Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton set the fastest times in Friday’s morning and afternoon practice sessions for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, the former on the hard compound Bridgestone Potenza tyre, the latter on the soft. Conditions were described as cool and dry for the afternoon session, which benefitted users of the soft compound since it was quicker to warm up, as Bridgestone’s director of Motorsport Tyre Development, Hirohide Hamashima said: “The soft compound provided the fastest lap time today and a quicker warm-up, although the overall lap time difference was not as big as we have seen at some tracks.
Bridgestone is to exempt the Monaco Grand Prix from its Formula One race tyre allocation policy of varying the compounds used by at least two degrees in an effort to attain more grip on the slippery streets of Monte Carlo. The company announced that it is bringing its soft and super soft Potenza slicks to the event, which begins officially with practice sessions on Thursday. Bridgestone will also debut a new softer compound intermediate tyre, designed to deliver more grip in the wet. It will be used for the remainder of the 2009 season.
Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone’s director of motorsport tyre development, appears ready for the difficulties posed by the street race in Monaco: “Finding grip will be the main challenge… This is a very interesting circuit, and one where the track is made of many different types of surface as well as there being public road markings on the track. Also notable is that F1 does not run on Friday, so the track conditions can change quite a lot between Thursday and Saturday. When there is no racing taking place, public vehicles and also people use the track. This makes it difficult for rubber to build up and the surface can become dirty again, which does not help the track surface develop well for racing.”
In Shanghai, Bridgestone’s super soft tyre was used by Jenson Button’s Brawn as he set Friday’s fastest lap time in the afternoon practice session held in sunny weather conditions. Lewis Hamilton had set the fastest time on the harder compound in the morning session. The practice session is the first time that Bridgestone’s super soft compound tyre has been used at Shanghai. Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone director of motorsport tyre development noted that the early Championship leaders Brawn and Toyota “appear to be using their tyres well, but some other teams are still finding the best set-ups. In the second session we saw both tyres used and the performance of the super soft in terms of degradation was not as bad as in Australia.”
He was also keen to stress the challenge posed by Bridgestone’s employment of the super soft tyre, in line with the supplier’s promise to make tyre usage an important tactical aspect of the season: “For 2009 we are making a bigger difference between the two compounds and this is in response to requests for this from the FIA and the teams… Here we have the medium tyre, which should be a strong race tyre, and the super soft, which will require good tyre management in terms of car set-up and driving style. Of course, we saw different approaches to using the super soft tyre in Australia, with some approaches working much better than others, so it will be interesting to see competitors rise to the challenge here in Shanghai.”
Felipe Massa held the advantage in opening practice at his home country’s Grand Prix in Interlagos, Brazil, though championship leader Lewis Hamilton was only two-tenths behind having led for much of the time the pair were on track. The race, which takes place this Sunday, will decide the winner of 2008’s championship, though Hamilton is in the box seat seven points ahead of his Ferrari-driving rival.