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.

2011 F1 season


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53 comments on How new tyres will change F1 in 2011

  1. 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.

  2. 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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