After the tires claimed a late leading role during the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last Sunday, the Italian rubber will once again be decisive during the 'Grand Prix in honor of the seventieth anniversary of Formula 1'. That is good news for the tire whisperers among the drivers guild.
Max Verstappen is such a tire saver. The Dutchman is the only one in the top ten on the hardest tire. That is a choice that can work out well, but then it has to go well.
That begins, Verstappen himself agreed, with the start. The hard tire gives slightly less grip than the medium tires of the drivers who start around him, which will make the start itself and the first lap exciting. But if Verstappen can quickly keep up with the pace of the lead - or at least everyone except Mercedes - the benefits begin.
In any case, Verstappen can continue longer on the first set, which has advantages later in the race, because the following stints (that is the part of a race where a driver rides on a certain tire) become shorter.
In addition, Verstappen drives his opening stint with a full tank of petrol, so it is nice to do that on the tires that suffer the least from a heavy car.
Tires a 'compound' softer
- Compared to the British Grand Prix, the tires are a compound softer this weekend.
- The hard band from last week (C1) is not there.
- Last week's medium band (C2) is now the hard band.
- Last week's soft band (C3) is now the medium band.
- The soft band (C4) was not there last week.
Why does Verstappen not always start on the hardest tire?
Because the drivers have to start on the tire with which they set the fastest time in the second part of qualifying. That time had to be fast enough to continue to Q3, so it is often a risk to try that on the medium tires and not on the soft tires.
The warm conditions in Silverstone and the relatively soft tires that Pirelli has selected for this race now offer the fastest drivers this unique opportunity, which only Verstappen has seized.
What does that mean for the race?
A relatively early safety car would be disastrous for Verstappen, because he would then be forced to use a 'free' stop just like his competitors. Then everyone closes in behind the safety car and his advantage is gone.
Assuming this doesn't happen, things get interesting from Verstappen's first stop. The longest stint that Pirelli calculates for the hard tire is 25 laps, while the race is 52 laps.
But a one-stopper from hard to hard is obviously not possible, because it has to ride on at least two different types of tires. You can switch to hard, followed by a short stint on the softs. This is the most likely option.
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Is a one-stopper possible?
The only way a one-stopper can do is to do long stints on both hard and medium. That would require an extreme feat of tire saving. Verstappen has performed similar stunts in the past.
Verstappen does this mainly by having as little wheel spin as possible and by ensuring that his tires do not overheat. The question is whether a one-stopper makes sense.
In any case, it should yield more time than making a second pit stop and be able to drive much faster lap times with new tires. The pit lane is long at Silverstone, so that's what the teams strategists take in such a decision.
Still, it is more likely that Verstappen will go for a two-stopper, with the advantage that he can drive a shorter second stint and can hit the road with a light car on the fastest tire in the final phase. He has, among other things, a second set of hard tires.
Only the Renault drivers wasted a set hard during the free practice sessions, all drivers also have two (almost) new sets. Chances are that they will need it badly.
Available tire sets per GP weekend
- Hard: 2 sets
- Medium: 3 sets
- Soft: 8 sets
Why is Mercedes faster on medium than on soft?
The Mercedes drivers were faster on medium tires than on soft tires in Q3. Verstappen also tried this, but on the Red Bull the medium tires in the first part of the track were too slow.
Mercedes was different, probably because Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas are better able to warm up their tires with the DAS steering system before starting their fast lap. The medium band was clearly better at the end of the lap, while the best is by far of the soft tires.
Ferrari also performed worse on medium tires in qualifying a week ago. The Italian racing stable's car drives with very little downward force and therefore leans extremely on the grip from the tires, especially on a fast lap. They simply did not last a lap long, so that the fastest man Charles Leclerc lost a lot of time in the third sector.
All teams lost time compared to last week's qualifying, but Ferrari lost a lot more (1.2 seconds) than Mercedes and Red Bull. They were 0.8 seconds slower than last week.
In short: Silverstone is normally already a tire eater, but with these high temperatures and soft tires brought by Pirelli, the rubber is devoured. It is up to the drivers to deal with this the best.
See also: 'High temperatures will make Mercedes less dominant'