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Qatar is a relatively new track on the Formula 1 calendar and the changes made to the track ahead of this year’s edition have caught Pirelli out.
Issues in 2021 and yesterday
Two years ago, when the Qatar Grand Prix was first run, a few drivers had tyre issues during the race, which led to punctures. Valtteri Bottas, George Russell, Nicholas Latifi and Lando Norris all suffered punctures during the last few laps of their stints and were forced to pit.
This trend continued yesterday, in the one-hour free practice session, as well as qualifying. After action concluded yesterday, Pirelli -as it always does- studied data regarding the performance of the tyres and inspected them visually too.
Worryingly, it found across a range of tyres that the sidewall would get separated between the topping compound and the carcass cords. This issue was been attributed to the high kerbs around the track, which were changed to a 50mm ‘pyramid’ specification ahead of this year’s race, as part of the renovation of the circuit.
Actions regarding the weekend going forward
As a result of these problems, there have been three key points regarding the running of the weekend and there could be more ahead of the Grand Prix on Sunday. The FIA published the following actions to be taken on safety grounds in a statement it made three hours before the scheduled start of the Sprint Shootout.
- Track limits at Turns 12-13 will be revised.
- There will be a 10-minute Practice Familiarisation Session, scheduled to start at 16:00 local time, following the revision of the track limits, to allow drivers to adjust to the changes. The Sprint Shootout will therefore start 20 minutes later than scheduled (16:20 local time).
- There will extensive tyre analysis following the Sprint (19 laps), to decide whether further action needs to be taken ahead of the Grand Prix.
- In the event the problem is still evident, we will be issuing the following directive for Sunday’s Grand Prix, on safety grounds:
- The tyre life parameter must not exceed 20 for new tyres used in the race. This number would rise to 22 for any used tyres fitted in the race, to account for in-out laps in qualifying.
- All drivers will be obliged to perform at least three tyre-change pitstops during the race.
The track limit changes at Turns 12 and 13 come to reduce the load on the front left tyre, which gets stressed significantly in those two very fast right corners towards the end of the lap. As a result, the white line will be moved 80 centimeters further to the inside of the track. There have been no changes announced regarding the rest of the track. The start of the Sprint Shootout will be delayed by twenty minutes in comparison to its original scheduled start.
The findings regarding the behaviour of the tyres in the Sprint Shootout, as well the Sprint itself, may lead to further changes regarding strategy in the Grand Prix, which will be run on Sunday over a distance of 57 laps. Expect more news on this front on race day, to see if the teams and drivers will be limited to running each set for 20 laps at most or whether a strategy of three stops at least will be mandatory.
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