Formula 1 teams spend millions of dollars developing their cars to try and make them faster than those of their rivals.

But it is often the strategy decisions, sometimes made at a team headquarters thousands of miles away, that will win or lose races. 

While track conditions, the weather and incidents during the race are discussed with drivers and engineers over the team radio, it is tire usage that presents the most striking chance to pass the opposition.

''We know we haven't got the fastest car,'' said Andrew Shovlin, the trackside engineering director for Mercedes. ''We've got to look to the opportunities in strategy.''

Before they even get to the racetrack, teams will start to plan their tire strategy using the computer simulations and tire data.Teams have three types of tires to choose from, soft, medium and hard, known as compounds, with the added hurdle that two of them must be used during a race.

Choosing wisely can make a car faster than the other guy's car, and can also reduce the number of time-eating pit stops.And the strategy is constantly changing during a race.

''Pre-event we run like 100,000 simulations where we give drivers different strategies, start tires, stop laps, all this sort of thing,'' Bernadette Collins, the former head of race strategy at Aston Martin, said in an interview. ''We come up with a best expected finishing position for each strategy.

Practice on Friday gives teams the first chance to see how each tire performs on  that track compared with their expectations or simulations, and then adjust their strategies. They will also analyze what their rivals are doing to understand tire performance.

''You're trying to build as much of a picture as you can, so hopefully you've got a good range of compounds across a good range of cars,'' said Collins.

The soft tire is typically the fastest and the best compound for qualifying, but it has a short life span, making it less effective in the race over long distances.

The hard is around one second per lap slower, though this can sometimes increase because of weather conditions, but it is more durable, helping save teams a pit stop to change all four tires, which usually cost about 20 seconds.

The medium is intended to be somewhere in the middle, offering a balance of durability and speed.

Determining which type of tire to use can turn a winner into a loser, or vice versa.

The World Students Society thanks author Luke Smith.


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