Abu Dhabi Day 1: Pirelli review

Mercedes GP mechanics with Pirelli tyres in the paddock.Nov.11 (Pirelli) As part of its preparation for the 2012 season, Pirelli gave a new experimental version of the P Zero Yellow soft tyre its debut today, during the two free practice sessions at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has emerged quickest with a time of 1m39.586s, set during the second session using Pirelli’s current P Zero Yellow soft tyre. Hamilton’s time is already close to last year’s pole position: 1m39.394s set by Sebastian Vettel.

Each driver was allocated an extra two sets of the experimental soft compound tyre, for today only. This new tyre, which sits in between the current soft and the current supersoft, set fastest time in free practice one with a benchmark of 1m40.263s thanks to McLaren driver Jenson Button. McLaren was on top for most of the session and seemed set for a one-two before Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber demoted Hamilton to third: all driving on the experimental tyre.

This tyre was used during both sessions, meaning that the teams had a total of five sets available throughout the day. The experimental tyres will be returned tonight, with the usual tyre allocation for Saturday and Sunday applicable from now on.

The teams concentrated on the two tyre compounds that will be used for the race for the last hour of free practice two on varying fuel loads, with the McLarens of Jenson Button and then Lewis Hamilton going fastest on the conventional P Zero Yellow.

The P Zero Yellow soft tyre is expected to last for around 20 laps at the race, with the P Zero White medium tyre lasting for around 30 laps – meaning that most drivers should stop two or three times on Sunday. There is around 1.2 seconds per lap difference in pace between the soft and the medium tyres so far, with soft-soft-medium expected to be the default strategy.

With the Abu Dhabi race starting at dusk and finishing at nightfall, the two free practice sessions were held later than their usual times, allowing the drivers to accustom themselves to the changing light and track conditions.

Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery said: “It’s too early to draw any detailed conclusions about the experimental soft tyre, but we’ve gathered plenty of information and already we have seen that it’s got some very good speed, comfortably surpassing the times set in free practice last year. This new tyre is designed to have a better thermal resistance towards blistering, which should lead to greater durability and a smaller performance gap between the compounds, but with similar pace. Tonight we will begin to analyse some of the data although there is still plenty of work ahead before we have the definitive compounds fixed for next year. In the meantime we’re looking forward to the race on Sunday: we’ve seen today that both Ferrari and especially McLaren have very consistent pace on the soft tyre.”