After having the Sprint Race as a test run, the United States Grand Prix unfolded as predicted. With track temperatures exceeding 40°C, it was not advisable to use the Soft tire as a core part of the strategy, so all the teams took a clear direction: a two-stop strategy using the Medium C3 and Hard C2 tires. Only three drivers opted for a different path. One of them is Charles Leclerc, who started from pole position but finished in P6 with a single Medium-Hard pit stop.
As we have learned, both Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton were later disqualified from the final classification because the plank on the bottom of their respective cars was found to be non-compliant with the regulations at the end of the race. The following analysis will not take this fact into much consideration but will focus on the strategies adopted by the teams.
Summary of strategies:
Let’s begin our analysis by examining all the race tactics. Among those who completed the 56 laps of the GP using two sets of Medium tires and one set of Hard tires, we find the winner, Max Verstappen (the Dutchman secures his 50th career victory), along with Hamilton, Sainz, Perez, Russell, Gasly, Stroll, Albon, Sargeant, Hulkenberg, and Magnussen. Nearly all the drivers. Tsunoda would have finished the race with this strategy if he hadn’t returned to the pits on the penultimate lap to switch to the Soft tires and claim the fastest lap, which earned him an additional point (1’38”139). M-H-M-S strategy for the Japanese driver.
Three drivers chose to use one set of Medium C3 and two sets of Hard C2: Norris, Bottas, and Zhou. At AlphaTauri, even Ricciardo went for the Soft tires with an M-H-S strategy, but he finished 17th. Charles Leclerc’s choice of a single pit stop saw him drop from his pole position to 6th.
Here is the commentary provided by Pirelli’s motorsport director at the end of the race: “We witnessed a highly competitive race on one of the most complete tracks of the season. Speaking of strategies, the race’s progression confirmed that the double stop was the fastest option, especially because the alternative, based on a single pit stop, would have required very careful tire management, making it difficult to push hard for many laps, unlike those who made two pit stops. We had confirmation with Charles Leclerc, who, despite not suffering from late-race tire degradation, had a pace that did not allow him to defend against the return of several drivers who had chosen the two-stop strategy.”
“In terms of overall performance, the Medium tire proved to be the most efficient as it offered more grip compared to the Hard tire and did not show significant degradation in terms of lap times. The Soft tire was used very little, only by AlphaTauri in the final stages, and, given Tsunoda’s performance, it proved to be an excellent tire for a single fast lap but not a good option for the race distance on a track with Sunday’s temperature conditions in Austin. Finally, it’s worth noting that there was no graining even during the race,” Mario Isola stated in Pirelli’s report. In reality, there was a bit of graining during the first stint, but the drivers managed to clear it in time, limiting the damage. After that, it did not reappear.
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Mercedes tried, made a mistake, but corrected it. Great responsiveness (before disqualification)
During the pre-race, we mentioned that there were only two teams capable of adopting the Medium-Hard one-stop strategy, namely Red Bull and Mercedes. The reigning world champions immediately realized that, given the temperature and track conditions (many reported graining on the front axle in the early laps), the best choice would be to go for two stops.
Mercedes, on the other hand, seemed willing to give it a try. They made their first pit stop four laps later than Verstappen but then, realizing that it wasn’t the right path, adapted to the others. Making the second stop in the three laps following Max’s and four laps after Norris’s allowed Lewis to have a substantial tire advantage in the final stages. For this reason, he managed to easily pass Lando and get very close to Verstappen in the last few meters.
That said, it’s difficult to think that copying Red Bull’s strategy would have made a difference and allowed Hamilton to win. To start with, this way, Lewis would have lost the tire advantage. Moreover, looking at the final laps, Verstappen waited for Hamilton to get close to him before responding to the Briton’s lap times. The Mercedes team has made significant progress with their latest upgrade, but there’s still a long way to go before they can challenge Max. However, with a bit of luck, winning a Grand Prix before the end of the season is not out of the question.
The disqualification, of course, nullifies all the good done, at least as far as Hamilton’s race is concerned.
Ferrari’s gamble doesn’t pay off
It’s well-known: the SF23 is not the best car when it comes to tire management, as we’ve seen several times this season. There were teams that could have gone for a one-stop strategy while maintaining competitive lap times, but Ferrari was not among them. And the results spoke for themselves. Unfortunately, Charles Leclerc never had the pace to respond to the times of Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Monegasque driver was already in P4 after just 12 laps, four laps before Verstappen’s first stop.