Could Pirelli go too far?

By on Sunday, February 13, 2011

The 2011 season sees a number of new changes in Formula One, most notably the switch from Bridgestone tyres to Pirelli rubber.

Pirelli has made noises about making the tyre wear out faster than the Bridgestone tyres did in order to improve the racing, which on occasion in 2010 was dull. One stop races were commonplace – in fact, in almost all events but Canada – and there were a few occasions when drivers managed to complete many more laps than they should have done. Jenson Button lasted 50 laps in Australia on soft tyres, whilst Sebastian Vettel completed 52 laps on soft tyres in Monza (just a lap short of an entire race distance). Soft tyres, in theory, should last no more than few laps so to many fans that was a disappointment.

So Pirelli has promised that two stop races will become common, with tyre wear high and unpredictable. But will that actually help the racing?

Well, the racing was good in Canada – possibly the best dry race of the season – as the tyres fell to pieces in the opening laps before the track rubbered in. On other occasions, a bit more sliding action could have been warranted to liven the race up a bit.

But what if Pirelli go too far? A few of the drivers in the Jerez test have commented that the degredation is so high, that it may in fact have a negative effect on the racing. F1 rookie Paul di Resta says “We were doing some aero passes earlier and when you go off-line the pick-up is incredible. And when you try to drive again the tyres don’t seem to clean up. This track, after three days, should be in good shape. It’s not too much of an issue when you’re on-line but overtaking could get a bit difficult. If you dive down the inside and there’s marbles everywhere it’s going to be difficult to stop.”

And that’s a very good point. The last time the marbles were really bad was in Canada in 2006. There were so many marbles that getting off line was treacherous and overtaking was nigh on impossible. There is the moveable rear wing and KERS to help, but that will help in a straight line which is not necessarily the spectacular overtaking moves that so many fans demand.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Pirelli tyres will vary with their wear from race to race. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is the track most likely to cause Pirelli nightmares with its unpredictable surface, battered by the cold winter and then melted by hot summers. Other circuits may not find the wear so bad, but enough to cause a few headaches.

The first GP2 Asia race in Abu Dhabi was the first indication of how the tyres might perform. The leading drivers pitted after about 10 laps. They only changed the rears – thanks to the limitation of the number of mechanics – and their pace improved slightly. Although leader Jules Bianchi picked up the pace at the end, hammering in a few very quick laps. Other cars managed to up the pace, despite about 25 laps of running on the same set of tyres. Whilst a GP2 car will not wear its tyres out as much as an F1 machine would, it might give a few of the F1 teams (such as Team Lotus with their Air Asia squad) some valuable data.

So who will be best suited to the new Pirelli tyres? Well, Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa will hope for some improvements after their nightmares in 2010 whilst all the fingers point to Jenson Button when it comes to keeping tyres intact. However, who won the one race in 2010 when the tyres fell apart? Lewis Hamilton. Does that dispel the myth of Button the smooth driver and Lewis the tyre eater? Possibly.

Whatever happens, the early races in particular will be very intriguing.

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