Japanese Grand Prix – Practice Sessions
Weather conditions in Suzuka this weekend seem set to be full of contrasts, with temperatures during free practice today as hot as a European summer, peaking at 29 degrees centigrade ambient and 41 degrees on track, amid the possibility of torrential rain later if a nearby typhoon affects the region. By the end of FP2, there were already some drops of rain on the track.
This will clearly have a profound impact on tire strategy, with the lessons learned from free practice not necessarily relevant to qualifying and the race. The P Zero Orange hard and P Zero White medium tires have been nominated for the Japanese Grand Prix, with all the drivers completing FP1 using only the harder of the two compounds as normal. In the afternoon, FP2 included longer runs with both compounds and different fuel loads to simulate qualifying and race conditions. This allowed the teams to calculate expected levels of tire wear and degradation.
The fastest time of the day was set by Mercedes driver (and world championship leader) Lewis Hamilton, with a benchmark of 1m35.078s in FP2 – on the second flying lap of his run with new medium tires. So far, there is a difference in lap time of around 0.8-1.0 seconds between the two compounds, although this is likely to come down as the weekend goes on and the track rubbers in.
History was also made today for Formula One and Pirelli, when Dutchman Max Verstappen became the youngest driver to take part in a grand prix weekend and use the P Zero tires, at the age of just 17 years and three days.
Paul Hembery: “After the first day of running there have been no big surprises from our end: instead the question marks are all about the weather. And obviously the tire use is going to be very much dictated by that. This is one of the most demanding circuits of the year for the tires as they are constantly cornering, accelerating or braking: there is no real respite anywhere on the lap. Despite these significant demands, we’re still expecting two to three pit stops for most drivers under normal circumstances, while wear and degradation are still very much within the limits we would expect. Graining has been extremely contained as well: almost negligible. Only one thing is for sure, which is that there’s a lot more to come from this weekend.”