Huge row over Pirelli mid-season tyre change

Yesterday was the beginning of a two day tyre test in Barcelona where Pirelli will be assessing new Formula One tyre compounds for next season. In its rush to net carbon zero for F1 the FIA is desperate to see the teams remove the need for pre-heating the tyres.

Formula One is just one of very few motor sports where the tyres are pre-heated before being fitted to the cars to improve instant grip when for the driver when he hits the track following a pit stop. 



FIA to ban tyre warmers

Most single seater Formula series force the driver to start each session on ambient temperature tyres and create the heat over the first lap or two after the new rubber has been fitted.

The Pirelli test in Barcelona will see Ferrari and Mercedes try out the compounds Pirelli have developed which should require no pre-heating from the start of 2024. 

This test will reveal whether it is possible for the teams to ditch their tyre blankets next season at least for some of the Pirelli compounds or whether the FIA will be kept waiting for another iteration of Pirelli test rubber that will satisfy F1’s no pre-heating requirements.

Having tried a previous version of the tyres being tested today in Barcelona, Lewis Hamilton was extremely critical of the whole notion that F1 can move to using ambient temperature tyres.



Hamilton says cold tyres “dangerous”

Hamilton calls it “dangerous” not to warm up the tyres before using them on the track. “I tested tyres without the blankets,” he said at Motorsportweek. “At some point an incident is going to happen. I think it is a wrong decision.”

“The biggest concern is that with cold tyres you are actually skating. If someone else already has the tyres up to temperature, it could cause collisions. It’s a pointless exercise.”

However this happens in most other racing series and creates excitement around the time of the pit stops. A driver who pitted earlier now has their tyres up to temperature may come out behind another who has just pitted. 

The fight to keep the driver on warm tyres behind is exciting to watch.

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Burning more fuel is no excuse

It also negates the strategic value of running longer and therefore having fresher tyres than the competitors towards the end of the race. This strategy now risks losing track position and so the drivers who stop earlier are compensated for the risk they take.

Hamilton tries another tack: “In fact, we are just burning more fuel to get the tyres up to temperature. After all, it takes a lot more laps to get the tyres in the right window.”

Lewis is simply wrong about this, because on colder tyres the driver is travelling more cautiously and less quickly and therefore uses less fuel.

The FIA is determined to ban tyre warmers and sooner or later Pirelli will develop the tyres with the wider operating window where grip is better at colder temperatures.



New Pirelli compounds for British GP

However, another F1 tyre event is soon to happen and the last time this occurred ten years ago there was a furious row between teams and the FIA over the legality of Pirelli’s actions.

Pirelli are set to introduce a new range of dry compound tyres at the British Grand Prix. 

Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Mario Isola explains why this is happening when each year the tyres used for the start of the season are locked in for the year and no upgrades are allowed.

“Initially this [tyre switch] was scheduled for 2024, but its introduction has now been brought forward to make the structure more resistant to fatigue, as the loads generated by the current cars have already reached the targets set for the end of the season after only a few races.”

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2013 mid-season tyre controversy

However, ten years ago during the 2013 Formula 1 season this very action created one of the most contentious tyre episodes in recent memory.

The controversy arose due to the high degradation and numerous tyre failures experienced by teams during races, leading to concerns about safety and the overall quality of the Pirelli rubber.

The situation reached a boiling point at the British Grand Prix held at Silverstone in June 2013. During the race, multiple drivers, including Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa, suffered tire failures, with some experiencing dangerous blowouts at high speeds. These incidents not only endangered the drivers but also prompted a wave of criticism from teams and fans alike.

The immediate aftermath of the British Grand Prix saw an intense debate within the Formula 1 community. Teams and drivers expressed their frustrations over the unpredictable performance and fragile nature of the Pirelli tires. They argued that the excessive degradation hindered their ability to push for competitive lap times and compromised the overall racing experience.



Teams accused of too aggressive setups

However, teams who had cars that were easier on their tyres believed the failures were due in part to the aggressive set up of the likes of Red Bull in particular.

At the time in F1 there was no provision for a change of tyres mid-season because this could easily gift an advantage to a team who was too hard on their tyres. The argument was Red Bull should set up their car to be more gentle on the rubber but of course this would make them less competitive during the races.

The FIA stepped in and for the same reason they dictated mid season changes for the dangers of porpoising, they decided unilaterally Pirelli must revise their tyre compounds as soon as was reasonably possible.

The revised tyres featured stronger Kevlar belts in place of the steel ones used in the previous iterations. The Kevlar belts were expected to enhance the tyre’s structural integrity and reduce the risk of sudden failures.

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FIA mandate change on safety grounds

The mid-season tire change was officially implemented from the Hungarian Grand Prix onwards, which took place in July 2013. 

This entire controversy highlighted the difficult task Pirelli had been mandated to deliver by Formula One. 

To prevent races being boring Pirelli had been instructed to create tyres that deliberately degraded to introduce strategic variability in races and spicing up the competition

The incident shed light on the complex nature of tyre management in Formula 1. Teams had to navigate a fine line between tire conservation and pushing the limits to extract the maximum performance. 




Mercedes may benefit from new Pirelli rubber

The mid-season change raised questions about the extent to which tyre suppliers or the sport’s ruling body should influence the outcome of races through tyre compounds.

Yet the up coming new compounds to be released at Silverstone have not caused a mutter of discontent this time within the paddock. Red Bull Racing are the ones who could clearly suffer from this given their car appears to be the best at managing the degradation and temperatures of its tyres.

Yet their gap to the field is so huge they can hardly complain.

Mercedes will most likely benefit from this more than Ferrari and Aston Martin given in moderate to hot track temperatures the W14 os slower and eats its tyres. Yet the converse will become true, where Mercedes are presently quicker in cooler temperatures it will take them longer to get the tyres up to temperature and into the operating window.

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