Formula 1 has a lot of rules to govern its events and ensure everyone races fairly. One area of strict regulation is the tires that must be used over a grand prix weekend, including how many sets can be used and what compounds each driver must race. But all those rules were thrown out the window at this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix when Esteban Ocon tried to run the whole race on just one set.
The current F1 regulations state that in dry running, racers must change tires at least once, and must use two different compounds of tire. In wet conditions, these rules aren’t enforced.
Pirelli takes three different compounds of slick tires to each race for running in dry weather, as well as the grooved wet weather and intermediate tires. The Turkish Grand Prix was a damp one, so all the drivers started the race on Pirelli’s intermediate tires.
Alpine driver Esteban Ocon started the Turkish Grand Prix in 12th place on his green-walled intermediates, which were designed to remove 30 liters of water per second. Despite this, a dry line never appeared on the track.
As a result, drivers kept pushing their initial set of intermediates further into the race, in the hope that conditions would improve. Mclaren’s Daniel Ricciardo was the first to blink and decide intermediates would be the way to finish the race, and stopped on lap 21. Between then and lap 47, most other drivers opted for a new set of inters, except Lewis Hamilton and Ocon.
Ocon in his Alpine managed to keep his tires going for the full race distance, while Hamilton was ultimately forced to change on lap 50.
By the end of the race, the grooves on Ocon’s intermediate tires had completely worn away, and it seemed that Ocon was potentially a few laps from failure.
After the race, Ocon said: “It was good to take a risk today by going to the end on one set of tires, which you don’t see very often. It was also nice to give the guys a break from doing pit-stops for the afternoon!”
But the ambitious strategy might not have garnered Ocon the best result possible. His highest point in the race was eighth, but with his ancient tires he was soon passed by both Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari and Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin.
Stroll passed Ocon on lap 53, and by the end of the race was more than 80 seconds up the road. Given that a pit stop costs around 20 seconds by the time drivers have slowed into the pit lane, changed tires and driven back onto the circuit, it makes the gamble to stay out look more like a mistake.
Still, in a sport that is often far too predictable and formulaic, this risky strategy did add a splash of excitement to an otherwise uneventful grand prix.
But, when was the last time a driver didn’t stop for new tires in a race?
While the Belgian Grand Prix in September didn’t see any drivers pit and change their tires, that race was the shortest in F1’s history and covered just one full lap – so it doesn’t really count.
The last full-length race where a driver didn’t change their tires was back in the 90s. During the 1997 Monaco Grand Prix, Mika Salo in the Tyrrell Ford completed the race without stopping.
With calls for more mandatory pit stops, and less stable tire compounds to spice up the racing action, could Ocon’s position as the last driver to race non-stop stand for a further 24 years?