Sauber's biggest advantage could well be in their tyre managment
Only an hour ago, I was talking about how tyre managment was going to be a serious issue in Bahrain. Now, Bridgestone claim that Sauber could well be a thorn in the side of the “big four” teams, because they are so good at managing their tyres.
Sauber were already showing great pace in pre-season testing, and now news has been released saying that the team suffers less tyre degradation than Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren. Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone’s director of motorsport tyre development, says that Sauber is different to the other teams:
"We have compared many teams' data and looking at the quick [four]
teams – their degradation tendency is very, very similar. Once they
have the 150kg start weight, with both the medium and soft compound,
then there is little difference – so we could expect a very close
pace. However, Sauber is more consistent."
There are two tactical advantages that Sauber can take from this. The first is more obvious, in that they can use the softer compund of tyres for longer distances than anyone else, and get a huge boost from this. In Bahrain, it is well known that the medium tyre is much worse than the super-soft, so Sauber can now benefit by being on the super-softs for longer without having to pit early.
The second is made in qualifying. In 2010, there is a new rule stating that the top 10 cars have to start the race with the tyres they set their fastest Q3 lap on. This will mean a mix of teams running the medium, who will be slower but will last longer into the race, or teams who run the super-soft, qualify well, andn then are forced to pit early. Now though, Sauber can confidently qualify with the super-soft tyre, and still be able to run a long distance with them. By my figuring, the optimum strategy for them would be to run the super-soft tyres for the first two stints, then the medium for the last stint. This would mean that they can keep up in terms of performance, and still run longer on better managed tyres.
BMW Sauber’s technical chief Willy Rampf has acknowledged that their tyre managment is one of their strong points:
"The car doesn't have any stability problems, and its performance
and balance on high fuel loads is a strong point. We will build on
this – it's a very good thing. Our car is not too heavy on its tyres,
so we can do reasonable long stints without killing them.
That will help keep the strategies more flexible, if you're not
forced to stop by tyre wear."
Last year, if you remember, Jenson Button won in Monaco, primarily because he was so good at managing the softer tyre, which degraded too quickly for the other teams and drivers, most notably Sebastian Vettel. This same scenario may well happen again in 2010.