Harder tyre choice allowed drivers to push pace in Sochi – Pirelli
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton won the Russian Grand Prix from second on the grid with one pit stop, moving from the medium to the soft tyre under a virtual safety car. His team mate Valtteri Bottas, who finished second, adopted the same strategy. Behind them there was a wide variety of tactics seen throughout the 53-lap race, which featured two safety cars: one straight after the start, and one just over the halfway point.
Pirelli’s Hard C2 tyre was supplied as a workable option for the second stint, but in the end only three drivers used it, with the medium and soft resisting well. A key element in Hamilton’s win was the Medium C3 compound, which showed low degradation, and drivers using the compound at the start were able to maximise their stint and keep their options open. There was an equal mixture of soft and medium tyres seen at the start, with only Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat starting his home race on the hard tyre from the back of the grid. The Soft C4 compound was also used for some long stints, notably by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who completed a long first run to move from ninth on the grid to fourth at the finish. Hamilton used the soft to set the fastest lap towards the end of the race.
Mario Isola – head of F1 and car racing at Pirelli said: “Tactics were an important element to the race, with opposite strategies being selected by Mercedes and Ferrari that resulted in an exciting finish, as Charles Leclerc tried to get past his rivals. The medium tyres selected by Mercedes gave them an advantage in terms of flexibility, but what was perhaps more of a surprise was the life of the soft. This worked better in today’s warmer conditions, being less susceptible to graining at higher temperatures. The two safety car periods were a key factor in the grand prix, minimising wear and degradation during important phases in the race, as well as providing opportunities to make pit stops at the right moment to minimise time loss. We came to Russia with a harder tyre choice than last year: this enabled drivers to push hard from the start to finish of each stint, rather than manage their pace.”
Mercedes was the only team in the top 10 of the grid to start on the medium tyres. Ferrari adopted a different tactic, starting on the soft. Both Mercedes drivers ran a longer first stint than Ferrari, and made their sole pit stops consecutively under a virtual safety car, switching to the soft tyres. With Charles Leclerc ending up behind the two Mercedes following their stops, Ferrari switched strategy to bring him in for a second stop to soft tyres under a full safety car, two laps after the Mercedes drivers had pitted.
The driver to make up most places was Red Bull’s Alex Albon, who started from the pit lane and made a single stop from medium to soft tyres on his way to fifth at the finish.
Although a one-stopper was predicted as being the fastest strategy, four of the 15 classified finishers ended up stopping twice: including Leclerc, on the podium. Though this was heavily influenced by the safety cars.