You wouldn’t have guessed after the triple failure one week ago that tyres would be the saviour of the second race at Silverstone, but at the F1 70th Anniversary Grand Prix the sport owes a great deal to Pirelli for spicing up the race.
Pirelli some time ago made the decision to bring a set of tyres one set softer to the second race at Silverstone, in part addressing concerns that back-to-back races at the same venue would be a recipe for repetition.
At first glance the extra step seemed unlikely to make much difference, but not much in 2020 is going to plan.
The cars are faster than ever this year, the regular year-on-year increase in downforce resulting in Lewis Hamilton breaking the track record in qualifying last weekend.
Pirelli ordinarily counteracts this effect by updating its tyres annually, but for 2020 the teams rejected the latest iterations, so the 2019 versions remain in force.
The weather has also been hotter thanks to Silverstone’s later August scheduling owing to the coronavirus calendar shake-up.
Combined it meant only the hard (C1) last week was a thoroughly decent race tyre, with the medium marginal and the soft good enough for only qualifying.
All these factors were exacerbated by almost the entire field gambling on a 40-odd-lap final stint on the hard, resulting in the tyre blowouts in the final three laps as the rubber simply wore away.
So naturally the softer step this weekend appears on the surface somewhat alarming.
Ironically the softer rubber means the dramatic blowouts of last week are extremely unlikely simply because degradation will make long, managed stints uncompetitive — Pirelli has also raised minimum tyre pressures as a precaution — but it does put tyre strategy and usage into the spotlight.
So while Mercedes gallops away a the front of the field, the rest of the grid is precariously poised as they feel their way through the delicate tyre situation for another punishing 51 laps of Silverstone.
|PROVISIONAL STARTING GRID|
Distance: 5.891 kilometres
Lap record: 1:25.093 (Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 2019)
Track record: 1:24.303 (Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2020)
Lateral load: very high
Tyre stress: very high
Asphalt grip: high
Asphalt abrasion: medium
Traction: very low
Safety car probability: 100 per cent
Pit lane speed: 80 kilometres per hour
Pit lane length: 508.9 metres
Pit lane time loss: 22.9 seconds
Fuel consumption: 2.12 kilograms per lap
Tyres: C2 (hard), C3 (medium), C4 (soft)
Estimated tyre delta
Hard–medium: 0.7 seconds
Medium–soft: 0.9 seconds
Mercedes extended its advantage in qualifying week on week, but the degree of tyre management likely required, even with two stops the default strategy, means it’s hard to say if poleman Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton will have things absolutely their own way.
Of principal concern will be Max Verstappen starting from P4. While nine of the top-10 starters will take from the grid with the medium tyre, the Dutchman will start on the hard after a gutsy Q2 lap on the white-walled compound just about got him through to Q3.
Last week Verstappen was able to keep himself withing the Mercedes pit stop window, and with the hard tyre ensuring he can take his first stint further while also keeping the quicker medium until later in the race, Red Bull Racing has created some potential for him to cause some headaches up front in the right circumstances.
But to win that potential he’s traded some flexibility. The medium tyre — last week’s soft — will have to be used at some point, and its relative lack of durability will rob him of the opportunity to be responsive later in the race. Timing exactly when to deploy the medium could be key.
Racing Point starts P3 with Nico Hulkenberg, who’ll be boosted in his fight with Daniel Ricciardo (P5) by having two sets of hard tyres in his arsenal whereas the Australian will have only one.
Renault, for reasons known only to the team, used one of each of Ricciardo’s and Ocon’s hard compounds for analysis in FP2, leaving them unable to be used in the race. Ricciardo doesn’t even have any new mediums in the bank, having taken the best out of his three available sets in qualifying.
While a hard-medium-medium strategy will be achievable, does this make Renault the most likely team to ambitiously and perhaps injudiciously attempt to stop only once? The feeling is someone will try it, though it’ll be a stretch.
Further down the grid, the bottom 10 have a potentially decisive advantage in such a tightly packed field by starting on the hard tyre and generating an offset to the lower medium starters of the top 10.
It’s a race with a fascinating set-up, and it’s anyone’s guess how it’ll end up.