The final double-header before the mid-season break kicks off with what promises to be hot at Paul Ricard, so let’s look at the various strategic options available to teams in France…
What is the fastest strategy?
Last time out in Austria, the one-stop seemed like the quickest way to run the race in clear air, but that plan was hampered by overnight rain which left a green track, then Ferrari pushed the pace to force Red Bull in a two -cap.
And this week, we have a similar scenario where one-stop is theoretically the fastest – but it’s far from perfect.
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High levels of degradation mean some tire management will be required, but the key point that has led to one stop being a solid option at this stage is the pit lane. The exit point has been extended by approximately 90 meters which means drivers are on the pit lane limiter longer and therefore take longer to cross the pits, and this is accentuated by the limitation of speed to 60 kilometers per hour, which adds more time. .
So a green flag pitstop now costs drivers around 27 seconds and means they’ll want to avoid making two stops if possible, so the fastest route to the end is on average one stop at from the medium tire. The soft compound isn’t a particularly useful tire for the opening stint, but the medium allows riders to race up to a pit window between lap 18 and lap 27 before switching to hard and racing up. ‘at the end.
There will be tire management involved due to the expected high track temperatures, but hard is a compound that should carry teams all the way to the end of the race if they opt for this strategy and don’t experience excessive degradation.
How about a different option for the top 10?
As we saw last time at the Red Bull Ring, sometimes the pace of a pursuit car can force a driver to squeeze more out of their tyres, or a team can struggle to care for a bit more of their Pirelli in general, so there are definitely two-stop options that can come into play.
There are two potential strategies likely to arise for teams that are unable to make the one-stop shop work, and both involve starting with the medium tire and doing a similar number of laps before the first pit stop. With an opening window between lap 13 and lap 20, there is plenty of variation to allow riders to have an aggressive first stint if needed, then in both strategies switch to hard compound for the middle stint.
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But this is where the two choices diverge, and it all comes down to the tire compounds a rider has left available for racing.
For any driver with two sets of mediums available – i.e. Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi – the middle stint should take them until at least lap 34 (but ideally closer to lap 40) before being able to return to the mediums for the last stint. This also opens the possibility of extending this second stint until the end of the race as long as the first stint was not too short.
For the rest of the drivers with two sets of hard tires available – Red Bull, Mercedes, Alpine, Alfa Romeo, Haas and Lando Norris – then you’ve probably guessed that the final stint will be on the hard compound. That leaves them a pit window between laps 31 and 37 to make the second stop, although it could be wider given the life of the hard tire.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
If you have done a bit of addition, you will have noticed that not all drivers are included in the above scenarios. This is because Daniel Ricciardo, Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll all only have one set of medium tires and one set of hard tires available.
This automatically limits their options for racing, but there is a different way to handle the one-stop shop mentioned earlier. To try to take advantage of potential opportunities, the hard tire could be used for a long first stint. As the Paul Ricard’s hard tire is Pirelli’s C2 compound, it has no problem with heating up at high temperatures but can still be managed during an extended stint.
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The pit window would be between lap 28 and lap 35 – with the aim of trying to go as long as possible – before switching to medium tires until the end of the race.
If, however, any of these three drivers (or anyone else who wants to try this strategy) struggles in the closing stages, then a short stint of around 10 laps on the soft tire could be considered as the track cools later in the afternoon and burns the fuel, but that’s a risk as this compound has been prone to overheating over the weekend and needs cooling laps.
Wait, what’s the weather like?
It’s a pretty simple weather forecast for teams for the race, and it’s also familiar as the Grand Prix is expected to experience very similar conditions to qualifying. That means high temperatures – in the low 30s – and no chance of rain.
The sun is also causing the track temperature to rise quickly, and the tarmac could touch 60C at the start, which will play a part in the need to prevent the tires from overheating and virtually rule out the soft compound for the first stint.
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While the soft tire can still deliver fast lap times if cooled between thrust laps, riders don’t have the luxury of drastically reducing their pace in a race scenario.
There were indications in qualifying that the wind could also play a role at Paul Ricard, and although it is not strong, its direction could be important.
A tailwind at the rear directly in the chicane and on the run to Signes will make the DRS effect less significant and overtaking more difficult, although it will also make braking more difficult.
That’s the direction the wind should be coming from, but the flip side is that it will make it a headwind in turn 1 and might help the DRS on that part of that track, as well as increasing the effect wake and providing opportunities here.
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