FIA and Pirelli limit drivers to maximum 18 laps per set of tyres for the Qatar Grand Prix

Michelle Foster
Alpine mechanics with Pirelli tyres.

Pirelli updated the teams on their Qatar safety concerns.

The FIA and Pirelli have not imposed a minimum three-stop strategy for the Qatar Grand Prix, but have instead worked around that by limiting the number of laps the drivers can cover on any one set of tyres to 18.

While there is no rule stating that three stops are mandatory, with the limit of 18 laps per set and a total of 57 race laps for the grand prix, the drivers will have to make at least three stops.

Anyone who exceeds an 18-lap stint will be reported to the Race Stewards for running a car in an unsafe condition.

Pirelli have updated the teams on their Qatar safety concerns

News broke on Saturday morning that Pirelli were concerned about the safety of their tyres having noted micro tears in many of the older tyres used during Friday’s action at the Lusail circuit.

“We saw an indication that there was in the construction of the tyre on the sidewall a small separation between the carcass cord and the topping compound,” said Pirelli motorsport boss Mario Isola.

“This is due to a repeated impact against something, and it is an impact against the kerbs.”

With the tyres taking a battering on the pyramid kerbs at Turns 11 and 12, the FIA brought forward the track limits in the hope of keeping the drivers off the kerbs.

But given that there were still a notable number of lap times deleted during the Sprint Shootout while two drivers, Charles Leclerc and Lance Stroll, were penalised for excessive track limit violations in the Sprint race, Pirelli spent Saturday night analysing the tyres.

Pirelli met with the teams and the FIA at 2pm local time, six hours before the formation lap for the Qatar Grand Prix, to discuss their findings.

That led to a decision that the drivers may not cover more than 18 laps on any one set of tyres, thus necessitating three-stop strategies for the entire grid.

For drivers needing to run used tyres, two laps will be added for the slow in- and out-laps meaning if a set of tyres was used for five laps in practice or qualifying, the driver can use it for 15 laps in the race.

Any driver who exceeds the maximum limit of laps will be reported to the Race Stewards.

The FIA said in a statement: “Due to the frequency of Safety Car interventions in yesterday’s Sprint, the tyre data available for analysis by Pirelli was insufficient to add to that already undertaken following previous track sessions.

“In some cases, tyres that were analysed from the Sprint did show the initial onset of the separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords of the tyres.

“As was the case in Free Practice 1, this issue has likely been caused by the high-frequency interference between the tyre sidewall and the 50mm ‘pyramid’ kerbs used extensively at this circuit, aggravated by the propensity to ride those kerbs.

“As a consequence, it has been decided by the FIA and Pirelli and after consultation with the teams on safety grounds, the following measures will be implemented for today’s Qatar Grand Prix:

“A mandatory limit of 18 laps of total tyre life per set will be imposed.

“The life of already used tyres will be taken into consideration.

“The FIA and Pirelli will communicate to the teams the remaining available laps for each set of used tyres at their disposal for the race and the criteria used to calculate that number.

“There is no direct mandate for at least three tyre-change pitstops during the race, however this will be a consequence of the above guidelines should the race run its entire race distance.

“Any car deemed to have exceeded the tyre life lap limit will be reported to the Stewards as being run in an unsafe condition.

“This information will be formally communicated to the teams in the Race Directors’ notes and further updates issued as required.”

With the mediums proving to be the tyre of choice during Saturday night’s 19-lap Sprint Race, having brand-new mediums will be a key advantage.

And only five drivers; Lance Stroll, Kevin Magnussen, Yuki Tsunoda, Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant, have two new sets of yellow-walled tyres.

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Drives unhappy with Pirelli dictating strategy

Even though Pirelli have opted to limit the number of laps rather than impose a minimum number of pitstops, that won’t go down well with the drivers with George Russell saying the drivers are “smart enough” to make their own decisions.

“I don’t think they need to intervene to say it needs to be a mandatory three-stop,” said the GPDA director.

“I think give us the data, see how much wear there was on the soft, the medium. And we should all be smart enough to make a decision based on that.”

Carlos Sainz added: “As the GPDA, we were not happy with the situation and we hope that the collaboration starts getting better because if not, reading things in the press when our safety is involved [and] our input should be considered, it’s not good enough.”

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