The dramatic racing at the last Grand Prix in Canada has led to a change in approach for tyre supplier Bridgestone — so could tyre management become the key to the title this season?
The lack of competition amongst tyre manufacturers in recent years has led to a more conservative approach, with Bridgestone choosing not to push the boundaries of performance as tightly as they once did in the times when they were in competition with Michelin or GoodYear.
The ban on refuelling this season, however, made tyre performance the main variable in the strategy mix, with Bridgestone able to provide the performance differentiator through their decision over which two different types of tyre are used in each race.
The compound selection at the season opener in Bahrain saw little difference between the two types of tyres and led to a dire opening race with minimal on-track action. Teams immediately called for a change but F1 bosses were keen to avoid a knee-jerk reaction and did nothing.
Due to unpredictable weather, Red Bull's lack of reliability and the varied development rates between the leading teams, we are yet to see a repeat of the dull season opener.
But with the season now firing as it had been expected to from the start, the opportunity to engineer a guaranteed continuation to the drama has proven too tempting.
"There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the impact of the tyres on race results this season and based on communication with the FIA, Bridgestone has decided to take a more aggressive stance in the separation of tyre types," said Hirohide Hamashima, Bridgestone's director of motorsport tyre development.
Bridgestone runs two families of tyres and for each race it usually selects one from the low temperature family (soft and super soft) and one from the high temperature family (medium and hard).
The soft and super soft work best at low temperatures while medium and hard take longer to deliver lap time as they need more energy to reach the higher temperatures at which they work best.
"To explain simply, we can compare these two tyre families to different types of chewing gum," said Hamashima. "The low temperature range tyres are similar to normal chewing gum, which becomes soft as soon as you put it in your mouth and chew. The high temperature range tyres are like bubble gum, which needs some chewing before becoming soft."
To ensure there is a noticeable difference between tyre types, Bridgestone tends to have a gap between the compounds it selects and in the early part of the season, they maintained the same gaps between compounds as run in 2009, albeit moving to the harder selection for Australia and China.
In Monaco, however, they took a more aggressive stance and instead of the super soft and soft tyre selection they took in 2009 (with no performance gap) they chose super soft and mediums. They have made the same switch for this weekend's Valencia race.
So could Valencia, another street circuit with high-speed sections, although more corners than Canada's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, cause similar problems to the teams this weekend?
"The teams will face different challenges getting the maximum performance from the tyres in Valencia compared to Montreal as the layout and tarmac have a different character but we expect that both tyre compounds could suffer some rear degradation caused by graining," admitted Hamashima.
"The teams could struggle to find grip if they are unable to find the correct car balance."
And so it will continue.
After Britain, which retains the same tyre allocation as it had in 2009, Hockenheim in Germany will see the biggest performance gap in tyre selection, with the super soft and hard compounds being chosen, and the four races following that will all see an additional one-step performance gap compared to last year.
"Our hope is that this will provide lots of overtaking," said Hamashima. "For a circuit that is gentle on tyres we bring the super soft and medium compound tyre, whilst for a severe circuit we bring the soft and hard compound tyre.
"Hockenheim is within the middle range of tyre severity compared to the other tracks and as it is not a gentle or severe circuit for the tyres, the teams will be able to find a balance between the super soft and hard tyre."
This change of approach looks set to keep the excitement going this season, but it also will mean that drivers who are best at taking care of their tyres and getting performance when it matters will have the advantage.
With Red Bull less strong in performance conservation, that could play nicely into the hands of Jenson Button and McLaren...
Allocations for 2010 Change from 2009
SS S M H
Bahrain X X Same
Australia X X Prev. SS & M
Malaysia X X Same
China X X Prev. SS & M
Spain X X Same
Monaco X X Prev. SS & S
Turkey X X Same
Canada X X n/a
Europe X X Prev. SS & S
Britain X X Same
Germany X X Prev. SS & M
Hungary X X Prev. SS & S
Belgium X X Prev. S & M
Italy X X Prev. S & M
Singapore X X Prev. SS & S
SS: Super soft