Softer tyres in Bahrain may push teams towards two-stop strategies

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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The near one-second pace advantage Mercedes showed in the first practice session on Friday did not materialise in the second 90 minutes of running.

Having been the best part of a second clear of the nearest non-Mercedes in the opening session, Lewis Hamilton had just three-tenths of a second in hand over Max Verstappen’s Red Bull by the end of the day. There’s some encouragement there for Mercedes’ rivals, as the second practice session will be the more representative of the two as it is held in similar conditions to qualifying and the race.

But once again this year where there should be two Red Bulls near the top of the times, Verstappen’s is the only one. Alexander Albon’s crash in second practice is a setback for a driver still seeking to secure his place at the team for next year. He needs to bounce back in qualifying to give Red Bull reason to overlook his expensive error.

Following a series of races in cool conditions at European venues with generally low grip levels, Bahrain marks a sudden return to lower temperatures and a more abrasive surface. And with softer tyre compounds compared to last year, Pirelli is predicting teams will need to make multiple pit stops on Sunday.

Nicholas Latifi, Williams, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Williams are 0.7s quicker than last year already
“We know that the challenge in Bahrain is to manage the rear overheating,” said Pirelli’s head of motorsport and F1 Mario Isola. “Last year most of the teams were not using the C1, they were focussing on C2 and C3 and most of them are targeting a two-stop strategy.”

Pirelli has brought the softer C2, C3 and C4 tyres this weekend. “We decided to move one step softer to give an extra challenge to the teams, considering that we have the same product from last year,” said Isola.

Due to the pandemic, the Bahrain Grand Prix is also being held much later in the year than usual, so the teams have had more time to develop their cars. After just one day of running, three teams have already lapped quicker than they did at this race last year.

This raises the possibility some of the quickest teams may attempt to pass through Q2 using the medium tyre compound, in order to gain a strategic advantage for the race.

The requirement to test new tyres in both sessions, plus Albon’s crash and further disruption caused by a dog on the track, cut into the amount of time teams had to perform long runs, and leaves some question marks over the balance of performance across the field. But the total contrast in grip and tyre demands compared to the last race means we could see some significant differences in the midfield.

As ever, it’s doubtful anyone will challenge Mercedes on pure pace. But on the strength of today Verstappen could be quick enough to get on the front row if Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas slip up. Whether Albon can take the top four qualifying position the RB16 is surely capable of is one of tomorrow’s most pressing questions.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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Combined practice times

PosDriverCarFP1FP2Total laps
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’29.0331’28.97168
2Max VerstappenRed Bull-Honda1’30.2941’29.31852
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’29.4821’29.33671
4Sergio PerezRacing Point-Mercedes1’30.0001’29.40363
5Daniel RicciardoRenault1’30.5081’29.46257
6Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri-Honda1’30.0491’29.55170
7Lando NorrisMcLaren-Renault1’31.3921’29.84157
8Lance StrollRacing Point-Mercedes1’30.4261’29.87162
9Daniil KvyatAlphaTauri-Honda1’31.0201’29.90071
10Alexander AlbonRed Bull-Honda1’30.3021’30.01451
11Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren-Renault1’30.0181’30.27164
12Esteban OconRenault1’30.3841’30.08558
13Sebastian VettelFerrari1’30.6281’30.11059
14Charles LeclercFerrari1’30.5891’30.40759
15Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’30.8961’30.62760
16Robert KubicaAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’30.73224
17Romain GrosjeanHaas-Ferrari1’30.8321’31.11956
18Kevin MagnussenHaas-Ferrari1’30.8541’30.84956
19Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo-Ferrari1’30.92834
20Nicholas LatifiWilliams-Mercedes1’32.0001’30.97361
21George RussellWilliams-Mercedes1’31.63629
22Roy NissanyWilliams-Mercedes1’32.80127

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Teams’ progress vs 2019

2020 Bahrain 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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