Saturday’s sprint shootout was delayed by 20 minutes, after a special 10-minute practice session was scheduled due to last-minute changes to the circuit, following a concerning discovery by Pirelli.
Friday’s track action at the Lusail International Circuit was a windy and sandy affair, which saw drivers struggle to adapt to the low-grip new surface.
As a result, several drivers had lap times deleted for track limits, with Turns 5, 12 and 13 having been the worst of the bunch.
Turns 12 and 13 were particularly troublesome, due to the style of kerbs that have been fitted at the corner.
It wasn’t until Pirelli put some tyres under a microscope following qualifying as per normal that they discovered some concerning “separation in the sidewall” of the tyres, something which the tyre manufacturer revealed wasn’t visible to the human eye.
The kerbs at Turns 12 and 13 were essentially causing microscopic tears on the tyres, a huge concern given that there were four tyre failures in Qatar two years ago.
To prevent the drivers going over the worrying kerbs, the circuit has been narrowed by 80cm at those corners, with paint having been used to essentially create a new edge of the track.
The decision was only made Saturday morning, with the FIA having released a statement ahead of the sprint shootout as to what’s caused the issues with all the available compounds of tyre.
“Following the standard analysis of tyres used during Free Practice 1 yesterday, in which tyres that have been used for approximately 20 laps are examined by Pirelli to check various safety parameters, a separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords on many of tyres that were checked was discovered.
“It is the view of the FIA and Pirelli that a significant number of additional laps on these tyres could result in circumferential damage of the tyres with subsequent air loss, and tyres analysed with lower lap numbers showed a much-reduced extent of the issue.
“This issue has likely been caused by the high-frequency interference between the tyre sidewall and the 50mm ‘pyramid’ kerbs used extensively at this circuit, aggravated by the propensity to ride those kerbs.”
Track limits was still a huge issue in the sprint shootout; however, it was Oscar Piastri who stormed to P1 as McLaren locked out the front row.