MARINA BAY, Singapore — The Singapore Grand Prix is likely to be a one-stop race but it won’t be a straightforward.
The top ten will all start on the hyper-soft tyre, which isn’t good for much more than ten laps while running on heavy fuel. They are then expected to switch to the ultra-soft for a long second stint, but tyre management will be absolutely crucial. Unfortunately, that means drivers are likely to limit their pace significantly from the start of the race and it’s unlikely we’ll see the sort of flat-out racing that made for such a thrilling Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago.
The degradation on the hyper-soft is significantly more extreme than the other tyres and was recorded at 0.14s of performance loss per lap in Friday practice. By comparison, the ultra-soft was losing 0.03s per lap and the soft 0.01s per lap, meaning drivers will be keen to ditch the hyper-soft as soon as they can.
For those starting on the hyper-soft, Pirelli recommends switching to the soft on lap 13, but such is the gap in performance between the hyper-soft and soft when new — over two seconds according to Mercedes — most teams are expected to opt for the ultra-soft and curb the pace of the car if necessary to protect the rubber. Safety Cars are likely to help in that regard, and considering a Safety Car has been deployed at every Singapore Grand Prix to date — leading a total of 69 laps — teams are likely to be more willing to gamble and stretch stint lengths that little bit longer.
Of the top three teams, Red Bull is able to manage degradation the best, so they may try and force Ferrari and Mercedes into an extra pit stop by upping the pace significantly around the pit stops. Daniel Ricciardo, who starts sixth, is hoping that Ferrari’s attempt to make it through Q2 on ultra-softs is proof that they will struggle with degradation on the hyper-softs.
For those starting outside the top ten, the race strategy is much more straightforward. They can start on the ultra-soft and switch to the hyper-soft around lap 41. That will leave 20 laps on the hyper-soft, but with fuel loads significantly reduced by then and the track rubbered in, degradation will be less of a concern. By mirroring the strategy of the top ten, those switching to ultra-softs at the end should be able to attack on the softer rubber if they find themselves in a close battle with a car nursing a set of ultra-softs.