Pirelli sees Ferrari start on the soft tire: ‘There are signs of this plan’

The Formula 1 drivers are waiting for a sweltering Sunday in Barcelona. In the paddock you feel the asphalt burning, a scorching heat the British call it. The premier class has already had to take this into account during the first two days of the Grand Prix weekend in Spain. For example, the cooling of the cars must be adapted to the warm outside temperatures, but the heat wave also has consequences for the tires. Mario Isola, Pirelli’s press secretary, talked F1Maximaal.nl on the track exclusively.

“I would say that the weekend is going as we expected,” the hospitable Italian opens about the sixth Grand Prix weekend of the year. ‘The temperature is high, and we notice that in the degradation. The lap times are about as high as we saw before in our simulations. The delta between the C2 (medium) and C3 (soft) bands is high, at about 1.1 seconds per lap. The difference between the C1 (hard tire) and C2 is even greater. This, together with the degree of degradation, must be taken into account to determine which strategy is optimal.’

“Based on the figures from yesterday afternoon (Friday, ed.) and this morning (Saturday, ed.), I think we are heading for a two-stop,” he continues. From the data, the tire supplier can conclude that the heat is driving the teams towards two stops. It was hot on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday, the temperature is expected to rise further and exceed thirty degrees, with hardly any to no clouds in the sky. The tire degradation will therefore be even higher in the race and will only decrease due to careful driving by the drivers. So a two-stop? ‘Yes. We also have a three-stop strategy that is pretty fast, although I don’t think the teams are going to try that.’

It has been sunny in Spain all weekend and temperatures are shooting up ahead of Sunday’s race.

Pirelli expects start on mediums

For the teams, tire choice at the start can make a big difference. As a rule, the participants weigh up: a longer first stint or a flying start? If one chooses to start on the soft compound, it ensures more grip when starting than when you start on medium tires, or even on the hardest variant. You do know that after a start on softs you have to dive in earlier, and that way you can lose your track position.

Isola: ‘It is difficult to predict which tires will be used. I suspect the majority will start on the medium band. That is the best compound, especially if the car is heavy and you have a lot of fuel on board.’ An optimal first stint is therefore ideally held on the C2 tyre, the yellow-rimmed medium tyre. ‘The soft tire gives a clear advantage at the start, but wears out faster when the car is heavier. We have received varying feedback from the teams, some teams think the hard tire is good enough to use in the race, some teams think it is too slow. The stables that find the hard tire too slow will mainly focus on the medium-soft combination, and not so much on medium-hard.’

‘Medium-hard-medium is a possibility, medium-hard-soft too’

‘If you look at the availability of the tires, you get an idea of ​​what the plans look like. Some teams have decided to keep only one set of the hard band, and one set of the mediums, which is also mandatory. They have to because of the regulations. These teams are probably considering using the soft tire in the race. A medium-hard one-stop is much slower than a two-stop. You then have to take care of the tires too much and reduce your speed for that,” the Pirelli CEO warns. If there are teams with more than one set of medium tyres, for example, you know that they can also decide to go for a start on the medium tyre, do another stint on the mediums and finish the race on the soft compound, and omit the hard tires altogether.

Isola continues: ‘Medium-hard-medium is a possibility, medium-hard-soft too. At the end of the race, the drivers can then do a stint on the soft tire with a lighter car, and push hard. What is one hundred percent certain is that the teams will look at each other. Perhaps some drivers at the back of the grid will even start on the hard tyre, trying to extend that first stint much longer than the competition. That sends a clear signal to the other teams, who are trying to understand how the tires will behave in warmer temperatures than we have seen this weekend so far.”

Red Bull and Ferrari

Job position can play a significant role in Spain. Several participants have already indicated that they do not expect a large amount of overtaking at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. This means that the driver ahead after Turn 1 has the best cards for the win. To protect that first starting spot, Ferrari can therefore choose to go for the soft tire at the start. This way the Italian stable is sure that it will not relinquish the first place in round 1. ‘There are signs of this plan’, Isola sees. Ferrari has decided to keep a set of new soft tires for Charles (Leclerc, ed.). When you take that approach, you expect to use that set in the race, otherwise you wouldn’t keep a new set.”

Within Formula 1, however, the teams know that they are constantly under the magnifying glass of the competitors. Red Bull has of course also seen that Leclerc can use a fresh set of softs in the opening phase. Would it be a bluff from the competitors of Red Bull and Max Verstappen? “Maybe, I don’t know!” Isola laughs. “We don’t know when they will be using the set – at the start or during the race. We do know that they have withheld a new soft set of tires.’

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F1 teams divided over hard tire

Isola thinks that the emphasis will be on the medium tire in terms of tire strategy. This is partly due to the fact that the soft tire wears too quickly, and drivers lose a relatively large amount of time per lap when using the hard compound. “Some teams have doubts about using the hards, yes. Probably because they want to work with a medium-soft combination. The hard tire is slower, more consistent and the delta times between the compounds will decrease in the race because tires are saved.’

“On Friday we saw differences between the compounds of about 1.3 seconds. That will be 0.6 or 0.7 seconds per lap during the race. That’s still a lot of time. When you drive in traffic and can drive a pace that is comparable to the other cars, you might choose the hards, also because overtaking here is difficult. The hard tire also overheats less easily, so you can push more on that tire. Keeping your position during a pit stop can give you an advantage. At the back, participants can opt for this alternative option,” Pirelli expects.

Take a gamble?

There are always teams that go for a one-stop, even when Pirelli advises against it. Just think of the Qatar 2021 Grand Prix, where Fernando Alonso took a podium by paying close attention to the rubber. With other gentlemen, such as Valtteri Bottas, the tire burst before the finish line was reached. ‘Everything is possible’, Isola certainly does not rule out a one-stop. “I think the level of relegation on the medium tire makes a one-stop a bad option. In Miami, we were pretty sure they were going for a two-stop, but then the teams were able to extend the stints. However, the degradation was much lower there than here.’

“The race is 66 laps long, you have to do about 40 laps on the hard tire for a one-stop. Nobody knows how long that compound will really last, because nobody has put 40 laps on it this weekend. Even if you look at the data from the winter tests, the conditions were completely different in February. We are talking about a temperature difference of more than ten degrees in the air, and twenty degrees on the asphalt itself. The medium tire should last about 26 to 30 laps, that’s a lot. That’s why I believe that a one-stop is difficult’, he argues. It is certainly not impossible, but for the teams it is hoped for rearguard teams that try out the hard tyre. Based on that data, a well-considered decision can be made about which strategy is dominant on the extremely hot afternoon.

“If you ask me if I’m 100 percent sure they won’t try one-stop, I can’t guarantee it. Someone at the back of the grid can start on the hard band, regulate the pace in traffic, and extend the stint. Or maybe there is a long safety car, in which the tires do not wear out, but are only kept warm. Then you ask little of the rubber. Then the chance of a one-stop is greater’, says Isola. Who is he putting his money on this weekend? “I have an idea who will win, but I’ll keep my answer to myself. Let me say it’s going to be a long race…’

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