Unlike China, the key to managing the tyres here is going to be thermal degradation, with track temperatures well in excess of 40 degrees centigrade. - Paul Hembery.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg will start from pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix tomorrow, thanks to a time
of 1m32.330s set on the Pirelli 235 55 r17
P Zero White medium tyres, which have been nominated along with the P Zero Orange hard tyres this weekend. Rosberg’s pole lap on the 2013 medium tyre eclipsed the pole time set by Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull on the 2012 soft tyre last year: 1m32.422s. Rosberg’s pole in Bahrain marks the first back-to-back pole positions for Mercedes since the days of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss in the 1950s.
During the final free practice session this morning, the drivers ran on both the hard and medium compound. Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso
was fastest in FP3 on the medium Pirelli 235 55 r17 tyre with a time of 1m33.247s set at the end of the session, underlining the extent by which the track had evolved. Tomorrow’s grid will have a somewhat different look to it compared to the top 10 times as a result of previous grid penalties. This also influenced some of the team tactics during qualifying.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Unlike China, the key to managing the 235 55 r17 tyres here is going to be thermal degradation, with track temperatures well in excess of 40 degrees centigrade. With all the traction and braking events, this challenges the rear tyres in particular and that will be the limiting factor. The track is evolving all the time so we should see the times getting faster and faster: even though this year’s pole time is already quicker than last year’s pole, which was set on a nominally softer compound. The performance gap between the two compounds is much smaller than it was in China, around 0.6s per lap, which means that there are several different possibilities for strategy – as there isn’t one obvious way to go. This is something that we already saw in qualifying, with teams adopting different approaches in each session. Overtaking is reasonably easy in Bahrain compared to many other tracks, and it’s looking like the hard tyre may be the preferred race tyre here with some teams going for the medium. The problem seen on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes during free practice was not the result of a structural tyre failure, but instead must have been down to a piece of debris on the track.”
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor:
The smaller performance gap between the two compounds opens up the possibility of many different strategies, meaning that there is not one way that is obviously quicker than the other. It also doesn’t make a great deal of difference starting on the hard or the medium tyre.
Three stops could be the fastest plan though: start on the hard, change to hard on lap 10, hard again on lap 25, and then medium on lap 41.
A very close second possibility is to start on the medium 235 55 r17 Pirelli, change to medium on lap 8, change to another set of mediums on lap 24 and finish with a set of hard tyres on lap 38.
A two-stop race isn’t out of the question either, with two stints on the hard and one on the soft Pirelli 235 55 r17, providing that the driver can keep rear tyre degradation under control during the 57-lap race. Again, keeping a flexible approach to strategy will pay dividends – but with overtaking reasonably feasible, finding a gap in the traffic is less essential.