Formula One's sole tyre manufacturer expects the one-stop strategy to dominate today's Baku race, but also hints that high temperatures and possible safety car interruptions can cause a stir.
Yesterday’s qualifying session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was one of the most exciting in recent times with its interruptions. The session saw a total of four red flags which last happened in the qualifying for the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix.
The opening Q1 session was characterised by two red flag periods for separate incidents at the tricky Turn 15. A third red flag brought Q2 to an early close as well, followed by a fourth one in Q3. In total, qualifying took place over nearly an hour and a half.
While top drivers sometimes tend to try to qualify on the medium compound in Q2 to have a strategic advantage in the race, that was not the case yesterday. It was partly down to the fact that drivers were separated by nuances all through the session. It then motivated all the drivers to use the soft tyre from Q1 to Q3, with the exception of Mercedes, which chose the medium for the first runs in Q1.
Having peaked at more than 55 degrees in free practice this morning, track temperatures in the afternoon were slightly cooler – at around 46 degrees halfway through the session, with 29 degrees ambient.
Although the compounds coming to Baku this year are a step softer compared to 2019, Pirelli foresees a one-stop strategy for today. Those obliged to start on the P Zero Red soft tyre – in other words, the top 10 – are likely to use a soft-hard strategy, even though this gives much less flexibility in the pit stop window.
Another good option – which can be used by those outside the top 10 – is to use the P Zero Yellow medium and P Zero White hard compounds: especially if we experience track temperatures in excess of 50 degrees.
The Milan-based tyre manufacturer, however, stressed that possible interruptions, safety car or virtual safety car periods can have a significant effect on the race strategy and that is why flexibility could play an important role today to benefit from the unexpected happenings.
Pirelli's Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola also expects drivers to cover today's Azerbaijan Grand Prix with a one-stop, but hinted that drivers starting from P11 might have a significant advantage in terms of strategy.
“This certainly one of the most disrupted and unpredictable qualifying sessions that we can remember! The drivers generally used the soft tyre throughout the session, as with the margins so close on this long lap, it was the safest option to be sure of getting through Q2: especially with the big risk of interruptions.
"This means that all the top 10 will start on the soft tomorrow, which probably locks them into a soft-hard one-stop strategy: also because we’re expecting high track temperatures again for the grand prix. Those behind the top 10 might see an advantage in starting on a harder compound to run a longer first stint and gain track position or have more pit stop flexibility.
"As we’ve seen already in a hectic qualifying, this is a track where absolutely anything can happen. Four different teams in the top four on the grid underlines the close competition on this spectacular city circuit: at one point we had cars separated by just thousandths of a second after a six-kilometre lap. Congratulations to Ferrari and Charles Leclerc for a second consecutive pole," Isola concluded.