Strategy guide for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix

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

Yesterday's 24-lap Sao Paulo F1 Sprint indicated that tyre degradation will be a major factor in today's F1 race at the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace. F1Technical's senior writer Balázs Szabó takes a look at what is possible today regarding race strategies.

As far as the tyre selection is concerned, teams have a trio of slightly harder compounds at Sao Paulo compared to the range that was available in Mexico City just a few days ago as Pirelli chose the C2 compound as P Zero White hard, C3 as P Zero Yellow medium, and C4 as P Zero Red soft.

The undulating Jose Carlos Pace circuit - or Interlagos as we tend to call it - is compact, at only 4.3km, and features a sequence of long-radius medium- and high-speed corners, meaning that tyres are subjected to enormous stress. Strong straight-line speed is also vital due to the lengthy full-throttle section into the Senna S, a complex through which drivers plunge, which is named after the Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna.

As a result of this extremely long full-throttle, curved section where tyres can recover from the stress generated by the long-radius corners of the middle sector, the overall tyre stress is medium according to Pirelli with both the lateral and longitudinal forces considered average. That is why weather conditions play an enormous role in tyre behaviour, as higher temperatures significantly increase tyre degradation and wear, more than at many other venues.

The minimum starting pressures have been set at 23.0 psi for the front tyres and 21.0 psi for the tyre tyres. Teams have been limited to camber limits of -3.25° for the front and -2.00° for the rear tyres.

What does the data suggest

Following yesterday's Sprint race, teams and drivers have some vital data to build on which can help them to define the strategy options that are the best suited for the starting position, setup, downforce levels, and degradation of their cars.

Weather usually plays a vital role in the way cars and tyres operate, and it is even more the case in Sao Paulo where a slight increase or drop of temperatures can lead to substantial changes and can even have an impact on the pecking order.

Following Friday's qualifying when heavy winds and torrential rain caused the session to be cut short, yesterday's Sprint Shootout and the Sprint Race took place in warm conditions, leading to massive degradation. While there is only a slight chance of rain for Sunday, the forecast for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix is for much cooler weather.

It can help teams that have had issues with tyre management yesterday, particularly Haas and Mercedes. The American team elected to start the sprint race on the more durable medium compound as they have been struggling with extremely high tyre wear all across the season, but even so both Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg ran out of tyre in the closing stages of the 24-lap Sprint.

Mercedes who have been excellent in tyre management in 2023 endured a very difficult 100km dash yesterday as both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell encountered high tyre wear with the seven-time world champion suffering from extreme degradation on the rear tyres.

Another factor that can influence strategies is possible race interruptions. While a pit stop under normal green flag conditions takes around 21 seconds, it is reduced to just 12 seconds during safety car or virtual safety car periods. Based on recent races in Sao Paulo, the chance for a safety car interruption is set at 70 per cent while the chance for a virtual safety car period is set at 40 per cent.

Two-stop strategy

And coming to the most vital thing: Pirelli - unsurprisingly - expects that the two-stop strategy will be the fastest approach to today's 71-lap Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

The fastest strategy could be to start on the soft compound and complete a 17-22-lap stint before switching to the mediums. The last stop would see drivers pit for softs again and complete a final stint of approximately 20 laps on the C4 compound. This strategy could be particularly good for drivers who have at least two new sets of softs available – Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas, Logan Sargeant and Zhou Guanyu.

Another possible two-stop strategy would see drivers perform two opening stints on the yellow-walled medium tyres with the second stint slightly longer than the opening one before completing the race distance on the soft compound.

This strategy appears to be the most viable for drivers who have a fresh set of soft and two new sets of mediums – Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg, Esteban Ocon, Pierre Gasly, Kevin Magnussen, Alexander Albon.

Based on the data gathered this weekend, a three-stop strategy is also viable. It would involve three stints on the softs and one on the medium – this could be possible in different permutations. Last year saw the Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc complete the Sao Paulo Grand Prix with a three-stop and considering that they finished the race in P3 and P4 respectively, it would be not surprising if someone chases a three-stop approach.

A one-stop strategy is also possible with an opening stint on the medium and a second stint on the hard. However, it would involve a high degree of tyre management or a safety car period that would come in at the right moment for the drivers who attempt a one-stop strategy.