Tire Strategy At The Centre Of GP2 And GP3 Weekend In Malaysia
A newly resurfaced circuit provided some thrilling races as GP2 returned to Malaysia after three years, while GP3 visited for the first time.
Thermal tire management was at the heart of the GP2 action, while the GP3 competitors also had to contend with high track temperatures – which peaked at more than 60 degrees on Friday: the highest ever seen in recent history.
In GP2, Antonio Giovinazzi took another feature race victory while Luca Ghiotto took his first win in the sprint race. In GP3, Alexander Albon won the feature race while Jake Dennis claimed the sprint race.
The GP2 drivers had the two hardest compounds at their disposal: P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium. The top six feature race finishers all started on the medium tire and then switched to the hard.
The race was shortened by two extra formation laps to retrieve a stranded car, with Raffaele Marciello leading into the first corner after Pierre Gasly made a poor start, but Marciello was then passed by Giovinazzi through turn two.
Sergey Sirotkin subsequently tried to challenge Giovinazzi for the lead, and when he could not catch up, pitted on lap eight of 29 to switch to hard tires and try to undercut his rival. Giovinazzi pitted three laps later, emerging behind Sirotkin, but then passed him again to claim his fifth win of the year.
An alternative strategy was adopted by Luca Ghiotto, who started from 11th on the grid with the hard tire and ran a long first stint, moving into the lead before switching to the medium on lap 18 and eventually finishing seventh.
Ghiotto – the runner-up in last year’s GP3 Series – was on the top step of the podium after an action-packed sprint race on Sunday, having taken the lead at the start and defended it following a re-start after an early safety car.
The GP3 drivers had only the P Zero Orange hard tire at their disposal – but even this was not immune from degradation in the high temperatures. Albon out dragged polesitter and championship leader Charles Leclerc during the long run down to the first corner in the feature race on Saturday.
He kept the lead for all 19 laps to the finish, while Leclerc survived a collision with his team mate to close in on Jack Aitken in second, who was battling tire degradation in the closing stages. Aitken finally held off the championship leader while Arjun Maini moved up from sixth on the grid to fourth.
Sunday’s sprint race was won by Dennis, who took advantage of a scrap between the two drivers on the front row of the grid to get past at turn two and claim the lead on lap one. Dennis looked after his tires perfectly in the hot conditions to eventually extend his cushion beyond three seconds and claim his second victory of the year.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola: “We saw a particularly challenging and exciting GP2 feature race, where the drivers had to manage the thermal degradation with rising track temperatures throughout the whole distance, so those who were too aggressive earlier on or pitted too early paid the price. While the hard compound showed good durability, it also had to be managed correctly to ensure consistent performance. In GP3, the drivers who were able to look after their allocation over the entirety of the weekend could take an advantage. With the hot temperatures and an unusual program – as the practice sessions took place on Thursday rather than Friday – the drivers had to adapt to changing circumstances and different track conditions by quickly getting to grips with how this affected the tires.”
The next GP2 and GP3 races are the final rounds of the season from November 25-27 in Abu Dhabi.