2019 Abu Dhabi GP: Strategy preview

The end of the 2019 Formula One season is just in a few days. Let’s take a look at the available strategies for the teams for the final race of the season, the 2019 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The tires

The selected tire compounds for this year’s race are the C3, C4, and C5. The tires are basically the same as last year’s, with the exception of the C3 compound. This year, there is no real equivalent to the supersoft tire from 2018, with the C3 compound being a mix of a supersoft and a soft tire.

2018 Abu Dhabi GP

Last year’s softest compound, the hypersoft, lasted for an average of only 12 laps during the first stint. The pink-striped tires were made of paper, and their performance was limited to a handful of laps. The maximum number of laps done with this tire throughout the race was 18, done by Esteban Ocon.

The ultrasoft tires from last year were versatile. Some drivers were able to push hard at the beginning of the race, while others managed to make the tires last until laps 25 onwards. The average duration for these tires was of 20 laps, with Carlos Sainz managing an impressive 37 laps with a new set of this compound.

The supersoft tires were very the most popular throughout the race last year. For a first stint, they were very durable, lasting on average 36 laps. Both Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen were able to make this tire go at least 40 laps during the race.

Tire allocation

Most teams went hard on the C5 tires, but we see many drivers selecting 3 or more C4 medium sets this year. The white hard tires are potentially good race tires, encouraging teams to select at least 2 sets of them.

The strategy

General strategy

The Yas Marina Circuit is famous for its difficult overtaking characteristics. Expect most teams to attempt a 1-stop strategy unless a safety car is deployed.

Optimal strategy

The optimal strategy involves avoiding the soft compound entirely. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? The reality is that the C5 compound may be too soft to make it work throughout the race. Starting the race with the medium tires and switching to the hard tires between laps 18 to 23 seems to be the best option for the drivers.

The average second stint duration for the supersoft tires (equivalent to this year’s hard tires), was 36 laps. Both Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc managed a successful 48-lap stint with the C3-equivalent compound, while Romain Grosjean completed a 47-lap stint with them.

For teams going long

A hard-soft strategy may be popular with most midfield drivers. Taking the tires until lap 40 would perhaps allow some teams to take risks and put on a new set of soft C5 tires at the end of the race.

Last year, however, no team attempted this strategy. While it is perhaps riskier than a traditional hard-medium strategy, teams like Toro Rosso may attempt to go all-in if they find themselves in a position to challenge Renault.

For most drivers in Q3

Starting with the softest available compound forces you into attempting a long one-stop strategy—soft to hard—which is a sub-optimal strategy.

Doing over 40 laps with the hard tires is certainly possible, but may leave drivers vulnerable to attacks by the end of the race. An early undercut attempt by any of the big 3 teams may force top drivers to attempt this strategy.

2-stop strategy

A single driver completed a 2-stop strategy last year, Valtteri Bottas. Unless a safety car is deployed, expect most teams to avoid this strategy.

Final remarks

The Yas Marina Circuit is one of the worst tracks of the season, especially when it comes to overtaking opportunities. Most of the teams will attempt a 1-stop conservative strategy to retain track position, rather than attempting risky attacks. Still, with much to play for teams like Toro Rosso, we may get some surprises on Sunday.

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