The Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka is one of the drivers’ favourites because of the intense sweeping
corners and the high G-loads. Those track characteristics also ask a lot of the tyres and the tyres can degrade rapidly if they are not properly taken care of.
Last year Pirelli offered the three hardest tyre compounds at Suzuka. Drivers qualified and started on the yellow-walled Soft tyres, but then switched to the Hards. It’s is rare to see the teams use the hardest of the three compounds, but in 2016, many drivers used the Hards for both the second and third stints of the race. The Softs lasted for 10 to 15 laps, while the Hards could go for 25 to 30 laps.
As we know at well at this point in the season, the 2017 compounds are much more robust than their counterparts from 2016. Nevertheless, the tyre selections for the 2017 Japanese Grand Prix are surprising.
First, Pirelli is offering softer compounds this year. Instead of Hard, Medium and Soft, the options will be Medium, Soft and Supersoft. Second, unlike last year when the teams chose and used multiple sets of the hardest compound, now almost no one has elected more than the bare minimum of one set of the hardest compound. Instead, the teams have loaded up on the Supersoft compound.
The prevalence of the Supersoft compound suggests that we will see a Supersoft-Soft-Supersoft or Supersoft-Soft-Soft strategy. There are some whispers that there may be even more than two pits stops in this year’s race, but your columnist disagrees. The old-school track at Suzuka is relatively narrow. While it is certainly a flowing race, the width means that the opportunity for overtakes is more limited than it was at a place like Malaysia. This means that track position, rather than outright speed, is more important. Hence, fewer stops.
But predictions are just that. We’ll have to see how the tyres perform in Friday’s practice and what the weather is like on Sunday. Tune in.