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Why the "terrible" soft tyre was the best choice for Brazil GP F1 sprint

Formula 1's Brazilian Grand Prix sprint proved to be a battle for tyre survival, as drivers had to obsess more about looking after rubber than being able to push flat out.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60

Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Eventual race winner Max Verstappen, who once again showed how good his Red Bull RB19 is at looking after tyres, confessed to being into management mode as soon as he left the pits.

"The out-lap," said the Dutchman, when asked when he first started looking after his tyres. "There was not one lap where I pushed flat-out. You can't. It's impossible."

Following the race, a number of drivers admitted things had been pretty extreme in trying to keep the soft tyre alive for the 24-lap race event.

Williams driver Alex Albon even lamented: "The [degradation] is just massive. It feels terrible to drive, to be honest."

With the soft tyre being far from ideal, one logical assumption would have been that drivers had made an error in not going to the medium – which should in theory have offered better durability for a slight trade-off in ultimate performance.

But that option proved to be far from ideal for the three drivers who tried it – Nico Hulkenberg, Kevin Magnussen and Logan Sargeant – as they all failed to make an impression in the race and suffered just as bad with degradation.

The Brazil sprint therefore appears to have thrown up a scenario where teams and drivers were caught between a rock and a hard place: a soft that needed too much management and a medium that wasn't performing to its best.

Why the soft proved to be the preferred route for all the front-runners is a complex matter to understand, but F1 tyre supplier believes a number of circumstances came together.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Pirelli chief engineer Simone Berra said: "We were surprised as well about how many teams decided to use the soft.

"We are investigating the reason behind [this], but it seems that the soft was really consistent.

"I think the gain over the medium from the soft is that you have a higher grip level in general. You slide less with the soft and you generate less overheating, so you can manage a little bit better the temperatures."

Berra thinks that the medium, while in theory a more durable tyre, performed worse than it should have done in terms of tyre life because it would have slid more on the track and therefore overheated quicker.

This situation was exacerbated by the asphalt being green – thanks to the storm that washed away all the rubber on Friday nights – as well as temperatures being so high.

"We think this affected the sliding of the medium, and generated more overheating and more degradation," he said.

"But we don't have a clear picture from all the grid. We had just Haas and one driver from Williams [on the mediums], so we don't have a clear picture of what really happened.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23 battles with Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23 battles with Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

"We don't know other teams with the medium, how they could have performed, let's say. What should be said is that with these temperatures we had, 47/48C at the beginning of the session, we expected it [the tyre choice] to go harder.

"But I think it was more the condition of the track that forced the teams to use the soft."

Three-stop option

The evidence of the sprint – and why the soft can be a better race tyre in Brazil than the medium – has opened up the prospect of some aggressive strategies for the grand prix.

Berra believes that those drivers who have extra softs available for the race – including Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, the Aston Martin duo and Lando Norris – could be at an advantage over those who have no fresh softs (both Mercedes drivers, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz).

"The medium could be better with the track evolution and all the cars running around rubbering the race line," he said.

"At the moment, the best strategy is using the soft for the first stint and of course to have extra grip for the start, before passing on to the medium," he explained.

"Then, after that, you can decide to use a second medium to go to the end or the soft to go to the end."

Berra even thinks that the possibility is there for some to go for a three-stopper, especially those who have extra sets of softs.

The drivers who have these are Valtteri Bottas, Zhou Guanyu, Daniel Ricciardo and Logan Sargeant.

"It's just three, four seconds slower," he said. "It's using mainly the soft compounds, especially for the drivers who have two sets of new softs left. So let's see, it could be a possibility if you want to push more, looking less after the tyre and trying to be more aggressive.

"One stop is much slower, like seven-nine seconds slower and requires to use the hard compound, which is not really [the ideal race tyre]."

Pirelli has posted the available tyre sets each driver has remaining for the race.

Tyres available

Tyres available

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