The opening day of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix did not deliver big surprises in terms of tyre behaviour, but drivers needed to find a way to get around the graining on the soft tyres during their race simulations.
Less than four months after its first visit, Formula 1 is back in Saudi Arabia. Pirelli has once more chosen the compounds in the middle of the range: C2 as the P Zero White hard, C3 as the P Zero Yellow medium, and C4 as the P Zero Red soft. This is the first timet hat drivers can try out the C4 compound as Pirelli brought the three hardest compound for last weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Jeddah Corniche Circuit it the fastest street circuit on the F1 calendar and the second-quickest lap of the year overall after Monza. The track has changed a bit since making its debut on the calendar last year, as the result of modifications requested by the governing body following a few on-track incidents last time. The promoter has opened up sight lines through corners by moving barriers further back and also widened the last corner by removing a grandstand.
As for the challenges of the circuit, the severity of the loads and speeds is average while the track is not particularly demanding in terms of traction and braking due to the rapidly flowing layout.
The special schedule presents engineers with an aditional challenge just like in Bahrain or Abu Dhabi. The 50-lap Saudi Arabian Grand Prix takes place in the evening while the first and third practice run in daylight. This time schedule means that track temperatures can differ between the sessions - as was the case in Bahrain – with FP2 and qualifying more representative of race conditions. Yesterday, FP2 took place three hours later than FP1 in track conditions that were around 10 degrees cooler, meaning that the second practice was much more useful for engineers and drivers in terms of preparing their setups.
Following his brilliant win in Sakhir, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc went fastest on the P Zero Red soft C4 tyre thanks to a lap time of 1m30.074s in FP2. The Monegasque was also quickest in FP1 on the same compound, both times preceding Max Verstappen who set the second fastest time in FP1 using the P Zero White hard C2 and in FP2 using the P Zero Yellow medium C3.
Track conditions were difficult with the wind making things compliacted for driver in the second practice. Strong to moderate gusts of wind affected the aerodynamic balance in FP1 and FP2, while dust and sand on the track reduced grip, causing some graining on the soft compound in particular.
The Milan-based tyre manufacturer stated that there’s an estimated performance gap of around 0.9 seconds between the hard and medium compounds, and 0.6 seconds between the medium and soft: the latter slightly higher than expected.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Mario Isola said: “It’s hard to get an exact read on tyre performance as there was plenty of track evolution today, in FP1 and also in FP2, with sand blowing onto the track and the cars sliding around, especially at the start of each session.
„We saw some graining throughout the day, particularly on the softer compound, due to the track layout here with big lateral loads and sand reducing the grip. That obviously increased degradation and wear; even though certain drivers were still able to control it well. The track evolution we saw today should continue, especially if the wind calms down.
„We’ve seen the majority of long runs on the medium tyre, which the teams probably consider to be a strong race tyre along with the hard, which showed plenty of consistency. The soft is probably less suited to this circuit as the graining will lead to increased degradation, but it's only Friday and we’re yet to see the full picture this weekend,” Isola concluded.