STRATEGIC GUIDE: What are the possible race strategies for the 2022 Japanese Grand Prix?

The iconic Suzuka Circuit has delivered exciting races over the years and we have all the ingredients for another classic this weekend after limited dry weather and mixed race forecasts. So before the action begins, let’s take a look at some of the different options available to teams for the race in Japan…

What is the fastest strategy?

Unlike last week in Singapore, where the fastest strategy was evident before the race, this weekend the situation is much less certain before lights out due to the weather observed so far. Friday’s race was completely wet and not a single lap was completed on slicks.

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This limited the teams’ ability to perform dry race simulations as they usually would in FP2, and instead had to cram all their learning on all three compounds into the final practice session on Saturday.

Signs of this are that the quickest strategy is to double-stop due to the higher levels of breakdown seen so far this weekend, with softer compounds being the preferred option.

Starting on the soft, a first stint of over 15 laps would then open a pit window to switch to mediums, but the stint lengths will need to stay relatively similar to avoid wasting too much time as the tires degrade, and also to avoid being undercut.

This means that a second stop could take place as early as the 31st lap and let the drivers try to complete a final stint of more than 20 laps.

How about a different option for the top 10?

The two stops appear to be the fastest strategy as the levels of degradation seen so far have been higher than expected by Pirelli, but this can partly be attributed to the fact that the first dry run was on Saturday in FP3 and so the track had little time to sink. As the track gains more grip, the degradation may improve and this could push some teams more towards a one-stop strategy.

Suzuka has traditionally been a difficult track to overtake, but newer cars could play a part in making that easier and the two stops more appealing. If that still proves difficult, then starting on the soft and extending the first stint to a window between lap 18 and lap 25 would mean it’s possible to switch to hard tires and race to the end of the lap. race.

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This strategy would require some pace management, and also comes with some unknowns as the teams haven’t been able to do a huge amount of long runs on the hard tire during FP3. But the signs are that the hard tire will perform consistently and be a better option if the weather improves from forecast and sees warmer temperatures.

A more conservative option on that front would be to do a single stop starting in the mids, but that would give up some performance in the first pass to anyone on the softs, even if it means being able to run a few . longer laps.

Tire degradation JAPAN.jpg

What are the options for the bottom half of the field?

Starting with soft tires seems to be the way to go for the majority of teams, regardless of their grid position, with two other possible variations of the two-stop strategy. The first would follow the one-stop approach in many respects, until an earlier pit window of laps 13-19 before switching to hard tyres.

If the first stint has been extended long enough, it might be possible to go all the way, but if the degradation turns out to be too high and overruns are possible, a smooth return for the last stint is always a way quick to reach destination.

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This is a strategy available to all drivers, but there is another that also has potential, but depends on the availability of tires. After a pit window similar to the fastest soft-medium-soft strategy listed above, teams may consider using another set of mediums for the final stint.

This would provide a bit more flexibility in terms of pit windows and allow drivers to push a bit harder, and with all strategies planned within five seconds of each other there isn’t much option slower. But only Ferrari, Mercedes and Williams have the option of doing two stints on the mediums, with both Mercedes drivers having one set new and one set used rather than two new ones after completing their first Q1 runs on this compound.

Tires available for Race JAPAN.jpg

Wait, what’s the weather like?

Now, for the second week in a row, this is where things get very interesting. The forecast calls for rain on Sunday afternoon – but the big unknown is when.

Unlike Singapore, where a heavy downpour cleared and after a delayed start the track was slowly drying as the race progressed, there is a good chance that rain will hit Suzuka around 2:00 p.m. local time and that only increases as the race progresses. So if the race starts in the dry, chances are it will end in the wet.

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Teams will factor this into their strategic calculations, and this is one of the reasons why soft would be preferred as it is the best slick tire to use when it starts to rain as it offers the most grip.

But if it’s not raining at the start of the race, the ideal strategy will allow a driver to run as long as it takes before the rain falls, making a pit stop to move on to the intermediates rather than have already changed slick tires once.

Pit lane loss time JAPAN.jpg

This would suggest that the hard compound could be seen initially, but if it’s raining in the air, it’s likely to be overcast and cooler than ideal for hard, meaning a lot of weather at the lap would be lost in the dry part of the race. and the tires would be even more difficult once the rain started to fall.

We haven’t been able to see the crossover point in testing so far this weekend, but the forecast is for it to be around 1m39s or 1m40s to force riders into intermediates (or back into slicks on a dry track).

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Potentially equally important would be the change from intermediate to completely wet if the rain becomes very heavy, which is calculated in the region of 1m48s.

In the event of rain, this will likely increase the possibility of a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car, in which case more pit stops will be seen as time lost in the pits will drop from just over 22 seconds to 10 seconds.

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