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How strategy will play a role in the latest Red Bull/Ferrari battle

F1's Sprint format has added another element to the Imola weekend, with Pirelli predicting some "interesting" strategy options for the main Grand Prix.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen will start Sunday's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix on pole position, having beaten Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to victory in the F1 Sprint. After wet running on Friday, much-improved conditions greeted the drivers for Saturday's 21-lap opener, with most opting for the Soft compound tyre (only Haas pair Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher and Williams' Nicholas Latifi running Mediums). This gave the first indication of the slick compound performance gaps at Imola, with around 0.4s separating the Soft (C4) and Medium (C3) rubber, and around one second separating the Medium and Hard (C2) rubber (the latter making an appearance in FP2). In the 63-lap Grand Prix, drivers will need to make the standard mandatory pit-stop to ensure that at least two different slick compounds are used, unless further rain arrives .

Pirelli sees one-stop strategy as the best approach

According to Pirelli's "limited information" so far this weekend, a one-stop strategy will be the optimal approach to the race in dry conditions, mainly down to the biggest pit lane time loss of the season (28 seconds). Overtaking is also a challenge around the 4.909-kilometre Italian venue, with track position a primary consideration for teams and their drivers. Pirelli believe that the Medium tyre is the "most versatile" for the start of the race, "leaving the most options open" given its wide pit-stop window, and adding flexibility to switch to the Hard at the right time. For drivers wanting "a more focused strategy", they could start on the Soft tyre and switch to Hard, but this has been described as the "less flexible option". The quickest strategy would see drivers starting on the Medium rubber and swapping to the Hard between Lap 22 and Lap 29, with the Soft to Hard alternative (switching between Lap 13 and Lap 18) a close second-best. A two-stop is also possible, with a 12 to 17-lap stint on Softs, followed by two stints on Mediums, but this would be much slower. The weather, and subsequent wear and degradation rates, will be the "decisive" factor according to F1's tyre supplier.

Pirelli boss expects an "interesting" strategic battle

Pirelli's Motorsport Director, Mario Isola, reckons it could be an exciting afternoon ahead, given the impact of the Sprint and the threat of rain. "Free practice was the first session throughout the whole weekend so far when we saw some running on the slicks, with everyone concentrating on the Medium and Soft," he said. "The Soft tyre actually performed better than many people expected, and this is why it was selected by the majority of drivers for the Sprint. "That came as something of a surprise: personally, I would have expected more drivers to gravitate towards the 'classic' choice of a Medium for the Sprint race. "There was a bit of graining observed on the Soft , but no more than would have been ordinarily expected under these circumstances, with a 'green' track after [Friday's] rain and reasonably cool weather. "I think we can see now that there are a few interesting strategy options on the table for the Grand Prix, assuming of course that it stays dry – which is not guaranteed."

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