SPIELBERG, Austria -- Although the Austrian Grand Prix will be another nailed-on one-stopper, there will be some strategy variation after Ferrari opted to qualify on the soft tyre in Q2 and Mercedes and Max Verstappen chose the medium. Under F1's regulations, drivers must start the race on whichever tyre they set their fastest time on in Q2, and so Charles Leclerc will start from pole position on the softs ahead of three drivers on mediums in second, third and fourth.
In theory starting on the medium tyre is the faster strategy by 6.2s, and offers greater flexibility over when to pit. However, by starting on the soft tyre, Lecerc is likely to have better traction off the line that should help him keep the lead on the run up to Turn 3. Given the straight-line speed advantage of the Ferrari over the Mercedes, this was probably the key to the team's strategy decision as it knew it could manage the race as long as it led at the end of the first lap.
The Ferrari was also kind to its tyres on Friday, so it's possible that starting on the soft is not as big a risk for them as it would be for other teams. Speaking on Saturday night, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said starting on the soft would make a one-stop strategy marginal, but Ferrari insisted it wouldn't be a problem.
"I think Charles starting on the softs is a risky strategy because it is either a two-stop if things go bad tomorrow or you are being compromised towards the end of the first stint," Wolff said. "Red Bull and Mercedes on the medium are in a better place in terms of the strategies available to us."
According to Pirelli, the pit stop window for those starting on the soft is between lap 12 and 16, while the medium tyre runners can extend their first stint as far as lap 20.
Those extra four laps are the added flexibility Wolff was talking about, especially as the hot conditions in Austria could see Leclerc struggle if he tries to extend his pit window beyond lap 16. However, the hot conditions play to the strengths of an undercut strategy instead of an overcut as there will be fewer issues getting the hard tyres up to temperature once they are bolted on at the pit stop.
But instead of trying to gain an advantage around the pit stop itself, expect to see Mercedes and Verstappen go long in an attempt to have a tyre advantage towards the end of the race in case Leclerc's hard start to drop off in the closing stages.
Combined with Sebastian Vettel coming through the field on soft tyres from ninth on the grid, the Austrian Grand Prix promises to be an interesting race.