October 26th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - For Sunday's Indian Grand Prix, Ferrari have gone with different starting tyres for their two drivers, to cover both broad strategic options for the race. Felipe Massa will start 5th on the soft compound "option" tyres, while Fernando Alonso will line up eighth on the grid on the medium compound "prime" tyres.
Ferrari is one of just two teams to have made use of a split strategy in qualfiying, the other being Red Bull - Sebastian Vettel ran the option tyres in Q3 and claimed pole position, while Mark Webber qualified fourth on the prime tyres. The idea behind starting the two drivers on different tyres is to cover the two tyre strategy options for the race.
Massa's strategy will be to run as long as he can on the option tyres at the start, but that will probably only be around six laps. He will then pit for primes, and will make another stop for primes later in the race. The advantage of this strategy is it will allow Massa to make a strong start using the grippier option tyres and to pull away from the prime tyre runners in the opening laps. The disadvantage is an early pit stop that could put him right in the middle of the pack, fighting with drivers who are not intending to stop for some time.
Alonso, on the other hand, will be able to run very deep into the race on his starting prime tyres, but will then have to decide when to run the option tyres. This strategy has the benefit of providing Alonso with track position over the drivers who pit early in the race. He will also be able to run the option tyres with a lower fuel load later in the race, which should make them more durable.
The general consensus seems to be that the optimum strategy includes starting on the prime tyres, but it is by no means certain. During the race, it will become clear which is the better choice. In Ferrari's case, they have covered both options, which should allow them to capitalise either way.
This is what the Ferrari drivers had to say after qualifying:
Fernando Alonso: “Before qualifying we looked at what might be the best strategy and it was very difficult to choose between two possibilities of equal worth. Using the Soft tyres in Q3, we could have aspired to a better starting position, while the Mediums would mean running a race with no traffic, because if the softer compound follows the pattern we have seen so far, then those starting with it will have to stop very early, around lap six. This would put them behind a group of cars that will stay out until lap 30.
"It’s true that at some point, I too will have to fit the Softs, which will signal a more difficult moment and we must be prepared for that. On Friday, I did fifteen or sixteen laps on them, while today just three and that’s why it’s absolutely impossible to say how it will go tomorrow. Only after the chequered flag will we know which was the right choice.
"The good thing about this decision is that, in putting two cars in the race on different strategies, at least one of us, me or Felipe, should be in a position to help the team in its goal of finishing second in the Constructors’ World Championship, which is our priority now."
Felipe Massa: “I’m reasonably pleased with this qualifying, even if I didn’t manage to put together a perfect lap. Unfortunately, I lost time in the second sector and maybe this cost me one or two positions, but we are in the ballpark and we will do our best.
"Unlike my team-mate and some others, I chose to qualify on the Soft tyres, because at the Nurburgring, I had made a choice that didn’t pay off. It will be interesting to find out who has made the best choice and the answer to that could come after the first stint. A lot will depend on the behaviour of the tyres: even if today, the Medium seemed undoubtedly the longer lasting, the evolution of the track and its consequent improvement in terms of grip could limit the degradation on the Softs.
"Tomorrow won’t be easy, because with cars on different strategies, anything can happen. I will try to pass Webber at the start, hoping to profit from the fact he is on Medium tyres. I hope I’ve taken the right decision which will allow me to have a strong race."