Teams and drivers had to be extremely precise with their approach in Brazil on Friday after the first practice session took place in damp and hence tricky conditions. Things have improved for the afternoon session, but the damp patches did not want to vanish completely, making it difficult for drivers to get the best out of the tyres.
No serious graining –Nominating the three hardest compounds from its range, Pirelli’s tyre selection for this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix is a step harder than it was last year. The harder tyre choice for this year is designed to limit degradation, and so help drivers to push more during each stint. However, the usually hot conditions stayed away from Interlagos yesterday and the morning rainfalls meant that drivers had to complete the first practice session on wet and intermediate tyres.
As conditions improved for the afternoon, the teams sampled all three of the slick tyres available in FP2. Pirelli’s head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola was delighted with the behaviour of the tyres after they “seem to be working very well so far, with no graining despite the cool weather. In any case, temperatures are expected to get warmer for the rest of the weekend, which could alter the picture of tyre behaviour when it comes to performance gaps and degradation, opening up the door to some different strategies.”
On the back foot –The penultimate race weekend of the season has not started in the best possible way for Charles Leclerc. The 22-year-old driver suffered an oil leak in final practice at COTA, prompting the team to swap out his power unit for an older version that he’d run earlier in the season. The Monegasque is set to start Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix with a ten-place grid penalty after his team elected to change the old engine for a fresh, spec-3 engine for Interlagos.
Ferrari’s Team Principal Mattia Binotto is confident that the new power unit will enable the Monegasque to get the best performance out of his car in the remaining two rounds of the campaign. “Fitting a new PU means taking a grid penalty in Sao Paulo, but we should be back to our normal performance level and show some fighting spirit to finish the season on a high note. That will be important in order to confirm we are making progress with our car and to take some of that momentum into the winter work.”
No consequences –Toro Rosso drivers Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat attracted attention in the closing stages of yesterday’s second free practice session. The Frenchman had to park his car next to the track after the Honda power unit in his Toro Rosso machine went up in smoke. Of the pair, the Russian came off even more badly after he lost control of his car following a sudden shutdown of the electrical systems.
Honda F1 Technical Director Toyoharu Tanabe confirmed that neither of the problems will have any effect on the remainder of the weekend for Kvyat and Gasly. “Towards the end of the session, the ICE on Gasly’s car failed and then Kvyat crashed due to a complete shutdown and with the team, we are now investigating the cause of both these problems. However, they have no effect on the rest of the weekend from a PU point of view, as both of them were running “Friday only” PUs, due to be changed tonight.”
Possible high temperatures -For the penultimate round of the championship, Pirelli took the C1 as the White hard tyre, the C2 as the Yellow medium, and the C3 as the Red soft. This is the hardest possible combination of compounds, and a step harder from what was chosen for Brazil last year.
Some questioned Pirelli's approach based on the data from the past and the track layout. In 2018, Lewis Hamilton executed a one-stop strategy perfectly to win the race after tyres showed great durability. The lack of long corners and the relatively long straights and slightly curved sections keep the lateral demands quite low. The sport’s sole tyre manufacturer explained the nomination of harder compounds for this year with the fact that Brazil can produce the hottest track temperatures of the entire year which can pose a huge challenge to the front-right tyre. Furthermore, Mario Isola added that thanks to the more conservative tyre choice “teams will be able to push hard even if they are running – as is likely – a one-stop strategy.”
Regarding the usage of the tyres, Pirelli followed a conservative approach as well. The minimum starting pressures are 24.0 psi for the front tyres and 19.5 psi for the rear tyres. The camber limit is -3.5° for the front and -2.0° for the rears.