Round 16 of the FIA Formula One World Championship brought the teams to Istanbul Park, home of the Turkish Grand Prix. The weekend has seen the domination of Mercedes so far which culminated in a front row lock-out for the Anglo-German team. However, an engine penalty for Lewis Hamilton means that he will start from P11 with his team mate Valtteri Bottas inheriting the first starting position.
For the Turkish Grand Prix, which was added to the calendar to replace Singapore this year, the three tyres in the middle of the range have been nominated: C2 is the P Zero White hard, C3 is the P Zero Yellow medium, and C4 is the P Zero Red soft. This is one step softer than the nomination made for the Turkish Grand Prix last year, which was held in November after a nine-year absence from the calendar.
Pirelli said that it took the decision to go one step softer, because the data gathered last year demonstrated a track with average levels of abrasion and low grip, resulting in an extremely slippery surface that nonetheless showed rapid track evolution.
Friday's practice sessions took place in nice and sunny conditions, allowing teams, drivers and the sport's tyre supplier to gather useful data on tyre behaviour. Based on that experience, Pirelli thinks that the fastest way to approach the 58-lap Turkish Grand Prix is a two-stopper, with one stint on the P Zero Yellow medium and two on the P Zero White hard. This is because two stops minimise graining and wear, allowing drivers to push harder during shorter stints.
Next-quickest is a one-stopper, going from the medium to the hard, and the next-fastest strategy after that involves doing two stints on the medium and one on the hard. Drivers were eager yesterday to avoid the soft compound for their first stint, and nine drivers got through Q2 on the medium tyre, and will therefore start the race on this compound today.
However, a more aggressive two-stop ‘sprint’ strategy using the P Zero Red soft tyre to start the race might also pay off under the right circumstances – so the strategy is finely balanced. Those starting on the soft tyre will need to stop relatively soon into the race due to the high wear rates on this compound (also because of the pressure-washed track surface) but after that they also have options.
The pit stop time loss penalty in Turkey is one of the lowest of the year at 20 seconds, which works in favour of a two-stopper: especially if it turns into an eventful race.
Pirelli’s Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola said: “The rain had the effect of re-setting the track, but even in the wet conditions of free practice, the drivers reported a lot more grip compared to last year. The drivers then got to grips with the rapidly-evolving track on slicks again during qualifying, with nearly all of them choosing the medium for Q2.
“A two-stopper using the medium for one stint and the hard for two stints is on paper the fastest strategy tomorrow, but a medium-hard one-stopper or a ‘sprint’ strategy using the soft can’t be discounted either, so there are some interesting possibilities. The weather will also have a part to play, with the risk of rain still present. If this turns out to be the case, the wet running in FP3 will have been extremely valuable. The crossover points between both wets and intermediates as well as intermediates and slicks are lower than other tracks, and this will have an influence on strategies in changeable conditions,” Isola concluded.