When four drivers suffered sudden tyre failures during the British Grand Prix, and several of their rivals narrowly escaped similar dramas, Formula One had to react. Pirelli’s tyres, already under scrutiny following other failures early in the season and criticised by some who felt they were too fragile, were always going to be a focus of attention.
But from the moment the decision was made to revise the tyre compounds mid-season, the competitive order was inevitably going to be changed. How a car uses tyres is naturally one of the most fundamental determinants of performance, because the rubber is where it makes contact with the ground.
Of course it’s impossible to say definitively how much lap time teams have gained or lost from the tyre changes and how much of it is down to car development and set-up changes. But with most teams scaling back their 2013 programmes to focus on 2014, the alterations to the tyres will have had a measurable effect.
Which teams have gained and lost the most since the change? Here’s what the data has to say.
Who’s gained – and lost – the most
The table below shows how far away each team was from the fastest time set at each race weekend so far (as a %) during the time the original 2013 tyres were used (Australia to Britain) and since the revised tyres appeared (Germany to Singapore) and the difference between the two:
|Until Britain||Since Germany||Change|
Had Nico Hulkenberg not had a problem with his DRS during qualifying in Singapore it’s likely they’d have had both cars in Q3 for the first time this year. Hulkenberg gave the team its best performance of the year so far in Italy, qualifying third and finishing fifth.
The team credit some of their recent gains to aerodynamic improvements with the troubled C32. They had already started to see the fruits of their labour at Silverstone. But the problems they were having with rear tyre degradation in particular seem to have been eased by the new tyres.
After a difficult 2012 Toro Rosso made many changes to their technical department behind the scenes. They seemed to spend the opening races of the season getting to grips with their STR8 but made a big step forward with it around the time of the Canadian Grand Prix.
Since then Daniel Ricciardo has only been out of Q3 once. But their race pace has not always been as good, indicating they are not yet getting as much out of the tyres over a race stint as they can over a single lap.
With a fourth consecutive constructors’ championship in sight and Sebastian Vettel on the verge of a fourth drivers’ title this team has a greater incentive than the rest to keep pushing on its 2013 development programme as long as possible.
They’ve been uncharacteristically strong in low-downforce trim this year, winning in Belgium and Italy, both of which took place after the tyres were changed. But as the graph below shows since then they’ve either had the quickest car over a single lap or been little more than a tenth or two away.
Early in the season Red Bull were the strongest critics of the current Pirelli tyres, questioning their safety and claiming they inhibited them from using the maximum performance of the RB9. At the time Pirelli stressed their desire to avoid making changes which might be seen as favouring Red Bull.
The team which appear to have lost the most performance because of the new tyres is Marussia. They began the season ahead of Caterham but slipped behind as their rivals began to make progress with the CT01.
Since the new tyres came in the gap has opened up despite Caterham themselves falling further away from the pace. Marussia are still ahead in the championship but it remains to be seen how long that will persist as Caterham continue to out-pace them.
The most visible effect of the new tyres in terms of the championship has been at Force India. They scored 59 points on the original tyres and have added just three in the five races since they were changed.
On the softer compounds Force India were often able to make one pit stop fewer than their rivals, giving them a vital strategic edge. That is no longer the case. Making matters worse, their close rivals McLaren, Sauber and Toro Rosso have all gained from the change in tyre compounds.
“There?óÔé¼Ôäós no doubt that the tyre change had an impact on things,” said Paul di Resta ahead of last week’s race. “Plus, a lot of the teams have caught up with us for whatever reason, whether it?óÔé¼Ôäós updates or the nature of the tracks. All we can do is keep working away to try and find some more performance.”
Early in the season Mercedes were often the team to beat in qualifying but tended to over-tax their tyres in the races, dropping back. The more conservative tyres might therefore have been expected to play into their hands.
It hasn’t quite worked out that way. Their inability to run the revised tyres at the Young Drivers’ Test due to their ban won’t have helped matters.
However their average performance figure has been dragged down somewhat by a poor performance on Saturday at Monza. Nico Rosberg was hampered by missing final practice due to technical problems, while Lewis Hamilton had a scrappy Q2 and ended up going out after being held up by Adrian Sutil.
Rosberg nearly pipped Vettel to pole position in unusual circumstances in Singapore and the performance gap between the two in race was exaggerated by the Mercedes driver’s mid-race handling problems. The balance of the season may not yet be as one-sided as Singapore suggested it would, though Mercedes are likely to be full steam ahead on their 2014 programme by now.
2013 car performance chart
This interactive chart shows how far off the pace each car has been at every race so far this year (as a %):
How Pirelli’s tyres and tyre selection policy has changed
From the German Grand Prix Pirelli began introducing revised tyres with Kevlar belts instead of steel. Since the Hungarian Grand Prix the tyres have been similar to the 2012 constructions, though retaining the softer 2013 compounds.
Pirelli’s tyre selections for each race have also become more conservative. At the beginning of the year, despite the softer 2013 compounds, Pirelli used the same tyre selections for some races and in Australia even opted for a softer combination than had been seen in 2013.
This quickly changed and a harder mix was chosen for Bahrain, Spain, Canada, Singapore, Korea and Japan. A harder selection was also planned for Hungary but once Pirelli decided to make tyres more conservative it reverted to the same combination used last year.
The forthcoming Indian Grand Prix will be the first time since Australia that a softer tyre mix has been chosen.
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Images ?é?® Sauber, Red Bull/Getty, Force India, Daimler/Hoch Zwei, Caterham/LAT