PIRELLI CONFIRMS CAUSE FOR FRIDAY’S TYRE ISSUES

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has clinched his 31st career pole position, using the Pirelli Cinturato Green intermediate, after one of the most exciting qualifying sessions seen all year that revolved around strategy. The sessions were all characterised by mixed weather, which made the timing of each qualifying lap crucial. The P Zero Orange hard and P Zero medium slick tyres – which were also used during qualifying – have been nominated for this weekend.

With rain falling at the start of Q1, the drivers lined up in the pitlane in order to set a banker time at the start of the 20-minute session, in case conditions got worse. All the drivers used the intermediate tyre at the beginning of the session, with a dry line beginning to emerge as the opening session went on. The Caterham of Giedo van der Garde and the two Marussias were the first to change to the medium compound with five minutes to go.

The track stayed dry for Q2, with all the drivers apart from the two Ferraris, the Red Bull of Mark Webber and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton – who also ran the hard tyre – using the white medium tyre exclusively during this session. Red Bull’s Mark Webber initially went fastest on the hard compound, before being usurped by Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen on the medium – who ended up setting the fastest time in the session with the same compound.

The rain returned and then got harder towards the end of the final Q3 session. Force India’s Paul di Resta was the first to put on intermediate tyres and for most of the session it looked like this decision would be enough to give him his first pole position. But then, as the track dried in the closing seconds, first the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, followed by the two Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel, and finally the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, successively went fastest. All of them used the intermediate tyre.

Vettel went fastest in the final free practice session this morning, with the drivers using the hard tyre for most of the session. At the end, Vettel set his fastest time on the medium tyre.  

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Before talking about today’s thrilling qualifying session, we’d like to point out that overnight investigation of the two punctures that affected Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso during free practice yesterday resulted in a clear conclusion: Vettel’s puncture was caused by debris – a metal piece of another car – getting stuck between the floor and the wheel, while Alonso’s tyre was also clearly cut by the same piece. The markings on each tyre match up and this was also sustained in the same place: turn 13.

Today’s qualifying at Spa threw up the perennial problem of some parts of the track remaining wet while other sections dried up more rapidly. The track was evolving by the second, and the timing of the tyre choices proved to be crucial – bearing in mind that an out lap alone costs more than two minutes at Spa. In the first two sessions, establishing the crossover point from intermediates to slicks was the key, and that is likely to be very useful knowledge for tomorrow as well, with yet more uncertain weather predicted. Tomorrow the drivers will be able to start on whichever tyre compound they choose, which increases the options for strategy still further.”

The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor:

Belgium is one of the hardest races to predict a strategy for, due to the long lap and very variable weather as we saw today, as well as the fact that the drivers will have a free choice of starting tyres tomorrow.

Under normal circumstances, one or two stops are possible for the 44-lap race. A two-stop strategy is faster than a one-stop by three seconds, but only over the last five laps. So if there’s a safety car period for more than three to four laps, teams could revert to a one-stopper.

A two-stop strategy could be: start on the medium tyre, switch to medium again on lap 13 and hard on lap 25. Alternatively, start on the medium tyre, stop on lap 19 and then run to the finish on the hard.

Fastest compounds in FP3:

1.  Vettel  1m48.327s  Medium New
2.  Alonso  1m48.432s  Medium New
3.  Webber  1m48.533s  Medium New

Top 10 tyre use:

 Hamilton  Intermediate  2m01.012s
 Vettel  Intermediate  2m01.200s
 Webber  Intermediate  2m01.325s
 Rosberg  Intermediate  2m02.251s
 Di Resta  Intermediate  2m02.332s
 Button  Intermediate  2m03.075s
 Grosjean  Intermediate  2m03.081s
 Raikkonen  Intermediate  2m03.390s
 Alonso  Intermediate  2m03.482s
 Massa  Intermediate  2m04.059s