It was just as well his first run was excellent, as he ran wide on his second effort and damaged his front wing on the kerbs. That led to a puncture, with the Frenchman forced to pull over on the finish straight.
Well, who the frontrunners are could well change by the time you’re reading this guide, with Max Verstappen (second), Valtteri Bottas (third) and Carlos Sainz (seventh) all facing investigations for failing to respect yellow flags during qualifying.But working on the assumption that all three start where they qualified, it’s the top three who are all starting on medium tyres but still look set for a two-stop race. Pirelli brought the hardest three compounds in their range to Qatar, but Friday showed higher than expected levels of wear, which suggested there would be too much management required to make a one-stop work as expected.In a slightly strange scenario, none of the drivers on the grid have two sets of hard tyres available, so the numbers say the quickest strategy that the top three will be looking at will see a switch to the hard tyre anytime from lap 16, and then returning to the mediums when there are 20 laps (or fewer) to go.
The soft could be used for the final stint if required, but would then likely need the middle stint to be extended until around lap 42, leaving a 15-lap run to the flag.
Sainz is the only other driver in the top ten guaranteed to start on the medium compound, and by doing so all four drivers will have the chance to evaluate a one-stop strategy if they can go beyond lap 25 on their first set of mediums before switching to hards.
Everyone else in the top ten will start on soft tyres, but that isn’t necessarily seen as a disadvantage as some teams opted for that compound strategically. Pierre Gasly for example looked capable of reaching Q3 on the mediums and ensuring he started on them, but AlphaTauri decided there was greater importance to maximise the start but being on softs, potentially gaining positions on a track that is expected to be very tough in terms of overtaking.
And with the two-stop looking the most likely option for even those on mediums, the soft isn’t a bad tyre to be on. Gasly in fourth has the ability to run a two-stop that features the second two stints on medium tyres, with a first stint of between 13 and 18 laps followed by two equal stints of around 20 laps to the end of the race.
Gasly could also use the hards for the middle stint if he wishes, mirroring the strategy of the front-runners somewhat and running for in the region of 25 laps before switching to mediums, although the hard is less likely to offer a strong undercut opportunity if close behind another car.
Lando Norris is the only other driver in the top ten with the same options that Gasly has available to him, but as for Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Sebastian Vettel, there is only one set of mediums remaining and so they will have to either run soft-hard-medium or soft-medium-soft. That said, two stints on the soft will require some serious tyre management.