Formula one is in a period of evolution the pace pf which has never been seen in recent memory. Despite the regulations for the Sprint race weekend formats having been set in stone before the beginning of the 2023 season, the teams unusually unilaterally agreed in March to add an extra qualifying session for the Sprint races instead of the prescribed FP2 practice.
Under the Ecclestone regime such mid season changes were rarely possible given the ever present conflict between the demands of the teams who were in regular conflict with either the FIA or the F1 commercial rights holders.
Reduced F1 tyre allocation
Under the guise of the FIA’s net zero plans for F1 in 2030, Pirelli have offered a plan to save the production of around 3800 tyres over a year with their new Alternative Tyre Arrangement plan.
This was set to be trialed at the abandoned Imola Grad prix weekend and so was rescheduled for this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix and again later in Monza after the F1 summer break.
Each driver now receives two less dry sets of dry weather tyres and qualifying prescribes each team must used the hard tyre in Q1, the medium in Q2 and the soft tyre in Q3.
Lewis Hamilton has been critical of the new allocation suggesting it will reduce the entertainment over the weekend for the fans at home or on track.
Less tyres means less F1 track action
With a wet practice one session, the effect of the reduced allocation was masked given the teams didn’t run their dry tyres during the first hour on track in Hungary.
However there was clearly an impact on practice two as a number of drivers decided to run with just one tyre during the Friday afternoon session.
This made it difficult for the teams to extrapolate their usual overnight data analysis of how they compared with competitors confusing the picture of how they would fare using the three sets of tyres in a one lap shootout.
Hamilton critices new FIA regulation
When asked about the tyre restrictions Hamilton told assembled media, “It’s very hard to comment on. We will look through the data to see if everything is correlating well because we haven’t used a lot of tire sets today.
“With this new format, you are just super limited with the tire sets that you can use, and I didn’t want to use them today to at least have a bit more of a better preparation tomorrow.”
With ironic hindsight Hamilton also described the two Friday practice sessions as “the worst” he could remember, yet claimed pole position on Saturday.
Yet under the new ‘ground effect’ car design rules, different teams perform better on certain tyre compounds than others, so being forced to use all three during the qualifying session was always going to be a challenge particularly for the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes.
Qualifying 1 now difficult for top teams
Hamilton was facing Q1 elimination as he stood P20 before his final run of the session. Yet with just one lap to save his weekend Lewis fitted a new set of hard tyres and with his competitors all returning to the pits set a lap time good enough to see him advance to Q2.
Lewis’ team mate George Russell was set an impossible task by the team being sent out so late, his final lap in quali one was compromised and sees him start the Grand Prix in P18, while of course the other identical Mercedes claimed pole position.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz also suffered from the team strategy, missing the final qualifying session by a few thousands of a second.
Yet seven different teams made it into the final pole shootout and the final time between P1 and P10 was the joint closest in Formula One history.
Hamilton believes Pirelli have wrong strategy
Clearly the revised qualifying format threw up a number of surprises and opportunities for the lesser teams to advance beyond their usual grid positions.
Yet despite claiming his first pole position for 33 races, Hamilton was adamant the new reduced tyre allocation was sub optimal and argued there were better ways to carry less tyres around the world and save the environment.
“There’s a lot of wet tyres I think they throw away after every weekend, like a lot, maybe they should look at something like that rather than taking time on track away from the fans,” argued the seven times world champion.
Change in any walk of life is resisted as the status quo is a known entity and a new unknown future brings about a loss of control to those extremely familiar with the ways things are.
Pirelli argue greater unpredictability
However, Pirelli believe the alternative tyre allocation in hungry has been a huge success and will lobby for it to be he norm for the 2024 season.
The boss of the F1 Italian tyre, Mario Isola, manufacture claimed the new format created “a very interesting qualifying, with the new format posing various challenges for the drivers.”
“It made for even closer times and more unpredictability than at previous events.”
“That can be seen from the fact that seven teams are represented in the top ten and the fastest 10 qualifiers are all within six tenths of each other.”
Drivers confused by F1 tyre compound changes
The unpredictability was partially caused by the fact the teams usually simulate their one lap qualifying runs on just two of the three compounds available each weekend, and rarely use the hard tyre.
However being forced to use the hard tyre in qualifying 1 the various strategists needed to understand whether there was a chance they could be knocked out in the first qualifying session on a tyre they may not choose to use during the entire weekend.
Pirelli boss Mario isola explained, “for example, the drivers had to adapt to the switch from one compound to another in the three phases of qualifying, something they are no longer used to, ever since the rule stating they had to start the race on the same set of tyres with which they made the cut out of Q2 was abolished.
At the same time, considering that the hard seems like the best choice of race tyre, many drivers opted not to use these sets in free practice and therefore found themselves somewhat in the dark in Q1, so that even the top teams had to do two runs [and use their new tyres].”
Reduced tyre allocation improves variable race strategy
The projected track temperature for the race was also a factor the team now had to consider and with temperatures in excess of 50 °C expected, the hard tyre looks to be the race tyre of choice.
However the likes of Max Verstappen and others have burned two sets of hard tyres in qualifying, something they would never do unless it was mandated these compounds must be used in this session.
Isola explains further, “in FP3, the long runs showed that, with a track temperature of around 50 °C, which is what we can also expect for the race, the C5 [soft] does not seem to be the ideal choice for the race.
“At the same time, the higher temperatures compared to yesterday and the normal track evolution, always very significant at the Hungaroring, sees the balance [for the race] swinging more in favour of the two harder compounds, the C3 [hard] and C4 .”
More diverse F1 race storages expected
The Hungarian Grand Prix has often been described as Monaco without the walls because overtaking is extremely difficult during the race. This forces the teams to consider track position as King and attempt to minimise their loss of positions by opting for a one stop strategy.
Mario Isola believes this also is likely to change due to the new tyre arrangements. While the Pirelli boss accepts a one stop race is possible he thinks, “it’s very much on the limit.”
“Therefore, the most likely strategy is for two stops, starting on the C4 and running two further stints on the C3.
“A single stop (hard-medium) is possible but it’s very much on the limit, both in terms of performance drop-off and tread life. Add these factors to the way the grid order looks and it should be a spectacular race.”
Mercedes cockup explains Russell’s P18 start
A driver deciding to one stop and starting on the hard tyre is likely to lose several places during the opening lap to those around him on the quicker medium tyre which heats up more quickly have better grip out of the final turn.
The jury is still to with a number of ‘old time’ F1 commentators like Martin Brundle claiming it has deprived the fans of quick cars like Russell’s Mercedes being in the fight amongst the top ten.
Yet the reason Russell in starting P18 is because Mercedes made a huge cockup and sent him out last minute amongst a host of others desperate to improve their times and make it through to P2.
Such was the space of the Mercedes – as Lewis Hamilton demonstrated – it was unnecessary for the team wait for those few thousands of a second improvement the track would bring by running Russel so late in the session.
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 22, 2023