Malaysia is hot. Tyres degrade rapidly in the heat. As a result, the Malaysian grand prix features some of
the harder tyre compounds on the race calendar. In 2016, it was the Hards, Mediums and Softs. This year, with the low degradation of the new tyres, Pirelli has gone a bit softer and is offering the Mediums, Softs and Supersofts.
Last year the tyre strategies were dominated by the three Virtual Safety Cars. In any event, drivers pitted between two and three times for fresh rubber. The Soft tyres could last for 10 to 15 laps, while the Hard tyres went 20 to 25 (the Mediums weren’t featured heavily).
Interestingly, despite the use of Hards in 2016 and the high temperatures at Sepang, most teams are relying on the Soft and Supersoft compounds to get them through practices, qualifying and the race. In fact, the Williams and McLarens are bringing 10 Supersofts, which is only one less than the maximum they could! (Because you are required to have at least one of each compound, e.g., 1, 1, 11).
But the key strategy difference is between top competitors Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes has a notable weakness on the softest compounds but is relatively strong on the Softs. It has taken a balanced allocation of five Softs and seven Supersofts. Ferrari, on the other hand, manages the Supersoft tyres very well. It has taken nine of the Supersofts and only three of the Softs.
So we can expect teams to spend a lot of time dialing in their cars on the Supersofts in practice and qualifying. It will also be the fastest race tyre and will probably be used for one or two stints. But don’t be surprised to actually see the Medium tyre out there in the race. Often the hardest compound is simply ignored. In the heat of Malaysia, that may not be possible. Let’s hope we see some tyre strategy in play on Sunday!