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Formula 1 Azerbaijan GP

Explained: Norris and Tsunoda first F1 drivers to take sprint qualifying gamble

Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda won’t be able to participate in the third part of Saturday’s first Formula 1 sprint qualifying at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after taking a tyre gamble in qualifying.

Lando Norris, McLaren, in Parc Ferme after Qualifying

As revealed by Autosport a loophole has emerged in the new sprint format regulations regarding the usage of tyres in the shootout.

Drivers are obliged to use one set of new medium tyres in SQ1, another new set of mediums in SQ2, and then a set of new softs in SQ3.

The intention was that all teams would have to save those three new sets to use on Saturday.

However the rules as published left a loophole that meant teams don’t actually have to save tyres if they prefer to use them earlier in the weekend.

The relevant article reads: “In the period SQ3 of the sprint shootout, up to one set of dry-weather tyres may be used, and this must only be a new set of the soft specification.”

The presence of the word “may” left an opportunity for teams who perhaps didn’t expect to make SQ3 to use up that set of soft tyres earlier in the weekend for strategic purposes, which is exactly what both Norris and Tsunoda did on Friday.

The McLaren driver progressed through qualifying, taking seventh in Q1 and sixth in Q2. The team then played its 'joker' by using his last set of new softs for his final run in Q3, helping him take seventh place for Sunday’s grand prix grid.

That means under the rules, should he get as far as SQ3 on Saturday after the compulsory medium tyre running in the first two sessions, he won’t be able to participate in it. He would instead have to sit in the garage and accept 10th place.

However, the strategy of using up his softs clearly helped him in Friday’s Q3 session and he will potentially reap the rewards in Sunday’s main event.

“It was a conscious strategic decision to maximise the grand prix quali result,” a team spokesperson told Autosport.

“There’s a lot more points to be scored on Sunday, so it’s the more important race to prioritise.”

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Tsunoda is in the exact same situation as Norris, as he too used all of his soft tyres, but he did it via a slightly different route.

Both AlphaTauri drivers used an extra set of soft tyres in FP1. The general idea was to be better prepared for the later qualifying session, although Tsunoda lost his first set when he brushed the wall and picked up a puncture.

The ploy didn’t work out for Nyck De Vries, who crashed out on his first lap in Q1.

However, Tsunoda took advantage of his extra preparation and made good progress, taking 10th place in the first session, seventh in Q2 and then eighth in Q3, which will be his starting position for Sunday’s grand prix.

In the process he used up all his soft tyres which means that he has no new sets left for Saturday’s sprint qualifying.

“Even though we brought several new aero components, our expected competitiveness based on the last events was that we were not Q3 material,” said AlphaTauri chief race engineer Jonathan Eddolls.

“As a result, we put a lot of effort into quali preparation in FP1 to give us the best chance for starting as high up as possible on Sunday where more points are available. Both drivers ran two sets of soft and medium tyres in FP1.

“The downside of our FP1 qualifying preparation meant we had no new tyres remaining for Q3, but Yuki set a fantastic lap on the used tyre to finish P8 for the race on Sunday.”

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Tsunoda stressed that tyres were a key element of his performance.

“That was really tricky, a tricky track, especially the tyre was also tricky,” he said. “Most of the drivers really struggled for the braking, especially first sector that front tyre is not really warm, it's not ready enough.

“We do as much as we can to warm up the tyre, but we struggle a lot. So the tyre was really key, the warm-up.”

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