The Pirelli Problem


If you thought the Australian GP was dull, unfortunately it may be a sign of things to come for the rest of the season. And this has nothing to do with Mercedes.

On their return to the sport, Pirelli were given a mandate from the FIA to develop tyres that would produce races with between 2 and 3 pit stops.

2013 was an annus horibilus for the Italian tyre manufacturer, as they produced a range of new compounds with a different construction, designed to make the tyre degrade more quickly than those from the previous season.

In Barcelona the pit stop count for some teams exceeded certain TV commentators’ ability to record them on their tally sheets. By Silverstone, there was uproar, as the sight of dramatic pictures of Pirelli tyres shredding at full speed during the race filled TV screens across the world.

Christian Horner warned, “We need a solution because someone will get hurt if that keeps happening. Something needs to be done.”

In an unprecedented move, Pirelli were forced to abandon their 2013 design and revert to a similar tyre construction used the previous year.

By 2014, the new engine regulations had come into force and Pirelli delivered tyres which had to cope with huge increases in torque successfully and they avoided being the ‘topic of the year’.

Following this year’s race in Australia, we have some insight into how the 2015 Pirelli rubber is going to perform. The race was run in similar conditions to that of 2014.

The fastest lap during the 2015 weekend was a full three seconds quicker than the one from the previous year. Pirelli will be relieved because tyres held up well during the race given this leap forward in pace and the associated demands placed on the rubber.

This year’s fastest race lap was 1m30.945s, set by Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton on the medium tyre. This was 1.5 seconds faster than the fastest race lap last year but that was set on the medium tyre by Rosberg.

Paul Hembery states: “These figures underline what we expected to see following pre-season testing: a significant reduction in lap times, with cars that will only get faster as the year goes on. We could even see some new lap records on certain circuits. With this in mind, we have introduced evolutions to the rear structure of all our 2015 tyres this year, in order to give them greater capability in handling the extreme demands placed on them.”

The role of the tyre supplier to Formula One is not an easy one compared to the days when they had more in season testing. However, there are signs from the opening race in Australia that the Pirelli compounds in 2015 are even more conservative than those introduced to be “bullet proof” for the introduction of the new V6 Turbo engines and the unknown’s surrounding this.

In 2014, of the drivers who completed the Australian GP just Adrian Sutil stopped once. This year only 2 drivers stopped during the race for more than the mandatory 1 stop.

Australia 2014: 7% one stopped

Australia 2015: 91% one stopped

To deliver at least 2 pit stops in a race, Pirelli must ensure it selects a combination of the tyre compounds which, used once, each cannot complete the race distance.

Given that Pirelli cannot re-engineer the time differential between the 2015 compounds they have created, it appears they need to ensure the 2 compounds they bring to this year’s races are a step softer than the combination they selected for the same race venue last year.

The problem is that the tyre compound selection for the next 3 races is identical to those they chose in 2014.

This means the super soft tyre will be required to make more appearances than in 2014. However, following winter testing there were rumours Pirelli were concerned about this compound, which will now be a vital part of the Pirelli armoury.

With Mercedes set to dominate the races this year, it is critical that tyre strategy provides some kind of challenge for the teams racing behind the Silver Arrows – and some kind of interest for the viewers.

25 responses to “The Pirelli Problem

  1. Good analysis. Seems that we may see the supersofts a lot more often than last season, so even quicker fastest laps and even shorter races…

  2. I always feel a little sorry for Pirelli, they are in a no win situation. I’m surprised Horner hasn’t blamed them this year yet, must be on his to do list.

  3. It should have never been Pirelli’s responsibility to ensure exciting races and somehow protect the competitive order. They are a simple supplier and, as such, all they need is to make safe products up to current performance demands. If the FIA still lacks the knowledge to write and enforce rules/specifications which prevent and diminish the impact of turbulence and dirty air, it’s their fault only. And I guess it is because the abject DRS has been their single best shot at it

    • Totally agreed.

      Yeah let’s have the most serious top level motor sport series and, oh, yeah, some of those tires with the Mickey Mouse pattern rubber please.

      • apols for self reply..I’m feeling I was more flippant than I quite wanted to be… It’s a investing challenge the tire situation but quite hard to follow even for dedicated fans. How PirellI conduct themselves in front of the public is first class communication. How closely linked their statements are to engineering is deeply impressive to me. I feel that’s a standard of ability that teams ought to be trying to match. I regularly ponder how it could be somehow mandated that they spoke and discussed their performance delivery equally openly. It feels like there’s something wrong with the teams every time Pirelli are speaking up. Like half the equation is missing or for lack of openness the teams are embarrassed somehow. Not all lack of communication about any sensitive process is bad, obviously. But the business of the series my mind, that engineering and the attractions follow from there. If Bernie want to be in the entertainment business ( if you don’t count his outbursts to press as that ) if should buy Disney shares in my opinion. The entertainment I want is what drivers can provide. Behind the wheel or not, I don’t mind. ( it’s sad to miss the antics of Eddie Irvine but I’ve not had the hint of I giggle since and I can’t get it out of my head something is pathalogically out of whack inside the teams… ) But the entertainment from the cars is also sorely lacking. If we’re just not allowed to break engines any more, I wonder if anything can be done to plain tell us what’s up with the cars as the mechanics and designers see them. Gary Anderson.s slot on the BBC was a tonic. But I want to hear the same narrative cycle coming from the teams. I suppose it could descend into misinformation and gobbledegook out of desire to protect interests. But I can’t believe it’s beyond human ingenuity to make a good go of telling the story of the car each weekend in some fashion from which viewers can learn. Special features are nice and all, but by nature don’t connect to the race at hand.

    • Yes, and as a supplier I want them to be delivering orders the teams have chosen within some ranges that can be custom.

      I don’t know much at all about tires but I think if their products were seen to be chosen by teams to be more complimentary to the chassis then they would see much more gain in perception.

      Bridgestone was reputed to do miracles for Ferrari. So what can be put on a semi custom menu?

      Could more fun be had with undercut strategy.

      I feel it’s like school uniform. Without any chance to put on some flare. Or untuck your shirt.

      Tires are so important but not in the way you must never leave it up to the teams.

      It’s good I’m sure to be challenged to learn best how to run in the same rubber. For the academic research maybe. Does it matter as a narrative that whoever is better on their boots …If a team could be smart and get better running with a bit of a choice that’s a choice you can report on while chassis details aren’t. If any is even much interest at all….I’m not sure I’m hung up on the present detail I can learn. As I was saying earlier I want teams to get up to telling how they work their car far more than they do. Actually if they agreed to open up that way and not bullsh us then I’d like to give them custom shoes as a thank-you. To compensate for loss of some privacy by giving them a different bit to keep to themselves.

      Any brilliant team is always going to be much unknown to spectators and likewise their car secrets. But look what books you can buy about fighter jets. Where’s my same minimum detail to make a young lad’s present?

      I have no idea how Pirelli put up with some talk about them. I like any idea which could deflect that and add interest to things.

  4. “Following this year’s race in Australia, we have some insight into how the 2015 Pirelli rubber is going to perform. The race was run in similar conditions to that of 2013.”

    A typo here? How many one-stopped in 2013?

  5. In 2014 FCY safety car laps starting on lap 10 (of 58) had most of the field immediately dive in to the pits early for fresh tires. That dictated a 2 stop race.

    In contrast, this year the race started with three laps of safety car. That dictated a single stop strategy would succeed for most cars.

    Calculations from Pirelli were that a 2 stop strategy would be 4 seconds faster if no safety car.

    Melbourne is a weird, unique circuit on F1 calendar because it’s very difficult to pass on track, and is low grip.

    Sepang is somewhat unique for being a very abrasive track combined w/ high track temps, (plus all the rain).

    China and Bahrain may give a much better indication of how the tires will perform this year.

    Finally, Pirelli have been open and candid about problems. (I wish more orgs and teams in the paddock would follow their lead.) If there are problems, they speak up. They are public with their goals, their performance metrics, and how well they or don’t meet their goals. They have not shown a hint of surprise in regards to the tire performance at Melbourne.

    • Australia is almost always a two stopper. So safety car in 2014 not necessarily responsible for the race being a two stop race.

      The point the article makes about Pirelli needing to ensure that using one set of the softer and harder tyre isn’t possible is still valid.

      Just 3 laps under the safety car didn’t stretch the tyre life significantly.

      Pirelli expected this to be a ‘lob sided two stop race’ where the mediums were bolted on as late as lap 50-52 for a final sprint.

      In 2014, the medium was predominantly used as the third set of tyres and was mostly run for 20 laps.

      • Oh dear! Let me try a different approach…

        In general, I like the underlying ideas of this article.

        It has us thinking about tires compounds chosen for each race, and whether they enable more race strategy options.

        It focuses on the goals, which is 2 to 3 pit stops per race.

        It focuses on Pirelli’s pre-race tire strategy predictions, which are very helpful benchmarks to know prior to watching any F1 race.

        So well done for all of that.

        The problems are many. The most obvious is you’ve extrapolated the tire performance of one race across the whole season.

        At best, that’s just an error. At the worst it’s purposefully sensationalist click-bait crap.

        Pirelli announced tire compound choices for only the first four races. Pirelli monitors their own performance very well, and very publicly. If they think they’ve missed the target significantly, they’re likely to change tire compounds for one the races for which they’ve already announced their choices.

        The things Pirelli learn in these first two or three races will inform their choices for the next handful of races.

        There is certainly no reason for sensationalist tripe such as your first sentence, “If you thought the Australian GP was dull, unfortunately it may be a sign of things to come for the rest of the season.”

        Seeing stuff like that causes one to wonder about the purpose of the article and the motivations of the writer.

        • Dog/bone…. Go on, I’ll try one more time.

          The article examines like for like races at the same circuit in consecutive years, in conditions Pirelli’s post race report said were similar to last year.

          The tyre compounds selected were also the same in each year.

          If you did your research you would find that Romain Grosjean stunned Pirelli and everyone else by running 27 or so laps for a first stint on the soft tyre – which was expected to last 12-15 laps in 2014 – see Pirelli pre race report for 2014.

          Most of the runners this year easily managed 20-25 laps on their first stint also on soft tyres.

          This is nothing to do with a couple of laps behind the safety car – whoever you heard suggest this in the post race interviews

          There is no agenda – just FACTS. This years compounds are more durable – this will lead to less pit stops if like for like – year on year if the same choices are made regarding the compounds Pirelli take to each circuit.

          • Oh dear – I’ve embarrassed myself, and I owe an apology.

            In your last comment, Judge, it became clear to me why you foresaw a boring season. You assumed that Pirelli will use the same compound choices for each race as last year.

            And if that were true, then your lead sentence forewarning a boring season is actually spot on, (and certainly not sensationalist).

            I’ve noticed Pirelli change their compound choices year over year for circuits if needed to meet their goals. I’ve been following their choices since the latter half of the 2013 season. But few folks notice that, fewer talk about it. Yet I assumed you would know that. I should not have assumed.

            Anyway, so it’s clear to me now that my “tripe” and “motiviations” comments were way out of line. That was inappropriate of me, and I surprised myself to have even written it, and I should never have said that in any case.

            I apologize to you, and to your readers.

          • No problem. I have spoken to Pirelli tonight. They accept the analysis of the Australian GP – but state, – do not worry, all will be fine

            we shall see.

          • Cool.

            Since their declared goal is a seasonal avg of 2 to 3 stops per race per driver, we should expect aggressive tire choices and 3 stop races.

            As you say, we’ll see.

    • Don’t worry just let yourself be numbed by the incursion of talk about whether we should be going there in the first place…

      Works for me anyhow… But at twenty races I can’t get excited somehow for them all anyway. Not whist it’s tempting to just extrapolate points results on a graph. If all the having a go at Mercedes was really sudden realisation that restrictions suck I totally understand it. What’s the point if slower teams drop like flies anyhow. Half a racing car is no racing car in budget terms too.

  6. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Four dry compounds of tires are too much. Pirelli should only make TWO tire compounds for all the races, regardless of the “Track Conditions”. My suggestion would be a HARD and a SUPER-SOFT. Let the teams set their cars up for that and let them race.

  7. Pingback: F1weekends | Chinese GP Preview: Will Pirelli’s Conservative Tyre Choice Stop Ferrari From Challenging Mercedes Again?·

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