Strategy guide for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Brazil, Autódromo José Carlos Pace, Interlagosbr

Based on yesterday’s Sprint dash, it seems that there are a number of different strategy options that are available to the teams at today’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó analyses the possible strategies for today’s 71-lap race at the Autodromo José Carlos Pace.

Pirelli has brought the three compounds in the middle of the range to the Sao Paulo Grand Prix: C2 is the P Zero White hard, C3 is the P Zero Yellow medium, and C4 is the P Zero Red soft. The previous two races in Austin and Mexico City used the same selection, thus teams have plenty of recent experiences with this tyre allocation.

However, things have not been that plain and straightforward this weekend. The track that runs anti-clockwise and contains 15 corners, places medium lateral demands on the tyres with high temperatures usually adding another challenge to tyre management.

With this weekend featuring a sprint format, drivers and teams had only a single one-hour practice session to fine-tune their cars before parc ferme conditions kicked in in Friday’s qualifying session. Most of the drivers concentrated on setup work in the sole practice on Friday with only Red Bull sacrificing the last part of their session for a run on heavy fuel load.

Saturday’s practice session then provided teams with the opportunity of completing long runs on different fuel loads, but they were unable to make any significant changes but adjustments to the front wing. However, the long runs clearly showed that the red-walled soft compound provided better grip and good durability for the 24-lap sprint dash.

In contrast, the medium compound did not hold on longer with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc even indicating that the C3 compound produced higher degradation than the C4 rubber. Despite the indications, reigning world champion Max Verstappen chose the yellow-walled compound for the Brazil F1 Sprint which turned out to be the wrong choice.

The experiences from the sprint dash indicates that the soft compound could become the preferred tyre for teams. However, things might take another turn today with temperatures rising significantly higher than yesterday.

While the Sprint took place in sunny conditions with ambient temperatures between 22 and 23 degrees centigrade and track temperatures between 31 and 34 degrees, ambient temperatures could reach 29 degrees centigrade today. With the grand prix taking place one and half an hour earlier than the Sprint, it could also lead to higher track surface temperatures.

As far as the history is concerned, at last year’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix, the drivers on the podium all stopped twice. Lewis Hamilton, the winner, finished the race on P Zero White hard ahead of Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas on the same compound.

Pirelli thinks that both the two-stop and the one-stop are valid options for today’s 71-lap race. However, the two-stopper seems to be the quicker variation. There are two different two-stop strategies on the table.

One is to start on the soft tyre before two medium stints to the end. An alternative is to start on soft before going onto medium and then finishing the race on soft again.

For those looking to a one-stopper, the choice is to start on medium or soft before switching to the hard for a longer final stint. Those two options are also very close but starting on the soft is perhaps better in order to take advantage of its performance in the early stages of the race.

Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Mario Isola commented: “It was an action-packed Sprint, especially with all the overtaking that took place throughout the race. The excellent performance of the P Zero Red soft in free practice prompted the teams to select this compound for today’s race, with a total of 18 cars choosing the soft, which showed plenty of pace here in Brazil.

„The battle between Max Verstappen and George Russell, on different compounds, was one of the highlights. Today’s short race means that it wasn’t possible to evaluate the performance of the medium tyre, which nonetheless seems very close to the soft. As a result, there’s a wide variety of strategies possible for tomorrow, which should lead to a great show.”