Once fuel, now tires

In 2010, the regulation changes have banned refueling during the race. Historically the refueling strategy added a large component, often undesired, to a race weekend but no longer will teams be looking for tactical dominance in fuel strategies. This year proves to be shaping up in to an outright tire wear strategy relying on a company who has already announced its coming departure from the sport.

With tires being the most critical element for the fuel-laden cars this year, Bridgestone will be under serious scrutiny for the reliability of their compounds and effectiveness of their rubber. The Japanese tire giant has already announced that it will leave F1 as the sole supplier of the sports tires after 2010 and one wonders just how aggressive the spending, development and R&D will be from a company in its waning moments in F1.

Today’s qualifying session saw all the front runners on the Super Soft compound during Q3. This will most likely necessitate an early stop within the first 1/3rd of the race for a change to the Prime tire (medium compound). Many of the drivers and teams have been commenting that the tire wear and speed of degradation will be the key to race victories and ultimately that’s not unusual but what may a new twist is just how well Rubens Barrichello does in 11th place on, perhpas, the Prime tire.

Interesting to note the time differences regardless of position on the grid. Lewis Hamilton is nearly 1 sec adrift of the front runners while Mercedes GP’s Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg are nearly .500 apart. The inevitable question of whether Schumacher still “has it” was bound to come up as he failed to best his younger teammate.

Given the new regulations, degradation of a tire from an exiting company, the tactics of sub 2sec pitstop and possible excitement of an understeer fun-fest with occasional snap-oversteer will be interesting to see. Perhaps F1B’s own Paul Charsley posed it best in a text message this morning…”it would be interesting to see Jenson Button’s tires compared to Lewis Hamilton’s” after that qualifying session as well as the race. To that point, it would be intriguing to know if Hamilton’s 4th place on the grid was a bit above its reality as the tires were ruined getting there or if Hamilton is clearly starting his humiliation routine on Button.

We shall see.

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