Pirelli’s Mario Isola: “Free practice will be even more important than usual”

Max Verstappen - Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
Credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Mario Isola says Pirelli Motorsport have some inclination of what to expect from their tyres this weekend at the Circuit Paul Ricard despite it being the venues first Formula 1 Grand Prix since 1990.

Formula 1 returns to France for the first time since 2008 this weekend and for many of the teams and drivers it is a completely new venue for them, but with Pirelli’s influence in motorsport including the likes of the Blancpain GT Series, Isola, the Head of Car Racing at the Italian company, says the experience they have of Paul Ricard has given them an idea of what to expect.

“Paul Ricard is effectively an entirely new circuit for everyone, but we have some idea of what to expect not only from Formula 1 testing, but also through our experience of GT racing, with the track having recently hosted the latest round of the Blancpain GT Series,” said Isola.

“From this, we can expect high grip but low degradation, similar to Barcelona. One other factor could be the weather though, as high track temperatures are possible over the weekend, which would increase thermal degradation.”

Isola says teams will need to work hard in the opening free practice sessions to get an idea on how the tyres will work around the French venue, and until they do so it will be difficult to predict what kind of strategies will come into play on Sunday.

“With the teams being not so familiar with the new grand prix track layout, free practice will be even more important than usual to get an accurate read on tyre behaviour,” said Isola.  “Only after then will we have a better idea of what the most likely strategies might be”.

Pirelli is bringing the yellow-banded Soft, red-banded Supersoft and purple-banded Ultrasoft compound of tyres to Paul Ricard this weekend.

The two drivers at the top of the championship, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, have both gone the same way with tyre choice, choosing nine sets of the Ultrasoft, three of the Supersoft and only one of the soft, while their team-mates Kimi Räikkönen and Valtteri Bottas have gone with the same number of Ultrasofts but with two sets of both the Supersoft and Soft.

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing drivers have gone a completely different way, with both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen only choosing seven sets of the Ultrasoft – the fewest of anyone on the grid – as well as three sets of both the Supersoft and Soft.