Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Yas Marina, 2018

Red Bull’s tyre advantage may count for less in Abu Dhabi

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix draws a line under Red Bull and Renault’s 12-year relationship. The French manufacturer’s inability to close the gap to its front-running rivals in the V6 hybrid turbo era has prompted Red Bull to throw its lot in with Honda.

Red Bull’s engine deficit is the reason why they’ve only had two pole positions this year, both at tracks where engine performance is not a significant factor. They’re unlikely to be in the hunt for pole position on Saturday.

Despite this disadvantage, the strong card they’ve been able to play in recent races has been tyre performance. As Daniel Ricciardo admitted yesterday, it could have won them all of the last three races. But it may not be enough to tip the balance this weekend.

Pirelli has nominated its three softest compounds for the final race of the year. The softest of these – the hyper-soft – is out-performing the next-softest compound much more than Pirelli expected. “We were expecting a time of 0.9 to one seconds,” said motorsport director Mario Isola. “It seems there is a bit more in the range of 1.3, 1.4.”

The upshot of this is that the quickest teams are unlikely to attempt to get through Q2 on the super-soft and start the race on it – they don’t have enough of a performance gap over the midfield for that to be an option.

In Brazil, Red Bull were able to stretch their first stint long enough that they could use the second-softest tyre compound for their second stint, while Mercedes pitted earlier and switched to harder rubber. But in Abu Dhabi the ultra-soft is only around 0.2 seconds per lap quicker than the super-soft, so the benefit from doing that is greatly reduced.

The super-soft is also less susceptible to graining, whereas drivers need to take care of the front-right when running the ultra-soft.

Nonetheless Ricciardo is hopeful that the extent of degradation will play into Red Bull’s hands. “The tyres are certainly degrading,” he said The hyper-soft seemed a bit more the front. The ultra- and super- more in the rears.

“I think we’re normally in as good a shape as anyone else with tyre tyres so we’ll just try and stay on top of that. In quali, I think we still need to be on the first two rows to really be in with a shot. I think we’ll be there.”

Ferrari looked in better shape when darkness fell
Ferrari, as usual, did not show strong pace on Friday. This is usually a precursor to them dialling everything up on Saturday and being much closer to Saturday. Sebastian Vettel is expecting a stronger showing in qualifying.

“We need to find quite a bit of pace for tomorrow. but for one lap we should be able to improve quite a bit. I think the conditions came towards us. The car was definitely better this evening than it was this afternoon.”

After wrapping the constructors’ championship up in Brazil, Mercedes admitted they hadn’t run their controversial rear wheel ‘spacers’ since Austin because they feared a possible protest by Ferrari. With the silverware locked up again, and having promised to “go for broke” this weekend, will they return to the car on Saturday?

The team has played down the benefit they gained from the wheels, but the ever-present Yas Marina problem of controlling rear tyre temperatures looks like the very challenge these were created for. If so, Friday’s pace setter Valtteri Bottas is staring at a good chance of finally winning his first race this year, as long as he can stop his team mate winning his 11th.

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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:

Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Valtteri BottasMercedes1’39.4521’37.23666
2Max VerstappenRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’38.4911’37.28059
3Daniel RicciardoRed Bull-TAG Heuer1’38.9451’37.42850
4Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’39.5431’37.44361
5Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’40.4171’37.46164
6Sebastian VettelFerrari1’40.4531’37.56960
7Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’40.6631’38.06054
8Nico HulkenbergRenault1’41.0231’38.23060
9Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’40.2351’38.31851
10Esteban OconForce India-Mercedes1’40.1021’38.40259
11Pierre GaslyToro Rosso-Honda1’40.6711’38.50649
12Carlos Sainz JnrRenault1’40.5881’38.51158
13Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-Renault1’42.3131’38.72551
14Sergio PerezForce India-Mercedes1’41.0751’38.80654
15Charles LeclercSauber-Ferrari1’38.83133
16Brendon HartleyToro Rosso-Honda1’41.1371’38.95761
17Marcus EricssonSauber-Ferrari1’41.9281’39.50258
18Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren-Renault1’42.1141’39.93840
19Lance StrollWilliams-Mercedes1’41.4931’40.04655
20Sergey SirotkinWilliams-Mercedes1’40.93539
21Antonio GiovinazziSauber-Ferrari1’41.66224
22Robert KubicaWilliams-Mercedes1’42.99226

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

2018 Abu Dhabi 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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4 comments on “Red Bull’s tyre advantage may count for less in Abu Dhabi”

  1. Hyper? ultra? super? , glad that’s going away next year.

    1. @hohum I’ve never had a problem with this approach, so I’m not too glad, but oh well, at least they’re still going to inform beforehand which specific compounds are going to be available each race weekend.

  2. Yet with a certain other team their tyre advantage is hardly ever mentioned

  3. hard to read from the graph, but it looks like the ferraris have decent long run pace. still, it seems the pattern will be set by track position after lap 1. if vettel leads from the front (possible) then i think he will be hard to stop. actually, that could apply to hamilton and bottas too.

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