Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Silverstone, 2021

The make-or-break tyre call facing drivers in F1’s first sprint qualifying race

2021 British Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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Formula 1 teams face a leap into the unknown with the series’ first sprint qualifying race this afternoon, which will decide the grid for Sunday’s British Grand Prix.

Teams and drivers had to make their final significant set-up adjustments before qualifying began yesterday. At that point parc fermé began, meaning only changing parts related to wear and other essential repairs (for instance, in the case of crash damage) can now be done.

The key decision teams now face is what tyres to use for this afternoon’s race. All 20 drivers have free tyre choice for both the sprint race and the grand prix, regardless of where they will start.

Each car began the weekend with two sets of hard tyres, four mediums and six softs. Unlike most grand prix weekends, drivers were only allowed to run soft tyres during qualifying. They now have the following tyres remaining to cover final practice, sprint qualifying and the grand prix.

1Lewis Hamilton203004
2Max Verstappen113103
3Valtteri Bottas203004
4Charles Leclerc113103
5Sergio Perez103104
6Lando Norris102204
7Daniel Ricciardo102204
8George Russell104004
9Carlos Sainz Jnr103104
10Sebastian Vettel111303
11Fernando Alonso103122
12Pierre Gasly202113
13Esteban Ocon104013
14Antonio Giovinazzi113112
15Lance Stroll111312
16Yuki Tsunoda202131
17Kimi Raikkonen113121
18Nicholas Latifi104031
19Mick Schumacher203121
20Nikita Mazepin203121

No driver due to start in the top 10 for sprint qualifying has a fresh set of soft tyres available. But could one of the drivers starting behind them gamble on the soft rubber?

Starting on soft tyres would give drivers an advantage to make up places early. It should be possible to run the 17-lap sprint on a single set of soft tyres but drivers might lose significant pace towards the end compared to those on mediums.

The soft tyres will go the distance, Pirelli believe
Pirelli’s head of motorsport Mario Isola believes it will be possible, based on the data gleaned from last year’s two races at the track.

“If you look back at the second race, for example, that we had in Silverstone last year, where the soft compound that we have this week was the medium compound, we had some drivers that were able to run stints longer than the sprint qualifying on the soft without a high degradation. We had, for example, Ocon, Vettel, Leclerc, Stroll, Raikkonen, Giovinazzi, they were all running long stints on the C3 compound. So I believe that considering that last year we had similar conditions in terms of temperature, that’s a good indication of what they can choose.”

As Antonio Giovinazzi pointed out on Thursday, the first lap will be the best opportunity for drivers determined to make up places – which will make some more inclined to consider starting on softs. “The strategy is quite simple,” he said. “Lap one we need to try to gain some position and then think about the Sunday, not take much risk.

“I think that it will be difficult to overtake, there will be no pit stops, so what you can gain in the first lap then is good for the rest of the race.”

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Which drivers will be most inclined to gamble? Fernando Alonso, always an aggressive starter, and the highest driver on the grid with a fresh set of softs, looks a likely candidate. He even has a spare set of softs which he could run in second practice to assess how well the rubber is likely to stand up on a day when air temperatures are expected to hit 28C.

George Russell, Williams, Silverstone, 2021
Russell said he won’t hold back in the 17-lap sprint
Another significant difference between sprint qualifying and a typical grand prix is that cars will start the race on much lighter fuel loads than we usually see – around a third or less of the 110kg maximum permitted for a full grand prix.

Some cars may perform better relative to the competition on lighter fuel loads. McLaren and Alpine have seemed stronger during the final phases of a race when fuel is burned off and the car is much lighter. Williams haven’t looked as strong at the end of races.

George Russell, however, insists he will throw caution to the wind in his efforts to bag himself an even better starting position than eighth for tomorrow’s grand prix. But the Williams driver hasn’t made great starts this year – only Pierre Gasly has lost more places on the first lap – and may need to get his elbows out more than usual.

Gasly was glum after what he called AlphaTauri’s “worst qualifying of the year” and predicted a “hard” weekend due to the limited running the team had before yesterday’s grid-setting session. AlphaTauri discovered their car didn’t perform as well as expected on the soft tyre, which was mandatory for qualifying.

“It’s a bit of a shame when we don’t have much practice, to change it,” said Gasly. “Obviously we can’t touch the car anymore,” he said.

“We have FP2 to understand the tyre a bit better. It’s not going to be easy but we’re going to fight as usual – and it’s a different format, a lot of things happen and hopefully with the race car, it’s a bit better.”

Gasly will surely be expecting a more competitive showing in the sprint qualifying race on the medium rubber. But he could have a few aggressively-minded drivers behind him on softs to worry about.

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Quotes: Dieter Rencken

Qualifying times in full


Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’26.7861’26.023 (-0.763)1’26.134 (+0.111)
2Max VerstappenRed Bull1’26.7511’26.315 (-0.436)1’26.209 (-0.106)
3Valtteri BottasMercedes1’27.4871’26.764 (-0.723)1’26.328 (-0.436)
4Charles LeclercFerrari1’27.0511’26.919 (-0.132)1’26.828 (-0.091)
5Sergio PerezRed Bull1’27.1211’27.073 (-0.048)1’26.844 (-0.229)
6Lando NorrisMcLaren1’27.4441’27.220 (-0.224)1’26.897 (-0.323)
7Daniel RicciardoMcLaren1’27.3231’27.125 (-0.198)1’26.899 (-0.226)
8George RussellWilliams1’27.6711’27.080 (-0.591)1’26.971 (-0.109)
9Carlos Sainz JnrFerrari1’27.3371’26.848 (-0.489)1’27.007 (+0.159)
10Sebastian VettelAston Martin1’27.4931’27.103 (-0.390)1’27.179 (+0.076)
11Fernando AlonsoAlpine1’27.5801’27.245 (-0.335)
12Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri1’27.6001’27.273 (-0.327)
13Esteban OconAlpine1’27.4151’27.340 (-0.075)
14Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo1’27.5951’27.617 (+0.022)
15Lance StrollAston Martin1’28.0171’27.665 (-0.352)
16Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri1’28.043
17Kimi RaikkonenAlfa Romeo1’28.062
18Nicholas LatifiWilliams1’28.254
19Mick SchumacherHaas1’28.738
20Nikita MazepinHaas1’29.051

Sector times

DriverSector 1Sector 2Sector 3
Lewis Hamilton27.246 (1)34.883 (1)23.751 (2)
Max Verstappen27.462 (3)34.934 (2)23.749 (1)
Valtteri Bottas27.426 (2)35.121 (3)23.769 (3)
Charles Leclerc27.582 (6)35.235 (4)23.942 (8)
Sergio Perez27.596 (8)35.266 (5)23.822 (4)
Lando Norris27.677 (15)35.303 (7)23.915 (6)
Daniel Ricciardo27.583 (7)35.341 (8)23.863 (5)
George Russell27.646 (10)35.302 (6)23.946 (9)
Carlos Sainz Jnr27.503 (4)35.359 (9)23.964 (10)
Sebastian Vettel27.558 (5)35.436 (10)23.941 (7)
Fernando Alonso27.655 (13)35.562 (13)24.017 (12)
Pierre Gasly27.651 (11)35.512 (12)24.039 (13)
Esteban Ocon27.661 (14)35.466 (11)24.014 (11)
Antonio Giovinazzi27.651 (11)35.615 (14)24.227 (16)
Lance Stroll27.633 (9)35.720 (16)24.312 (19)
Yuki Tsunoda28.030 (17)35.704 (15)24.181 (14)
Kimi Raikkonen27.970 (16)35.878 (18)24.214 (15)
Nicholas Latifi28.156 (19)35.840 (17)24.240 (17)
Mick Schumacher28.185 (20)36.181 (19)24.304 (18)
Nikita Mazepin28.145 (18)36.486 (20)24.420 (20)

Speed trap

PosDriverCarEngineSpeed (kph/mph)Gap
1Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedes330.7 (205.5)
2Valtteri BottasMercedesMercedes329.4 (204.7)-1.3
3Antonio GiovinazziAlfa RomeoFerrari329.3 (204.6)-1.4
4Mick SchumacherHaasFerrari329.3 (204.6)-1.4
5Sebastian VettelAston MartinMercedes328.9 (204.4)-1.8
6Esteban OconAlpineRenault327.9 (203.7)-2.8
7Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriHonda327.3 (203.4)-3.4
8Daniel RicciardoMcLarenMercedes326.6 (202.9)-4.1
9Lance StrollAston MartinMercedes326.4 (202.8)-4.3
10Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrari326.2 (202.7)-4.5
11Kimi RaikkonenAlfa RomeoFerrari325.9 (202.5)-4.8
12George RussellWilliamsMercedes325.8 (202.4)-4.9
13Nikita MazepinHaasFerrari325.3 (202.1)-5.4
14Sergio PerezRed BullHonda325.3 (202.1)-5.4
15Pierre GaslyAlphaTauriHonda324.8 (201.8)-5.9
16Charles LeclercFerrariFerrari324.7 (201.8)-6.0
17Fernando AlonsoAlpineRenault324.2 (201.4)-6.5
18Nicholas LatifiWilliamsMercedes322.1 (200.1)-8.6
19Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedes322.0 (200.1)-8.7
20Max VerstappenRed BullHonda320.9 (199.4)-9.8

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2021 British Grand Prix

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Author information

Hazel Southwell
Hazel is a motorsport and automotive journalist with a particular interest in hybrid systems, electrification, batteries and new fuel technologies....

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17 comments on “The make-or-break tyre call facing drivers in F1’s first sprint qualifying race”

  1. Max has the lowest high speed which is strange imo. Isn’t RB the car with lowest wings?

    1. @bluechris Verstappen slowest, Hamilton quickest. 10 kmh is huge.

      1. Mercedes were running in formation, with Hamilton getting a distant tow from Bottas all qualifying, which will be worth a fair amount on the straights. Christian Horner was….shall we say commenting on this in the UK feed qualifying.

        1. Verstappen had a tow from Hamilton on his first run in Q3.

        2. Bottas has almost the same

    2. I wish they’d stop doing that. This is my favourite example of why not to put a speed trap in a braking zone:

    3. someone or something
      17th July 2021, 12:55

      I’m all for finding explanations that aren’t obvious (and yes, speed trap figures and actual top speed can tell different stories), but I really (really, really) doubt this explanation right here.
      – Firstly, while speed traps are usually close to the end of a straight, they’re usually not that close to the braking zone (with the possible exception of wet track conditions, which sometimes result in absurd readings*)
      – Secondly, this applies even more so to Stowe corner, seeing as there barely even is a braking zone. They’d have to put the speed trap somewhere around the point where cars start turning in to catch any differences in braking.
      – Thirdly, F1 cars have massive deceleration. 10 kph is what you’d get for barely lifting your foot off the throttle for a split second. Under braking, we know they can have decelerations around 5 g, so they lose up to 50 m/s per second spent pressing on the brake pedal (=180 kph). Even if we assume that Verstappen and Hamilton had identical top speeds, and that the difference of 10 kph is the result of Verstappen braking earlier, that’d mean Verstappen would’ve needed to start braking 1/18 of a second, or 4.9 meters (320 kph = 89 m/s, divided by 18), before the speed trap. How likely is that? Coincidences exist, but it does sound rather unlikely that the one speed trap on the track is placed in such a way that it catches the tiny difference in braking points between two very closely matched drivers.
      – Fourthly, the entire grid falls within those 10 kph. Are we really to assume that Verstappen was the only one to brake a tiny bit earlier than everyone else, despite driving one of the most competitive cars and enjoying the best track conditions in Q3? Wouldn’t we at least expect the Haases to struggle to brake as late as Hamilton, with their lack of downforce and seeing as they failed to progress past Q1?
      – Lastly, and most importantly, the circuit map, which can be accessed here, places the speed trap at 140 meters before corner 15 (Stowe). In other words, here. A long way before you’d even think of slowing down.

      Conclusion: The difference in top speed between Verstappen and Hamilton cannot be plausibly explained by braking, nor can braking ever explain differences in top speed except in extreme circumstances.
      No, the easiest explanation is indeed that Mercedes have a setup with more straight-line speed. Both Mercedes on top, both Red Bulls far down the order, sometimes it can be as easy as that.

      Sorry for that wall of text and inevitable episodes of mansplaining, but this was one of those instances where a small remark seemed to exhibit such a profound misunderstanding that I found it appropriate to go back to the basics and perform a plausibility check.

      *such as a driver going much faster than the rest by missing the braking point once, or a driver seemingly lacking 30-40 kph of top speed simply because they always braked a bit earlier

      1. Maho Pacheco
        17th July 2021, 15:05

        COTD!! or the week, this was amazing and part of why I love F1.

  2. Freedom of tyre choice is the only thing that I find particularly interesting about this weekend’s new format. Hopefully that will lead to some more different strategy choices for both ‘races’. Though since the sprint is a no-stopper it’s more likely that the majority will choose the same tyre. My hope is that for Sunday’s race there will be more of a mix of strategies throughout the grid and that will lead them to consider scrapping the Q2 tyre rule for good.

  3. We need more tyres….. if we are to have this format for more options to teams….

  4. For me, I reckon it’s going to be the F1 equivalent of when they introduced ‘golden goal’ extra time in football at Euro 96.

    All it did was guarantee penalties as teams would play ultra defensive so as not to concede.

    It’s going to be a 17 lap parade.

    And yet if one ever so slightly out of the ordinary thing happens (ie Verstappen having a reliability issue that puts him at the back) it’s going to be hailed as the single greatest thing ever to happen to F1 and will be written into the sporting regs for next year without a moment’s thought.

    Yesterday’s qualifying session was brilliant. I was on the edge of my seat and gripped by it.

    I doubt today will have anything to keep me like that.

    1. I’m reserving my judgement for now but would only say that there are 3-2-1 points to be had so I’m not convinced the Sprint will be a parade. I expect at a minimum for as enthralling a start as a race holds. And they’re racers. If one wants to be complacent they may find themselves getting passed.

      And the thing about yesterday’s qualifying, and the normal Saturday quali sessions so far this season, is that we finally have what is usually turning out to be an unknown as to whether it will be Max or LH getting pole. Prior to this season it has been about by how much LH will get pole, with the odd one by VB. This season aside, I can see why they had been looking for a potentially more exciting way to qualify.

  5. Imagine the repercussions if Bottas/Perez takes out Verstappen/Hamilton this afternoon.

    And what a nice main race it will be (not) if either Verstappen or Hamilton hit a problem today. The other guy basically will have the win in his pocket.

    1. Well, and if they get a problem tomorrow? Same thing, isn’t it?

  6. Considering none of the top-10 runners have any fresh softs left, I expect them to all start on the mediums. From Alonso down, a fresh set of softs is definitely an option, as the degredation doesn’t seem too bad over 17 laps.

  7. Can anyone explain the difference in number of medium & softs left? If everybody had 2*H, 4*M and 6*S how come the numbers don’t add up?

    1. Aha, now I see all 9 left, must be the reason. :-)

Comments are closed.