Formula One's tyre supplier Pirelli expects the one-stop strategy to turn out to be the fastest way to cover the race distance at today's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but a two-stop strategy might also come into play.
Abu Dhabi is set to host its 15th F1 race today, all of which have taken place at the modern, spectacular Yas Marina Circuit. The 5.281km track consists of 16 corners as well as some faster sections, including a 1.2-kilometre straight between turns 5 and 6. The track modifications that took place in 2021 shortened the lap to 5.28 kilometres, and has made the course more flowing.
Speaking of the challenges of the Yas Marina Circuit, Pirelli's Head of Motorsport Mario Isola said: "The track was modified in 2021 to make it faster and more flowing, which also created extra overtaking opportunities, as we saw over the last two races there. Yas Marina is on the lower end of the scale when it comes to tyre demands, despite the vertical loads on the front axle in particular."
For the last race of the season, the nominated compounds are C3 as P Zero White hard, C4 as P Zero Yellow medium and C5 as P Zero Red soft, with Isola noting that "this is the same choice as last year, and also an identical selection to that seen at Las Vegas last weekend: confirmation of the versatility of the current compounds."
With the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix presenting an average stress to the tyres in terms of lateral and longitudinal loads, Pirelli have mandated relatively low minimum starting pressures. The front tyres must run at 22.0 psi while the minimum starting pressures for the rear tyres are 20 psi.
As for the strategy, the past indicates that drivers will opt for a one-stop approach to today's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Nearly all the drivers started last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on medium tyres. The top three finishers – in order, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Sergio Perez – all stopped just once to put on the hard tyre, between laps 16 and 21.
The Milan-based tyre supplier expects that drivers will complete the season-closing race in Abu Dhabi with a single-stop strategy. It would see drivers chose the yellow-banded medium compound for the start of the race. The C4 compound has shown relatively good degradation throughout short high-fuel rund completed in the second practice, and they offer more grip off the line.
The period between Laps 20 and 26 would see drivers come into the pits for their solo tyre change with this stop seeing them take the durable hard compound.
A two-stopper is a strategy that can come into force when there is a safety car or virtual safety car interruption during the race. The pit stop time drops from 22s to 15s when pitting for new tyres during a SC or VSC period which could be a motivation for drivers to decide to perform a second pit stop.
Moreover, the track changes from 2021 have made the Yas Marina Circuit more flowing and faster which means that drivers cannot defend their positions in a way that is possible in Singapore or it used to be in Abu Dhabi before the tweaks to the layout. These changes now mean that a driver with a disadvantage in terms of tyre life can run drop down the field, so teams cannot entirely prioritise track position in case of a SC or VSC period.
Should someone opt for a two-stop strategy due to the tyre degradation or SC/VSC intervention, the best way would be to start the race on the medium compound and pit for a new set of hards between Lap 12 and 18. The timing of the next stop would be between Lap 33 and 39, and this second change would see drivers take another new fresh set of hards.
Pirelli does not expect the soft compound to come into play today as it has shown relatively high degradation across the practice sessions. However, a very late safety car intervention and the change in climatic conditions could prompt some drivers to take risks for the grip advantage that soft tyres offer at the beginning of the stint. While air temperature will stay relatively high - high-20s (in terms of Celsius) - throughout the race, track temperature will drop considerably though as the sun sets and the floodlights take effect after dark.
"Looking ahead to tomorrow’s race," Isola continued, "the decision taken by almost all the teams to save two sets of Hard tyres, demonstrates that the C3 is the favoured compound. On paper, a one-stop is quickest, with the Medium for the first stint before switching to the aforementioned Hard.
"A two-stop race, with the sequence C4/C3/C3, is not that far off in terms of overall race time and could become a valid option especially if there is a neutralisation in the second part of the race. It’s hard to see the C5 coming into play, unless someone wants to gamble in the final stages on exploiting the Soft’s grip advantage over a used Hard, with a lighter car.”