The logics would dictate that drivers had a boring day at the Red Bull Ring as the Styrian Grand Prix took place at exactly the same place just five days ago. However, the reality was far from it as the field had to sample a more robust prototype tyre and just to top the list of tasks, Pirelli nominated a different trio of compounds for the Austrian Grand Prix.
For the first race at the Red Bull Ring, known as the Steiermark Grand Prix, the Milan-based tyre supplier nominated the middle of its 2021 range with the C2 compond serving as the P Zero White hard, C3 as the P Zero Yellow medium, and the C4 as the P Zero Red soft.
In the past, this has been a one-stop race on paper – apart from the occasions when a safety car has prompted drivers to take a ‘free’ pit stop. This proved to be the right prediction as the majority of the field completed the Steiermark Grand Prix with a single stop. However, the softer nomination for this weekend could push teams closer to a two-stopper for the Austrian Grand Prix.
At the Austrian Grand Prix, held just one weekend later on an identical track, P Zero White hard will be the C3, P Zero Yellow medium will be the C4 and P Zero Red soft will be the C5: the softest combination in the Pirelli range. Based on last weekend’s race, there’s an estimated gap of about 0.7s between soft and medium, while the gap between medium and hard is about 0.5s.
Compared to last weekend, conditions were cooler: with a few light drops of rain in the afternoon. At the beginning of the FP2 session, which should be representative of qualifying and race conditions, ambient temperatures registered 22 degrees and track temperatures were 31 degrees, more than 10 degrees less than last week.
After coming home in P2 last Sunday, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton went fastest in Free Practice 2, setting the quickest time of the day, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fastest in FP1. On both occasions, the P Zero Red soft tyre was used to set the fastest time. But unlike last weekend, this time the red soft tyre was the C5: one step softer than the soft nomination one week ago. The C3 and C4, used as the medium and soft last weekend, are now back in action at the Austrian Grand Prix as the hard and medium respectively.
Furthermore, each driver also had two sets of a new prototype tyre, with no markings, to test during Friday free practice. This prototype tyre, in C4 compound, features a new rear construction that is being assessed for introduction from the British Grand Prix onwards, incorporating elements of the 2022 18-inch tyres. Verstappen set the fastest time on the prototype tyre (1m05.558s) during FP2.
Commenting on today's running at the second round at the Red Bull Racing, Pirelli's Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola said: “There were two main priorities for the teams today: assessing the soft compound in C5 version, which has never been to Austria before, and trying out the new prototype tyre, in medium C4 compound, in the most representative conditions for the teams.
"We are gathering all the information we need on this new rear tyre, which features a more robust construction, and we’ll analyse the data with a view to using it from Silverstone onwards. The feedback we’ve had from the drivers so far is generally positive and indicates that it feels quite similar to the existing tyre that was exactly our target: keep the same level of performance with an increase of the robustness.
"As expected with the softer compounds, we had some graining on the soft tyre in particular, which suggests that we might see some quite different strategies compared to last weekend: the whole idea behind changing the nomination for the second race weekend here," he concluded.