Now that we've consigned 2009 to history, it's time to consider the Formula 1 we are likely to have in 2010, in particular the shape of the races under the new no-refuelling regulations. These rules will give us a fundamentally different strategic battle to what we've become familiar with over the last decade and a half.
Although we're still awaiting final confirmation, it's likely that a minimum of two tyre changes will be stipulated. But because there will be no refuelling, the car rejoining the race after a stop will be quicker - courtesy of its fresh, pre-warmed tyres - than before the stop. It will no longer be slowed by an increased fuel load.
The implication of this is that it will now be advantageous to pit before the guy you're racing against as soon as you're anywhere near your pitstop window.
Previously, with two closely-racing rivals, it was the driver pitting later who was at the strategic advantage, because he'd be banging in the low-fuel laps as his rival was weighed down by his newly-heavy car. The advantage of the lower fuel weight was almost always greater than that of the new tyres on the other car. Now both cars will weigh the same as each other - give or take a small variation in fuel consumption - throughout their battle and so the tyres become the only significant difference.
It's a different challenge for the strategists. Theoretically, the fastest way to complete the race distance, assuming you are unimpeded by any other cars, would be three equidistant stints. But try to do that with a rival right behind you and you'll be mugged at the first stops as he pits earlier than you to leapfrog ahead. So you have to try to anticipate that and pit as early as possible - within reason. But there will be a price to pay later.
Picture a 60-lap race. The theoretically-ideal strategy is three stints of 20 laps each. Now picture Michael Schumacher racing Lewis Hamilton for the lead, with the Mercedes in front, the McLaren tracking its every move. Ross Brawn brings Michael in first at, say, 14 laps, six earlier than the equidistant stint length. McLaren decides to keep Lewis out for the optimum stint duration, the full 20 laps.
The six-lap new-tyre boost should have increased Michael's lead significantly. But as the middle stint grinds on, Michael's tyres should be in worse shape than the fresher ones on Hamilton's car, and Lewis should be gaining on him. To defend against this, Ross again brings Michael in early - after 16 laps. McLaren again keeps Lewis out for the full duration. Again Michael's lead is increased and again Lewis - now on tyres a full 10 laps fresher than Michael's - comes back at him later. With 10 laps to go Lewis is right with the Merc, Michael watching his mirrors and driving defensively, Lewis just looking for an opening he knows will come.
Sounds quite good, doesn't it? For it to work, of course, requires tracks at which overtaking is possible. At places where this is not the case, the teams will be looking to bring their man in as early as possible at both stops, secure in the knowledge that they can defend their place late in the race even with a much slower car. At tracks where passing is feasible, the choice will be much more open.
This also assumes that the control tyres will be marginal enough for there to be a significant performance drop-off once they have completed a certain distance. If it's a tough, slow compound with no real difference between the grip at 20 laps and 30, then this isn't going to work and it's going to be processional.
It needs to be a fast, but quick-wearing tyre. Given that it's a control-tyre formula, what incentive is there for Bridgestone to supply a tyre with performance drop-off, about which the loser will be quoted as saying a loss of tyre grip lost him the race? Yet again, we come back to how much better the racing will be if there is a tyre war.
Yet again, we see the folly of having surrendered the one we had on specious grounds. F1 seriously needs to think about opening up tyre supply to allcomers for 2011.
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