On Saturday’s evening at the 2021 British GP, there will be a sprint qualifying session for the first time in Formula One. The 100 km long sprint race will serve to determine the grid for the Grand Prix on Sunday.
The introduction of the sprint race implies a change in the allocations of tyre compounds. There will be 12 sets of P Zero slick tyres (instead of 13): two sets of hards, four sets of mediums, and six softs.
During Friday’s qualifying session – which is used to define Saturday’s sprint race starting grid – only the soft tyre can be used; however, unlike what normally happens, there will be no obligation to start the GP on the same compounds with which the fastest time was set in Q2.
Further, in Saturday’s Sprint (which in Silverstone's case will be 17-laps long), drivers will have a free choice of tyres with no obligatory pit stop. The tyre rules for the Grand Prix on Sunday remain unaltered, apart from every driver having a free choice of tyres for the start.
“There are plenty of new things to look forward to during the Silverstone weekend,” claimed Isola, “first and foremost the introduction of sprint qualifying for the first of three races this year, which will completely alter the dynamic and rhythm of the weekend as well as having an important effect on how the tyres are used”.
“Today we saw some teams running all three tyre compounds,” Pirelli’s manager added, “probably they wanted to understand what to do during the sprint qualifying”.
“The main problem for us was trying to understand the delta lap times between each compound because teams didn’t run the usual Friday’s program with simulations of fast laps and race pace,” he continued.
“This has made it trickier for us to draw reliable conclusions. However, I believe we can rely on the data coming from last year, so we can estimate delta times to be between 0,6 between each compound”.
Silverstone is renowned as a high-speed, high-energy circuit: The famous Maggots and Becketts corners, in particular, impose big forces on the tyres, caused by a lateral acceleration peak of more than 5g as the drivers sweep through the complex without lifting.
“Silverstone itself remains one of the biggest tests of the year for tyres thanks to all its fast corners, meaning that some degree of tyre management is always essential”
“During the Maggots and Becketts corners sequence, we have estimated that each tyre is subject to more than 1.500 KGs of weight – which is quite a lot,” Isola explained. “However today, during Q1, we didn’t register any graining. There was only some abrasion and blistering on the front right, but it is not a surprise here”.
Last year’s British Grand Prix was won with a one-stop medium-hard strategy: the same tactic selected by all three podium finishers (although Max Verstappen, in second, made a late stop for soft tyres and claimed the extra point for the fastest lap).
“For tomorrow is difficult to predict what teams will do – we cannot say with certainty whether all of them will opt for running the sprint qualifying on Mediums”.
“Before coming here I was sure everyone would have used the medium but I’m not so sure anymore,” the Italian continued.
“Some drivers today were able to run longer stints [compared to the sprint qualifying] using soft tyres with no degradation. For example, Ocon, Vettel, Leclerc, Giovinazzi, and Stroll were running long stints on softs”.
“The different ways in which the teams interpret these new regulations and make the most of them is going to be fascinating to watch”.
According to Pirelli’s boss, especially those teams that will start from the middle of the pack on Saturday’s qualifying might decide to take some risks and opt for differentiated tyre strategies. On the other hand, Sunday’s race is a totally different story, “the race is much longer”, explained Isola, “so if teams aim for a single stop strategy, they’ll choose mediums or hards”.
Given the very short nature of the newly-introduced Saturday format, some drivers like Tsunoda, Stroll and others starting a bit behind might be more likely to take a gamble and choose to use softs – “I cannot exclude that. Especially in sprint qualifying, those at the back could choose to run on soft tyres".
“It is only seventeen laps long [the Sprint Qualifying],” he continued, “I’m not saying they have nothing to lose, but starting at the back they can take some more risks”.