Having been awarded another three year contract as F1’s exclusive tyre supplier, Pirelli have finally begun to deliver on their brief of providing tyre compounds that force the teams into changing rubber between two and three times per race.
Since the hullabaloo in 2013, much of which originated from Red Bull, over ‘exploding tyres and ‘grave concerns for safety, TJ13 has repeatedly criticised Pirelli for over reacting and producing tyre compounds and selections for races which are too conservative. However, apart from the last time out in Baku and the Russian GP, the 2016 F1 races have seen the majority of drivers stop at least twice.
Most F1 observers believed that the new 2016 tyre regulations which allow the teams a choice of two from three compounds per race weekend would be the key that would deliver more pit stops and unpredictable strategies. In reality the impact of this has been relatively minor given all the teams must run once the Pirelli ‘select’ compound during the race.
This has led to calls from a number of corners in the paddock for the teams to be allowed a complete freedom in selection of tyre compounds for race weekends in 2017. Alain Prost suggests even more could be done to create opportunity for alternative race strategies by allowing teams to run different compounds on the front and rear of their cars.
“Then sometimes you will see an average [sized] team like Force India, who do a good job… they can set up the car for a different management of tyres compared to the top teams, who cannot do it because they are more mindful of the competition,” claims Prost.
Yet despite the complexity of new 2016 two from three tyre compound regulation, it si another trick by Pirelli which is ‘spicing up’ the race strategies amongst the F1 teams.
Following the introduction of tyre pressure checks at the start of GP races, Pirelli discovered teams were finding ways to lower the pressure during the race below the recommended safety levels from the Italian rubber producer. This led to the FIA implementing live tyre pressure monitoring during the 2016 races.
Jenson Button believes the pressures set for this weekend’s Austrian GP are ‘unbelievably high’ and will lead to a number of teams suffering difficulties.
“It’s going to make the weekend reasonably tough for everyone,” says the British champion. “It’s going to be about cooling as much as you can and driving in a certain way and having to run loads of engine braking and stuff like that. It’s a shame.”
Pirelli did suggest in 2015 that they would in fact tyre pressures this year would be lower, yet the reality is they have hiked the starting grid tyre pressures by as much as 4-5 psi.
Button believes, “I think the issue is Pirelli is seeing very low pressures behind the safety car and at certain instances during the race because people are doing certain things”.
However, the reality is that higher pressures cause the tyre graining to increase and more quickly. This of course means the tyres must be changed more frequently and – Hey presto – we have our 2-3 pit stops per race back again.
The debate in the paddock and amongst the fans still rages as to whether F1’s year supplier should to briefed to deliver tyres for flat out racing, or compounds that degrade and improve the show’s excitement.
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