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What Mercedes needs to make its “exciting” F1 tyre offset work

Mercedes driver George Russell did not waste any time after qualifying for Formula 1’s Singapore Grand Prix to declare his optimism about strategy options to help him win the race.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

As he spoke to the TV cameras immediately after grabbing a front-row slot, he reckoned that a tyre offset that Mercedes had locked in was a great thing to have.

“We've got an extra set of medium tyres tomorrow, which nobody around us has,” he said.

“So, to get to Q3 and be on the front row with a strategic advantage tomorrow, is an exciting place to be.”

Both Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton are alone among the Q3 runners in having the extra set of mediums (two rather than one), which the team committed to early in qualifying as it deliberately saved a set.

The choice was prompted by suspicions from Friday practice that degradation around the newly-resurfaced Marina Bay circuit may be higher than is normal – which could turn the Singapore GP in to a two-stopper.

Should that be the case, then a lot of teams at the front will face a tricky choice in how they deal with the final stint to the line.

And it is in these circumstances that Mercedes feels it could have earned itself a critical advantage.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

With all the other Q3 runners having just one set of new mediums and one set of new hards for the race (which is set to be the choice at the front for the start and first stop), it means that, if the Singapore race does go down the two-stop route, then then they will be forced to take used softs for the final stint.

And if that final stint is quite a long one, which serves to push the soft beyond a distance it is comfortable to run, that could prove to be a great thing for Mercedes if it has opted for the more durable mediums.

For Mercedes, having those extra mediums is about opening up the strategy flexibility – both in terms of degradation and also safety cars.

As Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said: “If it's not a clear one-stop, we have a second option to play.

“It's a great tyre for safety car, for red flags. So, it gives us much more options than when you only have used softs in your repertoire.”

But despite Mercedes’ optimism about the position it is in, Pirelli motorsport chief Mario Isola is not so convinced that it is such an automatic genius move just yet.

Mario Isola, Racing Manager, Pirelli Motorsport, is interviewed

Mario Isola, Racing Manager, Pirelli Motorsport, is interviewed

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

He says there has been nothing from the data he has had available that is yet pointing to it definitely being a two-stop.

“I believe it's a one stop,” he said. “You have to be honest, because when you lose 27-28 seconds in the pitlane, it is difficult to recover at this type of track.

“We believe that everybody will start on the medium and then move to the hard. Looking at the soft, it is not unusable for the race.

“But [if needed], it is clearly better if you plan to use it at the end of the race because of the lighter car.

“In this case, the new medium can be a good option. But I don't think personally that it's making a big difference because we can see that also the soft has quite a good rate of recovery with a double cool down lap.

“So, I am not sure that fitting the medium and fitting the soft is really making any difference – unless it is right at the end of the race where you can push with a lighter car.”

But there is another scenario that could emerge that would be very advantageous to Mercedes.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, kicks up sparks

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, kicks up sparks

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Should a safety car be called out after everyone has switched to hards, and it is early enough in the race for it not be certain that moving to softs will allow flat out running to the end, then that could prove to be the perfect scenario for Mercedes.

As Isola said, there is a timeframe in the race where ditching the hards and switching to the mediums could be a better route than the softs.

“If you plan a strategy with a medium/hard, and then you have a safety car, you don't have any other option than fitting a soft,” he said.

“But if it is quite early in the race, such as if it's one-third of the race to go, then here you have no other option than fitting a soft, and then you have to work to make the end.

“I'm not sure how many laps the soft can do with a good pace. So, at this point, you probably need either to stay on the hard, and stay out, or you fit the soft but then you have to manage yourself quite a lot.

“That's why a second medium in this case gives you a real advantage.”

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For Russell and Hamilton, the long-run pace of the car and the tyre options do appear to put it in a good place – but the team is still cautious about being positioned as favourite for the win just yet.

Wolff added: “I would never, after such a season because we are on the front row, call ourselves the favourite. We need to be humble about the situation.

“The result generally comes as a surprise that we have put it on P2 and P5 with another tyre that we have for [the race], but I think for a win it is a different story. But we'll give it everything and we will go full attack.”

Indeed, the final verdict on if its tyre offset call was a good one will probably only become clear in the second half of the Singapore GP.

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