Based on the Friday long runs and the experience from past years, Pirelli expects drivers to complete tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix with a one-stop strategy.
The Autodrom Sochi is known as a circuit that does not stress the tyres in a dramatic way. That was the reason for Pirelli’s tyre allocation for this weekend with the Milan-based company bringing its three softest compounds for the first standalone weekend of the 2020 season. This means that drivers are using the C5, C4 and C3 compounds, the complete opposite of what they had access to at the Tuscan Grand Prix.
The tyres have performed as expected so far over the weekend with the C5 soft compound even providing enough grip for a second flying lap. However, tomorrow’s weather is expected to be even hotter than today, which can mean that the red-walled tyres will be less favourable. That is why some drivers tried to set their fastest lap on the medium compound to give themselves a possible advantage during the opening stint of the race.
As Mercedes enjoyed once again an insurmountable competitive advantage, their drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas opted for the medium boots in Q2. However, as the Briton had his lap time deleted for exceeding the track limits at the last corner, he qualified himself in Q2 on the soft compound in the end.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen could, however, get himself through into the last qualifying segment on the yellow-walled compound. That meant that only the Finn and the Dutchman will start on the medium compound in the top 10 of the grid, from second and third.
Because of the smooth asphalt of Sochi and the pit lane speed limit of 60kph, teams are expected to focus on a one-stopper. That choice is also motivated by the fact that it is usually rather difficult to overtake at Sochi despite the long, 1.1km start-finish straight.
Pirelli estimates that the quickest way will be to start on the Red soft tyre and then switch to the White hard after approximately 12 laps. Just as quick but very marginal on wear is soft for 14 laps and Yellow medium for 39 laps.
Slightly slower than those is a medium-hard one-stopper: medium for 22 laps and hard for 31 laps. Should enyone opt for visiting the pit lane twice, the quickest two-stopper will involve two stints on the soft of 12 laps and one on the medium, possibly running the medium in the 29-lap middle stint.
Pole position for @LewisHamilton @SochiAutodrom with a new track record! He stands on the verge of making more history tomorrow, if he equals Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 #F1 wins. @MercedesAMGF1 #RussianGP pic.twitter.com/Jvnj6JsAoB— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) September 26, 2020
Following the problems in Q2, Hamilton will start the race on the soft compound while Bottas and Verstappen will get off the line on the medium rubber. Pirelli’s Head of F1 and car racing Mario Isola is looking forward to see how much of an effect this difference will cause during the race.
“As expected the tyres performed well during qualifying, but the session itself was certainly unpredictable! We expected the frontrunners to use the medium during Q2 and that proved to be the case, with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas starting the race tomorrow on this compound. This should give them the advantage of a potentially longer first stint and more flexibility in terms of strategy.
„The red flag at the end of the Q2 session posed an additional challenge for the teams in qualifying, with a big few surprises – especially for Lewis Hamilton, who had probably intended to go through Q2 on the medium tyre – and plenty of finely-calculated tactics. The scene is now set for a tense strategic battle tomorrow, which will require a bit of tyre management for those starting on the soft tyre and intending to stop just once in particular,” said the Italian.