Feature F1 Unlocked
STRATEGY UNPACKED: Did the new tyre allocation trial cause Russell’s Q1 exit in Hungary?
The Hungarian Grand Prix saw the first trial of a reduction in the amount of tyres the drivers have at their disposal for the race meeting – and new rules about which tyres they had to use during each qualifying segment. But how did this trial affect the outcome of the weekend? Former Aston Martin strategist Bernie Collins explains all…
The Alternative Tyre Allocation (ATA) is part of F1’s ongoing attempt to reduce the environmental impact of the series. The ATA saw each driver allocated 11 sets of tyres rather than the normal 13. This sounds like a small change but it really adds up: two sets per driver equates to eight individual tyres per driver and therefore 160 tyres in a single race weekend.
If this was possible for a 24-race calendar in 2024 it would save a huge 3,840 tyres across the season. Not only saving the physical rubber, but also the manufacturing, transportation and heating costs.
The theory behind the change centred around the fact that the majority of soft tyres used in qualifying are then not used during the race, so only ever complete one or two flying laps before being discarded.
Whereas if some qualifying laps were run on hard or medium tyres then the short number of laps completed through qualifying would allow these to still be useful during the race.
So qualifying was adjusted to force the drivers to run Q1 on hard tyres, Q2 on mediums and Q3 on softs. Additional changes involved requiring the return of only one tyre set per driver after first and second practice, as opposed to the normal two.
Returning the tyre involves physically sending these sets back to Pirelli to be removed from the wheel rims. In Budapest, due to a wet FP1 session, we didn’t see the full effect of this play out. The majority of drivers returned one medium and one soft set at the end of Friday. This left drivers with the same number of dry tyres available going into Saturday as a standard weekend.
For qualifying the standard run plan was two sets of hard tyre in Q1, two sets of medium in Q2 and two sets of soft in Q3. The big shock of Q1 was George Russell’s failure to progress – but was this due to the tyre trial or not? Let’s dive into that now.
Ahead of qualifying only Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Haas and AlphaTauri had run the hard tyre in practice, so for the other six teams their expectations in Q1 were set based on historic data or interpolation from softer compounds. Therefore these teams had to learn how to get the best out of the tyre on the fly.
While the majority of the field – 16 drivers – left the pit lane in the first 1 minute and 20 seconds of Q1, Mercedes waited a further 45 seconds and were the second to last team on track, only ahead of Williams.
Williams only completed three timed laps on the first run; push, cool, push. Whereas both Mercedes attempted an additional cool lap which would reduce the garage time available between runs.
This additional time in the garage at the start of Q1 resulted in both cars facing significant traffic throughout the run.
The chart below shows Russell’s speed trace across his first push (blue) and second push (red) laps of his first run in Q1. The chart shows the time across both laps is very close until a mistake on his second lap in Turn 7, followed by him aborting the lap in Turn 11.
Similarly, team mate Lewis Hamilton aborted the second flying lap on the first set, but by doing so early allowed himself more time in the garage.
These poor final laps in the first run of Q1 for both Mercedes meant they needed to nail their second runs to progress to Q2, with Russell being P13 and Hamilton P17 as others started their final runs on fresh tyres. However, again Mercedes were among the last to leave the garage for a final attempt.
This brings many risks: being last on track leaves you at risk of a red flag or others aborting a lap or making a mistake ahead. More crucially, the best qualifying lap in Budapest is achieved with a good gap to the car ahead (greater than five seconds). Any traffic will be detrimental to lap time.
Both Mercedes left the garage together and through the lap overtook three drivers also on an preparation lap: Fernando Alonso, Oscar Piastri and Lance Stroll. In the final corners the group bunched up and Hamilton, as the car ahead, was able to open a 5.4 second gap to Charles Leclerc without losing to others behind.
Russell, however, started to lose positions to the group with Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and Pierre Gasly all coming through. The most detrimental of these was Gasly who overtook around the final corner. At this point Gasly was safe in P8, however Russell in P14 was not.
Russell managed to make a 2.6 second gap to Gasly but in doing so compromised his run to Turn 1 (as you can see in the chart above, which shows the gaps at Turns 13 – the penultimate corner – and 14, the final corner).
The chart below shows Russell’s speed trace across the first run (blue) and second run (red) in Q1.
You can see across the two laps that Russell has immediately lost speed across the start line, and 0.1 seconds of lap time by Turn 1. In the following two corners Russell loses more time due to the proximity of Gasly ahead to total 0.27 seconds.
From Turn 4 onwards Russell slowly regains this time due to track improvement but only enough to match the previous lap, which is not sufficient to progress to Q2.
Without the time lost between the start of the lap and Turn 4 Russell would have been 0.27 seconds quicker – and therefore through to Q2 in P12.
Additionally, Russell crossed the line with 36 seconds remaining on the clock, so with better management in the final section he could have allowed cars to go by but still have made a gap to the car ahead and the flag.
A perfect storm of lack of knowledge of the hard tyre, poor track positioning for the first and then subsequently the second runs, and losing out to Gasly in the final corner before his push lap cost Russell a place in Q2. So his failure to progress wasn’t down to the tyre trial.
Overall on the ATA, from a strategy point of view, I don’t see many disadvantages for qualifying or the race as the drivers actually end up with more sets of useable tyres – but there is one caveat: given FP1 was wet in Hungary, we don’t know what the effect of the ATA would have been with a dry session.
It may be that the team and drivers would have done less running anyway to save their tyres – potentially meaning less track action for the fans – but we’d need a full dry weekend to confirm this.