Paddy Lowe was effusive following last weekend’s race with his praise for the 2016 tyre regulations, a concept first proposed by Force India late last spring. Whilst the final version of the regulations is complex, the key question is – will it work? James Allen ran a fan poll before the Australian GP which revealed just under 50% thought the new regulations would make little difference.
But first, let’s look back at the Australian GP 2015 – which was a rather turgid affair. Pirelli had selected the soft and medium tyres and the pre-race strategy predictions suggested two stops would be the norm. Yet, 77% of the drivers who completed pit stops, in fact elected to one stop. At the time, TJ13’s analysis predicted we were in for a less than exciting season in terms of strategy calls; and throughout the year, Pirelli continued to select tyre compounds which were too conservative to promote the number of pit stops promised.
And so to 2016. Just over a couple of weeks ago, Pirelli revealed to eagerly awaiting F1 fans which team had chosen which tyres for the 2016 Australian GP. The results were as follows.
Just Mercedes, Sauber and Haas F1 selected a different mix of tyres for each of their drivers, though with everyone being forced to select at least one medium compound – the ‘go to tyre’ in previous seasons in Melbourne – this revealed little. Of course for the teams ‘selecting’ just one medium tyre meant no data collection was possible during the sessions prior to the race. However, the tyre has similar characteristics to the medium form 2015 so little performance differential was expected.
Prior to the red flag on Sunday, the usual ‘one stop’ suspects made their position clear. Sergio Perex and Nico Hulkenberg made their first stop and fitted the medium tyres indicating their intentions for the rest of the race. Bottas and Hamilton too made the same call, because they were both relatively out of position and the medium tyre would see them regain track position as the others pitted in front of them.
As in 2015, the pre-race optimum strategy was declared to be two stops, but unlike in 2015 the majority of teams decided not to try and play it conservative. Just 5 of the 16 finishers’ one stopped and the average number of stops amongst these drivers was 2.
On the face of it, this bodes well for the 2016 and those who believe more stops per F1 race equals more entertainment. However, the lesson of F1 history is that the race strategists learn from recent F1 history and the lessons from Australia 2016 are clear.
The 2016 Australian GP tyre strategies for each driver:
|Stint 1||Stint 2||Stint 3||Stint 4|
|Nico Rosberg||Super soft (12)||Soft (6)||Medium (39)|
|Lewis Hamilton||Super soft (16)||Medium (41)|
|Sebastian Vettel||Super soft (13)||Super soft (22)||Soft (22)|
|Daniel Ricciardo||Super soft (12)||Super soft (6)||Soft (24)||Super soft (15)|
|Felipe Massa||Super soft (11)||Soft (7)||Medium (39)|
|Romain Grosjean||Soft (18)||Medium (39)|
|Nico Hulkenberg||Soft (16)||Medium (41)|
|Valtteri Bottas||Soft (17)||Medium (40)|
|Carlos Sainz Jnr||Super soft (8)||Soft (10)||Soft (13)||Medium (26)|
|Max Verstappen||Super soft (13)||Soft (5)||Soft (14)||Medium (25)|
|Jolyon Palmer||Super soft (12)||Soft (6)||Medium (39)|
|Kevin Magnussen||Super soft (1)||Soft (17)||Medium (39)|
|Sergio Perez||Soft (16)||Medium (41)|
|Jenson Button||Soft (15)||Soft (3)||Super soft (12)||Medium (26)|
|Felipe Nasr||Super soft (10)||Soft (8)||Medium (38)|
|Pascal Wehrlein||Super soft (11)||Soft (7)||Soft (14)||Medium (24)|
|Marcus Ericsson||Super soft (11)||Soft (7)||Medium (20)|
|Kimi Raikkonen||Super soft (16)||Super soft (5)|
|Rio Haryanto||Super soft (12)||Soft (5)|
|Esteban Gutierrez||Soft (16)|
|Fernando Alonso||Super soft (12)||Soft (4)|
Chart from F1Fanatic
With regards to race strategy, conservatism appeared to be cast asunder this year in Melbourne – with gay abandon. 7 Drivers outside the top 10 remarkably started on super soft tyres – a clear indication of a pre-planned 2 or 3 stop strategy.
The medium tyre when fitted in Australia managed between 38 and 41 laps, way more than the average of 32 in last years Australian GP.
Also, Ferrari’s failure to adopt a conservative tyre strategy certainly cost them a shot at the race victory for Sebastian Vettel. Regardless of the praxis from the red team about their concerns about switching the medium tyre on at the red flag restart, the evidence from Lewis Hamilton was that overtaking in Albert Park is tough – even for a Mercedes on fresher tyres behind a Toro Rosso with a 2015 engine. Ferrari will not make the same mistake again.
Toro Rosso too failed to seize the moment and fit the medium tyres for the restart. Their 3 stop strategy cost them greatly and their grid positions of 5th and 7th became a disappointing P9 and P10 at the chequered flag.
Conservative race and tyre strategies may be less exciting, but they do prevent teams ending up with egg on their faces al la Ferrari (what again?) in Abu Dhabi 2010. It would be surprising to see so many drivers outside the top 8 on the grid start on super soft tyres in the up-coming race in Bahrain.
Further, the tyre selection for Bahrain has now been revealed and the number of medium tyres ‘chosen’ is far higher than in Melbourne. (Of course these choices were made sometime in December).
Just 6 drivers have selected one medium compound tyre, the number was 9 in Australia. Further, the total of medium tyres for Bahrain is 51 against the 39 for this year’s season opener. As we can see, Felipe Nasr and both Manor drivers have opted for 4 medium tyres each.
Bahrain 2015 was a solid two stop race, with five drivers 3 stopping and the early indication for 2016 is the night race in the desert will again see two tyre changes as the optimum tyre strategy.
Pirelli have managed to convert one of their 2015 mundane one stop races (Australia) to a two stopper, but whether this trend will continue amongst the others is questionable at this stage. The Australian GP saw a number of team race strategists throw caution to the wind, though it could be argued for the likes of Renault’s Joylon Palmer and Kevin Magnussen, a one stop strategy from the off would have served him better than starting on super soft tyres. Palmer in particular would have been in the mix with Hulkenberg and Grosjean if around 24 seconds was deducted from his time for the extra stop, which in the end saw him complete just 6 laps on the soft tyre.
Nico Hulkenberg also proved a one stop strategy worked best when starting just outside the top 8, though his team mate on a similar strategy had a difficult Australian GP. Bottas finishing 8th, just behind Hulkenberg, also one stopped his way through the field from P16 on the grid.
Given the Red Flag just before lap 20, a number of others who stopped around lap 12-14 on their super-soft tyres prior to Alonso’s crash, will in hindsight consider a longer first stint followed by a final stint on the mediums would have served them just as well if not better than those who two stopped around them.
Whether the new 2016 F1 regulations revolutionise tyre and race strategy is yet to be seen, but for now, at least it’s entertaining listening to the professional commentators try to pick their way through the bones of who is in fact ahead of who…. ‘If you consider he changed tyres on….. then in fact he’s ahead….’