As there’s a high probability of red flags, safety cars and other delays based on last year's race and this year's Formula 2 races, it is incredibly difficult to predict the right strategy for today's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. However, Pirelli thinks that the one-stop strategy is the fastest option with a two-stopper only a slightly slower theoretically.
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 time that drivers can try out the C4 compound as Pirelli brought the three hardest compounds 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.
In yesterday’s intense and incident-filled qualifying session for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez claimed the first pole of his Formula 1 career on the ultra-rapid Jeddah street circuit. The Guadalajara-born driver received his first ever Pole Position Award from celebrated chef Gordon Ramsay, a well-known Formula 1 and car fan, who has fronted several shows on cooking and restaurants.
As in Bahrain a week ago, most of the drivers used the softest compound available which is the C4 compound in Jeddah. Perez, who became the very first Mexican driver to claim a pole position used the P Zero Red soft C4 tyres from start to finish of qualifying with the Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell representing the only exception in the field. The Anglo-German manufacturer ran with both cars on the medium compund at the start of Q1 and Russell used it also at the start of Q2.
Based on the long runs completed on Friday, Pirelli estimates that a one-stop strategy should be fastest for the 50-lap race today. With the top 10 qualifiers no longer tied to their fastest Q2 tyres to start on, the tyre choice could focus on the hard and the medium compounds.
The Milan-based tyre supplier is not sure how the possibly higher temperatures could affect the tyre behaviour. If the degradation level is higher than anticipated, then a two-stopper is also a good option, being almost as quick as a one-stopper.
In this case the medium looks like the preferred tyre to begin the grand prix, followed by a central stint on the hard and a final run on the medium. But there is also the possibility to use all three compounds, maybe keeping the soft for the final stint.
Pirelli's Motorsport Director Mario Isola commented: “Pole was just seven-tenths off last year’s best time here in Jeddah, which is a great achievement in only the second race for these brand new cars. The teams focused on the soft compound from free practice this morning in preparation for using it in qualifying this evening. This also means that the majority of drivers have kept two sets of medium and one set of hard, which probably indicates that they will prefer to use these two compounds.
But all the runs today, both in free practice and qualifying, were relatively short, so it's hard to know exactly how the levels of graining have evolved. As a result, the strategy is open tomorrow between a one-stopper and a two-stopper, depending on the actual levels of degradation experienced during the race, which of course depends on a number of different factors.
"Our best wishes to Mick Schumacher for a speedy recovery after the accident he sustained during qualifying: it’s good to see that the new generation of cars are fast as well as safe," he concluded.