Barcelona will be the first race this year with a double gap in Pirelli’s tyre compounds, with the hard and soft tyres allocated. The first four races of 2012 have all been run on adjoining compounds, contrasted against last year’s championship where we had the double gap in the first five races, but then only twice more throughout the season (British and Indian Grands Prix) as Pirelli adapted to their first year in the sport.
Despite the well reported recent criticism of the 2012 tyres by Michael Schumacher, Pirelli are confident their decision will result in another thrilling race, “There is a whole step in between our two nominations for the first time this year and this should allow the teams to come up with a number of different tyre strategies that could make a big difference to the final outcome.” Explained Pirelli’s motorsport director, Paul Hembery, “With many teams having expanded their knowledge of our tyre range and tested new components at Mugello, we’re expecting a closely-fought Spanish Grand Prix – and maybe even the fifth different winner in five races.”
Literally - black art
Vettel won last year's race, of course, with a four stop strategy, and though Pirelli is bringing the same compounds to this year’s race, they’re the same in name only as all but the super softs were actually softened in the offseason. It’ll be interesting to see how many stops the teams go with this year to complete the distance as the slightly softer compounds should mean more stops, but a years worth of experience and data to fall back on should mean fewer. As with all the races up to this point, whoever can manage their tyres the best and hit that sweet spot come race day, whether by luck or judgement, will emerge on top or pretty damn close to it.
Of all the teams, Ferrari will be under the most pressure in Spain. After struggling with an inherent lack of pace with the F2012 so far, they arrive fresh from the Mugello test with a raft of upgrades fitted and full of optimism, but will the tyre allocation hurt them more than others? Last year's car, the Ferrari 150° Italia, was terrible on the harder Pirelli compound. So bad that Alonso led last year’s Spanish Grand Prix for 18 laps, but when he had to bolt on the harder tyres his pace fell away so dramatically he ended up being lapped by the chequered flag. Despite Ferrari’s best efforts, the issue persisted all year.
Alonso held his own on the softs
So have Ferrari cured their hard tyre woes with their F2012 chassis?
Of the four races in 2012 so far, only the very wet Malaysian Grand Prix had the harder compound allocated, which Alonso brilliantly won. Though thanks to the weather we’re still none the wiser about how the red machine will cope with the harder rubber, but there may have been a ‘tell’ that Ferrari is still concerned that came in the closing stages of the race. When it got dry enough for slicks, Ferrari fitted Alonso’s car with the medium option compound, while Perez and Sauber went with the hard primes and were ultimately faster.
So are Ferrari still worried about the hard compound in 2012? If the forecast threat of rain can stay away on Sunday, then we might just get the answer.