BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Rain during qualifying means all 20 drivers have a free pick of tyres going into Sunday's race, with soft and ultra-soft both viable starting tyres. Given that a one-stop strategy is likely, the soft is the more conservative starting tyre as it allows for greater flexibility over the timing of the first pit stop.
If degradation is high -- which it may well be given that high temperatures forecast for Sunday afternoon -- starting on the soft should help prolong the first stint before a switch to mediums for stint two. However, if degradation can be managed, the ultra-soft could be fitted for the second stint once fuel loads have gone down and the stress on the tyre is reduced.
According to Friday practice data, the ultra-soft should offer a 0.3s advantage in race conditions (closer to 0.9s over a single flying lap) and allows for a pit stop window between lap 18 and 26. Drivers will be looking to undercut each other at the one and only pit stop, which might see teams pit early in that window in the hope a fresh set of tyres will see their driver leapfrog the car in front.
A key advantage to starting on the ultra-soft is the grip it will offer away from the line. Given that overtaking is so difficult at the Hungaroring, that might tempt Ferrari to start on the purple-striped tyre in the hope of beating the Mercedes drivers on the long run down to Turn 1. Friday data suggests Ferrari has a 0.2s pace advantage over the Mercedes on heavy fuel, so if Kimi Raikkonen or Sebastian Vettel can get ahead at the start they will be well placed to press home that advantage over the remaining laps.
Several teams experienced rear blistering on the ultra-soft tyres on Friday, which is caused by the surface of the rubber overheating. The constant sequence of corners that makes up a lap of the Hungaroring means the tyre has very few chances to cool down and that can lead to blistering and thermal degradation. Teams will have refined their setups on Friday to protect the rear tyres, but with a wet qualifying washing the rubber off the track on Saturday and high track temperatures expected for the race, even the most careful drivers could still struggle.