The final race before the mid-season break is upon us and it’s beautifully set up with a new pole sitter and a mixed grid, so let’s take a look at the different strategic options available to the teams on race day in Hungary. ..
What is the fastest strategy?
The teams were caught a bit off this weekend after battling the hard compound, slipping and wearing in hot conditions on Friday, comfortably slower than average and soft. The result is the fact that the implementation of the one-stop strategy suddenly becomes more difficult without difficulty, making the faster theoretical two-stop strategy.
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But don’t forget that these calculations from Pirelli are done without a number of variables that vary from team to team, as each builder’s strategists have to take into account things like tire usage and their traffic.
So when it comes to the quickest way to finish a race, starting on the soft compound is best as it will allow the best off-line launch for one of the long tracks into the first turn of the season. Then, the opportunity to make up positions will follow with a first job of 16-21 laps before switching to the medium compound tire.
The middle period may be up to 32 laps depending on how early the first stop is, with a second pit window between lap 42 and 48 for another set of media.
Depending on potential outages to the safety cars and with the fuel load running out, there is also the possibility of switching to soft tires instead in the final stage, although this is likely to be a reaction to the race’s situation approaching lap 50.
How about a different option for the top 10?
The problem with the above two-stop strategy lies in the fact that it will give up its track position on a circuit notorious for its difficult overtaking, and there is little anonymous information about how difficult it will be to get on the track this year.
The new regulations have seen racing much closer so far this season, and drivers can push behind another car. But that doesn’t mean overtaking is easy, and so teams probably still prefer fewer stops so they don’t risk getting stuck behind a slower car and spoiling their strategy.
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The fastest one-stop option uses the hard compound, but starts at the center and runs into a hole window between lap 26 and lap 34, before switching to hard and running all the way to the finish. Drivers still have to contend with challenging conditions and tire wear can become a limiting factor if they slip more than on Friday, but despite the slow pace, they will likely be able to defend their position.
This one stop is expected to be only three to four seconds slower than the fastest two-stop strategy, showing how tempting teams can be to prioritize fewer stops. However, the danger is that if overtaking is easier, the drivers may be at risk on the hard boat in the second half of the race.
What options are available for the lower half of the field?
Another one-stop option that requires more tire management, because it uses the soft compound for the first job of the race.
The attraction here is starting on the faster compound that will provide the best off-line launch, running roughly a half kilometer from pole position to the first braking zone to take advantage of that extra grip.
Facts and stats: Hamilton and Verstappen both started outside the top six for the first time since 2018 after the Hungarian qualifiers.
The challenge will be to extend that first lap long enough on high fuel, with the need to get as close to lap 25 as possible before switching to the hard compound to get to the finish. With a 70 lap race, that would leave a final 45 laps.
For the option of two different stops, there is the possibility to use all three vehicles throughout the race. Starting with the medium tire, it will be possible to do a more aggressive first job before pitting the hard stuff between lap 20 and lap 25.
From there, it won’t need to be managed as much, with the drivers able to push harder to try to maintain the temperature – which is essential to do the hard work – before pitting for a bunch of soft stuff anytime after lap 48.
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It will also likely only be considered seriously by those outside the top ten who have an extra set of soft tires available to race who don’t. t be used in rehabilitation.
Wait, but what does the weather do?
The fact that there are so many potential permutations shows that even teams are unlikely to be clear about their ideal plan, because the weather has changed dramatically since Friday. In practice temperatures were good in the 30s, track temperatures were in the 50s, but although the steel frame didn’t perform particularly well.
The race is set to take place in temperatures around 10°C cooler, and on a track that has seen little rain over the past 24 hours, so the grip level isn’t as high as it normally is either. This all adds up to the difficulty of understanding how tires interact and strategy selection.
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After some heavy rain and thunderstorms on Saturday, there’s a risk of rain for the race as well, although forecasts say the biggest chance is in a four-hour window before the lights go out.
Even if the rain does not continue until the start of the race, if there is enough before the start, there is a possibility that there will be a wet track due to lower ambient temperatures compared to the previous days.