Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas rubbished the accusation that Pirelli’s new tyres favoured its car during the qualifying session after Mercedes suddenly locked out the front row for the first time this season.
Pirelli found in pre-season testing that the new asphalt at Spain’s Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya produced more grip and less tyre wear, which means more rubber stayed on the tyre which in turn can lead to surface overheating.
Even if most teams were opposed to the change, Pirelli and Mercedes pushed through the change on safety ground. The tread depth got reduced by 0.4 millimetres which should eliminate the overheating issues. As Great Britain’s Silverstone and France’s Paul Ricard tracks feature similar asphalt like Barcelona, Pirelli will supply the modified tyres to those two other venues as well.
Ferrari usually can get more out of the softer compounds then Mercedes which tends to behave the most comfortable on harder compounds. Interestingly, Ferrari could not switch the supersoft tyre on in the qualifying session and was forced to qualify on the soft compound in the all-important Q3 session. The fact that Sebastian Vettel secured the pole position in the last three qualifying sessions in a commanding manner and suddenly lost the edge over his rivals also raised questioned how much of an effect Pirelli’s new thinner tyres had on the relative performance of the top teams.
“I couldn't tell you. I have no idea,” said Hamilton after the qualifying session.
Valtteri Bottas also left the question unanswered and stressed that there was hardly any difference between the compounds.
“Going into today, I think we saw that the gaps between the tyres here on this track, with the new tarmac, has been really small, like we saw in testing. We saw the same yesterday but today suddenly we could work the supersoft a bit better, so it felt like a better tyre for us. It’s still marginal, the gain, but… I don’t know.”
When asked whether Pirelli wanted to help Mercedes to cure their tyre issues, Hamilton answered nervously: “That would be nice. That was a stupid question really, so I don’t really have an answer for it.”
“I don’t think so, why would they want to help us,” Valtteri Bottas answered the same question.
When asked about the impact the new tyres had on the pecking order, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel did not dare to claim that the thinner tyres favoured Mercedes. However, the German stated that the new tyres feel very much different to the previous version.
“The tyres are different. They are different for everyone so everyone needs to cope with that. I think it was exceptional that Mercedes were struggling in the last events as much as they were – but thinner tread, basically the tyre is harder, so, we still have the same tyres, if you look at the colours, but they are harder than they used to be,” said the quadruple champion.