Tyre strategy at the forefront of GP2 opener in Bahrain
Tyre strategy was key to the GP2 races in Bahrain, especially in the feature race on Saturday – during which the drivers have to use both compounds, just like Formula One. In a recent move designed to bring GP2 even closer to Formula One, the GP2 cars also benefit from a DRS system this year, designed to give them greater speed on the straights and aid overtaking. As a result, while the GP2 compounds stay the same this year, there are more demands placed on the tyres. The P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow compounds nominated for GP2 faced an even tougher task than their Formula One equivalents over the weekend, as free practice and both GP2 races were held in the heat of the day, as opposed to the Formula One Grand Prix that was run in the cooler conditions of the evening.
GP2 qualifying, however, took place on Friday evening – meaning that the teams had little opportunity to correlate their data between qualifying and the races, in order to formulate the best strategy.
All the drivers used the soft tyre in qualifying to set their fastest time, which was significantly faster than the medium around the Sakhir circuit. Unlike Formula One, the GP2 drivers are not obliged to start the feature race on the tyres they used in qualifying.
ART Grand Prix’s Stoffel Vandoorne took his fifth consecutive pole position, and like his second-placed team mate Nobuharu Matsushita, he started Saturday’s race on used medium tyres. DAMS driver and reigning GP3 champion Alex Lynn qualified third and was the highest-placed of the 11 drivers to start on the soft tyre.
But the complexion of the race changed when the safety car came out shortly after the start of the race. The drivers who had started on the soft tyre all took the opportunity to come into the pits on lap six in order to make the mandatory tyre change, giving them 26 laps on the medium to the chequered flag with track temperatures in excess of 50 degrees centigrade.
As a result they dropped down the order, but climbed through the field as the cars in front of them made their compulsory stops, having tried to build up as big an advantage as possible. Vandoorne kept the lead until his pit stop on lap 22, emerging further back but with a pace that was up to four seconds a lap faster than his direct rivals, thanks to the new soft tyres, taking the lead again on the penultimate lap. Campos driver Rio Haryanto, who started from 12th on the grid, adopted a similar strategy to finish second.
Racing Engineering’s Alexander Rossi finished as the best of the drivers who had started on the soft tyre, ending up third after switching to new mediums under the safety car. His strategy meant that he took the lead after Vandoorne pitted, but he could not live with the pace set by Vandoorne and Haryanto on soft tyres in the closing stages.
Vandoorne commented: “We started on the medium compounds which last longer. I think the safety car came out at the wrong moment. We had to stay out. We had to push quite hard at the re-start to increase the gap with the drivers who had already pitted. I think in the end, I was P10 after my pit stop. We knew that the pace difference between the medium and the soft would be massive. We also knew that we had to take care of the tyres, but not too much as well. Lap after lap, I was catching up with cars in front of me. Overtaking felt pretty easy from my point of view because I had much fresher tyres. Once I saw that I was P2, the team told me Rossi was 10 seconds ahead with something like four laps to go. I tried to push really hard. After one lap, I gained four seconds already. That was a good feeling.”
Haryanto won the 23-lap sprint race on Sunday, with no compulsory pit stops. The grid was formed of the top eight finishers from Race One reversed, with all the drivers using the medium tyre. Because of the high track temperatures, it was important to manage thermal degradation effectively. Vandoorne enjoyed another strong race, moving up from eighth to second at the finish to lead the championship standings.
Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola concluded: “Strategy was key to the feature race in Bahrain, whereas the sprint race was all about tyre management. The early safety car in the feature race seemed to hand an advantage to the cars on a soft-medium strategy, as they were able to have a ‘free’ pit stop. But Vandoorne and Haryanto were able to recover thanks to some impressive pace and tyre management, which meant that they were around two seconds per lap faster than the mediums, which were degrading towards the end of the race.”
This year’s GP2 season takes in 10 rounds and 20 races. The next round of the Pirelli-equipped series takes place in Barcelona from May 8-10.
|Rio Haryanto took his first GP2 win on Sunday|
|Stoffel Vandoorne won the GP2 feature race in Bahrain|
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