ABU DHABI — It will come as no surprise that this evening’s race is expected to be a one-stop for most drivers. Teams tend to favour tyre management over multiple pit stops, and with the longevity expected from the super-softs (the hardest compound on offer) and the lack of overtaking opportunities around Yas Marina, it makes sense to limit time in the pits and maximise track position.
But that’s not to say there isn’t degradation across Pirelli’s range. The hyper-soft tyre suffered a loss of performance of over half a second per lap in Friday practice, compared to just 0.1s from the ultra-soft and 0.08s from the super-soft. That explains why the front runners were so keen to start on the ultra-soft by using that tyre in Q2 and means the drivers starting on the hyper-soft, including Max Verstappen, are likely to make a pit stop within the first 12 laps.
The only benefit to starting on the hyper-soft is the extra grip it will offer at the start of the race. A new hyper-soft should be worth as much as 0.5s per lap over an ultra-soft, although that advantage will quickly diminish with degradation. Nevertheless, Verstappen is hoping to make the most of it, and with his Red Bull notoriously easy on its tyres, he might be in the right car to do just that.
“I don’t see starting on the hyper-soft as a negative because also you know they will be worried that at the start I will be coming to them,” he said. “Maybe it’s nice in a way that we are different. At least we have two cars with different tyres so we can do different things.”
Those starting on ultra-softs are likely to pit around lap 21, leaving a 34-lap stint to the chequered flag. But if Verstappen pits early, that might trigger pit stops among the top five, who all start on ultra-softs, to defend against a potential undercut strategy. Friday’s race pace suggested Red Bull had a 0.1s long-run pace advantage over Ferrari and a 0.5s pace advantage over Mercedes, but that will likely be reduced on Sunday evening as Mercedes will avoid using the hyper-soft tyre that it struggled on over long runs in FP2.