SILVERSTONE -- Pirelli's decision to go one step softer with its compound choices for the British Grand Prix has led to something we've rarely seen this year: degradation. For the first time since the Spanish Grand Prix, the optimum strategy appears to be a two-stopper -- although a one-stopper is still possible.
Pirelli noted relatively high degradation and blistering on the front tyres during Friday practice, which could force those starting on super-softs to adopt a two-stop strategy. The key indicator will be how much performance they are losing per lap (more than 0.15s per lap and it becomes increasingly likely to be a two-stopper) and whether they are close enough to the driver in front to benefit from the performance boost of an undercut on fresh tyres.
Valtteri Bottas is the only driver inside the top ten who will start the race on the soft compound, which should open up his options of moving forward during the race. Rain is a threat -- potentially putting strategy planning out of the window if it arrives before the start of the race -- but also giving Bottas the chance of a free pit stop if it arrives after the other drivers in the top ten have made their first stop but before he has. Expect drivers outside the top ten to base their starting compound on when the rain is forecast to hit -- if it's early they will go for the super-soft, if it's later they will keep their options open with the softs.
Mercedes experienced more degradation on Friday than Ferrari, so if it stays dry then it could be an interesting race at the front. With Kimi Raikkonen starting second and Sebastian Vettel third, Ferrari may opt to split their strategy, making life difficult for the Mercedes strategists attempting to turn Lewis Hamilton's pole position into a win. A relatively early stop for Raikkonen would put Hamilton under threat from an undercut, while Vettel may be able to bide his time and gain track position on a one-stopper. On the other hand, Mercedes' raw pace in Hamilton's hands could prove too strong a package for Ferrari to challenge and, if he can build a decent buffer in the opening stint the race, he should be well on his way to a fourth consecutive British Grand Prix victory.