The Dutch Grand Prix weekend has been a real pleasure to follow so far with the unforgiving, particularly difficult Zandvoort track posing an enourmous challenge to the drivers.
The banked corners, the punishing tarmac run-off zones and the flowing, twisty layout provide drivers with a test of their skills and concentrartion, but they also require a perfectly-nailed setup and balance of the cars.
With some high-energy corners and no relevant previous data to fall back on, Formula One’s sole tyre manufacturer Pirelli thought that the hardest tyres are the most suitable choice for this weekend. This tyre selection has been chosen for the fourth time this season.
In yesterday’s qualifying session when drivers rolled out of their box with fresh soft tyres and on low fuel, times began to drop significantly. At the end of the twice interrupted qualifying session, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen became the first Dutchman to claim pole for the Dutch Grand Prix, completing his fastest lap on the P Zero Red soft C3 tyres.
As far as the weather conditions are concerned, it was sunny and dry throughout qualifying, with 23 degrees ambient and 34 degrees on track halfway through the session. However, there was some wind that affected the aerodynamics and gave the drivers an extra challenge.
Although the track is quite short with its length of 4.2km, the C3 soft compound has been providing drivers with significantly more grip than the other two compounds.
As a consequence of it, all the drivers used the soft from start to finish of the qualifying session, with the exception of both Mercedes drivers, who ran the P Zero Yellow medium C2 tyres to set their best times in Q1. Consequently all the top 10 on the grid will start on the soft tyre tomorrow.
As for the possible race strategies, it is not clear-cut what the best way will be in today’s 72-lap Dutch Grand Prix. On paper, both the one-stop and two-stop strategies seem quite closely matched, although teams always gravitate towards a one-stopper as the default option if they can.
Based on Friday’s running, Pirelli estimates that the optimal one-stop strategy consists of an opening stint on either the P Zero Yellow medium C2 or the P Zero Red soft C3, followed by a longer final stint on the P Zero White hard C1. Soft to medium seems a bit marginal, considering the expected wear and degradation rates.
However, there are a few question marks that could bring a two-stopper into play as well: especially if it’s hot or if degradation is higher than expected on the soft tyre in particular.
Commenting ont he qualifying session, Pirelli’s Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola said: “It was a bit of a stop-start qualifying session, in keeping with what we have seen during most of the sessions here so far, with two red flags in Q2 and a few surprises throughout. There was plenty of track evolution seen in qualifying, with the fastest times coming right at the end of each session – so this had a clear impact on the qualifying strategy, with teams trying to set their times as late as possible.
„In terms of race strategy, everything is still somewhat open, with both a two-stopper and one-stopper possible. However, the teams will want to focus on a one-stopper if they can, which is achievable using either the medium or the soft tyre to start, followed by a final stint on the hard. Without a lot of prior information to fall back on, there’s also scope for drivers to gamble on doing something different – which might just pay off,” Isola concluded.