The first qualifying session of the year marked the debut of Pirelli's new wet-weather tyres: the Cinturato Blue full wet and the Cinturato Green intermediate. These tyres claimed pole and second place respectively, on the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. Up until today, the wet-weather tyres had not run, with the exception of a few laps at the first test of the year on an artificially dampened track in Jerez.
Weather forecasts indicate that more rain is likely tomorrow, meaning strategy options are wide open if the intermittent and sometimes heavy rain seen today in Q2 and Q3 continues (with the rain having started right at the end of Q1). In the more unlikely event of dry conditions, two pit stops per car is theoretically the quickest strategy. The P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres have been nominated for the weekend.
Both the intermediate and wet tyres have been redesigned for the latest generation of Formula One cars, with increased torque but reduced aerodynamic downforce. In particular, the new Cinturato wet tyre now disperses 65 litres per second of water at full speed: up from 60 litres per second last year.
During the final Q3 session the track was exactly on the crossover point between the intermediate and wet, with both types of tyre proving to be extremely competitive, as seen by the make-up of the front row. However, this crossover point has become wider this year as the result of Pirelli's work over last season and the winter to extend the useful range of the wet tyre. Depending on the strategies that each team selects, both tyres could be used tomorrow if it rains.
Because of the wet conditions in Q3, the drivers were not able to use the extra set of soft tyres under the latest qualifying regulations. Normally this year, the drivers would begin the race with the tyres they used to set their fastest time in Q2, but if these are intermediates or wets, there is a free choice of tyres for the race start.
Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg went fastest in the dry final free practice session, using the soft tyre to beat second-placed Jenson Button (McLaren) by 1.391s.
Paul Hembery: Today we finally got to see the relative pace of all the cars but the complicating factor was the rain. This was the first time that the intermediate and wet tyres had run since one brief session of testing in Jerez and from the forecasts it looks like we will be seeing more of them this weekend. We'll wait to hear the precise feedback from the teams, but from what we can see so far, we're satisfied with the levels of performance of the intermediates and wets on the 2014 cars. Despite the complexity of these revolutionary new machines, the teams have run reliably and strongly in qualifying. But today's conditions won't be representative of the rest of the season, so it's still hard to draw any firm conclusions because actual race pace will be a defining factor this season. We saw a number of different approaches in Q3, with both intermediates and full wets used by the top 10. In particular, the development work we have completed on the wet tyre and tested on previous generation cars would appear to have transferred improvements through to the 2014 Formula One.
Strategy is going to depend heavily on the weather, with a continued risk of rain tomorrow. If it stays dry, we would expect the following strategy to be quickest for the 58-lap race: start on the soft, change to the soft again on lap 23, change to the medium for the final stint on lap 51.
Check out our Qualifying gallery, here.