Amid the copious information handed out by F1 tyre supplier Pirelli at its pre-season 'launch' this week were details of how it expects its range to perform in 2012 - and how the watching public will be able to identify the various compounds.
Pirelli is changing all of its slick tyres for the 2012 world championship, and introducing a modified version of the wet tyre which, this year will go under the revived Cinturato brand. Only the intermediate tyre – the Cinturato Green – remains unaltered from last season, Pirelli's first back in the top flight after replacing previous supplier Bridgestone.
The characteristics of the tyres requested by the teams for 2012 are in line with expectations from last year, namely tyres that help to provide entertaining competition, with at least two pit-stops per race and a wide variety of strategies.
The new design of Pirelli tyres takes into account the change in the rules from the FIA regarding blown exhausts, while also becoming 'square' in profile to improve the wear rate, particularly on the all-important shoulder of the tyre. The new front and rear profiles have been designed to distribute the stresses more evenly across the contact patch. This modification, regularising the demands and temperatures over the entire surface of the tyre, has been designed to reduce the risk of blistering and spread the tyre wear over a wider area of the footprint. This extends the amount of time during which the tyre can operate at peak performance, but does not affect the durability of the tyre in terms of the number of laps that it can cover.
The new tyres have also been designed to provide more grip at the rear, compensating for the reduction in aerodynamic downforce caused by the latest rule changes introduced by the FIA. With the exception of the supersoft, where only the profile has changed, the tyres will generally become softer, with some entirely new compounds being readied for the 2012 campaign.
The objective is to reduce the performance gap between the different compounds as, throughout the 2011 season, there was a gap of around 1.2-1.8secs per lap between the different tyre nominations for each race. This year, the objective is to bring that gap down to less than a second, and between six- to eight-tenths on average.
However, by going softer, the tyres will be less conservative than last year. The way that the teams rapidly came to understand how the tyres would perform and behave paved the way for some more extreme solutions in the second half of 2011, which were capable of generating increased grip. These characteristics, together with a smaller gap in lap times and a distinct degradation curve between the different compounds, should allow the teams to adopt a variety of strategies during the races.
The innovations for 2012 also include a couple of new colours to help fans and commentators alike identify the various tyres. The two wet weather compounds, which will both adopt the Cinturato name last used by the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, will be recognised by blue markings for the full wet and green for the intermediate. The four slick compounds, which will be continue to be called P Zero, maintain their colours from last year, namely silver for the hard, white for the medium, yellow for the soft and red for the supersoft - despite complaints that it was sometimes hard to distinguish between the white and silver markings. Pirelli has confirmed that that problem should be partly addressed by bigger markings on the sidewalls.
The P Zero 'Red', used primarily for street circuits is the only compound to remain unchanged from the 2011 season, having showed itself to be particularly versatile by offering high peaks of performance over slow and twisty circuits characterised by slippery asphalt and low lateral loadings.