How Hamilton’s tyre tactics secured pole, and why a two-stop race is on the cards

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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The championship silverware is safely stashed away for a seventh consecutive season but Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were never going to ease up.

Sure enough, he led their 11th front row lock-out from the 15 races so far. If it hadn’t been for his grid penalty at the season-opener, they’d have a dozen.

One interesting detail of Hamilton’s final qualifying lap was that none of his first five mini-sector times (out of 27) were a personal best. Did he make a mistake or was this a deliberate tactic to sacrifice some of his pace at the beginning of the lap to ensure his soft tyres did not fade before he finished it?

“I can tell you that I didn’t make any mistakes,” said Hamilton, though he was keen not to give any of his “trade secrets” away.

“Look, we do these really slow out-laps and each time we’re trying to have the tyres in the optimal window for the start. Each time we go out, they can vary between one and five degrees so most of often the result of that discrepancy is tyre temp.

“They generally get better to a point in the lap and then they start going over temp and then you start struggling with the tyre a little bit more and so that’s some of the answer.”

Comparing the spread of Hamilton’s outright best (purple), personal best (green) and unimproved (yellow) mini-sectors with his team mate’s tends to support the idea he took less out of his tyres early in the lap than Valtteri Bottas did, which paid dividends around the final corners:

Drivers’ mini-sectors

Completing the familiar formation, Max Verstappen is third on the grid, snapping at the heels of the black cars. Where we once might have noted that the Red Bull tends to be closer on pace to the Mercedes cars in race trim than qualifying, that has been less noticeably so since the ban on ‘quali modes’ was introduced at mid-season.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Sainz’s brake glitch has consequences for his strategy
However, as he noted after qualifying, he does have the advantage of starting on the clean side of the grid, which might offer an opportunity for him to get between the two W11s when the red lights go out. He’s also got his team mate up where he should be: As at Istanbul Park, Alexander Albon has done what he needed to in order to justify Red Bull’s continued faith in him, yesterday’s crash notwithstanding.

As Hamilton and Bottas’s lap times demonstrate, the soft tyre couldn’t quite stand up to a full flat-out lap on the best car on the grid. Bahrain’s abrasive track surface is dealing out plenty of punishment to tyres which are one step softer than those Pirelli brought to the last F1 race here 18 months ago.

Teams are therefore planning their race strategies exclusively around the medium and hard tyre compounds. All 10 drivers who reached Q3 elected to start on the medium tyre (further adding to the vast pile of evidence indicating the ‘Q3 tyre rule’ is a failure). But even on the harder rubber, two-stop strategies are expected.

“It’s not a secret, we’re pretty sure it’s going to be a two-stop race,” said Renault’s sporting director Alan Permane. “So it’s medium-hard-hard or medium-medium-hard and there’s not much at all to choose between the two.”

Teams who can use the hard tyre for the middle stint will have more options with their strategy, notes Permane. “Having that hard for the second tyre just gives you a bit of flexibility, allows you to stop potentially a little bit earlier on the first stint.

“But you probably don’t want to do that anyway because you don’t want to go into traffic. We’re not going to see anyone doing 30 laps tomorrow in the first stint and clearing the midfield cars. So it’s very much more of a sprint-type race which is good fun. We’re looking forward to it – after we’ve had so many one-stops, it will be interesting.”

Unfortunately for Carlos Sainz Jnr his spin during Q2, caused by a brake-by-wire malfunction, wrecked one of his sets of medium tyres. So as well as lining up 15th when sixth was potentially possible, he will start the race with one fewer set of medium tyres than his rivals, as the rules do not permit them to be replaced.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’28.3431’27.586 (-0.757)1’27.264 (-0.322)
2Valtteri BottasMercedes1’28.7671’28.063 (-0.704)1’27.553 (-0.510)
3Max VerstappenRed Bull1’28.8851’28.025 (-0.860)1’27.678 (-0.347)
4Alexander AlbonRed Bull1’28.7321’28.749 (+0.017)1’28.274 (-0.475)
5Sergio PerezRacing Point1’29.1781’28.894 (-0.284)1’28.322 (-0.572)
6Daniel RicciardoRenault1’29.0051’28.648 (-0.357)1’28.417 (-0.231)
7Esteban OconRenault1’29.2031’28.937 (-0.266)1’28.419 (-0.518)
8Pierre GaslyToro Rosso1’28.9711’29.008 (+0.037)1’28.448 (-0.560)
9Lando NorrisMcLaren1’29.4641’28.877 (-0.587)1’28.542 (-0.335)
10Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’29.1581’28.944 (-0.214)1’28.618 (-0.326)
11Sebastian VettelFerrari1’29.1421’29.149 (+0.007)
12Charles LeclercFerrari1’29.1371’29.165 (+0.028)
13Lance StrollRacing Point1’28.6791’29.557 (+0.878)
14George RussellWilliams1’29.2941’31.218 (+1.924)
15Carlos Sainz JnrMcLaren1’28.975
16Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’29.491
17Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’29.810
18Kevin MagnussenHaas1’30.111
19Romain GrosjeanHaas1’30.138
20Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’30.182

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Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton27.669 (1)37.715 (1)21.853 (1)
Valtteri Bottas27.729 (2)37.777 (2)22.047 (2)
Max Verstappen27.764 (3)37.804 (3)22.059 (3)
Alexander Albon27.926 (4)38.118 (8)22.215 (6)
Sergio Perez28.060 (8)38.024 (4)22.124 (4)
Daniel Ricciardo27.981 (5)38.242 (10)22.194 (5)
Esteban Ocon27.984 (6)38.102 (7)22.333 (10)
Pierre Gasly28.113 (10)38.079 (6)22.222 (8)
Lando Norris28.027 (7)38.069 (5)22.295 (9)
Daniil Kvyat28.093 (9)38.266 (11)22.218 (7)
Sebastian Vettel28.238 (14)38.427 (14)22.334 (11)
Charles Leclerc28.176 (12)38.305 (12)22.435 (14)
Lance Stroll28.134 (11)38.181 (9)22.364 (12)
George Russell28.278 (15)38.550 (15)22.466 (15)
Carlos Sainz Jnr28.194 (13)38.350 (13)22.431 (13)
Antonio Giovinazzi28.316 (16)38.588 (16)22.587 (16)
Kimi Raikkonen28.407 (17)38.809 (19)22.594 (17)
Kevin Magnussen28.591 (19)38.797 (17)22.723 (20)
Romain Grosjean28.494 (18)38.797 (17)22.627 (19)
Nicholas Latifi28.695 (20)38.881 (20)22.606 (18)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Daniel RicciardoRenaultRenault328.0 (203.8)
2Esteban OconRenaultRenault326.7 (203.0)-1.3
3George RussellWilliamsMercedes326.0 (202.6)-2.0
4Sergio PerezRacing PointMercedes325.5 (202.3)-2.5
5Carlos Sainz JnrMcLarenRenault325.2 (202.1)-2.8
6Alexander AlbonRed BullHonda324.4 (201.6)-3.6
7Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari323.9 (201.3)-4.1
8Lando NorrisMcLarenRenault323.7 (201.1)-4.3
9Lance StrollRacing PointMercedes323.5 (201.0)-4.5
10Pierre GaslyToro RossoHonda323.3 (200.9)-4.7
11Daniil KvyatToro RossoHonda323.2 (200.8)-4.8
12Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes323.1 (200.8)-4.9
13Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari322.9 (200.6)-5.1
14Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari321.9 (200.0)-6.1
15Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes320.9 (199.4)-7.1
16Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrari320.0 (198.8)-8.0
17Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes319.9 (198.8)-8.1
18Romain GrosjeanHaasFerrari319.6 (198.6)-8.4
19Sebastian VettelFerrariFerrari318.3 (197.8)-9.7
20Max VerstappenRed BullHonda317.4 (197.2)-10.6

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Over to you

Can anyone stop Lewis Hamilton from winning again? What can Sainz salvage after his luckless Saturday? And will anyone dare to eke their tyres out for a one-stop strategy?

Share your views on the Bahrain Grand Prix in the comments.

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2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Author information

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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11 comments on “How Hamilton’s tyre tactics secured pole, and why a two-stop race is on the cards”

  1. If anyone’s going to try a one stop, it’ll be Perez looking to capitalise on that great qualifying position. It’s a tall ask though, so expect a relatively late swap to the hards giving him the option of putting some mediums on nearer the end. Ricciardo might try something similar.

    Curious to see if Mercedes will ensure both cars follow the same strategy now both titles are in the bag – will Bottas get the option of the under/overcut?

    1. I’m expecting Perez, ricciardo, Hamilton, and maybe one of the haas drivers

  2. Ahmad Iskandar Mazlan
    28th November 2020, 23:25

    Amazing .. Lewis top speed 17th out of 20. Max dead last! That shows braking and corners are equally important.

  3. Albon was almost .8 off Max. Not enough to justify in my book, and I’m not even a tough as nails team principal.

  4. Those sector times are quite satisfying :
    Ham 1, 1, 1
    Bot 2, 2, 2
    Ver 3, 3, 3

  5. The race starting tyre rule should’ve been axed a while ago already. It simply hasn’t had a place anymore, so getting rid of it shouldn’t be this difficult, especially since the fastest of the field would stay on the top anyway. Not a lot to do with sporting equity or fairness to limit strategic options for ten drivers.

  6. From the data I see nothing. Perhaps it would be worth to show a map track, divide it by minisectors and then colour.

    Actually, taking into considerstion that Bottas has worst first sector than Hamilton, it goes against the “tyre managment” theory.

    1. Exactly, and Bottas has already said there were setup differences that likely made the difference as he had a near perfect lap and is generally quite close when that happens.

  7. Bottas explained they “diverged on setup”. So it makes more sense to see sector time differences in that light.

    Where we once might have noted that the Red Bull tends to be closer on pace to the Mercedes cars in race trim than qualifying, that has been less noticeably so since the ban on ‘quali modes’ was introduced at mid-season.

    This is also a rather poor jump to conclusion.

    Mercedes stopped developing their car very early and you’d expect Red Bull to catch up steadily. In fact they barely have. In Spain the Gap from pole to Verstappen was .7s. For Spa it was .5s and Monza .9s (when engine modes were banned). Since then it has been fluctuating between .3 and .6s.

    The gap in race pace does not show any correlation to the gap in Q3. Verstappen has been down half a minute in Portugal (where Q3 gap was smallest) and finished seconds behind at races where the gap was 6 tenths.

  8. If the dirty side of the grid is as poor as predicted, it will be interesting to see if we get the usual running order of Hamilton-Verstappen-Bottas for the first stint. And while Albon is (finally) in a good position to challenge the Mercedes strategy, he is also on the dirty side, and could drop down the field easily, and then be stuck in the midfield; not that his pace has been that great anyway.

    Some comments on Twitter called this race a non-event, but I hope we do get a race, at least in the midfield.

  9. Interestingly, Permane thinks only the harder compounds will be used in the race, which makes sense, as in Q2 everyone ran the medium tire. Yet, according to Pirelli, the quickest strategy is medium-soft-soft or even medium-hard. How can these predictions be so different?

    By the way, 10 drivers have two sets of hard tires and 10 (including the Mercedes drivers) have only one. So, if it’s a 2-stop race, the Mercedes drivers have to run the medium tire twice, whereas Verstappen may run the hard tire twice, hoping its durability will give him the advantage later in the race.

Comments are closed.