After an exciting sprint on Saturday, there’s an all-Mercedes front row and the prospect of more exciting racing on Sunday at a track that always seems to offer drama. So here are some of the different strategic options available to teams in Sao Paulo.
What’s the fastest strategy?
We have what is perhaps the perfect Pirelli scenario at Interlagos, where all three tire compounds are strong options for use during the race, giving teams a variety of strategies.
READ MORE: Russell beats Verstappen in sprint thriller to secure P1 grid spot for Sao Paulo GP
Based on what the sprint has shown, a two-stop strategy is fastest on paper, with the majority of teams again likely to favor the soft tire for the first stint. That’s because it performs well right away, but can also last a long time as almost the entire field – except for Max Verstappen and Nicholas Latifi (and Fernando Alonso, who required a pit stop due to damage) – completed the 24-lap sprint a graduated set of softs.
A first stint between 18 and 25 laps would then be followed by a switch to medium, opening up two different options.
Assuming the medium tire works well (and the weather could affect that – more on that later), two stints on the mediums with a wide pit window for the second stop are likely to be preferred. In this scenario, the second stop could come as early as lap 40/41 and still be relatively comfortable to wear.
READ MORE: Who won and lost the most positions in the Sao Paulo Sprint?
However, if the medium is a little less competitive – as Verstappen’s struggles on Saturday may have suggested – then a return to soft for the final stint is a similarly strong option given the performance shown in the sprint. Drivers would need to reach at least lap 45 to do this, but the first two stints will provide them with the data from each compound to make such a choice.
The only three drivers not given the latter option are Sergio Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll, all of whom only have one set of softs for the race. Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, Yuki Tsunoda and Latifi all have two new sets of softs for such a strategy, compared to a maximum of one new or all used for the rest.
How about another option for the top 10?
Pirelli expects the Medium to be a consistent race tire and believes Verstappen’s problems stemmed from handling issues before damaging his front wing, which combined to cloud just how good it could be. But with those seeds of doubt in the strategists’ minds, starting on the soft side might win out.
And that even means another option where drivers aim for a one-stop race. The Soft has shown himself capable of completing more than 24 laps at a good pace – albeit on less fuel than when the Grand Prix started – and trying to get that first stint as close to lap 28 as possible lengthening would then open up the potential to mount the hard tire and go to the end.
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The hard is estimated to be around 0.7s per lap slower than the medium at Interlagos, but in race trim when management is involved this gap tends to narrow by around 50% to ensure it isn’t under too great a speed deficit suffers but offers longer tire life.
For those not unduly affected by Verstappen’s performance, a similar one-stop option is available where the first stint would be on the middle link. While this might mean a few tricky opening laps against the soft tire runners, it offers a wider pit window from lap 22-35 to make a hard tire stop.
What are the options for the lower half of the field?
After a dramatic sprint race, a number of cars went out of position, including two Alpine drivers, Esteban Ocon and Alonso. The pair met twice and suffered damage to both cars, forcing Alonso to pit. However, he was quick when he surfaced, showing Alpine has the pace to recover.
Overtaking is possible at Interlagos and the Alpine is a fast car in a straight line so they may prefer one of the more traditional strategies above, assisting their drivers to get through the field at raw speed. However, as the hard value is probably within 0.4 seconds of the mean value in terms of lap time delta in race trim, a reverse one-stop strategy could also be considered.
READ MORE: Alonso handed 5-second penalty for clashing with teammate Ocon in Sao Paulo Sprint
The key to that would be a clean start to the race with no safety car giving other drivers the opportunity to pit and lose less time in the first third. After that, track position could be gained by running long and the hard tires will likely last long enough to be able to switch to the soft tires on Lap 45 before an attacking final stint.
Starting on the hard and running on the media is also possible if an earlier stop is required to get rid of the hards.
Wait, but how’s the weather?
This is rarely a brief stretch of this anomaly when it comes to Interlagos and this weekend’s race is no different. Extremely difficult conditions prevailed on Friday as a warm FP1 gave way to drizzle and rain during qualifying, causing the track to go from wet enough for intermediates, dry enough for slicks and then wet enough for Inters again.
A chance of rain at a similar time on Saturday diminished overnight and in the end the sprint took place in warm and sunny conditions, but at 16:30 local time temperatures were a bit lower than we were likely to get for the race.
HIGHLIGHTS: Watch Russell take P1 and Verstappen find himself in trouble in a dazzling sprint from Sao Paulo
Whilst the Grand Prix itself can see showers such as those that affected qualifying, the risk of rain has decreased and at 20% is more likely to be a race in bright sunshine with temperatures hovering in the 30C range . That’s a lot higher than Saturday and the sun is significant because it also increases track temperatures, which can affect tire performance.
The medium tire is expected to be a cheaper tire than the soft if the hotter race prognosis proves true, as the soft tire is expected to suffer a higher degree of heavy fuel wear in the early part of the race.