Mercedes one-two after a race revolving round tire strategy
Malaysia, one of the toughest tests of the year for tires because of its high temperatures and an abrasive surface, demonstrated the reduced graining and increased durability of this year’s Pirelli tires, with no blistering despite track temperatures that peaked at 46 degrees centigrade. Just 15 drivers finished the grand prix, underlining the rate of attrition.
The P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium tires were nominated for the race, but with more than a second difference in race pace between the two compounds, a key part of the strategy consisted of the ability to adapt tire choice to the characteristics of each car and the evolving race conditions.
The top two finishers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg (who claimed the first one-two for Mercedes since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix) both used exactly the same three-stop strategy: three stints on the medium tire followed by a final stint on the hard tire, of just five and six laps respectively at the end of the race. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was the highest-placed two-stopper in fifth, having fought for a podium place from seventh on the grid. The German completed a long final stint on the hard tire, but was able to match some of the competitors on the softer medium tire for performance.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “This was a tough race, with track temperature of 46 degrees at the start and the most abrasive surface that we visit all year. In spite of this the tires showed an overall balance of performance that allowed a close battle for the lead. There was no blistering or graining, and while drivers had to manage thermal degradation, a three-stop race is in line with the requirements the sport has asked Pirelli to deliver.”
Our prediction for the race was a tough one to call after qualifying was run in wet weather, minimizing slick tire data available. But we said that the fastest theoretical way for the 56-lap race should be to start on the medium, change to the medium again on lap 15, medium once more on lap 29 and a final stint on the hard from lap 43.
We were quite close. Hamilton started on the medium; made his first stop for mediums again on lap 15, second stop for more mediums on lap 33, and his final stint on the hard from lap 51.