Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, Shanghai International Circuit, 2018

Fragile ultra-softs may tempt front-runners to gamble

2018 Chinese GP Friday practice analysis

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Rewind five years to the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix. It’s lap seven and the field is led not by one of the Red Bulls or Ferraris. Nor a Mercedes or Lotus – despite the fact two of their drivers shared the front row.

Instead it was Nico Hulkenberg’s Sauber at the sharp end. He qualified 10th but all the drivers who lined up in front of him started on the softest available tyre and pitted within the first seven laps with two exceptions: Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button, both of which Hulkenberg passed.

Why might this be relevant to this weekend’s race? Pireli’s choice to bring the fast but fragile ultra-soft tyres could mean we see drivers pitting early on Sunday if many in the top 10 choose to start on them.

However unlike then drivers have the choice to qualify on harder tyres in Q2 and start on them. Which of the front runners might want to risk it?

Red Bull seem an obvious choice. They already tried such tactics in Australia, albeit without success at a track where passing is hard. Shanghai would be a better bet, and Daniel Ricciardo indicated he wasn’t pleased with his race simulation run on ultra-softs (you can never rule out the possibility of such talk being a ruse, of course).

Mercedes and Ferrari should be the contenders for pole position. As expected Mercedes look in better shape here than in Bahrain but Ferrari are clearly too close for comfort. Kimi Raikkonen tends to go well in Shanghai, has started both of this year’s races from the front row, and said he had more time in his pocked after Hamilton pipped him to Friday’s best time by seven thousandths of a second.

According to Mercedes, they found the ultra-soft less of a headache than they expected. “It was surprisingly consistent over the long runs and still going strong when we boxed both cars having seen the rain approaching on the radar,” said chief race engineer Andrew Shovlin.

The concern for Mercedes is the cooler conditions their car thrives on may be gone come race day, allowing Ferrari to put them under pressure. “Some of the work tonight needs to focus on that change of temperature for the race, but even for the cool conditions we anticipate tomorrow, we have work to do on the balance to fine tune a few corners,” Shovlin added.

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Those who do start on the ultra-soft are likely to have the option of trying to run to the end of the race on the medium tyre after an early first stop. Pirelli confirmed this is a realistic strategy, and as their predictions tend to err on the conservative side, there will surely be some considering it.

Renault were quickest of the midfielders in practice but the team has flattered to deceive in qualifying, posting quick times in Q2 then falling short in the top 10 shoot-out. Haas are right up there again, though once more it’s Kevin Magnussen leading the way while Romain Grosjean spoiled his qualifying simulation lap with a spin.

What about McLaren? They are the only team so far to have set a quicker time than they managed 12 months ago. However it bears pointing out they did this by falling back on a favourite tactic of Fernando Alonso – using the other driver to give a slipstream on the straight. Co-ordinating these tactics in qualifying is always tricky. But if failing to reach Q3 brings the advantage of starting on fresher tyres, perhaps they’d be better off not bothering.

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’33.9991’33.48248
2Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’34.3581’33.48940
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’34.4571’33.51555
4Sebastian VettelFerrari1’34.8611’33.59045
5Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’34.6681’33.82348
6Nico HulkenbergRenault1’35.8001’34.31348
7Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’35.1781’34.45847
8Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’35.6161’34.47351
9Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’34.5371’34.55748
10Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Renault1’36.0441’34.63252
11Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’36.0511’34.79258
12Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Honda1’36.0371’34.84954
13Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’36.3511’34.87462
14Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Renault1’36.7561’35.16347
15Brendon HartleyToro Rosso-Honda1’36.7151’35.33360
16Sergey SirotkinWilliams-Mercedes1’36.6911’35.34062
17Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’36.9091’35.62450
18Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’35.7181’36.47147
19Charles LeclercSauber-Ferrari1’36.7231’35.91649
20Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’37.2771’37.14747

2018 Chinese Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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30 comments on “Fragile ultra-softs may tempt front-runners to gamble”

  1. I’m expecting both Ferrari and Mercedes cars to try get into Q3 on the soft.

    1. @flatsix
      I wouldn’t be surprised if they do try it. Although, my gut tells me at least one of the Red Bulls will try to get in to Q3 on the softs. RB still don’t have the Q3 engine mode to get on the front row, but they have mighty race pace. It might be their best shot to try a different race strategy to jump the front runners. Vettel and Hamilton might play it safe as starting on the quickest tyre from P1 is still a solid strategy.

      Either ways, I think it should be a cracker of a race.

    2. Unfortunately the top 10 starting tyre rule, benefits the quicker cars on the top10.

    3. @todfod Called it!

  2. RBR has this. At least in race pace. If only they’d upgrade the electronics. They need to show it too, otherwise from my point of view, Horner and Newey need to reconsider their functioning after 3 years of this nonsense. Think Mercedes has this in the bag though for tomorrow. Looks to be FI will be the team to keep McLaren out of Q3 this time. That would be ridiculous to say the least if you Imagine their financial position.

    Would give Crofty something useful instead of finding something bad at Ferrari… Jesus Christ what an atrocious display that was Friday morning.

    1. i don’t understand your rant one bit, none of it makes sense sorry. for starters, which electronics on redbull and why?? are you on drugs?

      1. He took both those pills in his dp. @xiasitlo you were supposed to take either the blue or the red, not both.

      2. I think he mentioned that because they’ve had electronics failures. I’m not sure when they did have that failure though. I thought it was a gearbox or engine related issue responsible for Daniel’s retirement.

        1. @todfod (thx for explaining me instead of poor jokes, I’m becoming Loan_Canada in that way here).

          Charts over the last 4 years show they have the most electrotechnical failures of the Renault-customers although they’re the biggest independent team and the longest and most experienced Renault team.
          Not all failures resulted in DNFs, but Keith should make a list, it’s quite sad, really.
          Renault have stated it wasn’t a pure PU-failure btw, is almost looks like RBR try to run specifics modes and it failed again like Max did last year.

    2. @xiasitlo Crofty went full anti from mid FP2. In FP1 Davidson passionately answered questions Crofty read on twitter, questions of bad journalism and bias, then Ted comes with his usual ph@nb0y5h rhetorics. Honestly, I’m already missing C4, watched the last weekend there, it was reasonable, solid work.
      RB like last season, keeps saying their car is great but, one day we’ll doubt it, they haven’t shown to be the best in any area in the past 4 seasons.

      1. @peartree

        Hmm. I’ll try C4 in Baku then.

        To be fair, telemetry showed RBR had the best acceleration in 2016 up to 4th gear in lower-speed corners on high downforce tracks, they just kept messing up so badly with that Monaco GP in as most iconic failure.
        But I think it’s mostly because the Dutch fans are so loyal and vocal, the flak Newey and Horner should get isn’t there. In time when Max continues this wasting points – with maybe better race pace – thing, they’ll turn on them too.

        1. @xiasitlo Red Bull keep coming with claims and telemetry but no results.

  3. Good to know that Pirelli are probably finally contributing to good racing this season – first Bahrain, now (possibly) China.

  4. Yeah the top 3 teams have enough pace to go to Q3 on softs. Question is will all 3 chose softs or will someone gamble starting with the ultras? Or maybe even split between drivers?
    Interesting race ahead. The weather on Sunday is still pretty chilly 19C so that should favour Mercedes. This is a track that should suit Mercedes with the temperature and the track layout. I’m actually surprised how close those Redbulls and Ferraris are to Mercedes tbh.

  5. Wow stroll is not doing good.

    1. Sounds like he need to turn his stroll into a run.

      …I’ll see myself out.

      1. +1 for COTD

  6. The stress on those tyres was incredibly high; I honestly think that with the turning up of engine modes and going full pelt at it tomorrow, there is a chance of some ultrasofts losing optimum performance before the flying lap is done with.

  7. Perhaps, they should’ve brought the supersoft rather than the ultra-soft to this race after all.

    1. @jerejj
      Why? Because many are struggling with them? That’s the exact reason why Pirelli decided to leave a gap between the compounds this time, to take everyone out of their comfort zones and encourage them to gamble with their strategies.

      1. Agree. The performance difference between the softs and ultras adds a nice dynamic. Go for grid position at the start or go long in the first stint and potentially one less pitstop. We wouldn’t have this option with super softs as they would last significantly longer.

    2. Yep, I’m with nase on this – this approach of a gap in the compounds offers a nice risk/reward dynamic, instead of three sequential compounds.

    3. Why?. It’s a quick tyre, it’s working as intended. Good call in my book. When the tyres are too close, it makes it almost irrelevant that the cars have to run 2 compounds. I argue that they should’ve brought the soft tyre or the medium, have 2 steps between compounds. Or better stop having limitations.

  8. I really hate it when all of the talk & focus through a weekend/race is on the tyres.

    Last year was great in that regard as tyres were most of times not an issue yet sadly this year were talking about them a lot again and i am really not a fan of this at all.

    I just hope that this nonsense doesn’t result in a lot of tyre management races again. F1 has really lost its way with this artificial nonsense!

    Tyres should be black, round & made to be the best they can possibly be as far as performance goes, That should be the only focus. All this artificial meddling with compounds & rules to artificially force pit stops is getting super tiresome again :(

    1. Too true.

    2. Yep. I’d like to see just three compounds for the year, the same at all tracks. Let the chips fall where they may; this would save a lot of money also.

  9. Great to see a step difference in fastezt tyre and the rest, seems to cause a nice headache. What about the hard and superhard? Seems pointless, might as well get rid and call current medium the hard and so forth instead of having 4 grades of soft tyre names. They could just bring the 3 softesttyres availableto every race and call them hard, medium, soft. At most there would be 3 stops a race and at least the 1 stop they have to make would be needed. Whats the point in tyres chosen so far they all try to do one stop given half a chance.

    1. Maybe we should have identical cars and 10 different tyre brands, budget cap solved.

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