What became obvious during Fridays two practice sessions, was that all the teams will face an uphill battle to keep the Pirelli rubber alive for the forthcoming Belgian Grand Prix.
Drivers who ventured onto the red marked super soft rubber, were finding that the tyre had expired its best performance before the end of just one lap. Ambient temperatures for the Belgian round are higher than practically anyone predicted, with beaming sunshine replacing the normal sight of a cloud covered Ardennes region.
Both practice sessions pointed to excessive tyre wear across all compounds, meaning the teams will have to perhaps sacrifice qualifying pace, for optimum race strategy. This was evident in practice 2 as the teams concentrated more on long runs, with the focus for Hamilton in particular being on the medium tyre which is the hardest compound available this weekend.
Williams driver Valtteri Bottas commented: “It’s really tricky with these temperatures. The supersoft tyre on this kind of track, where you put so much energy into the tyre, is good for sector one, maybe sector two, then it’s finished.
“And even with the soft, during the long runs, the amount you need to manage the tyres is incredible. Especially with these tyre pressures you have to run, it’s tricky.”
Daniel Ricciardo who finished behind teammate Max Verstappen in in the FP2 standings said: “It is definitely very tricky the supersoft. It is difficult to make it last the whole lap…it lasts but you don’t really gain much of a performance from it towards the end of the lap.
“It will be tricky with high fuel, I did a few laps on it but it was sliding a lot. We expected that with this heat but it will make the strategy and everything for Sunday more interesting.”
Italian supplier Pirelli have estimated that lap time will vary between 1.2 seconds between the red supersoft, and the yellow marked soft tyre. The white walled medium is predicted to be a further 1.5 seconds from the soft compound.
If the track temperatures stay high then we could see the teams ignoring the pace advantage of the red supersoft tyre for their Q2 runs, enabling the possibility of avoiding the supersoft altogether for Sundays race.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola said: “The best strategy could be medium/soft and could be two or three stops if the supersoft lasts five or six laps at the start.
“They could even use the medium. We know it is slower but if degradation is much lower it becomes a possible compound for the race.
“It will be interesting to see if anyone is qualifying in Q2 on the soft tyre, starting the race with the soft. And this is a good point to see for tomorrow.
“If somebody has to use the supersoft, it means a short stint in the beginning, because with a full tank when they try to do a long run the degradation was very high. There is quite a big difference between a full tank and a qualifying situation.”
Pirelli have also confirmed that they expect the weather to be slightly cooler for Saturday, which could play a big part in easing degradation levels experienced on Friday.
During Fridays two sessions all drivers were also given two sets each of Pirelli prototype rubber, although they were not obliged to use them.
The new tyres are built of a new construction designed to resist damage from what Pirelli describe as “multiple impacts”, relating to kerb impacts or wing contact perhaps.
The idea behind the test was to prove that the revised construction will not impact track performance when compared with the tyres already used this year. Proving this was key, as the teams have already made selection choices for the races to be held later in the year.
“We are testing the new prototypes, the black one, that is a soft construction with the target not to change anything in terms of performance,” said Pirelli technical boss Mario Isola.
“We want that this construction is transparent, and they don’t feel any difference compared to the base.
“We tested the construction with our indoor testing, indoor drum and so on, and we found that the new one is better when you have a multiple impact against external objects. So it’s more resistant and better with less propagation of the damage.
“That is the reason we wanted to test here, we wanted to test in Monza again. There is currently a request with the FIA to have the authorisation to bring additional prototypes to Monza.
“If we are successful – not successful in terms of integrity, that was assessed with indoor testing – but the drivers are happy with the performance and handling of the tyre, we want to introduce the new specification from Sepang. This is the plan.”
In short, its all about the black stuff.