With cold conditions expected for this weekend's Las Vegas Grand Prix, it is no surprise that Formula One's sole tyre supplier Pirelli has picked out the softest compounds of its 6-compound tyre range for the third American round in 2023.
Teams, drivers and engineers are set to face a huge challenge this weekend at Las Vegas. The fact that the circuit will be a brand-new circuit is not necessary a new challenge, as teams are used to master new territory. In fact, the covid pandemic forced teams to quickly acclimate themselves to new circuits as new and previous tracks appeared on the heavily-modified schedules in 2020 and 2021.
At Las Vegas, the unusual schedule and the temperatures will pose the biggest issues that teams have to quickly find a solution for. For the first time in F1 history, the sessions will overlap more than one day, with a different schedule for the night race weekend. The first free practice session will take place on Thursday at 20:30 while FP2 runs from 12 midnight to 01:00 on Friday. FP3 is on Friday at 20:30, with qualifying then taking place from midnight to 01:00 on Saturday. The race starts on Saturday at 22:00.
The late starting times will see ambient temperatures drop to around 10-12ºC in the night, and the combination of cold tyres and damp conditions could cause havoc.
It is therefore no surprise that Pirelli has selected the softest selection of tyres in the range for the Nevada F1 round: driver will use C3 as P Zero White hard, C4 as P Zero Yellow medium and C5 as P Zero Red soft.
"We’ve selected the trio of softest compounds for this weekend: C3, C4, and C5, which should guarantee good grip," said Pirelli's Motorsport Director Mario Isola. "Minimum tyre pressures should be 27 psi at the front and 24.5 psi at the back, due to the expected low temperatures as well as the track layout.
"In cold conditions, the gap between cold tyre pressures and normal running pressures is greatly reduced – so when the car is moving, tyre pressure will increase a lot less than on other circuits due to the low asphalt temperatures. As a result, we think that running pressures will still be lower than on other circuits that are tough on tyres, such as Baku for example."
Las Vegas is not a totally unknown territory for Formula 1 as it has already staged two F1 races in 1981 and 1982 seasons, with both events called the Caesars Palace Grand Prix. On each occasion the race decided the championship: Alan Jones won the Grand Prix for Williams in 1981 but the title went to Brabham driver Nelson Piquet, while the following year’s race was won by Tyrrell’s Michele Alboreto with Williams driver Keke Rosberg taking the championship (and Ferrari winning the constructors’ classification).
However, the track that was created in the car park of the Caesars Palace Hotel was a very different one to the circuit that drivers will race on this weekend. The brand-new Las Vegas street circuit consists of 17 corners and three straights, with two DRS zones. The lap is 6.12 kilometres long, with an estimated top speed of 342kph. The finish line is on the corner of Harmon Avenue and Koval Lane, with the layout stretching from Las Vegas Boulevard to Sands Avenue and a race distance of 50 laps.
Commenting on the layout, Isola said: "It will also be a major technical challenge for both the teams and us, as we head into this race with no real references apart from simulation.
"Nobody has ever actually driven the 6.12-kilometre Las Vegas Strip circuit before, which is second only to Spa in terms of overall length this year, characterised by three straights and 17 corners. The surface will be a mix of the usual street asphalt, especially on the actual Strip, as well as other parts that have been completely re-asphalted for the occasion; adding another unknown element. There won’t be any support races and the track will be opened again to normal traffic for long chunks of the day, which means that the surface won’t rubber in as usual and deliver improved grip.
"We’re expecting the cars to run quite low levels of downforce, similar to Baku or indeed Monza: hitting a high top speed will be key to being competitive. All the sessions will take place at night, with unusual ambient and track temperatures for a race weekend; more similar to those found back when pre-season testing used to take place in Europe. Those long straights also make it harder to warm up tyres in qualifying, as well as keep them in the right window: the same challenge as seen in Baku, which will probably be more pronounced in Las Vegas."