Tire strategy the key to an action-packed Chinese Grand Prix

April 16, 2012

Nico Rosberg completed a perfect weekend for Mercedes, during which both the German driver and his ‘Silver Arrows’ team managed their allocation of the P Zero White medium tire and P Zero Yellow soft tire perfectly. Having claimed a dominant pole position by half a second, Rosberg took his debut victory and the first win for Mercedes since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, using a two-stop strategy. Rosberg’s pace at the beginning of the race was enough to ensure that he was able to complete his first pit stop without losing the lead and from there on he was able to control his advantage, completing the race on the medium tires.

Tire choices and pit stop strategy set up a duel in the closing stages of the race, as McLaren’s Jenson Button on a fresh set of P Zero White medium tires attempted to chase down the leader, on an older set of the medium tires. Although Button – who stopped three times – was delayed by a problem during his final pit stop, he was just one of many drivers to mount a spectacular charge during the final stint in Shanghai. With four laps to go, Button passed RedBull’s Sebastian Vettel to claim the runner-up spot.
Vettel chose a two-stop strategy, but was forced to defend from the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, who claimed the final podium place on the penultimate lap, despite making one more pit stop than the reigning world champion. Hamilton now leads the drivers’ championship, with McLaren having adopted a different strategy to most of their rivals. The Englishman was one of the few drivers to stick with the soft tire during his second stint, while the majority of other drivers went to the harder tire on their first stops.
A wide variety of strategies were seen all the way down the pit lane, with many teams pushing the limits of performance. Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen completed a 28-lap final stint on the P Zero White medium tire, which at one point boosted him up to second place before he dropped down the order as the tires went off. Such was the closeness of the action that Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi, who finished ninth and 10th respectively, set an identical lap time in the closing stages of the race – despite adopting completely different strategies.
The other Sauber of Sergio Perez, whose tire strategy helped him to challenge for victory in Malaysia, stayed out longest on the soft tire at the beginning of the race,moving onto the harder tire on lap 16. The longest first stint of all, 18 laps, was run by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa – who was one of only four drivers (together with both Toro Rossos and Williams driver Bruno Senna) to start on the medium tire.
Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery commented: “Many congratulations to Nico and to Mercedes for this thoroughly well-deserved victory, during which they exhibited a perfect understanding of how to get the most out of both compounds in challenging circumstances and keep the tires within the optimal performance window. As expected, we saw a high degree of tire degradation in the tough conditions of China, with the front-left tire in particular coming under particular stress. This gave the opportunity for the teams to try out a wide variety of different strategies, which resulted in spectacular yet clean wheel-to-wheel racing that if anything surpassed even last year’s Chinese Grand Prix. I’d also like to congratulate our former test driver Romain Grosjean, who claimed his best-ever finish with sixth overall for Lotus.”