Monaco marked the first appearance of the purple marked ultrasoft Pirelli tyre at a race weekend. Introduced at the start of this season and initially billed as a qualifying tyre, the compound seems decidedly similar to a supersoft in both pace and longevity. An assertion supported by Haas and Renault’s decision to take just soft and ultrasoft tyres to the Canadian Grand Prix, avoiding the supersoft completely.
It could be a rather inspired call.
In many ways, this is rather disappointing news. The ultrasoft was billed to be a qualifying tyre, providing extraordinary grip for flying laps on street circuits, and lacking in longevity. However, this extreme theory has been reigned in, with Monaco showing the compound to be very similar to the supersoft tyre.
The delta at the Principality was rather small. Having posted a banker lap on supersoft tyres in Q1 before switching to the ultrasoft for a final lap, Force India’s times gave the most accurate reference point. Nico Hulkenberg’s delta was 0.594 seconds while Sergio Perez was remarkably close with 0.559.
The ultrasoft is marginally but undoubtedly quicker, as rubber physics would dictate. However, they are far from being qualifying tyres, with Hamilton managing 47 laps on one set during the race, with his pace remaining consistent throughout. There were no obvious differences between the degradation of Hamilton’s ultrasoft tyres and that of Ricciardo’s supersofts, which were run across the same stint length.
A tyre that is faster and seemingly of similar durability as a supersoft tyre makes it the logical choice and one which largely eliminates the need for the red marked tyre at all. As such, it is less of a surprise that Haas and Renault have opted to take extra ultrasofts in place of supersofts.
It is possible that other teams may follow suit in the future, given that this decision will have been made before the ultrasoft was run on a representative circuit in racing conditions. All of the above conclusions were not available to Haas and Renault when they made the strategic gamble, making it a bold call but more than likely a correct one.
For their supersoft shed rivals, it is likely to make little difference to their results, but instead their run programmes. Expect to see Sauber, Toro Rosso, McLaren and Manor burn through much of their red marked allocation in practice sessions.