F1 tyre supplier Pirelli has voiced the opinion that teams may be able to complete this weekend's Korean Grand Prix on a single pit-stop, having initially suggested that two stops would have been the way to go.
The original claim was made at the end of Friday's two 90-minute practice sessions, when ambient and track temperatures were higher than they were last year, and Pirelli expected a difference of around half a second between the soft and supersoft compounds it is providing for 2012.
The teams concentrated on the harder compound only in FP1, generally using just one set of the soft tyres to dial their cars into the unique characteristics of the Yeongam circuit. In the afternoon, under conditions that will be more typical of qualifying and the race, they also assessed the supersoft, with the aim of gathering information on both full and empty fuel tanks, in order to establish wear rates and crossover points. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton comfortably eclipsed the quickest FP1 times established on both previous occasions that the Korean race has run. The trend continued in the afternoon, with Sebastien Vettel also being quicker than last year.
“With the soft compound softer than it was last year, and temperatures generally higher this time in Korea, our tyres faced quite a challenge – particularly the supersoft, which is subjected to the biggest energy loadings it faces all season," Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery commented at the time, "In contrast to last year, we are expecting dry weather all weekend, and probably the warmest Korean Grand Prix in its short history to date, so the data gathered today will be of crucial relevance for qualifying and the race. We should see a two-stop race and, while we still need to analyse the data to have a firm idea of the performance gap between the compounds, we're expecting it to be in the region of half a second. This is likely to provide plenty of opportunities for strategy, which has been a real talking point this year.”
After another day of action at the Korea International Circuit, however, Pirelli had revised its strategy analysis to suggest that, with the KIC's smooth surface, multi-faceted layout and the soft compound lasting better than expected, a single stop for tyres may be possible on raceday.
Red Bull's Mark Webber took a surprise ahead of team mate Vettel as the top ten shoot-out took place exclusively on the supersoft. While the two Mercedes and the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg did not set a time during the first runs, all ten drivers went out at the end of the short session, with Webber claiming his eleventh career pole.
“We've seen a very interesting qualifying session that has hinted at some of the strategy that could lie ahead tomorrow," Hembery said, "With around 0.2-0.6secs lap time difference between the two compounds, we would expect to see two pit-stops during the race, but some teams could even try one stop, as the smooth surface means that wear is low.
" As expected we saw a high degree of track evolution over the course of the session, which also helped to contain degradation. However, getting the tyres up to temperature will be crucial here, especially with the long straights that cool the tyres down. So we could see longer stints than expected, with the front tyre being the limiting factor here. A wide range of demands is placed on the tyres at this track, but despite that, there is not a huge gap in performance between the soft and supersoft, even after a series of flying laps.”