Formula One teams will continue to use Pirelli tyres exclusively for the next three seasons, the Italian tyre manufacturer confirmed today. Following the World Motor Sport Council’s decision to confirm Pirelli’s status as F1’s sole tyre supplier, Pirelli and the FIA have agreed terms for a three-year contract.
There have been some issues with Pirelli’s tyres over the past three seasons, and those can at least partly be attributed to the limited amount of on-track testing available to Pirelli. As such, there have been some changes made to the sporting regulations ahead of the 2014 season to ensure that Pirelli can develop a safer and more competitve product.
Firstly, one of the 12 pre-season test days will be dedicated exclusively to the testing of Pirelli’s wet weather tyres. Presumably that means Pirelli will wet the track if the weather does not do it for them on that day. It’s not unusual for tyres to be tested on an artificially wet track – Pirelli has been testing their wet tyres in this manner since becoming F1’s sole tyre supplier in 2011. The difference this season is that the wet testing will be done with current F1 cars, whereas previous seasons have seen tyre testing only on F1 cars that were no longer current.
Secondly, each team will be required to allocate one of their eight in-season test days to tyre testing. That way, Pirelli and the teams will be able to concentrate on tyre development during the season, where this has not previously been the case (with one notable exception in 2013 following some spectacular tyre failures). The teams will choose their in-season tyre test days in such a way that at least one team is tyre testing on each of the eight days, and no more than two teams will be tyre testing on the same day.
The 2014 season provides Pirelli with their greatest challenge yet in Formula One. The change in engine formula for this season from naturally aspirated V8s to turbocharged hybrid V6 powerplants will result in the engines producing significantly more torque than before. The additional torque will place extra stress on the rear tyres, which will have to be designed to handle the increased loads.
The majority of Pirelli’s 2014 tyre development should be completed by now, as pre-season testing begins in Jerez, Spain on 28 January, which is just 12 days away.
In addition to their work as F1 tyre supplier, Pirelli have announced that they and the FIA will discuss a possible partnership on the FIA Action for Road Safety campaign.
First and second practice for the 2013 German Grand Prix are over, and yielded few surprises. Red Bull and Mercedes are clear favourites for Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race. Behind them are Lotus and Ferrari, neither team quite quick enough to make a strong challenge but strong enough to pick up the pieces if anything goes wrong with the leading two teams. And then there are the midfield teams – McLaren, Force India, Toro Rosso – who will compete for the final points positions. Last, the teams that have been struggling all season – Sauber, Williams, Caterham and Marussia.
The days leading up to the German Grand Prix weekend have been full of tyre talk. Pirelli have come under intense fire for the multiple tyre failures that occurred during last weekend’s British Grand Prix. The Grand Prix Drivers’ Association (that represents most, but not all, of the current F1 drivers) got together on Thursday and issued a statement to the effect that the drivers would withdraw from the German Grand Prix if it became apparent that similar tyre failures were present this weekend.
But, thankfully, tyre concerns seem unnecessary. Two 90-minute practice sessions on Friday proceeded without even a hint of a tyre problem. In fact, the opposite was true. The tyres lasted well, and produced consistent lap times over long runs. It looks like Pirelli have hit the nail on the head with the changes they made to the rear tyres leading up to this race.
Those changes concerned the material used for the belt that runs around the tyre under the tread. The 2013 Pirelli tyres were designed with a steel belt that made the surface of the tyres very stiff and flat. The idea behind the steel belt was to make sure that as much of the tyre surface as possible would be in contact with the track surface, which would make it easier to warm up the rear tyres.
But unfortunately, the tyre construction has proven to be problematic, with failures occurring at various races in the early part of the season. And so, after last weekend’s fiasco at the British Grand Prix, the steel belt has been ditched and replaced with a kevlar belt. And so far it seems to be working well.
Pirelli have brought their medium and soft compound tyres to the German Grand Prix. Friday practice showed that there is a difference in performance between the compounds of between eight tenths and a second per lap on low fuel. The soft tyre is, as expected, the quicker of the two compounds, but it is also wearing quite a bit faster than the medium compound. That could make for an interesting first half of the race, as there are likely to be markedly different tyre strategies through the field.
The top ten drivers on the grid are required to start the race on their qualifying tyres, which means they will almost certainly all be on the soft tyres while running heavy fuel tanks in the early part of the race. Those who qualify 11th to 22nd have a choice of tyres for the start of the race, which gives them the option of running the more durable medium tyres while their cars are heavy with fuel.
We could, therefore, see a situation where one of the midfield cars spends some time leading in the middle phase of the race. That would be the result of the front-runners pitting early when their soft tyres wear out, but the midfield runners still having life in their medium tyres. The order should even out by the end of the race, as the difference in performance between the front-runners and the midfield is large enough that tyre strategy will make very little difference to the outcome of the race.
Red Bull were on top in the second practice session of the day, but Mercedes are not far behind. The Silver Arrows drivers both complained of understeer after Friday practice, which is something the engineers will work to cure before third practice tomorrow morning. It does suggest that Mercedes have not yet shown their full pace, which is ominous for the rest of the field.
The broad conclusions that can be drawn from Friday practice are: 1. Red Bull and Mercedes are likely to fight for pole position and victory; and 2. Tyres are not likely to play a significant part in determining the outcome of the race.
Yesterday’s Monaco Grand Prix is being hailed as a triumph for Nico Rosberg and Mercedes. But the reality is that it was a demonstration of how ridiculous the tyre situation has become in Formula One.
It’s always been difficult to overtake in Monaco. There’s simply not enough space. The track is too narrow to get alongside another car without the door being left open by the driver in front. So it was no surprise that Rosberg was able to win the race from pole position. He and Mercedes just had to make sure their pit stops were neat and tidy, so that he could come out of the pits in the lead every time. They managed to do so comfortably.
Rosberg won the race because he did not, at any stage of the race, push his tyres at all. He therefore ensured that he was on the same tyre strategy as his challengers, and that meant they all pitted at similar times and no-one had a chance to make up any time on the leader while running in clean air. He was there, blocking the road, slowing them all down, for the entire race. All through the field, in fact, the drivers were just looking after their tyres in an attempt to make as few pit stops as possible. They all knew that overtaking was all but impossible, which meant it would be better to be slow at the front than blisteringly fast in the middle of the pack after a pit stop.
An indication of the difficulty of overtaking was provided by Felipe Massa, who started 21st and had only made it up to 15th when he crashed out. Massa drives a Ferrari, one of the quickest cars in the field, but he spent a great deal of time stuck behind Esteban Gutierrez, who has yet to score a point this season in his Sauber.
This year’s F1 cars are fast. So fast, in fact, that Nico Rosberg’s pole position time in Monaco was over half a second faster than the lap record, set by Michael Schumacher in 2004 when Formula One cars still used V10 engines with no rev limits. Rosberg’s pole lap was just under half a second faster than the fastest time set in last year’s qualifying session (also by Michael Schumacher, although he did not start on pole due to a grid penalty). In the history of the Monaco Grand Prix, only in 2005, 2010 and 2011 have faster qualifying laps been recorded than that of Nico Rosberg at this year’s event. (It should be noted that lap records are always set in race conditions, and are therefore not affected by qualifying or practice times).
Considering the speed that is clearly available in this year’s F1 cars, the slow pace of the race itself was appalling. Nico Rosberg’s fastest lap in the race was over three seconds slower than his pole position time. But even that does not tell the full story. In the early part of the race, the leaders were lapping in around 1 minute 23 seconds. Compare that to the fastest lap in a GP2 race on the same weekend – Sergio Canamasas set a time of 1:22.169 in the 42-lap GP2 feature race – and Formula One starts to look a little bit pathetic.
GP2 is supposed to be a feeder series for Formula One. The GP2 cars, although very quick, are not designed to compete with Formula One cars. On most circuits, GP2 cars should be somewhere in the region of 10 seconds per lap slower than F1 cars. But at Monaco, that gap was substantially smaller, despite F1 cars having significantly more power, far greater braking ability and vastly superior aerodynamics.
All of the F1 drivers who finished Sunday’s race set personal best lap times that were quicker than Canamasas’s fastest GP2 time. But during the race, there were prolonged periods that could have seen a GP2 car compete with a Formula One car for the minor places. The mere existence of such a situation puts the lie to the idea that Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsport. Formula One has instead become the world’s most expensive leisurely group Sunday drive.
Throughout the F1 race, the drivers were visibly and audibly taking it easy. Through the swimming pool section, which includes a very fast left-right chicane and then a slower right-left chicane, the drivers looked bored. They were simply not prepared to put any lateral load through their tyres. When there was onboard footage from any car coming out of a slow corner and putting the power down, it was obvious from the sound that the drivers were short-shifting and not using full throttle until they were going quickly enough to avoid spinning up the rear tyres which would cause them to overheat and fall apart. That’s not how racing cars are meant to be driven. What happened to the days when Schumacher and Alonso rang the necks of their cars around Monaco, brushing the walls with their tyres in the pursuit of victory? With Pirelli involved, those days are gone.
The slow pace of the race was not due to the limits of the cars or the drivers It was all down to the fragility of the tyres. It is entirely Pirelli’s fault that the 22 best drivers in the world, driving the 22 fastest cars in the world, around arguably the most iconic race track in the world, turned a Formula One race into 78 laps of slow procession.
13 March 2013, Ferrari – The winters seem to get shorter every year and just three and half months on from that thrilling finale in Sao Paolo, here we are about to tackle the first race of the 2013 season. Not a great deal has changed since that November day at Interlagos, but the new year features one less team and one less race, so that Scuderia Ferrari and ten other teams will tackle nineteen grands prix. As far as the rules are concerned, the bulk of the regulations are identical to last year, even if there are a few minor changes such as the fact DRS use is now restricted in qualifying, whereas before it was free. 2013 will mark the end of an era, as it is the last time, for now at least, that the F1 cars will be powered by normally aspirated V8 engines, so that in Ferrari’s case the 056 power plant will be taking its curtain call. Everything remains stable on the technical side at the Prancing Horse team, with the new organisational structure running smoothly and the senior personnel remaining unchanged, while the driver line-up is the same it has been since 2010, the two drivers totalling ten years service at Ferrari, with Fernando Alonso now starting his fourth season with the Maranello squad, while Felipe Massa has already worn the famous red race suit for seven years. The Spaniard feels the team is ready for the challenges that lie ahead. “I think we are more or less ready for Melbourne,” he maintained. “Of course, we would have liked more testing, but the rules are the same for everyone and we completed our programme throughout the tests. I feel confident in the car, while knowing Australia will not be easy. As usual, our aero development will be the key to having a good season, while getting a good understanding of the new, more complicated Pirelli tyres will also be essential.”
The stability when it comes to the technical regulations means that the majority of teams was able to get a car to run reliably during the very limited twelve days of pre-season testing, which is why everyone is being very cagey about making any predictions for the 2013 championship. While it’s true that it is very difficult to make any meaningful assessment of everyone’s relative performance, because of different fuel loads and test programmes, at Scuderia Ferrari, we are prepared to stick our collective neck out and make a bold prediction as to who will be the winner in 2013: the answer? The viewers, spectators and race fans, who look set to be treated to a vintage season of close racing, with more than a handful of teams looking like serious contenders for race wins and podium finishes. Felipe Massa reckons the season might not be as open as last year’s. “I expect the drivers from two or three teams to do most of the winning,” says the Brazilian. “As for ourselves, we start the season with a better car than we did last year, so I am happy and positive with the way testing went, when I felt the car evolved from the first day to the last, when I was happy with the balance of the F138 and felt comfortable at the wheel.”
One should not expect too many answers on Friday either: as a temporary street-type circuit, Albert Park is very green, with little running completed in FP1, so it will be on Saturday afternoon that teams will stop being coy about what they can do and deliver the year’s first fairly accurate litmus test of relative performance. However, the Melbourne track is good at hiding the truth. One factor that will no longer be a problem is the cold weather tyre degradation we saw in Barcelona in what was a colder than usual final two test sessions. But on the other side of the world, Melbourne is going to be much hotter than usual at this time of year. Currently, temperatures are in the mid 30s, although these should drop to mid 20s on Friday and Saturday and possibly get as low as 19 on race day. However, the experience gained at the Catalunya circuit regarding Pirelli rain tyres will not be useful this weekend. On the tyre front, the choices in Albert Park are aggressive. “We will have the Supersoft tyres and I like that as I always prefer the softer end of the range,” revealed Felipe. “In fact, managing the tyres, as well as making improvements to the aero side of the package through the year will be very important, but we really need to be perfect in every area, also on the mechanical side of the car. Personally, I plan to start the 2013 season the way I went during the second half of 2012 and then build on that.”
What can one expect of Alonso and Massa this weekend? Predictions serve no purpose except to turn round and bite you when you least expect it. Clearly, the F138 is better born than the F2012 and it would be disappointing if both drivers did not make it through to Q3 on Saturday evening in Albert Park and therefore secure top ten places on the grid. Anything else would be meaningless speculation. Nevertheless, one can risk an extrapolation based on the relative strengths down the pit lane at the final round last year, which means it is reasonable for the Scuderia to expect to be within the top three teams in Albert Park. “I don’t think we will see one team dominate, but also I don’t expect seven winners in the first races, like last year,” added Fernando. “It will be very close and from our point of view, a good result this weekend would remove some of the stress. I enjoy the Albert Park circuit, it is technical and difficult and the track, being a street circuit, evolves throughout the weekend.” Felipe is also looking forward to finally going racing. “I can’t say Albert Park is my favourite track, but I love coming to Australia, which is a great country with very nice people who really like their racing. The track here is demanding, but I expect the F138 will be well adapted to it and that we can have a good first weekend.”
The Australian GP has a habit of providing some surprises, but it would take a brave man to bet on Ferrari adding to its tally of seven wins Down Under, the last dating back to Kimi Raikkonen’s 2007 victory. Fernando was victorious here in 2006, but not at the wheel of a red car, while Felipe’s best result is a third place trip to the podium in 2010.
Michael Schumacher has had a miserable 2012. Just two finishes – two tenth places – from seven races is not the start to the season the most successful man in Formula One history was looking for. But there are those in Formula One who think his luck is about to change.
Pirelli motorsport boss Paul Hembery stated last week that Schumacher would be a good bet for victory: “I think you have to look at someone like, maybe Michael getting the pole position,” Hembery said in an interview with Autosport. “He probably would have won Monaco if he hadn’t been penalised, so why not there? Michael for Valencia, that’s where the money needs to go.”
Tyres have played a significant role in determining race results in 2012, which adds weight to Hembery’s opinion. If Mercedes can set the car up well for the Valencia circuit, then the prediction of a Schumacher win could come true.
Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn is optimistic about the seven-time champion’s chances in Valencia: “There’s every opportunity that at the next race in Valencia we’re going to have an eighth winner…There are some very quick drivers in very quick cars who have not won a race yet – think of Michael in our car.”
Schumacher has been winless since returning to Formula One in 2010. He was arguably robbed of a podium in China when his team made an error in the pits, and – as Paul Hembery has stated – could have won the Monaco Grand Prix if not for his five-place grid penalty. Will Valencia be the turning point for Schumacher? A win would be the perfect way to show he still has what it takes.