With Pirelli predicting the best strategy for the Japanese Grand Prix will be a two-stop of soft-hard-hard, it’s advantage McLaren as the Woking team is one of only three outfits where both drivers have those tyres in hand.
Oscar Piastri will line up alongside Max Verstappen on the front row of the Japanese Grand Prix, the Aussie having grabbed a career-best grid slot, with Lando Norris sitting third.
But while the McLarens didn’t have the pace to challenge Verstappen on Saturday as the reigning World Champion crossed the line an incredible 0.581s faster, they could try for a two-pronged attack on Sunday.
McLaren: The only way we can attack Max is tactical
And according to Pirelli they have the tyres do it.
Formula 1’s tyre supplier believes the best strategy for the Suzuka race is a two-stopper with the driver starting on the soft tyres and then slitting the rest between two sets of hard tyres.
On a weekend in which the drivers dealt with high temperatures and degradation, McLaren is one of three teams with the right number of new sets of tyres for that strategy for both drivers.
Team principal Andrea Stella said as per Motorsport.com: “We are happy that we have a double hard because the hard seems a good tyre here, mostly because the other two will overheat even more.
“Even the hard overheats, but this one seems to be more capable of still providing some decent lap times. So it’s an interesting strategic situation. We’ll see if it turns to our advantage.”
Pole-sitter Verstappen does not have the preferred tyres available, but alas Stella fears he has “so much pace” he could still scamper into the distance and make any strategy work.
“The only way we can attack Max is tactical,” he said. “Should we be able for some reason to be ahead at the end of lap one, then you become tactical in the sense that you may try to respond to what he’s doing.
“But if he takes the lead, he just has so much pace that this is not going to be our race, or we are not going to be in his race. So, for me, I see definitely that we are in competition with Ferrari, and Mercedes. And that’s the race in normal circumstances for us.”
Are Ferrari on the back foot?
Pirelli’s ideal strategy is not great news for Ferrari as, despite lining up fourth and fifth on the grid with Charles Leclerc ahead of Carlos Sainz, three cars behind them in the top ten do have the tyres needed in Lewis Hamilton, George Russell, and Fernando Alonso.
Leclerc admits he’s worried: “Especially with the very warm temperatures this year, the overheating is really, really bad. So, I expect that it [the race] will be all about the tyre management and the strategy.”
Alpine’s Pierre Gasly, P12, and Esteban Ocon, 14th, as well as Kevin Magnussen, who is starting P15 in the Haas, have the soft-hard-hard option available to them.