Button leads both practice sessions at Suzuka
The 12 Formula One teams had their first taste of Pirelli’s P Zero tires in Japan today, with McLaren driver Jenson Button – the only person who is theoretically able to deprive Red Bull Racing’s Sebastian Vettel of the championship this year – having set the fastest time in both of the two free practice sessions.
Button was quickest in the morning using the P Zero White medium tires with a time of 1m33.634s. In the warmer conditions of the afternoon, with ambient temperatures of 73° Fahrenheit and track temperatures of 99° Fahrenheit, he switched to the P Zero Yellow soft tires to set a best time of 1m31.901s.
As usual, the cars were allocated two sets of the harder compound (which at Suzuka is the P Zero White medium) and one set of the softer tires (the P Zero Yellow) for Friday’s free practice sessions. As per the regulations, one set of the medium tires was handed back after the first session, leading all the drivers to use this tire only in the morning so that they could save their single set of the soft tires for the more representative race conditions of the afternoon. During the afternoon, they split their running between the P Zero medium and the soft tire, ending the day by carrying out longer fuel runs as part of their race simulation programs.
The P Zero Yellow soft tire proved to be around a second per lap faster today than the P Zero White medium in terms of pace, although some slightly bigger differences were seen when the drivers went from a used medium tire to a new soft tire in the afternoon. Degradation was within the anticipated levels – slightly better than expected in the case of the medium compound – and the tires also stood up well to the lateral loads of up to 2.5G that can cause them to flex and overheat.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery commented: “There’s no question that Suzuka is an extremely tough track for the tires, so we’re pleased with the way that our tires have performed so far. In the morning using the medium tire we saw drivers carrying out runs of around 20 laps on a track that was still ‘green’, without much rubber laid down, and in the afternoon the durability of the soft tire was good too, with some drivers putting in more than 12 laps on heavy fuel loads as we expected. We will analyze all the data we collect tonight now, but from what we can see so far we’re anticipating between two and three stops during the race. Due to the nature of the pit lane here, we could end up seeing a multi-stop strategy from some of the teams, while others go longer.”
Pirelli facts of the day
The 395-meter pit lane in Suzuka carries one of the lowest time losses for a pit stop all year. A pit stop is expected to take slightly over 21 seconds.