Japanese Grand Prix strategy guide

SUZUKA, Japan — Another Sunday afternoon, another one-stop race in store. There will be some strategic variation owing to the soft compound starting tyres for the two Mercedes drivers and Romain Grosjean in the top ten and the super-softs on the rest, but don’t expect to see any two-stop strategies — which are estimated to be over 10 seconds slower.

Pirelli believes drivers will swap to the medium tyres at their single stop at around lap 20 for the super-soft starters and lap 25 for the soft tyre starters, but Formula One’s race predictions suggests a mix of softs and super-softs with a pit stop window between lap 32 and 29. Teams are likely to keep their options open and then make a decision based on the state of their tyres towards the end of the first stint, with blistering set to be the biggest concern.

The super-soft compound is particularly susceptible to blistering, especially when the car is on heavy fuel at the start of the race and putting more load through the rubber. Blistering occurs when the rubber on the tyre overheats, and at the start of the race the tread is still at its thickest and therefore retaining more heat than at the end of the stint when it has worn down. That’s why Lewis Hamilton blistered his tyres in Russia while pushing hard to overtake Sebastian Vettel early in his second stint.

By starting on the soft compound, Mercedes and Grosjean will be able to keep their options open longer into the race than the super-soft starters. They may have slightly less traction off the line due to their slightly harder compound, but with a downhill start it’s unlikely to be such a big factor. By starting on the soft, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff also believes his drivers will have the option of the undercut, by switching to the mediums early on, or the overcut by going long into the race and switching to the faster super-softs for a sprint to the flag.

“To start on soft, it is the best race tyre,” he said. “It might compromise us at the start, but we are not even sure about that. And it is the much better tyre in the race, giving us more undercut and overcut options. It is the easier logical way of making the tyres last to the end.”

Mercedes’ biggest threat comes from Max Verstappen at the start. The Red Bull driver will hope his super-softs offer more grip when the lights go out and he is unlikely to have any reservations about throwing his car up the inside of the two Mercedes drivers into Turn 1. And with Sebastian Vettel starting back in ninth, Hamilton may play the percentages if he bogs down at the start and sees a flash of blue appear on his right-hand side.