|Vandoorne won the feature race in Bahrain|
The GP2 season got underway in Bahrain with a new set of tyre rules designed to bring the championship closer to Formula One. With the drivers now having to use both compounds during the feature race, even more possibilities were opened up in terms of strategy: which proved to be the key to Saturday’s race.
The P Zero Orange hard and P Zero Yellow soft compounds were nominated for Bahrain, with three sets of the hard and two sets of the soft per car for the weekend.
Although the teams had tested extensively in Bahrain prior to the start of the season, they faced a unique new challenge with qualifying held after dark for the first time at 20:00 on Friday, while the races were held in the heat of the day.
All the drivers used the soft tyre in qualifying to set their fastest time, which was significantly faster than the medium around the Sakhir circuit. Unlike Formula One, the GP2 drivers are not obliged to start the feature race on the tyres they used in qualifying.
Although most drivers started the 32-lap feature race on the soft tyre to be quicker at the beginning, a number of drivers towards the back of the grid tried a different strategy: starting on the hard tyre with the objective of running a longer first stint and passing the soft tyre runners during the pit stops. The abrasive and challenging nature of the Bahrain circuit pushed the soft tyres hard in terms of thermal degradation, but the drivers using the soft tyre at the end of the race were able to get more laps out of them thanks to lower fuel loads.
ART driver Takuya Izawa went from 23rd to sixth by starting on the hard tyre and taking advantage of the speed of the soft tyre after lap 21 to carve his way through the field. But one of the drivers who used strategy to best effect was Rapax driver Simon Trummer, who started from the pitlane and completed 30 laps on used hard tyres, switching to the soft with just two laps to go. Using these tactics he was able to take the lead before he made his pit stop, eventually finishing in seventh place.
This was not the only strategy that allowed drivers to make up places. Carlin’s Julian Leal used soft tyres for the first eight laps before switching to the hard. These tactics promoted him from12th on the grid to second at the finish, just 1.5 seconds behind the winner, Stoffel Vandoorne (ART).
The McLaren protégé also used a soft-hard strategy to win from second on the grid: using the speed of the soft tyre to move into the lead, before completing a longer 23-lap stint on the hard tyre to regain the advantage after Trummer pitted.
Vandoorne commented: “Leading the opening lap was key because it’s always the best position to manage the tyres. I probably could have run a bit longer because tyre degradation was okay but I decided to pit and to be sure to keep the lead. The team did a fantastic pit stop and from then on it was just about managing the tyres.”
Tyre management was just as important to the 23-lap sprint race on Sunday, with no compulsory pit stops. The grid was formed of the top eight finishers from Race One reversed, with all the drivers using the hard tyre. Because of high track temperatures, it was important to manage degradation effectively.
Palmer went from sixth to first on the opening lap and then managed his race to win from Trummer and Leal, which he said was “not easy, with these two tyre gurus behind you.”
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “In many ways, GP2 strategy is now even more complex than that of Formula One, because the drivers have the same obligation to use both compounds, but with two races and fewer sets of tyres available. It was fantastic to see so many drivers take advantage of the extra possibilities for strategy that the new rules offered, benefitting also from a longer free practice session this year that allows them more time to learn the tyres.”
This year’s GP2 season takes in 11 rounds and 22 races. The next round of the Pirelli-equipped series takes place in Barcelona from May 9-11.
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