Leclerc and Verstappen with excellent tyre management - analysis

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Pirelli’s thrilling tyre allocation for last weekend’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix tested teams’ and drivers’ abilities to nurse their tyres with the battle resulting in a frenetic strategy fight between the teams.

While tyre management has become less important in recent years with most of the races only requiring a single visit of the pit lane, yesterday’s 70th Anniversary Grand Prix has turned into a strategy thriller thanks to the excellent and ambitious tyre allocation provided by Formula One’s sole tyre manufacturer Pirelli.

The Milan-based company supplied the trio of C2, C3 and C4 compounds that represent a softer range to that seen at the British Grand Prix at the same circuit 7 days earlier. Pirelli aimed to spice racing up and help the sport avoid to produce a boring race with exactly the same outcome as the first Silverstone round delivered.

The punctures at the British Grand Prix, the higher ambient and track temperatures and the softer compounds suggested that teams would opt for a two-stop strategy for the 52-lap race. Ahead of the Grand Prix, Pirelli indicated that the two-stop strategy would be the quickest way to cover the race distance with a wide range of that strategy being possible.

Most of the drivers completed the race with a two-stop strategy, but the timing of pit stops showed great variability. Of the first ten drivers, race winner Max Verstappen was the only driver to start the race on the white-walled C2 hard compound which allowed him to extend his first stint compared to his direct rivals Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

Of the entire field, only three drivers dared to gamble with a single-stop strategy with Charles Leclerc, Esteban Ocon and Kimi Räikkönen taking the risks in the heat. The Monegasque’s gamble paid off as he finished fourth after crossing the finish line down in 10th following the opening lap of the 52-lap race. The 22-year-old driver showed solid race pace, marking the first time in 2020 that Ferrari ran comparable race pace to the field-leading Mercedes.

Another interesting strategy choice was the one executed by Nico Hülkenberg. The German who completed his first Grand Prix after last year’s season finale at Abu Dhabi was on course to cover the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix with a medium-hard one-stop strategy, but Racing Point, unexpectedly and surprisingly, called him in for a late tyre change due to vibration issues. The 32-year-old Emmerich-born was the only driver to run the red-walled soft compound in the race for his last eight-lap mini stint.

It was unusual to see several drivers complete mini stints in the middle part of the race. Verstappen’s six-lap stint on the mediums was surprising, but Red Bull’s decision was mainly motivated by their wish to maintain track position as the Dutchman was battling with Valtteri Bottas who could have leapfrogged the 22-year-old with an undercut move. Sebastian Vettel, Carlos Sainz and George Russell were also among the drivers to complete an unusually short middle stint.

Reflecting on the 70th Grand Prix, Pirelli’s head of car and F1 racing Mario Isola stressed that Max Verstappen’s gamble during the qualifying session played a key role in the race.

“This weekend’s race was all about pure strategy, judged to perfection by Red Bull and Max Verstappen. His strategy began on Saturday afternoon, with the brave decision to run the hard tyre in Q2 and so start the race with it, which clearly paid off. Once he had gained track position by virtue of his longer first stint, he was able to control both the Mercedes behind him, which had nonetheless shown the pace to qualify first and second.”

Isola was delighted with the tyre behaviour in the heat on the demanding 5.8km Silverstone track with blistering affecting only a few cars.

„Although Silverstone is one of the most demanding tracks on tyres, and the compounds were a step softer than last week, this all provided a challenge that helped to spice up the show. We saw some blistering as expected, but only on a few cars and nothing that affected the race outcome. Tyre management was an integral part of the tactics today, but the drivers certainly rose to the occasion and the viewers enjoyed an exciting and unpredictable race, " Isola added.