McLaren: Breaking down the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix strategy

McLaren: Breaking down the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix strategy

With the 2020 Formula 1 season done and dusted, it’s time to reflect on the last race of the year for McLaren.

The Yas Marina Circuit is well known for its low tyre degradation, prompting Pirelli to utilise the three softest compounds for the weekend.

Heading into qualifying, Lando Norris opted for a tyre split of 5-1-1 (soft, medium, hard), while teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. selected a 4-2-1 combination. This ultimately led to Norris starting the race on a soft type package, with Sainz lining up on the mediums.

McLaren’s Head of Sporting and Strategy, Randy Singh, touched on the subject of running a split strategy within the team.

“We don’t mind splitting the cars if we think it’s the right thing to do – but it’s rare that we do it,” said Singh. “We looked strong on Friday and one of the things in our consideration was how we could exploit that, making the most of our pace. With Lando, we were happy to keep building incrementally though the weekend and go 5-1-1 but on Friday night Carlos seemed a bit quicker and was a little more comfortable on the harder tyres. He was keen as well – which was a factor in the decision. We decided he would go 4-2-1 if we saw any of our competitors doing the same. So, in FP3, we waited, confirmed what other people were running and left ourselves an extra set of Mediums.”

With a track that is quite kind to tyre’s compared to other circuits on the calendar, there was not too much of a difference between the soft and medium compounds in terms of degradation or speed.

“I think, in reality, the performance of the medium tyre at the start of the race was not dissimilar enough from the softs to make any kind of meaningful difference and everyone starting on the medium was likely to be drawn into the same stop sequence as those starting on the softs,” Singh continued. “If there hadn’t been a safety car, I think it was only going to be a battle of how long you could stretch it out before someone tried to undercut.”

With the virtual safety car coming into play fairly early in the race, the soft and medium tyre strategies were quickly thrown out the window with a large portion of the field opting now was the time to run with the hard’s in an attempt to push to the end of the race.

“There was some risk after the safety car that the tyres wouldn’t make it to the end, so that was our first concern, and a pretty natural thing to be concerned about,” said Singh. “Then, it became quite clear that we would get to the end and it effectively became a question of how we should approach the race tactically with Ricciardo in front of us.”

With future McLaren driver Daniel Ricciardo starting on the hard compound, he pushed on through the safety car jumping ahead of Norris and Sainz for a portion of the race. However, ultimately having to pit with worn out hard’s during the latter stages led to the McLaren duo retaking the position and finishing P5 and P6.

McLaren had strong race strategies for the most part during the 2020 season. Something that would assist them in clinching third place in the Constructors’ Championship. Often outpaced on track by Mercedes and Red Bull, Racing Point and Renault also showed speed on certain circuits, pushing the two McLaren’s to the limit.

A solid race strategy often helped McLaren achieve results that going into the weekend were not thought possible. Coupled with the ability to make changes on the fly and adapt to ever changing circumstances or conditions.

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