Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton have gone for entirely different approaches to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, as they fight over the 2021 Drivers' Championship.
Verstappen, on pole position, used the red-marked Soft Pirellis to get through Q2 and, as a result, will start the race on those tyres. Hamilton, lining up second, used the yellow-marked Mediums to progress.
This gives Verstappen a crucial edge for the start of the race and the opening handful of laps, as he will enjoy the initial grip and better warm-up of those tyres. Hamilton will have to be wary of the drivers starting behind him, particularly Red Bull's Sergio Perez.
Perez lines up fourth, directly behind Hamilton, and will also have use of the Soft tyre off the line. If he manages to get ahead of Hamilton early on, it could have huge ramifications for Hamilton's race.
While Verstappen starts on the Softs, it doesn't guarantee that he is on a two-stop strategy, although his first stint will not be as long as what Hamilton will be capable of on the Mediums. Pirelli say a Soft-to-Hard one-stop strategy is possible, and is almost as quick as a Medium-Hard one-stop strategy.
The Medium-Hard strategy is almost certainly what Mercedes will attempt with Hamilton, given that a two-stop is slower over a race distance. Mercedes' advantage will lie in the fact that, after the first few laps, the greater longevity of the tyre will allow Hamilton to come back at Verstappen and also run longer in the first stint.
This enables Hamilton to run longer with the possibility of a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car that could prove decisive in the timing of a pit-stop.
Tyre sets remaining
Neither Mercedes nor Red Bull have any brand new Soft or Medium tyres left, though Red Bull have two sets of Hard tyres available to them.
While Mercedes' strategy with Hamilton is somewhat more locked in, given that he starts on the Medium, Red Bull have some strategic options depending on whether they want to do a one or two-stop race.
It's a race that's finely poised for a tense strategic battle, especially given that the newly reconfigured Yas Marina Circuit puts more lateral load through the tyres as a result of the faster and more flowing corners.
"This was an interesting qualifying session where tyre choice played a key role," said Pirelli F1 boss Mario Isola.
"We've seen a mixture of tactics, with the two title protagonists starting on different compounds and set to follow different strategies at the championship decider.
"On paper, a one-stopper using the Hard for the second stint is the fastest way. In theory, the Soft should give a slight advantage off the line, but the Medium-Hard combination should be a slightly faster option overall.
"If Verstappen manages to keep the lead off the grid, he can run in free air and reduce overheating by maintaining a consistent load through the tyres.
"We're expecting a tactically intriguing race, where tyre management will definitely be a factor."
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