After a wet qualifying session, there’s a brand new poleman at Silverstone, but it looks like a far from straightforward race, so let’s take a look at the different strategy options available to teams and drivers to the British Grand Prix…
What is the fastest strategy?
Breaking with the norm, it is not a one-stop strategy which is the quickest route to the finish at Silverstone, with the two-stops a better option available to teams.
That’s because levels of tire degradation and wear are high due to the nature of the circuit, which features many long, high-speed corners that put a lot of stress on the Pirellis.
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While the most likely option is for all riders to start the race on medium compound tyres, the quickest route to the end is a bit unusual. That’s because it features two opening stints on the same compound, with teams hoping to hit a pit window between laps 22 and 28 to then make a stop for the mediums again.
Usually the preferred move is to another compound in order to accommodate the need to use two different types of tires sooner rather than later (and we’ll explore that option later), but the medium is the best race tire and then the tender is a good option at the end of the race. Using soft earlier – when the car is using more fuel – is seen as a risk as it comes with an increased risk of graining due to lower grip levels after Saturday’s rain.
So, after switching to medium-medium, the final stint would be on the softs and last about 16 laps, when the tire should be more protected from graining by the lighter fuel load and the track will be rubberized as much as possible.
While it’s the fastest, it goes against what many teams tend to prefer, and it’s an aggressive strategy, so it won’t necessarily be risked by many.
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How about a different option for the top ten?
The two caps using two sets of medium tires only work for teams that have two sets of medium tires available to them in their allowances, and McLaren is one of the teams that does not. Lando Norris will therefore be forced to use all three compounds if he wants to make two saves.
To achieve this, the most likely route is to start on the medium, switch to the hard tires anytime between laps 16 and 23, then race until near lap 35. From there, the softs can be used for the final stint, as well as the fastest strategy.
There’s also the option to try and do a one-stop job, look at the mediums and get to at least lap 25 before moving on to the hards and managing them until the end of the race.
The problem with this strategy is not only the pace – with the hard tire potentially up to half a second per lap slower than the medium – but also the wear and tear, which is why this first stint needs to be extended, because even if the hard tire does not degrade too much, it will wear out over several laps.
Those who also opt for this one-stop-shop would still have the option of fitting a set of softs late if the levels of degradation or wear prove to be too high and cost them significant lap time.
What are the options for the bottom half of the field?
There’s another variation on the two caps that teams can look at, with everyone but AlphaTauri (which, like McLaren, now only has a medium game and a hard game) able to start on the mediums. but then switch to the hard tire for a short intermediate stint.
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The reason they would choose this is if they are worried about graining on the soft compound and want to avoid it. In that case, they could be looking to complete a first stint of around 18 laps – but potentially longer – before switching to hard tires for a second phase of racing which could be as short as 10 laps.
This short stint would limit the amount of lap time lost on this tyre, before then returning to the middle for the final flag race. This could also prove to be a preferred strategy for many in the top ten, as it is a more conservative approach that also offers flexibility in the middle.
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Wait, what’s the weather like?
It wouldn’t be the British Grand Prix without some rain at some point over the weekend, and this year is no different. Saturday’s qualifying session saw only intermediate tires used and the level of grip dropped.
There’s also a good chance of rain at the start of the race and throughout the first half – this could mean there’s a downpour the teams have to contend with, or could face to a wet track from the start.
In the latter case, if there is a drying track, the crossing point becomes a crucial factor. This is when teams want to move from intermediates to slicks, and getting a single lap wrong can cost you a lot of time against anyone calling it correctly.
The good news for the teams is that the wet weather they had during FP1 allowed them to determine the crossover point, and it’s like being around the 1m38 mark. So if the track is wet but the rain has stopped, once lap times drop below 1m40s prepare to see some pit lane action because everyone will want to be the first on the slicks, but nobody wants to be too early.
HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the action from a thrilling wet qualifying session at Silverstone, as Sainz seals his first F1 pole
Even if it’s dry, relatively low temperatures once again – no more than 20C – will mean that the harder tire compound is difficult to warm up and enter its ideal operating window, which could also push the teams try to complete as much of the race on the mediums as possible.
There are also fairly strong gusts of wind announced which, as seen in Barcelona, can lead to errors which can upset the running order. As is often the case with British weather, this one is far from simple.