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F1 China 2013: Option tyre is a 'qualifier,' says Pirelli
13 April 2013
Qualifying for the 2013 Chinese Grand Prix at Shanghai International Circuit on Saturday was a strange affair, with teams going to extreme lengths to manage their tyres ahead of Sunday's race.
That left long stretches of the three rounds of qualifying session with cars and drivers hiding away in their garages, before finally piling out at the last minute to get the best they could out of a single set of option compounds. But one flying lap was all that these soft tyres had in them, with performance trailing off quickly after that.
"With a difference of around 1.5 seconds between the medium and the soft tyre, qualifying on the softer compound was the natural choice in terms of outright time," agreed Pielli's motorsport director Paul Hembery, who admitted that the option tyres were performing as 'qualifiers' in China.
"The soft tyre delivers its best in qualifying over just one lap - a little bit like a qualifying tyre - which is why the drivers left it until late in many of the sessions to go out and set a time," he said.
The growing impact of the tyres on race weekends isn't going down well with everyone. "I think for qualifying, the show has been detracted from by the tyres we have," said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh in Shanghai. "That caused the circumstances we have just seen [in qualifying.]" However, Whitmarsh conceded: "The upside is that it is an advantage for the race."
"It does hurt qualifying but it helps the race," added Jenson Button. "Especially those first few laps of the race where we love a good fight."
So far from apologising for the short-lived options tyres, Hembery insisted that this was very much part of the design intended to spice things up for race day.
"This really opens up a number of different possibilities in terms of [race] strategy," he said. "We think that most drivers will go for three stops although two is possible, especially for those starting on the medium tyre ... Tyre degradation will improve when fuel loads go down and more rubber is laid down on the track."
Those drivers who opt to start on the medium and leave the switch to the soft tyres as late as possible in the race might be at a distinct advantage, therefore. That could be putting those in the top ten already committed to starting on the options - everyone except Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Nico Hülkenberg, in other words - in a difficult spot.
"If we'd brought the hard tyre, we would probably be looking at one stop," continued Hembery. "So although degradation of the soft tyre here has been on the high side so far, we're confident that we're in for another action-packed race tomorrow - as has so often been the case in China!"
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating - which in racing terms means whether or not after the Chinese GP fans are still grumbling about the tyres, or hailing another thrilling Grand Prix in 2013.
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