After three consecutive street circuits, F1 returns to one of the most traditional permanent tracks of the year at Silverstone, giving tyre supplier Pirelli the chance to try out its latest development rubber.
The British Grand Prix can be considered a second home race for the Italian company, which has a motorsport hub in Didcot, around an hour away from the Northamptonshire venue, and this gives Pirelli the chance to offer teams the opportunity to test a new hard-compound tyre currently under development for the future. Pirelli tried out a number of experimental compounds during last year's free practice sessions, but this is the first time that a new compound will have been tried during a race weekend in 2012.
The teams will each have two sets of the experimental hard tyre for the brace of Friday sessions, in addition to their usual allocation, before reverting to the standard hard and soft compounds for the rest of the weekend. Last year, the early stages of the British Grand Prix were affected by rain and, with a simialr forecast for 2012, the intermediate and wet weather tyres will also be on standby.
“Silverstone is one of the most iconic circuits on the F1 calendar, precisely because it is so demanding for the drivers, cars and tyres," motorsport director Paul Hembery commented, "This is why we have chosen to test a new experimental hard compound, which we may use in the future, here during free practice.
"The new tyre has a slightly wider working range, which should make it easier for the teams to get the tyres into the right operating temperature window but, with the championship so finely balanced, our priority is to ensure that no one team is handed any particular advantage. We want to keep the performance of the tyres at the highest level for as long as possible, so this is a valuable opportunity for ourselves and all the teams to gather more information about the potential effect of a new compound, and gain some data for the future."
Interestingly, Pirelli has never experienced a completely dry race at Silverstone or used the hard tyre in race conditions. Last year, all the cars started on the intermediate tyre, with the top five running similar three-stop strategies without using the hard compound.
"Silverstone is a very high-energy circuit that can see some unpredictable weather conditions, so a strong performance from the tyres and an effective strategy are vital ingredients in a successful race outcome,” Hembery concluded.
As well as several high-speed corners that put plenty of lateral energy through the tyres, Silverstone is often characterised by a wide variety of climatic conditions over the race weekend, with ambient temperatures between 15 to 30 degrees centigrade possible. The track surface is also quite abrasive, which further increases tyre wear, while the tyre structure has to cope with extended periods when the cars are at top speed and full throttle. Copse, now turn nine on the revised layout, is taken at 290kph, generating a lateral force of 5g and forcing tread temperatures up to - and beyond - 110 degrees centigrade. Good lateral grip is key to a quick lap.
“I drove the new Silverstone circuit at the 2010 British Grand Prix and it's very interesting - high speed and high energy are the main characteristics, which has a big effect on the tyres because of all the aerodynamic grip," Pirelli test driver Lucas di Grassi confirmed, "Traction is also tested a lot in the slower and more technical sections, particularly in terms of combined acceleration, when you are turning and accelerating at the same time.
"Hard and soft is a very good combination here, with the soft tyre definitely the one to qualify on. The biggest difficulty in terms of set-up is the unpredictability of the weather conditions, so you really have to focus on your car and collect as much information as you can during all the sessions. It's still easy to get caught out by a set-up that isn't perfectly suited to the conditions on race day though.
"I tested the experimental hard compound tyre in Jerez earlier this year: it's a similar concept to the current hard but with improved combined grip and better wear. It's particularly effective in warm weather and when the track conditions are poor – so you end up with a tyre that is quicker and lasts longer.”