Formula One’s regulator is having a torrid year since the departure of its president Jean Todt. The incoming premier, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has become front and centre of the FIA’s presence and made a number of changes that have not been universally welcomed. The decision to move to rotating F1 race directors has been repeatedly criticised by drivers and the teams for proving to deliver a lack of consistency.
Further following the ‘near misses’ at the Japanese GP where a crane was deployed on track in poor visibility conditions while the drivers were still allowed to travel at speeds of 200kph forced the FIA to bench race director Eduardo Freitas for the rest of the season.
Pirelli forced to change plans
Now the recent Pirelli tyre tests for the 2023 F1 rubber have thrown into disarray the FIA’s long term regulations for the ban on tyre blankets that pre-heat the Pirelli rubber prior to them being fitted to the cars.
The FIA is determined to make Formula One more ‘green’ and the proposed ban on pre-heating tyres in 2024 is part of that energy efficiency agenda. The temperature to which the tyres were pre-heated in 2021 was reduced from 100 degrees Celsius to 70 degrees for this season.
This was regulated to drop ton 50 degrees for 2023 and the Austin tyre test in FP2 saw the teams simulate next years tyres pre-heated to that temperature.
The Pirelli boss, Mario Isola was front and centre at the Mexican GP talking to the assembled media about the tyre manufacturer’s current dilemmas.
Tyre test in Austin had perfect conditions
“in Austin, which is a high-energy circuit, we had some issues with the warm-up. Or, at least they had fresh in mind the warm-up at 70°C and if you test the tyre at 50°C, you can feel the difference.
“After listening to the drivers, we started to consider that if Austin is a high-severity circuit with very good weather conditions and they had an issue with a warm-up, what happens at street circuits, low-severity circuits with smooth Tarmac, or in poor conditions?”
“The target is to ban blankets for 2024 and the idea was to go in this direction step-by-step. The plan is still in place, but looking at the test in Austin, it seems that 50°C is not a suitable option for next year.”
Currently the teams are allowed to start pre-heating the tyres 3 hours before they are fitted to the cars, yet Isola reveals this time span is not really necessary.
“So we made some calculations of the energy consumption, considering different scenarios as we have some blankets in Milan that we used for our test. We found two hours is the time needed to warm up the tyre at 70°C, so we have an additional hour at the moment that is just maintaining the temperature.
FIA challenge on rubber change too big
Given the fact that Pirelli had to deal with an increase in wheel rim size from 13 to 18 inches this season together with tyres that are preheated to a temperature 30% lower than before, it appears the challenge to resign the 2022 rubber to cope with even less preheating is a step too far.
Isola reveals, “If, instead of going down to 50°C, we cut one hour [of the currently-permitted three hours at 70°C] we discovered that it is a lot more efficient, we save more energy and we don’t create any issue with the warm-up. So the drivers can go out and push, as they are doing now.
“That’s why we decided in Mexico to test the blankets at 70°C for two hours instead of three hours.”
“My feeling is that the right direction is to go for 70°C and two hours,” said Isola.
So the regulation restricting the teams to only heat the 2023 tyres to 50 degrees will be rolled back to 70 degrees, but the time they can pre-heat the rubber cut from 3 to 2 hours.
Pirelli towing there FIA party line for 2024
Isola believes they can still hit the target of no pre-heated tyres for 2024, though this now seems unlikely.
“What we collected in terms of information in Austin is useful for us for further developing the compounds.
“We know we have to make quite a big step to get rid of blankets in 2024. It’s not just redesigning the construction completely, it’s also redesigning all the five compounds.
“And we have now a test plan that we started to discuss with the FIA and FOM and soon with the teams to see if it is feasible. Obviously we need to test on track and that is the plan.”
It would be logical for Pirelli to attempt to first develop their softer compounds to be capable of running without being pre-heated and as Isola clearly says designing 5 compounds for 2024 to run without tyre blankets is a significant challenge.
FIA forced to change regs for 2023
Williams Racing director of vehicle performance, Dave Robson, backs the call to retain the pre-heated tyre temperatures at 70 degrees for next season. He reveals the energy saving by reducing the pre-heating from 3 to 2 hours at 70 degrees is a little greater than the proposed 3 hours at 50 degrees.
“So I think that they found a good direction, something that hopefully we can take through to next year.”
“As an intermediate [plan] that probably is pretty pragmatic,” said Robson. “Not least because most of the detail about next year’s car is designed, not necessarily set in stone but we’re quite a long way down [the line].
“The tricky bit is that the cars aren’t really designed to work with such low grip straight out of the garage. You can’t brake as hard as you want, the cars just aren’t designed to work like that now.
“Maybe with a bit more thought and understanding of what 50°C blankets means for the opening laps of the stint you change a few things.”
F1 Teams critical of Pirelli instructions
Pirelli had instructed the teams at the Austin test to go our hard on the tyres and push from the get go. Yet Robson observes this may not be the optimum solution for the new lower pre-heated Pirelli rubber.
“Obviously, as well doing those tyre test we just followed the run plan Pirelli sent us, if we were trying to get best performance we may not have done that. They just wanted us to go out and push, push, push on the low fuel and maybe you need to be a bit more tactical about how you bring the tyres in.
“The cars as they stand and trying to do that run plan, the 50°C blanket is difficult.”
Given the test rubber compounds were taking 3-4 laps to warm up would be a game changer in Formula One race strategy. No longer would the undercut where a driver pits early to gain the advantage of fresh rubber over rivals ahead in the race be viable.
This would force team strategists to once again decide track position is king during the race, a philosophy the new aerodynamics of the 2022 cars has diminished.
Premature ban on tyre warmers leads to predictable F1 racing
In Mexico for example the Daniel Ricciardo strategy of starting on the medium tyre and running longer than anyone else, before stopping late in the race for soft tyres when the car has burned off 70kg of fuel would become normative.
In reality, the tyre blanket warming ban may have to be kicked into the long grass until 2026. Then the FIA are committed to regulations that see smaller, lighter cars with less complicated power units.
The current F1 beasts fully laden with fuel are over 900kg at the start of the race. Given that up to 110kg of this is fuel and the FIA are most unlikely to reintroduce in race refuelling, a savage cut to F1 car dimensions and weight is required before pre-heating tyres becomes a thing of the past.
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 1, 2022