Pirelli expects the strategies to centre around the soft tyres

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Spain, Circuit de Catalunyaes

Formula One's sole tyre supplier Pirelli expects teams to build their strategies around the red-walled soft tyres while the optimal strategy is predicted to be a two-stop approach.

McLaren was back on pole position after an absence of 1001 days with Lando Norris coming out on top of a ultra-close qualifying session.

The Briton's time of 1’11”383 was just 20 thousandths quicker than Max Verstappen’s 1’11”403.

Behind them, the next four drivers are all within 35 thousandths. The second row is an all-Mercedes affair (1’11”701 for Lewis Hamilton, 1’11”703 for George Russell), while the Ferrari duo occupy row 3 (1’11”731 for Charles Leclerc, 1’11”736 for Carlos Sainz).

This was Norris’ second career pole, McLaren’s 157th, its tenth at this Grand Prix. The Woking squad’s last pole at the Barcelona-Catalunya track dates back to 2005 when Kimi Raikkonen was fastest.

Pirelli's Motorsport Director Mario Isola commented: "Another extremely close qualifying, with very small gaps and several teams and drivers looking capable at some point or other of being quickest.

"With today’s pole for Norris, it means that four teams – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and now McLaren – have managed to start from the number one slot on the grid. On a track that is very demanding for the entire car-engine-tyre package, today we saw that performance increases from one year to the next are really significant.

"Today’s pole time is almost a second quicker than last year’s and over half a second better than the average of the simulations we received from the teams.

Soft compound, two-stop

The third free practice session saw several teams work exclusively on qualifying simulation runs, while others also replicated some parts of the race, running different fuel loads, trying to acquire further data on tyre behaviour and management.

Qualifying confirmed what had already emerged yesterday: on a track as hard on tyres as Barcelona, peak performance comes on the first flying lap and after that, it’s practically impossible to improve.

For the race, having a set of new Softs available could be an advantage, especially if fitted for the start.

It is interesting that soft tyres might turn out to be the best race tyre, but the long run analysis indicated that this will be the case today. The C3 compound loses its peak grip immediately after a single lap, but it delivered quite a consistent performance after that.

Moreover, there is a huge performance gap between the three different compounds. The soft is half a second quicker than the medium, and a full second faster than the hard rubber in race conditions.

All in all, the red-banded tyres are expected to be the best race compound, and they can also be vital at the start due to the extremely long run to the first corner.

That is why Pirelli expects teams to center their strategies around a two-stop approach with two stints involving the soft compound while the third one the medium rubber.

"As for tyre use in the race, one has to keep in mind the considerable drop in temperatures we saw today, particularly on the track surface, which was around ten degrees cooler than yesterday afternoon.

"While this drop did not have any significant effect over a flying lap, it could be an important factor tomorrow, even if in fact there is a real chance it might rain. In the dry, that means the Medium and Soft dry compounds offer the best performance.

"On paper, the quickest strategy does indeed involve the use of two sets of C3 and one of C2. We can rule out a one-stop strategy because it’s too slow, but the idea of a four stint, three-stop race is not so far-fetched, being only a handful of seconds slower than a two-stop.

"How the drivers manage tyre performance over each stint will also be very important, something which the teams worked on very carefully in the final free practice session.”