When I was at the Barcelona test recently I had a few discussions with engineers about some of the ramifications of the behaviour of the new Pirelli tyres.
The Italian firm has said that its brief is to create more short-lived tyres, prompting more pit stops, but one of the interesting possible side effects of that is that drivers will spend less time on track during practice and qualifying, despite needing time to perfect adjustable wing and KERS usage.
The real problem is that it’s very hard to evaluate a change. If you set a time with one set up and then change it, the lap time will drop because of the tyre performance so it’s tough to work out what the effect of the set up change was!
The rules say that the drivers have 11 sets of tyres. They have two sets of hard and one soft set for practice. They must give a set back of primes after first practice and a set of each back after second practice.
That leaves eight sets for Saturday and Sunday, of which a set of hards and a set of softs must be given back before qualifying.
With the performance we have seen so far in testing, where the tyre performance drops off by as much as six seconds over the life of the tyres and the hard tyre lasts around 20-22 laps, it’s likely that a car will not be able to do much meaningful running on Friday, compared with the Bridgestones, which were good for a race distance at some venues.
Drivers will have six sets of tyres for qualifying and the race. The drop off in performance after the first hot lap in qualifying means that there is no point in staying out for a second lap, as the next lap is at least a second slower. So drivers will attempt to do just one run in each of the three sessions. Of course anyone in trouble in Q1 or Q2, or who does not expect to make it through Q1, can throw extra sets at it, but the front runners will not be able to do that. Certainly Q3 will be all on the one lap.
“In qualifying, it takes at least three sets, but only if everything goes perfectly. Perhaps you have a yellow or red flag, or make a mistake. Then a set is done straight away, ” Sebastian Vettel said recently. “It’s not like you can recycle a tyre again and then get a second run. These days the pace drops by one second.”
It’s also going to be tight for front runners in Q1 as the gap in performance for used tyres compared to new ones, means that even a Red Bull or a Ferrari will be taking a chance trying to get through Q1 with a used set, as they did last year, in order to save tyres for a second run in Q3. So all roads point to Q3 being a single lap challenge for pole, as it was a few years ago.
The scope for mistakes is great. There should be enough excitement going on we may not need to turn the sprinklers on…