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testing will be done with current F1 cars, whereas previous seasons have seen tyre testing only on F1 cars that were no longer current.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.
Lewis Hamilton may have won Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix from pole position, but the drive of the day undoubtedly came from Sauber’s Sergio Perez.
Perez started down in 12th position, after failing to make Q3 in qualifying. While his grid position was not ideal, the young Mexican made the most of circumstances by choosing to start on the hard tyres, while those ahead of him were on the softer (and therefore less durable) medium-compound tyres. The choice of tyres proved to be inspired, as it enabled Perez to run long in his first stint. Running the medium tyre in the latter part of the race gave him a distinct pace advantage, and having fresher tyres than everyone else (due to pitting later) allowed him to push all the way to the flag.
Perez’s careful tyre management saw him move from the middle of the pack at the start of the race to second by the end. He passed both Ferraris like they were standing still and would have needed only a handful more laps to catch and pass Lewis Hamilton for the lead. As it happened, Perez ran out of laps and Hamilton took a well-deserved victory, but Sauber and Perez showed once again that they are capable of challenging right at the front.
A crucial part of Perez’s performance was his own driving style. The car is clearly quick and kind to its tyres, but it required sublimely smooth and controlled driving to preserve tyre performance throughout the race. Perez is only in his second season of Formula One, but is already showing remarkable maturity behind the wheel.
This is the third such impressive performance from Perez this season, the previous two being in Malaysia and Canada, where he also featured on the podium after smooth, measured performances. As a result of his consistent season, Perez is ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa in the championship, which is significant given that Sauber is a Ferrari engine custome. From very early in the season, there was speculation that Perez could replace Massa at Ferrari for next season, and after this performance (if not before), Ferrari must surely be looking at the possibility with interest.
In a desperate and spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to win yesterday’s Canadian Grand Prix, Ferrari tried to get one set of soft tyres to last 51 laps on Fernando Alonso’s car.
Alonso was running second when Lewis Hamilton pitted 20 laps from the end of the race. Hamilton had a slow pitstop, which could have played into Alonso’s hands if he had chosen to pit immediately. Instead, Ferrari chose to keep him out until the end of the race, hoping that his tyres would hold together long enough to defend against the charging Hamilton.
Ultimately, the strategy failed. Alonso finished fifth after his tyres dropped off significantly and he found himself lapping over three seconds off the pace. He was passed by Grosjean, Perez and then Vettel, who had tried to stay out but elected to pit when Hamilton had passed him. Alonso would probably have finished second if he had pitted when Hamilton did. Instead, he ended up off the podium, struggling for grip in the final laps.
This is not the first time a driver has tried to stay out too long on one set of tyres this season. Kimi Raikkonen showed quite emphatically how badly that can go when he fell back from second to 14th in China as he suddenly found himself with no rear grip. It had to be tried once, but that should have been enough to convince all of the teams that it was a bad idea.
Ferrari saw what happened to Raikkonen in China. They also saw that Hamilton was a second a lap quicker than Alonso on his fresh tyres. It was inevitable that Hamilton would catch and pass Alonso. It was simply a question of when. Ferrari should have realised that they were in fact racing Vettel, Grosjean and Perez, not Hamilton. Had they pulled Alonso into the pits, the likely result would have been a podium and an extended Championship lead for Alonso. Instead, they got fifth place and Alonso is now running second in the Drivers’ Championship.
It was poor strategy call, a desperate attempt to achieve the unachievable. At this stage of the season, consistent results are more important than wins. A team as experienced as Ferrari really should have known better.