F1 Canadian GP Primer: Rules And Strategy

With Formula One’s Canadian Grand Prix taking place this weekend in Montreal, I’m going to catch Canadian race fans up on what will be happening at the track this weekend. The first of the two-part race primer will look at the rules of F1 and strategies employed by teams in the race.

Well, maybe the best thing to do isn’t to tell you about the changes to the cars but rather show you.
The rules were changed heading into the 2009 season to make the cars better able to overtake. That hasn’t necessarily held true but let’s actually examine the cars. The most noticable changes are that the front wing is lower and wider and the read wing is higher and narrower. The idea was to reduce the turbulent air off the rear wing and increase downforce on the front wing so trailing cars experience less understeer so cars are able to close in and attempt overtaking maneuvers. Also changed was that the cars were forced to eliminate any small winglets added to the sidepods or engine covers used to generate downforce or control airflow. Instead, teams are extending engine covers and widening the front noses to control airflow around and over the car.

In 2010, the rules have changed the cars yet again. This year, the cars are upwards of 15 centimetres longer to accommodate larger fuel tanks required by the new refuelling regulations (see below for more details). There are also two loopholes in the rules that have been exploited that have made for controversy. The first is the double diffuser. If you want to learn more about how it works, I’ve already detailed it here. Every team is running a version of it to increase downforce with no team believed to have a very superior version of it.

The major aerodynamic innovation of 2010 is the F-Duct. First introduced by McLaren, it looks like a small tube running from the engine air intake back to the rear wing. It’s designed to take air flow and accelerate it onto the rear wing in order to stall the air going over it so it generates no downforce. The controversy is centred over how the F-Duct is activated. The driver activates the device by moving his hand or knee over a device in the cockpit. One would think that would make the F-Duct an illegal moveable aerodynamic device. Instead, it’s considered legal because the driver activates the device and is not considered a moveable aerodynamic device himself. In practice, the F-Duct is more of an overtake assist than anything else which has made watching the McLarens slice through the field interesting. Now, though, most teams have a version of it. McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Force India have all run the F-Duct in a race. Red Bull and Renault are expected to have a version of the F-Duct ready for this weekend.

The three-stage knockout qualifying that was in use in 2008 is still in use today. The first stage is 20 minutes long with all cars taking part. The slowest 7 cars in that session are eliminated and locked into those spots on the grid. That’s followed by a 15 minute session where the slowest 7 cars are eliminated and locked into their spots. The final session is 10 minutes long and is for the top ten spots on the starting grid. Unlike previous years, the drivers do not have to run the third stage of knockout qualifying on the fuel that they will start the race on. Because the refuelling rules have been changed (read more below), drivers can run the final stage on low fuel. The way the top ten finish this session is how they will start the race. However, the top ten starters must start the race on the same set of tires that they finished qualifying on.

For the first time since 1993, no in-race refuelling will be permitted. The letter of the rule reads something to the effect that refuelling will only be permitted in the pit garages and is not permitted during the race session. Therefore, teams will have to start the race with enough fuel to complete the full race difference. As a result, this year’s cars are between 10 and 20 cm longer to accommodate the larger fuel tank required to hold all that fuel. Teams will still be making pit stops as the rule requiring both compounds of tires be used during the race is still in place. However, the refuelling ban has flipped strategy on its head which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Bridgestone is the sole tire supplier in F1, however that will change next year. Anyway, Bridgestone brings two different tire compounds to each race weekend (along with intermediate wet and full wet weather tires). At the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Bridgestone will be bringing their Medium and Super Soft compounds. Bridgestone differentiates the two compounds visually by putting a green stripe around the outside of the softer tire (in this case, the Super Softs). The difference between the two compounds is that the Super Soft will has more grip but has a shorter life while the Medium has less grip but can be run for a longer distance before it wears out.

Pit Strategy
The elimination of refuelling has changed how teams think of strategy. When F1 was last in Montreal, strategy was based around the trade off between the time lost by making multiple pit stops against speed gained by not being fuelled for longer stints. Other factors considered were grid position, predicted traffic levels, and the tires. Now, it’s all been thrown out the window because teams are not allowed to refuel during the race. However, teams must use both tire compounds (as mentioned above, the Super Softs and Mediums) during the course of a race. The most common strategy used is that the teams will start on the softer compound and make one tire change during the race to the harder compound and finish the race on that set. While previously the idea was to have longer first stints to get more time on low fuel, now the advantage goes to the driver that stops earlier. The thinking is that changing tires earlier means that the driver gets to take advantage of grippier tires than the worn ones that his competitors are running. After that first stop, it’ll be a straight fight to the finish.

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