#F1 Age of Ultras. The Hulk Joins Hamilton at the front #AustrianGP

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has claimed pole position in Austria using the P Zero Purple Ultrasoft tyre. In what was the qualifying session of the season so far, the top 10 would have to deal with changing conditions as Intermediates would later be changed for Ultrasofts as timing for the last lap would be vital.

Both Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel would be served grid penalties after qualifying. Vettel knew his fate before qualifying as his Ferrari would take a gearbox change but Rosberg missed the majority of Q1 as he suffered suspension failure in FP3.

The German wouldn’t be the last either as Daniil Kvyat would suffer a heavy crash after suffering the same fate, which brought an end to Q1. Thankfully both drivers were uninjured in the incidents.

GP AUSTRIA F1/2016

Bottas, Williams via PIRELLI MEDIA

All the drivers used the Ultrasoft tyre for Q1. In Q2, the Ferrari and Red Bull drivers set their best times on the Supersoft rather than the Ultrasoft tyre, which in theory could enable them to do a longer opening stint than for those starting the race on the Ultrasoft. Rain fell during Q3, which meant that most of the session ran on the Intermediates before a late move to Ultrasoft slicks.

In the chaos that was the final laps of Q3 Nico Hulkenberg set the early pace on slicks and it is he who will join Lewis Hamilton on the front row of the grid. The Hulk was under investigation for sector time pace under yellow flags from Q1, but team telemetry showed he lifted in the affected area. Jenson Button was delighted with what he thought would be 4th position, but the penalties to Rosberg and Vettel will see the McLaren man start in 3rd place in a sensational qualifying effort.

Another highlight for a fantastic qualifying session was Manor’s Pascal Wehrlein who took an entirely merited P12 and was understandably delighted with his effort.

Track temperatures were already high for FP3, reaching 48 degrees centigrade. During the early part of qualifying, these exceeded 50 degrees centigrade: the highest temperatures seen all weekend. Weather conditions remain uncertain for tomorrow, while the demands on the tyres put the accent on traction rather than lateral forces.

A two-stopper appears to be the most likely strategy for the race tomorrow, with around 0.4 seconds between the Supersoft and Ultrasoft compounds. This comparatively small gap is due to the short lap and an effect of this is to open up a number of different strategy options.

GP AUSTRIA F1/2016

GP AUSTRIA F1/2016 – via PIRELLI MEDIA

How the tyres behaved today:

Soft: used only in FP3. Not seen in qualifying but will be a key element of the race.

Supersoft: an essential part of the strategy, with Ferrari and Red Bull running these in Q2 and so starting the race with this more durable compound tomorrow.

Ultrasoft: the most popular choice in Q1 and then used in Q3 last laps on a drying track.

Race strategy: Due to the differing data available from Friday and today, a number of opportunities are open and it is quite difficult to predict the best strategy for tomorrow. The drivers with two sets of soft tyres available have a big potential advantage. A two-stop strategy looks to be the winning one. Using the data from Saturday, two different types of two-stopper appear to be best: start on supersoft, change to soft on lap 16, and soft again on lap 44 is the optimal strategy. If starting on ultrasoft, a change to soft by lap 10 and then soft again by lap 40 looks to be just a few seconds slower.

FREE PRACTICE 3 – TOP 3 TIMES

Vettel 1m07.098s Ultrasoft New
Raikkonen 1m07.234s Ultrasoft New
Hamilton 1m07.308s Ultrasoft Used

QUALIFYING TOP 10

Hamilton 1m07.922s Ultrasoft New
Rosberg 1m08.465s Ultrasoft New
Hulkenberg 1m09.285s Ultrasoft New
Vettel 1m09.781s Ultrasoft New
Button 1m09.900s Ultrasoft New
Raikkonen 1m09.901s Ultrasoft New
Ricciardo 1m09.980s Ultrasoft New
Bottas 1m10.440s Ultrasoft New
Verstappen 1m11.153s Ultrasoft New
Massa 1m11.977s Ultrasoft New

MOST LAPS BY COMPOUND SO FAR

Soft Magnussen 30 laps
Supersoft Palmer 26 laps
Ultrasoft Grosjean 23 laps
Ultrasoft Rosberg 23 laps
Ultrasoft Sainz Jr 23 laps
Intermediate Perez 15 laps

BEST TIME BY COMPOUND SO FAR

Intermediate Perez 1m15.902s
Soft Hamilton 1m09.145s
Supersoft Vettel 1m06.602s
Ultrasoft Hamilton 1m06.228s

Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Austria has certainly proved to be a very unpredictable event so far, and lap times before the shower that fell in Q3 were up to two seconds faster than the times in each equivalent session from 2015. Both in terms of weather and events on the track, so we can expect this unpredictable theme to continue tomorrow. We’re anticipating two stops tomorrow and reasonably short stints on the Ultrasoft, which are of course designed to provide the ultimate performance but at the expense of durability. We saw tyre strategy underway during qualifying, with Ferrari and Red Bull running the Supersoft in Q2, which will give them the opportunity to run a longer first stint tomorrow. The final shoot-out was all about finding the right window of opportunity for the slick tyres to perform at their best on a drying track.”