Analysis: strategy review after the Australian Grand Prix

By on

The Australian Grand Prix saw teams struggle from tyre graining on long runs with Ferrari and McLaren having surprisingly mastered the unusual challenges the best. F1Technical's Balázs Szabó delivers his strategy analysis after the Melbourne round.

The opening two rounds of the 2024 F1 season, the Bahrain and the Saudi Arabian Grands Prix saw Pirelli bring four compounds from the harder end of its tyre range. By contrast, Round 3 of the season saw the softest compound make its debut in 2024. It meant that drivers had the C5 compound at their disposal alongside the C4 and C3 compounds that will be used at almost every round this season.

Last weekend's tyre choice was a softer selection compared to last year, when the C2, C3, and C4 were chosen, but it’s not the first time that the softest compound has been seen in Melbourne. Back in 2022, Pirelli brought the C5 to Albert Park as the soft nomination (when it was paired with C3 as medium and C2 as hard, leaving out the C4).

Pirelli indicated that "the decision to go with a softer selection was taken after analysing last year’s race, which centred around the C2 with 10 drivers using it for 47 of the 58 laps, and three drivers running it for more than 50 laps."

Two-stop strategy as favourite

All three compounds chosen by Pirelli for this Grand Prix were in use on the starting grid: 14 drivers went for the Medium, three (Hamilton, Ricciardo and Zhou) opted for the Soft and two (Alonso and Hulkenberg) the Hard. As predicted the most popular strategy was the two-stop, running Medium-Hard-Hard. Ocon was the only driver to make three stops but that was forced on him by the need to make a very early first pit stop to remove a visor tear-off from a brake duct.

Among the top ten, the Mercedes team elected to call in its drivers, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell early which caused a massive domino effect. To protect their positions from Russell, McLaren and Ferrari called in Oscar Piastri and Charles Leclerc respectively a lap later. By contrast, Lando Norris and Sergio Perez stayed out for five more laps, working towards an offset strategy which usually puts the driver behind in a favourable position by giving him an advantage to catch up to the driver ahead.

With Carlos Sainz having managed his tyres during his opening stint brilliantly, the Spaniard was able to extend his first stint, building up a strategic advantage for the rest of the races. It is no surprise that Sainz was the last one from the top drivers to complete his second stint as his offset strategy allowed him to monitor his rivals, pit after them to have the freshest tyres for the closing stages of the race.

Interestingly, the Aston Martin team continued its tradition of scrubbing in the hard tyres which meant that Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll did not have any new sets for the 58-lap Melbourne race. The Silverstone-based outfit is reported to follow this practice to put a heat cycle in the tyres so they don't overheat in the race.

Pirelli's Director of Motorsport Mario Isola commented: "As for the race, it showed that our decision to bring a trio of softer compounds here compared to last year was the right one. Today’s race was busier compared to recent years, with tyre management making the difference.

"For example, one of the keys to Sainz’s success was the ability to lengthen the first stint on the Mediums, which then gave him the edge over his closest pursuers, as the two sets of Hards he used in the second and third stints were fresher. Carlos was able to drive a good part of his first stint with a clear track ahead of him, while his team-mate for example was in traffic, sandwiched between the two McLarens. All the same, Leclerc managed to overtake Norris precisely because he had stopped first and was able to better exploit the performance of new Hard tyres in the opening laps of his second stint."

Performance of the three compounds

After making the briefest of appearances in FP3, only for scrubbing-in purposes, the C3 was the most popular choice, used for almost 80% of the race distance by the 19 drivers on track with this compound. Graining continued to be an important factor and, as expected, this phenomenon did not diminish even though it was much hotter than in previous days and on a track that got increasingly rubbered-in. Significant graining was also evident on the Hard which was never used on the first two days, but nevertheless it was manageable.

"In general, graining was the leitmotif of the weekend, but it was not problematic in terms of tyre performance and in the end, those who did the better job of managing them had the upper hand," Isola said.

In terms of stint length, George Russell’s second stint ran to 37 laps on the C3 which became the longest stint on the Hard compound. The best lap was registered by Leclerc who posted a 1m19.813s, scoring the additional point for the quickest race lap.

Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso completed the longest stint on the yellow-banded rubber with a 24-lap run. Carlos Sainz posted the quickest lap with a 1m21.715s on Lap 10 which turned out to be the quickest C4 lap.

The soft compound was hardly used during the Australian Grand Prix, but three drivers - Lewis Hamilton, Zhou Guanyu and Daniel Ricciardo - elected to start on the C5 tyre. The Australian ran to 5 laps, the Chinese to 6 laps and the Briton performed a seven-lap stint on the red-banded tyres. The seven-time world champion posted the quickest lap on the C5 with a time of 1m23.070s.