SUZUKA, Japan — McLaren says it simply made the wrong call with its tyre selection at the Japanese Grand Prix after its allocation left its drivers with no real practice time on the super-soft tyres ahead of qualifying.
McLaren opted for four sets of mediums, five sets of softs and four sets of super-softs per car for this weekend’s grand prix, meaning super-softs were in short supply during practice and qualifying. All other teams had at least seven sets of super-softs, with Ferrari opting for as many as ten.
Teams give tyres back to Pirelli after each practice session and, although it can vary from team to team depending on strategy and tyre behaviour, most teams usually aim to save five sets of the softest compound for each driver in qualifying. That allows for two runs on a fresh set of the softest tyre in the first two qualifying sessions if necessary as well as the single set of the softest tyres that must be saved in case the car makes it to Q3.
But McLaren’s choice of four sets of super-softs per car for the entire weekend meant its drivers were only ever going to have a maximum of three sets of super-softs to play with prior to Q3 — and that was assuming they did not use any during the three practice sessions. As it turned out, Stoffel Vandoorne used a set in FP2 while Alonso had no practice time on the super-soft at all — an unusual choice given the sensitivity of the tyres.
Tyre selections have to be made 14 weeks in advance for a flyaway race, meaning teams are faced with the challenge of making predictions about how their car will perform at a given event long before they arrive. If a team misses the deadline for its selection, it ends up with the allocation that McLaren had in Japan but sporting director Gil de Ferran insists that was not the case and the team simply made an error in its selection.
McLaren eventually qualified 18th and 19th, meaning its drivers only out-qualified the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson, which crashed within the first ten minutes of the session.
“I think the important thing is to say look, we didn’t get it quite right to be honest and we’re not always going to get everything right,” de Ferran said of the tyre selection. “We strive to be better, make better analysis, make better decisions and so on and so forth. I think we understand that at the time we made the best decision we could with what we believe was the right information.
“New evidence and information became available since and with 20:20 hindsight you look back and you think ‘yep, probably would have made a different call’.
De Ferran said the team did the best with the tyres it had, but ultimately the car would not have been quick enough to advance to Q2 regardless of the tyre selection.
“The guys here on site made a good choice on run plans, on what tyres to use when and when you look at the data in qualifying, actually they arrived at a very good balance for qualifying. I think for both guys, particularly Fernando who was really on point, there wasn’t much performance left in the car.
“I think when you step back and you look at the race, our tyre situation for the race and how qualifying actually transpired, I don’t think it was that bad. Nevertheless we do look back and we’ve got to raise our hands and say ‘OK, maybe we could have taken a different decision, let’s look at how we look at things’.
“I think it goes back to one of the things I said right at the beginning. It’s important to look at the mirror and say ‘OK, that didn’t go quite right, how can we do a little better?’. That happens and it should happen literally every day because everything can become a little better.”