[Why new tyre shortage adds to F1 team headaches in three-stop Qatar GP
While a maximum distance of 18 laps for each set of tyres makes things appear quite simple on one hand, it is far from it.
It is certainly not a case of stopping on laps 18, 36 and 54 and running it home until the chequered flag.
Things are more complicated than that, firstly by the fact teams will not want to head into the pits when everyone else does, as that opens the risk of traffic chaos. It will be better to stagger stops.
But of more significance is the fact that there is a bit of a shortage of tyre options.
With Qatar being a sprint race weekend, with two qualifying sessions, teams have burned through more sets of softs than they perhaps do on a regular weekend.
And that means they have locked themselves into a pretty restricted number of hards and mediums for the grand prix itself.
Plus, with the soft tyre having appeared to be a pretty poor tyre for race conditions in the sprint on Saturday, it is unlikely that it is going to play much of a factor – unless required for a super short stint very late on.
Instead, F1 teams are going to have to rely on the medium and the hard, but very few drivers have been left with enough brand-new sets for the race.
Only four drivers – Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda, Logan Sargeant and Alex Albon – have the two sets of mediums and two sets of hards that allow them to fit fresh rubber at each stop.
For the rest, and critically all the main frontrunners, they only have one set of new hards and one set of new mediums, with the remainder being used mediums.
Critical then to understanding how the race plays out will be just how much mileage each set of these used tyres has done.
The 18-lap marker is the total distance that each tyre set has done, excluding in and out-laps.
The FIA notes declared: “Laps to the grid, formation laps and laps following the chequered flag for the Sprint and Race will not be counted.
“For the used sets effective number of laps considered from previous sessions will be the total amount, reduced by 2 laps.”
So, if a driver has done four laps on a set of mediums, then he will only be allowed to run it for 14 laps in the race before having to stop.
It means those drivers who have used sets which have completed just installation laps, or just a flying lap in qualifying, are in much better shape in being able to run longer than those whose mediums have been taken slightly further already.
The FIA and Pirelli issued a chart on Sunday afternoon detailing the maximum tyre stints for the individual sets of each driver.
Qatar GP tyres
Photo by: FIA
Some, like Max Verstappen, look to be in decent shape – with his new and used sets of medium and hards being good for 70 laps – which gives him some strategic flexibility.
Others, however, are quite marginal. Lewis Hamilton has just 59 laps of hard/medium tyre availability for the 57-lap race – if he takes each set to the maximum. It does not leave him with much room for manoeuvre if he doesn’t want to eat into his new soft late on.
But while the tyre strategy complications are going to make for a difficult race, team figures were sure that the FIA and Pirelli had done the right thing in handling things.
Aston Martin’s Tom McCullough said mandating a maximum stint length was the best approach, rather than leaving teams up to their own devices.
“We’re all performance junkies, aren’t we?” he said. “So, leave it in our hands and we’ll push the limits hard.
“The FIA and Pirelli’s responsibility is safety, isn’t it? So, with the information we’ve gathered thus far, it is right to be on the safe side and to limit the amount of laps.”
McLaren boss Andrea Stella reckoned that worrying about making things hard for teams should never be a consideration when it comes to safety.
“We need to go by priority, and the first priority is safety,” he said.
“As long as that is preserved, all the rest is a bit of adaptation and flexibility, which we welcome as racers.”