The idea qualifying setup for a driver is to bolt on the preferred tyre, fill up with the minimum amount of fuel, and head out for a couple of flying laps. Unfortunately for them, there are some rules and regulations that can make things a little more tricky, and one of the most important ones is the tyres.
For an entire race weekend, a driver is allowed 14 sets of dry tyres, four sets of wet tyres, and three sets of extreme wets. Itís important for teams to allocate their tyres to conform to their chosen strategy, as they donít want to be left without any clean rubber for the race.
However, the strategy in qualifying is where the tyre limits are most visible. Generally speaking, the softer tyre is the better tyre to be on for qualifying performance. Itís faster but wears out quicker, which means for a single fast lap, itís ideal. For the top teams, they donít face too much of a problem. They can assume they are going to be fast enough to get through the first two sessions, and do so on the harder tyres, and perhaps on one set of softs. In the final qualifying session, they can put the soft tyres on and battle it out for pole position.
For the mid-field and lower teams, it can become a problem. Weíve seen this year some drivers unexpectedly make it through to the next session of qualifying, and then struggle. A particular example is when Honda used up their soft tyres and managed to scrape through into the top ten, but they then had nothing left to fight with, and knew theyíd be in the latter half of the session.
Recently, itís been affecting BMW as well. For two races in a row, we saw a driver struggle to make it out of Q1 on the harder tyres. BMW were determined that Heidfeld could manage it without using softs, but unfortunately he didnít. The next race saw Kubica struggle with the same problem, but they learnt their lesson and allowed him to run on softs to get out of the bottom five.
There are many elements that go into a successful qualifying campaign. Some drivers are better at warming up their tyres than others, some teams can predict their strategies better. Overall, tyre performance is a big part of getting towards the top of the grid.