Throughout its history Formula One has regularly been supplied by more than one tyre manufacturer each season. Though following a disastrous US GP in 2005 where the Michelin tyres were not capable of surviving the banking at the Indianapolis circuit, the French company withdrew at the end of their contract leaving F1 with a single tyre supplier since 2007.
Pirelli took over from Bridgestone as the nominated supplier of F1 tyres in 2011 though the rubber they have produced over the last decade has not been without criticism.
The day after the 2013 British GP, “Terror tyres” was the headline on the back page of Britain’s Daily Mail, while The Times said “Road to hell as tire chaos almost halts grand prix.”
The exploding Pirelli F1 tyres
Pirelli had introduced tyres that season which degraded more quickly to create a greater diversity of strategies and more interesting racing. Yet during the race in Silverstone 6 cars had failed tyres some spectacular exploding including those on Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, who lost the lead and a probable race victory.
Unsurprisingly F1 politics was at the heart of the matter as Pirelli wanted to replace the steel carcasses with Kevlar but had been prevented from doing so by disagreements amongst the teams.
Exploding tyres returned again to haunt Pirelli at the 2021 Azerbaijan GP in Baku. Max Verstappen was leading the race with just 6 laps to go when his C3 tyres blew up. Lance Stroll of Aston Martin had retired 13 laps earlier with a similar problem.
Both teams reported later they had no indication the tyres were at risk of failing. In fact at the time Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase was in the process of telling his driver the “traction metrics are sensible” at the very moment his failed tyre pitched him into a barrier at around 300kph.
The F1 challenge of 18 inch wheels
The resulting investigation concluded both drivers’ tyres had failed on the inner sidewall due to “running conditions”, probably due to hitting certain kerbs.
Pirelli was set a huge task for 2022 as Formula One increased the wheel sizes from the historic 13 inches to 18 inches in an attempt to be more “road car relevant”.
At the same time the regulations governing F1 car design were changed significantly cutting the downforce from on top of the car but increasing the “ground effect” aero that sucks the cars onto the circuit.
With minimal testing for these two significant changes, Pirelli created tyres for this season which on the whole have performed well.
However, the change towards a low profile tyre significantly altered the design of the Pirelli rubber. Previously the side walls of the tyres could be seen flexing significantly as they provided suspension travel for the cars. The new 18 inch tyres sidewalls are far more rigid and combined with the new “ground effect” regulations mean the cars are much stiffer and bounce more easily.
The overseer effect of 2022 F1 rubber
A side effect of the stiffer structure of the Pirelli rubber was noticed early in the season during testing.
“Already from the get-go when we were in Bahrain you could just feel like all the time when you really want to carry a lot of speed in, probably due to the weight of the car and just the structure of the tyre, it gives up a lot mid-corner, which is not ideal,” Verstappen observed.
“But that’s why as a team you have to work around that issue with the car to try to make the car turn a bit better. Which on some tracks of course is better and some tracks it’s more of a limitation just because of the layout. But I hope of course for next year something can be done [with the tyres].”
Verstappen has been hindered by the oversteer created by the new Pirelli rubber given his preferred style of driving is with understeer. This prevents him from turning with his usual precise steering inputs and costs the Dutch driver cornering speed.
Pirelli solution for F1 2023
Pirelli’s Simone Bera explained following the recent tyre test in Mexico.
“We had some information that the front tyre is – let’s say the weakest axle at the moment is the front, so we worked a lot on the front axle structure.”
“The new structure, with the new integrity test that we did on the front, gives us the possibility to decrease a little bit the front pressure,” said Berra. “So what we expect from next year, if the higher loads don’t change too much, it will decrease a little bit the front pressure.
“At the moment we have a big delta between front and rear and we would like to decrease a little bit this. So our intention and our target is to run at lower pressure on the fronts.”
To reduce the oversteer teams have been increasing the front tyre pressures which improves grip. However, the increased differential between the pressure of the front and rear tyres causes other issues best demonstrated by some Charles Leclerc mistakes.
LeClerc affected by tyre pressures
At both the Emila-Romagna GP and later at Paul Ricard, LeClerc spun the car losing the back end rather too easily. With the front and rear tyre pressures more balanced, the Ferrari should become m ore stable at the rear allowing LeClerc the confidence to corner ore aggressively next season.
Mercedes have been less affected this season by the difficulties suffered by Verstappen and LeClerc. Their issues have been more around failing to warm the tyres quickly enough both in qualifying and the race.
That said a tyre which oversteers more may help them with tyre warming but its questionable whether either Russell of Hamilton will benefit from increased racing speeds with the new Pirelli compounds for 2023.
Sergio Perez could be the big loser at the front the grid with the new Pirelli’s because he prefers a car which oversteers and his early results this season demonstrated this. Once Red Bull began dialing out the oversteer during the mid season with car upgrades and set up changes, the gap between the Mexican and his Dutch team mate has grown incrementally.
The frightening result of this could be Max Verstappen becomes even more dominant in his RB19 in 2023, though as long as Ferrari benefit from the new Pirelli rubber and reduce their in race strategy mistakes, the title could yet be more tightly fought between the top drivers’ from Red Bull Racing and the Maranello based outfit.
Compelling viewing 🍿
— Formula 1 (@F1) November 9, 2022