Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was forced to change from intermediate to medium tires instead of soft tires on a track that was drying. As a result, the Canadian driver had a severe crash on his last lap.
In accordance with the sprint shootout regulations, drivers must utilize medium tires during SQ1 and SQ2, followed by switching to soft tires in SQ3.
However, the rules also state that if the track is declared wet by the FIA those rules won’t apply, and drivers can use any set of dry tyres through the three sessions.
The relevant regulation reads: “If any of the periods SQ1, SQ2 or SQ3 gets declared wet, the specification, mileage or number of dry-weather tyres that may be used in the remainder of the sprint shootout will be free.”
During the recent sprint weekend in Austria, a similar situation occurred. The track was officially labeled as wet, but it was actually dry from the beginning of the first session. As a result, there were no restrictions on tire usage.
Although the FIA is not obliged to declare the track wet, teams assumed that with rain expected on Saturday in Belgium the same procedure would be followed. Under this scenario, if at any point the track was drying in SQ1 and SQ2, they would have the ability to switch to the soft.
Certain teams made their tire selection for the next day’s race based on the probability of requiring more soft tires and fewer medium tires. Additionally, they planned their strategy for the qualifying session assuming that they would switch from intermediate tires to soft tires if the track dried during any of the three segments.
Around 15 minutes prior to the commencement of the shootout, FIA sporting director Steve Nielsen informed the teams via intercom that, despite the continuous rainfall, the track would not be classified as wet. Consequently, this decision obligated them to utilize medium tires in both SQ1 and SQ2 on a track that was gradually drying.
It’s understood that the call may have reflected what happened in Austria, where some teams questioned the necessity of freeing up dry tyre choice with the track having been declared wet.
After a collision during Q2 of the Sprint Shootout, Lance Stroll from Aston Martin AMR23 exits his vehicle that has suffered damage.
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
If SQ1 stayed wet, but a dry line appeared, Stroll agreed with his Aston team’s decision to switch to slick tires in the final minutes.
Instead of the typical progression from intermediates to a gentle transition, he was required to use mediums.
Stroll was encouraged to warm up his tires during his out-lap, but he was clearly having difficulty finding traction. At a certain point during the lap, he expressed to the team that it was too early to proceed. His engineer informed him that the team had already made a decision and they needed to make the best of it.
He began his flying lap as expected, but during the lap, he experienced a severe crash, resulting in the red flag being raised and SQ2 coming to an end.
After a delay to retrieve his car the final SQ3 session ran in dry conditions, with everyone on softs.
The unique aspect of the entire situation is that, although the FIA adhered to its established procedures, it marked the first instance where the rules required a driver to switch from intermediate tires to medium tires on a track that was still wet, even though soft tires would typically be chosen for optimal performance.
The FIA acknowledges that warming up the medium tires is considered equally effective as the soft tires. Therefore, it was deemed acceptable to adhere to the originally planned allocation of tires for the shootout.