Safety car dictates Singapore tyre strategy
Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel took his second win of the season in Singapore with a two-stop tyre strategy, which prevailed following two safety car periods. Vettel started from third on the grid with the P Zero Red supersoft tyre and then completed two stints on the P Zero Yellow soft tyre, which had been nominated for the weekend. Vettel’s winning margin was nine seconds over McLaren’s Jenson Button, who adopted the same strategy, pitting four laps later for his first pit stop than Vettel.
The top 10 all started on the supersoft tyre, with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Sauber’s Sergio Perez the highest-placed starters to begin the race on the soft tyre, from 11th and 14th on the grid respectively. Following an incident on the opening lap that dropped him to last, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa also switched to the soft tyres when he was forced to pit on lap one. His team mate Fernando Alonso maintains his championship lead after finishing third in Singapore (from fifth on the grid) also using a two-stop strategy. Alonso’s 81st podium breaks the record previously held by Ayrton Senna.
The first driver to pit was Red Bull’s Mark Webber on lap eight, who changed to the softs, while Vettel made his stop for softs two laps later. Button made his first stop on lap 14. Hulkenberg and Perez both pitted on lap 18, putting on soft tyres once more as part of an intended two-stop strategy, which enabled them to have front-running pace on the supersoft at the end of the race. Massa also ended the race on the supersoft, running on his final set for 26 laps, and making up several places in the closing stages to finish eighth, despite at one point running last.
When the first safety car came out on lap 33 all the front-runners came in for their second scheduled pit stop, with Vettel rejoining in the lead on soft tyres in front of Button on the same compound. Their second set of soft tyres was enough to last them for 45 minutes (or 26 laps) until the end of the race as they traded fastest laps.
A second safety car period from lap 40 enabled Perez to make his second pit stop of the day without any significant loss of track position, and he finished 11th after choosing to start on the soft tyre. Hulkenberg also stopped during the second safety car period, but his chances of using strategy to gain position were ruined when he was forced into an extra pit stop following an on-track incident, making him a three-stopper in the end.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “A lot came down to the timing of the safety cars. If the safety car had come out in the first 10 laps, then it would have been an automatic two-stop race for everyone. That did not happen so Red Bull set out to do three stops: a strategy that was then copied by everybody else – although McLaren could have gone with two stops. As it was the safety car appeared later, halfway through the race, which meant that most of the teams were able to revert to a two-stop strategy.
“The rear tyres are worked particularly hard here, because of the traction required out of all the slow corners. With a significant time difference of around 1.5 seconds between the two compounds – the biggest we are likely to see all year – and a performance crossover point of approximately 10 laps, driving style played a significant part in tyre management, particularly at the beginning of the race when the cars were very heavy on fuel.
“With no safety cars in the first half of the race, the teams had to remain flexible with their tactics and so we saw a very wide mix of strategies as they kept their options open. Once the safety car did come out, it dictated the strategy to some extent, as the drivers who had stopped for the second time needed to manage their tyres all the way to the end, although they were definitely helped by the second safety car period. Once more in Singapore we saw a very tough, spectacular and unpredictable race where the tyre strategy really made a difference. Congratulations to Paul di Resta who took his best-ever finish in fourth for Force India and also to Marussia, who have taken their best finish thanks to 12th for Timo Glock.”