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The F1 tyre conundrum

24 May 2013

Thursday's team principal press conference in Monaco centred largely on the ongoing dispute over tyres, and whether Pirelli is taking the right decision in introducing revised rubber for the Canadian Grand Prix.

While the Italian manufacturer insists that the move is being made on safety grounds after a worrying spate of delaminations in recent races, there is naturally some disquiet in the paddock among those teams who feel they have adapted best to the existing specification.

Red Bull's Christian Horner has been one of the more outspoken critics of the 2013 tyres, despite his team leading both championships after five rounds, and is in favour of Pirelli addressing the situation for Montreal. However, Lotus counterpart Gerard Lopez, while agreeing that changes are probably needed on safety grounds, believes that his team will be affected, having shown that it can make the fragile rubber last better than most.

“I think we've been pretty consistent throughout the year,” Horner claimed, “The tyres, on occasion, have been a bit too marginal, [and] that includes races we've won in Malaysia and Bahrain. I think it's good that Pirelli are looking at it.

“I think the most important and most fundamental thing is from a safety perspective. If you do have a delamination, if you have a big chunk of rubber, you don't want that to hit a car component or, worst case, a driver. So, there are safety issues that I know some of the drivers are concerned about. Hopefully, Pirelli are a very capable company. I think they know what they need to do and, hopefully, that can be resolved very quickly.

“It's a difficult one for Pirelli. It's a difficult one for the teams but, at the end of the day, we don't need to make it too complicated. I think the way things are at the moment, is too complicated for the fans. It's too difficult to follow races where you've got four stops, going on - it's hard enough when you're in the race. I think we need to just wind that back a little bit and more than anything make sure we eliminate any safety issues.”

“We've echoed the safety issues and said that whatever needs to be done on safety grounds is obviously fine with us, we're not going to go against that,” Lopez concurred, “But, as far as the tyres being marginal goes, we've found them to be quite consistent. But then again - different cars, different drivers, different styles... they work for us. We're actually quite happy with the way they are.”

Toro Rosso's Franz Tost, meanwhile, pointed out that F1 has been chasing a problem that wasn't helped by the conditions the teams encountered in pre-season testing.

“In February, it was very cold when we were out the first time and, if I remember, only Jerez was an acceptable test. Otherwise, in Barcelona, it was quite cold,” he noted, “We couldn't do a proper test for the tyres and I think, if we had tested in a warmer country, some of the problems we observe now could have been sorted out.

“I hope that, in future, we will do these tests under other conditions, conditions under which we are racing. Then I think Pirelli immediately will react and will come up with a proper solution.”

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery has oft lamented the fact that his employer does not have a contemporary car with which to conduct its own test and development programme – another issue on which the teams have been divided – and admits that, with a new set of technical regulations for 2014 – there is a chance that, as long as it remains in the sport [ see separate story], Pirelli could opt to go conservative with its next F1 tyre.

“[The test cars are] probably, in terms of performance, closer to the 2011 cars with the blown diffusers,” Hembery revealed, “They're going, certainly, a little bit harder than we anticipated this season. We're probably lapping our 2010 car three to four seconds slower, for example. That gives you an indication that we're not stressing the tyres during our testing as much as the cars are today. But there's not a perfect solution to that.

“Next year, the cars are so different that there's really nothing available today, even including today's cars, that would allow us to simulate the effect of the new powertrain … which, from the indications of the teams, will have a lot of torque, and will increase wheelspin, tyre wear, overheating. You could end up in a situation with a surprise, so there needs to be a balance.

“As yet, we don't really have a full picture of what the [2014] cars are going to be like, so you can imagine there's a certain element of shooting in the dark. Having said that, it's a probably a year where we will probably step back, be cautious. There's going to be enough going on for the teams, all those changes, so I think it's a year where we'll be stepping back: zero degradation, no pit-stops and they can do all the talking.”

Tost, as well as suggesting running in warmer climes, also put forward to proposal that Friday morning's practice session at grands prix be turned over to tyre testing in a bid to solve the dual issues of development and lack of track action, a move Force India's Bob Fernley supported with the use of rookie drivers rather than the existing F1 grid.

“It's one of those cases where you're damned if you do, damned if you don't,” Hembery said of the entire tyre conundrum, “You're clearly not going to get everyone to agree and, with a tyre, certainly if you design it around a certain application, you can make a certain vehicle go quicker - and that's clearly why we're wanting to make changes now. Some people want more changes, some people don't want any changes.

“The Friday is useful where you're coming to a point of wanting to actually introduce a change, but you can't go testing with eleven teams on a Friday with various specifications because it simply doesn't work that way. I think a good step forward would be winter testing in hot conditions. You know, if we were able to get to Abu Dhabi or Bahrain before we get to Australia, at least you'd have an advanced indication [of any problems].

“Teams have clearly got restrictions on resources. The test teams were got rid of for good reasons from their point of view - but some sort of mid-range solution would be useful to us, even if it means staying on after a few events during the season [to test]. That would be extremely valuable from our point of view.”


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