five or so laps (possibly less) – putting them clear air. Front-runners starting on the option tyre will be forced to pit early, rejoining the track behind the mid-field runners. Apart from a drop in lap times caused by following a slower car, the time spent in the turbulent air of a mid-fielder will increase tyre degradation and could destroy the important second set of tyres. The amount of time lost behind slower cars will be crucial to the overall outcome of the race.

Furthermore, allocating the soft compound for the final stint has its advantages. The cars will be lighter on fuel and also there will be more rubber on the track providing more grip. The softs could theoretically produce significantly better laps times and for a greater number of laps (4 or 5 good laps compared to only 1or 2).

However, there is an inherent problem with starting on mediums; and that is, grid position. Button cruised into 8th position whilst Sebastian did not set a lap time in Q3. This put them in 8th and 9th respectively.

"Starting in 9th and 10th means you are in the carbon fibre zone" said Brawn, referring to the higher probability of a collision with the mid field drivers. An early collision could mean a DNF, as it did with Fernando Alonso in Sepang.

The verdict is still out on which tyre strategy will produce a race win. Will Red Bull’s decision to go against the grain pay off in a glorious victory for Vettel, or will it lead to a miss opportunity for the team?

Either way, Sunday’s Chinese GP race should be a cracker as the answer to this question which is baffling strategists and pundits alike, is finally revealed.


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