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What strategy could decide the Red Bull/Ferrari battle in Australia?

The Australian Grand Prix looks set to be an epic fight between the Ferrari and Red Bull teams, with Charles Leclerc starting from pole position.

For the first time since the introduction of Pirelli's C1-C5 tyre range, the tyre manufacturer has opted to bring a Soft tyre (C5) to an event that is a full two compounds softer than the Medium (C3), and three steps softer than the Hard (C2). This was done at the Australian Grand Prix to offer performance variation for drivers who want to go all-in on using the Soft tyre but, in reality, has all but relegated the red-marked compound to nothing more than a qualifying tyre. With the Q2 rule - that forced drivers to start the race on the tyre used for their quickest time in that portion of qualifying - now scrapped, drivers are free to go racing on whatever compound they like. As a result, the race in Melbourne looks set to be quite a straightforward affair, with a one-stop Medium-to-Hard strategy being the quickest option. With the weather expected to be warm and dry, getting underway on the Medium tyre opens up the most options for drivers starting from where they might expect on the grid.

Might the Soft tyre make an appearance in the race?

However, there still could be some outliers. Albert Park has been extensively remodelled for 2022, meaning there are completely different demands placed on the tyres compared to the old layout. Add in the fact that it's a street circuit with the potential for plenty of incidents, and the timing of a potential Safety Car could see some brave drivers trying something unusual. With the Soft tyre proving resilient over several flying laps during qualifying, could we see any of the front-running cars take a gamble as the race progresses, and try to make use of the bigger performance gap between the compounds? Could Carlos Sainz, starting out of position down in ninth place, be tempted to use the C5 to try to climb the order quickly early on?

Pirelli boss predicts one-stop strategies

Pirelli boss Mario Isola explained that, if the race plays out with no dramas, the most likely scenario will be a one-stop across the board. "As expected, the drivers used the Soft tyre from start to finish [in qualifying] to take advantage of its extra speed," he said. "Not only that, but the drivers were also able to complete more than one flying lap on it to extract the most performance: something they had previously established by running it extensively in [final] free practice. "It was quite windy then, with a change in the wind direction compared to Friday, which obviously affected aerodynamic performance by making the cars more snappy. "What we have seen so far in qualifying shows that it was the right choice to come here with two steps between the Soft and the Medium compounds, which has enabled the performance gaps between Hard, Medium and Soft to be about equal. "[The race] should be a one-stop strategy using Medium and Hard, but as we saw [in qualifying], the action here can be quite unpredictable."

RESULTS 2024 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix - Qualifying