2019 Singapore GP preview: undertake or overtake?

The Marina Bay Circuit at Singapore is famous for its notoriety to overtake. What is the best strategy here, to go for the undertake, or the overtake? Let’s take a look at last year’s race to understand which option may be the best for the top drivers.

The race

Notes

The vertical lines represent pit stop laps. For Vettel, this was lap 14. For Hamilton, lap 15. For Verstappen, lap 17.

Analysis

Lewis Hamilton won the 2018 Singapore GP pretty much from start to end. Max Verstappen started in 2nd place, but lost the position during the first lap, allowing Sebastian Vettel to get the valuable second spot. These positions were kept until lap 14, when Seb stopped for new tires. This is when everything changed for the Scuderia.

Sebastian went for an aggressive undercut, putting on the medium compound (called ultra soft at the time). The idea was to be fast enough so that Lewis would come behind Seb after his pit stop. In reality, this idea backfired completely. Sebastian came out behind Checo Pérez, and lost valuable time not only against Lewis, but also against Verstappen.

Vettel had 3 slow laps, from lap 14 until lap 16. The first 2 ones are to be expected, since entering and leaving the pits is slower than continuing racing around the track. The third one however, should not have happened. The 1:49.336 time posted on lap 16 was caused by exiting the pits behind Checo.

Compare Vettel’s line to Hamilton’s and Verstappen’s. Both of them did 2 slow laps, as expected, and then continued with the usual race pace.

Delta to leader

Notes

The chart represents the delta for each driver to the leader of the race. In this case, Hamilton had a delta of 0 for most of the race, and was only behind Verstappen for 3 laps.

Analysis

The end result for Seb? He lost the second place that he obtained at the beginning of the race due to a poor strategical decision. It was a double whammy when you see the delta between him and the leader by the end of the race.

After lap 48, Seb had nothing to fight for anymore. The medium tires just ran out of rubber, and Vettel lost 20 seconds against Hamilton during the last  13 laps of the race.

Max went with a more moderate strategy, stopping later than both Vettel and Hamilton. The overcut did not work for him against Lewis either, since he was unable to take first position, but it was enough to grab the second position from Vettel.

The take?

The undercut at Singapore is dangerous.A successful undercut attempt is possible, but the team must be 100% sure that they won’t be stuck behind a slower driver after coming out of the pits.

The second consideration must be the lifespan of the tires. Vettel tried an aggressive undercut with the medium tires, which just had no way to survive until the end of the race. We must assume that they were hoping that either (1) Hamilton would not have enough to overtake Seb by the end of the race, or (2), that a safety car would be coming out during the last 15 laps.

My take here would be that the safe strategy is to go for a one stop race, starting with the soft compound, and stopping for the hard tires in order to avoid problems by the end of the race.

Ferrari

Both Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel have a new set of the medium tires.

If you are Charles Leclerc, then it is all about positioning. If Charles retains first place during the first few laps, and has enough space to stop early for tires and prevent Mercedes from trying the dangerous undercut, then he should be stopping  during the first 10-15 laps at most. A soft – hard strategy would be optimal in this scenario. 

For Vettel, the strategy may be more complicated. If Vettel is unable to gain positions at the start, he may have to go for another dangerous undertake. Once again, he would need enough space to avoid a repeat of last year’s race. Going for the hard compound, he should have enough rubber for the end, but it is difficult to see if they are fast enough to execute the undertake. If he goes for the medium compound, he may need a safety car in order to hold on to the position.

Mercedes

Mercedes has no new medium tires available. This limits the strategies that Mercedes can execute during the race.

Lewis Hamilton showed great race pace with the soft compound. Mercedes has also been kinder to the tires than Ferrari, so the strategy will depend on a few factors.

If Mercedes feels like Lewis has enough pace in the tank to go for the overtake, then stopping one or even two laps later than the race leader. This would be what I would consider plan A for Mercedes tomorrow.

Mercedes could try going for the undertake and stopping for the used medium tires, but this is highly unlikely. The medium set was used for Q1, and those tires already had some life taken out of them. The only way I see them going for the medium set is if a safety car comes out between laps 25-30.

For Bottas, if he is below 3rd place and a safety car appears after lap 30, he could try to stop for the soft tires, and try to challenge for positions by the end of the race.

Red Bull

Max will be starting in 4th place, while Albon will start in 6th place. Both drivers have a new set of medium tires available.

For Max, it will be all about trying to overtake at the beginning of the race. If he is able to get a position or two, he could try to go for the overtake, stopping for the hard compound. If not, he has nothing to lose by going for either (1) an early undertake, or (2), a long stint with the soft tires and hoping for a medium to late safety car.

It is important to note that Max showed great pace with the hard tires during FP2, so a soft – hard undertake is not out of the question.

For Alex, it will all depend on his race pace. He did not have the race pace of Max, and will be starting the race fighting for position with midfield cars. If he is able to keep Carlos Sainz and company behind, a soft – hard strategy will be the preferred plan for Red Bull. Last year, Daniel Ricciardo did 27 laps with the soft compound, so perhaps a late stop is in the cards for the young rookie.

Final remarks

Singapore is one of the hardest tracks to overtake, so strategy plays a bigger role there than it does on some other tracks.

The threat of a safety car is always present, especially in Marina Bay. Do not rule out some dangerous long stints for drivers that are not placed in optimal position after the first laps.

This was a bit of a rushed analysis, but I wanted to post a preview-like analysis before the race. Let me know if you think this was a good idea and if you want to see something like this for the next race. If you do, I will work on polishing the final result, I promise you that.

I hope that you have enjoyed this article. If you did, please share it with your friends and let me know what you think in the comments below.

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