Despite the expectations, the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix saw drivers complete the race distance of 57 laps at the Yas Marina Circuit with a wide range of different strategies. F1Technical's Balázs Szabó analyses the strategies from the Abu Dhabi F1 race.
Max Verstappen produced the best possible finish to what was the best season of any driver in the history of Formula 1. The Dutchman took his 19th win from 22 races, bringing the triple world champion’s total number of victories to 54, which puts him alone in third place on the all-time winners list. Verstappen is also the only driver to have covered more than one thousand laps, 1003 to be precise, in a single season and this year, he is the only driver to have completed every lap of all 22 Grands Prix.
Pirelli's Motorsport Director Mario Isola commented: "The race was an accurate reflection of the season as a whole, with Max Verstappen totally dominant, while behind him a close battle raged for every place, with the hierarchy changing, sometimes significantly, from race to race.
Ahead of the 57-lap Abu Dhabi F1 race, Formula One’s sole tyre supplier Pirelli predicted that the majority of the field would opt for a single-stop strategy based on a limited number of long runs on Friday.
However, the Formula 2 Feature Race that usually shows signs of the tyre wear and degradation that a F1 car might produce indicated on Sunday that a two-stopper could come into play in the season-closing F1 race. Indeed, the opening stages of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix indicated that tyre wear might play a greater role than what had been predicted before the race.
The majority of drivers opted to start on the Medium tyre for the first stint, with only Carlos Sainz, Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll, all starting from a long way back, going with the Hard.
Kevin Magnussen and Daniel Ricciardo made an early pit stop, but both decisions were motivated by an external factor. The Dane pitted early for new tyres due to a puncture while the Australian came in after a suspected tear-off had got stuck in the brake duct.
Most of the drivers boxed between 12 and 17, changing from the mediums to hards with the second tyre change having been performed between Lap 31 and 43. Of the drivers performing a two-stop strategy, most of the drivers opted for the medium-hard-hard allocation.
The only exception was Lance Stroll who started the race on the hard compound, and boxed for the same compound on Lap 22 before ending the race with a 15-lap stint on the yellow-banded medium rubber.
Interestingly, both the Canadian and his team-mate Fernando Alonso used two scrubbed sets of hards as Aston Martin felt that the C3 compound would perform better in the initial stages of the stint if it had already covered a single installation lap in practice.
In the end, only three drivers, Valtteri Bottas, Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda, got to the chequered flag having made just a single stop. The Finn ran two very equal length stints, while the Japanese drivers stopped on lap 22, before putting in no fewer than 36 laps on a set of Hards and the Frenchman brought his first stop forward to lap 15, which meant he went for 43 laps on the C3.
“As was generally forecast, the C3 compound was far and away the most popular, while the C5 was only used by Sainz for one lap, which he didn’t even complete, at the very end of the race,” Isola continued.
“The difference between the one-stop and two-stop strategies was very small in our pre-race simulations, but in the end, almost everyone opted for the two-stop, mainly for tactical reasons given that degradation was relatively low. In fact, on a track where the undercut is always very effective, it’s clear that when a driver started the run of pit stops, any other drivers battling with them had to do the same to avoid being passed by anyone exploiting new tyres and a clear track ahead.
“This was seen not only amongst the leaders, but also in those further back, while a few drivers tried to go for something different, some going for a one-stop (Ocon, Tsunoda and Bottas), some, like Sainz, hoping for a Safety Car, others going for a longer second stint, trying to make the most of the difference in grip levels between new and used tyres in the closing stages, in particular Perez and Stroll. Verstappen, from his position of superiority, reacted to the moves of his closest rivals in the first stint and then waited for them to pit again, before making his second stop in perfect safety.
“Graining was a factor especially for those who spent a lot of time in traffic, but was far less significant for drivers who were able to run in clean air and this applied to both the Medium and Hard.”
Ferrari opted for an ambitious strategy for Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard failed to progress into the second qualifying session on Saturday, and started the race from P16 on the grid. The Scuderia let the Madrid-born driver start on the hard compound. Although he made up two places at the start, he found it hard to keep up with Lance Stroll, who was on the same compound in front if him, in the initial stages of the race.
The Scuderia made a crucial mistake with Sainz as they let the Spaniard out on track on worn tyres. But more crucially, the two-time F1 race winner was overtaken by Verstappen, Leclerc and Russell, the drivers, who had already made their pit stop, and were on much fresher tyres. As a result of it, Sainz lost valuable time on those laps. He was overtaken into Turn 6, and could use DRS on the run to Turn 9, but he lost a huge amount of time in Sector 3 where he was hindered by turbulent air.
Despite having lost valuable time during the overtaking manoeuvres, Ferrari could have saved Sainz’s strategy, but they left the Spaniard out on track on heavily worn tyres in a race in which the two-stop strategy was clearly the faster approach. Sainz was told by his race engineer Riccardo Adami on team radio that he needed to stay out on the track in the hope of a possible safety car intervention. However, the race ended without any incident, the Spaniard needed to box for a fresh set of softs on Lap 56 to fulfil the requirement of running two different compounds in the race.