Williams technical chief Pat Symonds thinks that all the teams are struggling this year to get a full understanding from the 2016 Pirelli rubber.
From race to race there have been dramatic changes in performance for some teams, and Symonds is convinced the tyres are influencing the cars pace “that” much. For example, Red Bull struggled to with their pace in Montreal and in Baku, yet at Austria and Silverstone the Bulls were back on the money. Circuit characteristics or rubber wizardry?
Pirelli have been in the firing line from the teams, and notably the drivers of late about the high tyre pressures that Pirelli (in conjunction with the FIA) are forcing the teams to run. This year’s tyres also are known to have a small ‘window of operation’ meaning that the chances of getting all 3 weekend compounds in their “sweet” spot has taken some mastering.
Looking back to the European GP, only four cars in the race ran the medium tyres. Two of those cars were the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Dani Ricciardo and there was a clear hint this was because the team felt they couldn’t get the supersoft or the yellow softs to last.
Running outside of the operating window for a tyre compound often leads to graining / degradation of the tyre, and shorter stints.
“It’s been funny,” reflects Pat Symonds. “If you look at the last few races, a few things are really quite symptomatic of this season.
“In Canada we had a great race there, as did Force India, while Red Bull struggled quite a lot. Ferrari were not quite where they should have been.
“Move on to Azerbaijan and it was a similar picture. We had a few peripheral things that were troubling us there, but generally speaking we were okay, Mercedes were okay, and Force India were okay. Red Bull were not where they should have been.
“Then go to Austria. Ourselves and Force India had really difficult races with the tyres – neither of us could get the tyres working
“While Red Bull, who had been struggling with tyres in Canada with cold conditions on a fast track, in Austria, with cold conditions on a fast track, all the same sort of things, led for a short while and were challenging Mercedes.
“It is all down to tyres. We all say these things we do with the tyres, but they continue to catch us out, all of us – Red Bull, Ferrari, even Mercedes.”
That said, the Mercedes drivers are still winning most races – when they don’t take each other off.
The American based Haas team have also struggled to master the tyres, with team boss Gunther Steiner admitting recently that getting the tyres to respond has been their biggest challenge of 2016. The tyre conundrum has puzzled Haas such that they are considering employing their own tyre specialist for the 2017 season.
“We are a small team,” says Steiner. “We have got our race engineers and our performance engineers looking into it. We don’t have a specific tyre specialist, and it is something we need to look into next year because I don’t think it will get any easier.
“We have got a few people coming in various areas but at the moment – it is just our people trying to understand how they work.”
With the 2017 regulations promising a substantially increase in loads through the tyres, teams will need to be at one with their rubber or face obliteration by the competition.
The calls for softer, more ‘aggressive’ compounds and a return of the ‘cliff’ from Ecclestone will probably fall on deaf ears. Pirelli have demonstrated a conservative approach to tyre construction for a number of years now – and there’s little reason to expect any change for 2017. Plus they have their 3 year contract signed and sealed.