A variety of different two-stop and three-stop strategies characterised the battle for the podium at the Spanish Grand Prix sponsored by Pirelli: a closely poised race where tyre strategy made a crucial difference. While Nico Rosberg led from start to finish for the first time all year, stopping just twice, his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton went head-to-head against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on opposing tyre strategies.
Hamilton adopted a three-stop strategy, after dropping some places at the start. Vettel stuck with a two-stop strategy meaning that he had to hold of Hamilton’s faster car in the closing stages of the race, once more guaranteeing a thrilling finale. Rosberg used the medium-medium-hard strategy that we predicted as being the most likely scenario before the start of the race, eventually winning by half a minute.
In fact, all the drivers chose to start the grand prix on the medium tyre, which was up to 1.5 seconds faster than the hard compound in Friday’s second free practice session. Hamilton, however, converted to a three-stopper – with two opening stints on the medium and then a penultimate stint on the hard tyre, which gave him the flexibility not to have to stop again if necessary.
Williams driver Felipe Massa was the only driver to use the same strategy as Hamilton, ending up sixth from ninth on the grid. After a disappointing qualifying, Kimi Raikkonen adopted an alternative two-stop strategy. The Finn used the hard tyre for his middle stint with the aim of benefitting from the extra speed of the medium at the end of the race, in a battle against his countryman Valtteri Bottas (Williams).
With wear and degradation very much in line with expectations, both two and three stops were equally possible, with drivers and teams able to adapt their strategies to suit their particular race circumstances. The teams will now remain in Barcelona for the first in-season test on Tuesday and Wednesday, where a number of third drivers will be taking the wheel as well as the regular pilots.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Strategy was clearly at the forefront of the Spanish Grand Prix, with a fascinating and complex battle between Mercedes and Ferrari. The nominations we made opened up a number of different possibilities, enabling each team to make the most of their potential. Despite the demanding conditions of the Montmelo track and significant track temperatures, both compounds performed perfectly, showed very little graining and no blistering, helping every driver to maximise his chosen strategy. We look forward now to the test, which will help us gather more data to shape future tyre development.”