Pirelli are into the dark arts, same way Fernando Alonso is into Samurai’s. Pirelli have been hounded since they came into F1, they have been bad mouthed, been told they are inferior and also been told that their product isn’t up to much. Pirelli were given a brief in 2010 by Bernie Ecclestone, and the FIA, reproduce a race that gives a 2-3 stop a race average race strategy modeled on the Canadian GP of 2010 where the Bridgestone Potenzas just wore out the identical way to what Pirelli and their P-Zeros do now.
Enter 2013, new compounds, new constructions and a new weight, all is fine and well from the first day of Pre Season till Bahrain when Lewis Hamilton suffers the first in a long line of delamination’s, punctures or failures; the term varies but to me all are the same just under a different title. Hamiltons puncture at the last corner (Or what I call the last corner) gave him a 5-place gearbox penalty, a tough break. Then came Barcelona, with Paul Di Resta suffering a last corner delamination in Practice, this time no damage to the car and Jean Eric Vergne suffering another at the entry to turn 4 in the closing stages of the race.
All is fine and well, apart from some senior teams wanting a change in compounds and construction for what they say as safety grounds, and I thought it was down to performance grounds that Lotus, Ferrari and Force India seemed to agree. My argument was, same with those teams, is that if you have fast degrading tyres, design your car around them appropriately, reducing peak down force and working on mechanical systems to help the tyres, stop overheating or wearing out that lap or two earlier than your rivals. If that means developing a car that is two and a half tenths slower a lap but means you pit 3 times to your rivals 4 it will mean you win by 2 to 5 seconds over a race distance depending on the track and simulation you use. This strategy has been played out a bit this year with Raikkonen scoring a win in Australia in a cool but dry race and in Bahrain with Di Resta narrowly missing his first podium with battles with Raikkonen and Grosjean. Lotus and Force India seemed to have the handle on the Pirellis. Ferrari also seemed to have a handle as well with the way Alonso dealt a master class in China and at his home race in Spain. The teams agree to test a new rear tyre in Canada, but cool and damp conditions thwart the testing, most teams agree they learnt something but not a great deal.
Along comes Silverstone, the first genuine track with lots of high G loading corners, reports of cuts come out on Friday, Perez has his first delamination in FP3 on Saturday, nothing herd of after it, just a few TV highlight reels in Quali on the incident with it generally being called frightening and Perez being praised over his reactions.
Race day, Silverstone, all is fine and well, the F1 circus is like a swan again, serenely going about its business pre race but paddling like fury under the waterline. Red lights out, Hamilton leads and Vettel is P2, until the lap 12 to 14 area when in the middle of the Wellington straight, you see him wobble and then the rear left explodes and near disintegrates. Lap later; just coming out of the loop, Massa suffers what looks like a puncture however he spins. Both drivers get back to the pits, albeit both rejoin the race and finish, Hamilton scrabbling a point. Now, still first pit stop window, Jean Eric Vergne suffers his delamination down the hanger straight, narrowly avoiding taking out both Lotus on the way with debris almost hitting Raikkonen in a Massa Hungary 09 style incident. The race is now under a Safety Car Deployment, most drivers pit and all told to take it easy on certain turns, teams look resigned to pitting every 10 laps if needed. Second SCD of the race after Vettel pulled over after a transmission fault, under the restart, after Maggots & Becketts, Perez suffers delamination number 2 of the weekend, cat like reflexes from him and Alonso narrowly avoid a second large accident.
The fallout is all about how can this happen, and the consensus is all about low pressures of tyres, some were running them as low as 16psi. Other measures were talked about, cambers (Similar to Spa 2011 where teams were running cambers at -4 degrees static) and tyre swapping. Tyre swapping where teams were swapping lefts to rights and vice versa as the steel belt was directional, and reversing the direction saw the teams gain a life advantage on the tyres.
The young driver test at Silverstone the teams were given the option to run race drivers for tyre testing only, most decided to do so for one day at least wit one race driver or a few for a half day. The consensus was that the new tyres worked and were good, Mercedes AMG didn’t attend due to a secret/private tyre test after the Spanish GP, but had data given to them from probably their engine partners and Pirelli as well. They went on to win the Hungarian GP, a hot GP with Hamiltons first Mercedes win. However they have some sort of device to manage temps now.
Summer break comes and goes, now F1 is at Spa, the track that will test your car to the maximum. Chassis, Engine, Transmission and Tyres all get tested. In Friday Practice, there was 3 punctures or cuts, Alonso, Vettel and a un named Williams driver
My reaction is that F1 needs to go back to the regulations, camber needs to be static, not end of straight and I also think there needs to be a stipulation that the floor needs to be at least 50mm, but id recon that 70mm to 100mm away from the wheel on any face of the wheel. For the rears, however the front tyres would be free to a point with them being allowed -2 degrees, the rears would be allowed -1.5 tops. As for pressures, id makes them 21 or 22 psi, or have them closer to road car pressures in 30 psi, I know I run my car at 36 front and 39 rears, but generally 30 is more close to average.
I will say Pirelli are looking for a needle in a haystack in the tracks, however I will say they should look at Le Mans technology, where tyres are now getting very puncture resistant due to the gravel that they use, however they still occur, one every other hour on average.
Pirelli seem to want to spend time and money on getting the tyres, they need to spend the time in 3 areas, firstly making them wear out better chemically and nor by plain out wear, but the tyre should yield enough performance for 5 good laps at full pelt then move into a stage where they wear chemically and then start to wear out mechanically. Second, punctures and minimizing them, I’m sure this can be done with a good bit of R&D in constructions and such. As for the third, this is performance gap in compounds, having a large enough gap so that teams can use the options in Quali and the primes in the race. Ideally have 3 sets of prime and 4 of option in order to give the drivers a chance in both to do the best they can. However, until the tyres can be brought closer to ideal and the sporting regulations get a review as well, the bed F1 lies in is what it is and what F1 can do with them. Pirelli followed a brief and got on with it, teams complained and got their wish, now they seem to want further change and reviews. F1 needs to keep the baby in the bath water and not throw the baby out with the bath water, and the teams need to hand over more control to the FIA and Pirelli. God knows what will come of 2014 at this rate with its more powerful engines at peak horsepower and extensive torque curve.
Time will tell….