As was widely expected, the top cars only made one pit stop at the first race of the season in Australia.
Pirelli was asked to make tyres that can be pushed harder and longer before they deteriorate and it looks like Pirelli accomplished that task. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that we’ll be seeing one stop races for the remainder of the season.
First, Albert Park in Melbourne is a street circuit-like course that is relatively easy on the tyres. Let’s see how the tyres hold up on tracks that put more stress on them. The long and high speed turns 1 and 2 in China should be a good test. Watch for degradation of the front left tyre.
Second, the track temperatures at Melbourne were relatively low, staying below 38 degrees Celsius (100 F). As the temperatures rise as we get into the summer, we’ll see if the tyres maintain their longevity.
Whereas the Australian Grand Prix featured the Soft (yellow), Supersoft (red) and Ultrasoft (purple), the Chinese Grand Prix will have more robust compounds — the Medium (white), Soft (yellow) and Supersoft (red). The compounds in China will be the same as they were in 2016, although as noted above, those same compounds now experience less degradation.
In 2016 at Shanghai, drivers made two or three pit stops to get fresh tyres. This year, it will probably be one or two stops. Interestingly, sometimes the “faster” strategy as far as tyres are concerned isn’t the fastest in reality. In Melbourne, the engineers calculated that a two-stop strategy would be the fastest by 5 to 10 seconds. That is to say that the cost of a second pit stop (25 seconds or so) would be more than offset by the increased lap times that new tyres would allow. That calculation, however, did not account for lap traffic. As we saw with Hamilton getting stuck behind Verstappen, sometimes you can’t take advantage of your fresh tyres if you can’t overtake the car ahead. As a result of the difficulty in overtaking, teams switched to a one-stop strategy. We’ll see what happens in China where overtaking is expected to be easier.