Analysis: Tyre strategies at the Bahrain Grand Prix

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Bahrain, Bahrain International Circuitbh

The season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix turned out to be a fairly conventional race in terms of strategy with most of the drivers opting to complete the 57-lap race with a two-stop strategy. F1Technical's senior writer Balázs Szabó delivers his tyre analaysis following the Manama F1 race.

Formula One’s sole tyre supplier Pirelli brought the three hardest compounds of its five-compound range to the season-opener in Manama. It meant that the C1 compound served as the Hard tyre, the C2 as the medium and the C3 as the soft rubber.

Pre-season testing and Thursday’s practice sessions indicated that the red-walled tyre could emerge as a viable race tyre based on its relatively low degradation. It became also apparent through the practice runs that the medium and the hard compound offers a comparable grip level on a long run, but the latter yields lower degradation, meaning that the yellow-walled tyre might not even make an appearance during the race.

Although teams sometimes get caught by surprise on Sunday as degradation can be different on race day compared to the race simulation runs performed during practice sessions, in Bahrain, teams were able to build on the experiences that they had gained earlier during the weekend. Drivers opted to the hard and the soft tyres, and no one chose the medium tyre which is a real rarity during a grand prix.

It was Lance Stroll, who completed the longest stint on the white-banded tyres by racking up a total of 30 laps during his final stint. The best time on the C1 was recorded by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who posted a 1m34.090s on the second lap of his last stint (Lap 36).

The softest compound turned out to be a preferred tyre as every driver opted to start the grand prix on the compound due to its high initial grip that offered a great launch off the line.

Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez completed the longest stint on the red-walled rubber with a run of 21 laps. The fastest lap on the C3 came from race winner Max Verstappen, who clocked an eye-catching 1m32.608s on Lap 39 which was the second lap of his final stint.

As for the strategies, most of the drivers elected to complete the opening race of the season with a two-stop strategy.

The only offset strategy belonged to Haas racer Nico Hulkenberg, who made contact with Lance Stroll at the first corner on Lap 1 with the incident forcing the Emmerich-born driver to pit for new tyres and a new front wing at the end of the first tour. The German driver pitted three times during the race (Lap 1, 20 and 41), but his early stop meant that he effectively completed the race with a two-stop strategy.

Most of the drivers stopped for new tyres between Laps 9 and 15 with only Max Verstappen extending his first stint until Lap 17. While the Dutchman lost some time on the used softs in the dying phases of his opening run compared to his direct rivals, he was able to build up such a gap until the first stop of his rivals that he could extend his first stint in a bid to establish a strategic advantage to the rest of the race.

Most of the drivers elected to stop for their third set of tyres between Laps 27 and 37 with Verstappen becoming one of the last drivers to pit for the second time.

Of the two-stopping drivers, Fernando Alonso became the last driver to pit for last fresh set of tyres. The Spaniard might have been waiting for a safety car interruption which could have meant a smaller time loss compared to a pit stop in green flag conditions.

Aside from Nico Hulkenberg who effectively elected for a two-stop strategy, there were two drivers who completed the opening race with a three-stop strategy. Williams drivers Logan Sargeant and Alpine racer Pierre Gasly started the race with softs before switching to the hard and completing a third stint on the C1 compound which was followed by a final stint on the red-walled tyres.

Both drivers made used of the fact that they had plenty of fresh tyres available after their dismal qualifying result. Moreover, the American driver’s race was compromised by an electronics glitch and the French driver might have wanted to try something different in what is a very difficult situation for his team due to the lack of pace of their car.