ROSBERG ON POLE USING MEDIUM TYRE: BOTH MERCEDES ABLE TO SAVE
TYRES IN Q2 AND KEEP A NEW SET FOR THE RACE
WARM WEATHER CONTINUES IN QUALIFYING AT SUZUKA
TWO PIT STOPS IS THE QUICKEST STRATEGY IF THE RACE REMAINS DRY:
TYPHOON PHANFONE IS STILL A THREAT
For the eighth time this year, there is an all-Mercedes front row, with Nico Rosberg leading Lewis Hamilton. Both drivers used tyre strategy during qualifying, being the only people able to complete just one run in Q2 on medium tyres, nominated together with the hard tyre this weekend. As a result, Rosberg and Hamilton are the only drivers in the top 10 to have a new set of medium tyres for the race.
The warm conditions seen yesterday continued during qualifying, with ambient temperatures of 27 degrees centigrade and a track temperature of 38 degrees at the start of the session. Only the Mercedes, Williams, McLarens, Red Bulls and Ferrari of Fernando Alonso used just the hard tyre to get through Q1.
From that point on, all the drivers used the medium tyre only: now reckoned to be just over half a second quicker than the hard, with the performance gap between the two compounds having come down as a result of track evolution.
The medium tyre is likely to be the most crucial one for the race – so the drivers tried to keep as many fresh sets as possible, because of the high thermal degradation. In Q2, only the Mercedes drivers were able to save a set of medium tyres (compared to the others) by completing just one run. Like all the Q3 runners, they did two runs in the final session. Rosberg set his pole lap on his second run, and although the track was getting progressively faster, nobody was subsequently able to beat it.
Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who qualified third, was the only other person apart from Hamilton to get to within one second of pole. In the final free practice session this morning, Rosberg was again fastest using the medium tyre.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “Once more, there were no big surprises today – on the track at least. The performance gap between the two compounds has come down slightly, as we anticipated, but the medium is still expected to be the main race tyre. That’s assuming it doesn’t rain of course, and there is still a strong element of doubt about this because of the nearby typhoon. So it could be a very different story tomorrow and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.”
The Pirelli strategy predictor:
A two-stop strategy looks set to be best for the 53-lap race (which was also the winning strategy last year). The optimal strategy is to start on the medium tyre, change to the medium again on lap 22 and finally to the hard on lap 42. Some teams might try a three-stopper, in which case the quickest way is to start on the medium tyre, change to medium again on lap 18, medium again on lap 33, and finally hard on lap 47 – although this is theoretically around seven seconds slower. If it rains, the strategy goes out of the window: it then becomes a question of anticipating and reacting to changing conditions as best as possible. If conditions are cooler than they have been today and on Friday, this could also affect levels of degradation and therefore strategy.
Fastest compounds in FP3:
Top 10 tyre use: