How new tyres will change F1 in 2011

2011 F1 season preview

Silver Pirelli lettering on dry-weather tyres

Silver Pirelli lettering on dry-weather tyres

Moving rear wings and hybrid engine systems are the attention-grabbers in the new 2011 rules.

But the change of tyre supplier is surely going to have an even more profound effect on F1.

Testing has shown F1 has swung from extreme to another: from rubber that lasts a whole race to tyres that need changing several times.

Four-stop strategies?

While the tyres are very different to what we had last year, the rules have changed little.

There will still be four different dry-weather compounds; they will still be called hard, medium, soft and super-soft; two versions will be brought to each race and drivers will have to use at least one set of each during the race.

Yellow Pirelli lettering on dry-weather tyres

Yellow Pirelli lettering on dry-weather tyres

The dimensions of the tyres has stayed the same too – but how they perform and how long they last couldn’t be more different.

They are a couple of seconds per lap slower than last year’s tyres and they wear out more quickly – particularly the softer compounds.

Pirelli have not gone in this direction on a whim. They were asked to do so by the teams who took note of the thrilling race at Montreal last year (rated best of the season by F1 Fanatic readers) which was produced by tyres that wore out quickly.

The days of drivers completing almost an entire race distance on the softest tyres available, as Sebastian Vettel did at Monza last year, are history.

Just how often they may need to make pit stops is hard to judge and has been the subject of considerable speculation. Vettel raised the possibility of four-stop races this year but Pirelli have consistently said their data indicates it will not be as many as that.

Doomsayers have predicted tedious races of drivers tiptoeing around to keep life in their tyres. But the strategic options available to drivers should be greater than that, particularly at tracks with short pit lanes like Valencia.

Nico Rosberg is expecting much more hectic races: “The race strategy is going to be fascinating and the number of pit stops should make it really exciting for the fans.”

Qualifying just got harder

Green Pirelli lettering on full wet tyres

Green Pirelli lettering on full wet tyres

A by-product of the change of tyre supplier could be more unpredictable grids.

Drivers have noted in testing that after doing a hot lap on a set of tyres there’s no chance of getting a similarly quick lap out of them.

So in qualifying they will be under pressure to deliver their best lap on their first effort and will have fewer opportunities to improve it.

The desire to keep as many new tyres for the race as possible will keep them from bolting on a fresh set and trying again.

That will also have an effect on the amount of practice running drivers do. The FIA have already confirmed drivers may be given extra tyres for Friday only for additional running.

Drivers who qualify in the top ten will once again have to start the race on the same tyres they used in qualifying. Last year drivers opted for the softer tyre at every race with few exceptions, because they were so durable. That will be a harder decision to make this year.

Spot the difference

Blue Pirelli lettering on intermediate tyres

Blue Pirelli lettering on intermediate tyres

Many unanswered questions remain. Theories over which drivers can coax the most life out of their tyres will be put to the test. Teams may find trick methods of getting the tyres to last longer, or gamble on unorthodox strategies.

Testing has also shown the tyres produce more ‘marbles’ – lumps of rubber that come off the tyres and sit off the racing line, making it more treacherous. They can also stick to cars disrupting their aerodynamics and impeding cooling, with obvious consequences.

What also remains to be seen is how we’re going to be able to distinguish between the tyres. Pirelli will make an official announcement in Australia but the final pre-season test at Barcelona gave a clue to the direction they’re heading in.

The dry-weather tyres appeared with either silver or yellow lettering, the full wet tyres had green lettering and the intermediates tyres – shown on Pirelli’s Twitter feed but later removed – had blue letters.

Heading into the first races of the season we know Pirelli will supply the hard and soft tyres for the first three rounds.

Beyond that very little is known – and it’s precisely that unpredictability that should make the tyres an exciting part of this year’s championship.

Update: Pirelli have confirmed how their tyres will be coloured.

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53 comments on How new tyres will change F1 in 2011

  1. Cacarella said on 18th March 2011, 13:20

    My concern (as a Canadian) is that they’re going to have serious troubles at Canada now. If the Bridgestone tires
    required 3 or 4 stops how many will they have to do with the Pirellis? I can see the Canadian grand prix becoming ‘too dangerous’ because of the lack of grip and it being dropped. – My Canadian Pessimism kicking in.

    • BasCB said on 18th March 2011, 13:44

      But the track will be certainly more rubbered in by the time the race is on this year compared to last year.

      • Patrickl said on 19th March 2011, 8:28

        That’s exactly one of the major problems with the Pirelli’s. They do NOT rubber the track in.

        They do litter the track with rubber, but that’s something else.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 18th March 2011, 13:45

      I doubt Pirelli would let it come to that. Last year Bridgestone supplied Medium and Super-soft so I guess that Pirelli would supply at least Hard and Soft. Unless of course the teams get their head around the tyres more and they can manage them better.

    • Patrickl said on 19th March 2011, 8:27

      The Canadian race could be done perfectly well on two stops. All the front runners did (although some started on the wrong compound).

      That some teams went for 3 stops was simply a bad strategy call.

      That’s the whole problem with this illusion that fast wearing tyres are going to recreate the same chaotic race over and over again.

      The teams actually do learn from their mistakes. If they had run the same race again they would have all gone for two stops.

  2. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 18th March 2011, 13:37

    Brilliant round-up of all things tyres Keith, ta.

    This article makes me so excited, cannot wait! I hope we sit somewhere nicely between more pit-stops than last year but not enough to de-value over-taking and pit-stop strategy.

  3. vjanik said on 18th March 2011, 15:15

    in a perfect world teams could chose their own tyre supplier and we would have a tyre war between 7 manufacturers. this way you wouldnt need any artificial rules like a gap between tyre compounds available, mandatory pit stops, etc. tyre companies would be working closely with teams on development and making their tyres both faster and more durable, or finding the best compromise between the two.

    but the truth is we do not have the money for that. the whole world is out of money hence so little few sponsors in F1. banning the tobacco sponsorship didnt help either.

    given our situation the Pirelli strategy is not bad though. i cant wait for the season to start. its been too long.

    • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 18th March 2011, 21:00

      At the end of the day the purest form of racing would just result in endless processions broken only by rain or crashes. Give everyone the freedom to do what they want and they’ll all pick the most advantageous and being a clever bunch they’ll work that out quickly.

      The key is to come up with rules that make alternate strategies as good as each other. This new set might just have cracked it, apart from the Top 10 rule – it should be everyone starting on the tyres used in qualifying and no mandatory switch between compounds, because there is already an incentive to use the softer/quicker one with qualifying. Why should those who sacrifice grid position for strategy have to use the rubbish set as well? Anyone on a newer set is faster, so they will slowly creep up to them and overcome the pit-stop deficit, by forcing them to use the softer tyre at some point in the race and thus equalise the number of pitstops it in the end favours everyone just doing the same thing.

      • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 18th March 2011, 21:22

        Sorry, that is a mess. Let me explain better.

        Vettel leads Q2 by 0.2 seconds from Alonso. Assume that stays constant in Q3. So Alonso decides to do Q3 on the hard tyre instead, which leaves him qualifying 6th instead of 2nd.

        Vettel sprints off at the start along with the other 4 guys. They then pit and Alonso is 1st, say by 25 seconds (30 seconds for the stop minus a 5-second lead coming in the start). But now they have fresher rubber and begin to close the gap. Alonso then pits, say only 22 seconds ahead now and is behind them again (by 8 seconds), but in turn starts to make the gap up. A little later, Vettel has to pit, let’s say 5 seconds ahead of Alonso, as the performance difference won’t be as great, making him 25 seconds behind Alonso when he comes out. But here’s the sticking point: Alonso has to pit again for his soft tyres. A combination of Vettel’s fresher rubber and Alonso’s pit stop puts Seb back at the front (with a lead of at 5+ seconds). So although Alonso has super-fast tyres and super-low fuel, he’s too far behind and Vettel wins. Whereas if Alonso didn’t have to stop he could try and out-run Vettel to the finish, closing all the time on better tyres as Alonso’s grip falls off a cliff.

        I find it ironic this morning I was worrying that the softs wouldn’t give enough of an advantage and am now arguing it will always be better to start on them no matter what!

        • Icthyes (@icthyes) said on 18th March 2011, 21:25

          Of course, this is a 2-stop race starting on softs. If it’s a 3-stop race starting on softs but a 2-stop race if you start on the hards, then it might give an advantage to qualifying on the hards. So perhaps I am being a bit pessimistic here, since I doubt we will see just 2 stops per race or if we do, it will be in serious tyre-save mode for those who started on the softs.

  4. JediJames said on 18th March 2011, 16:32

    Hi Keith, Are you going to run the 20 questions article again?
    Thanks and great site btw.

  5. semirossi said on 18th March 2011, 16:35

    The only thing we will miss now is a new rule saying the driver has to manually change the tires himself without help from reammembers in the pit. That would make F1 even more a sport.

  6. Guelph (@guelph) said on 19th March 2011, 1:06

    If we really do see a noticeable change between the tire compounds, I’d love to see next year’s tire rules as follows:

    1 – At the beginning of the season, cars are allotted 2 sets of each compound for each race on the calendar. (So on a 20 race calendar, 40 sets of each compound)

    2 – Teams may bring any combination of 8 new sets of tires to each race weekend.

    3 – Up to 4 sets of each wet compound will be available per car per weekend if needed.

    The end.

    Imagine the possibilities as you could have a nearly endless combination of strategies between the teams.

  7. Patrickl said on 19th March 2011, 8:19

    Pirelli have not gone in this direction on a whim. They were asked to do so by the teams who took note of the thrilling race at Montreal last year (rated best of the season by F1 Fanatic readers) which was produced by tyres that wore out quickly

    That’s simply not true. Pirelli presented this idea themselves. BEFORE they got the contract.

    Pirelli even ridiculed Michelin for their proposal. Michelin wanted to make longer lasting tyres, give the teams less of them and thus save money. To which Pirelli commented that this would obviously be bad for the “show”.

    At best you might ague that Pirelli might have gotten picked by FIA and FOTA because of this, but it’s still their own idea.

    I understand that the backlash of this idea is now dawning on them so they made FIA/FOTA defend them in public (which I’m pretty sure is in the contract as well).

    FOTA and FIA might have picked Pirelli because of their idea to have more pitstops, but they never wanted Pirelli to make the tyres degrade at such an insane rate.

    The drivers already indicated that it make it impossible for real overtaking to take place and losing 3 to 5 seconds of laptime on a stint is simply ridiculous.

    If the tyres themselves don’t hinder this, the amount of rubber flying off these poorly constructed tyres surely will.

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