The Singapore GP from a tyre point of view

By on Thursday, September 22, 2011

Photo credit: Pirelli & C. S.p.A.

Singapore is the first and only night race on the Formula One calendar, using a demanding and technical street circuit that calls for Pirelli’s soft and supersoft tyres. This weekend, Sebastian Vettel has the chance to become Pirelli’s first Formula One drivers’ champion since Juan Manuel Fangio in 1957. Currently Vettel has a 112-point advantage over his closest rival: if he can extend that margin to 125 points or more by the end of the race, then he cannot be caught in the overall championship standings.

Singapore is also one of the races that lasts longest all year: the 61 laps over the 5.073-kilometre circuit is expected to take the grand prix right up to the maximum two-hour time limit. Although Singapore is well known for its high levels of humidity, it has not yet rained during the actual grand prix, which was inaugurated in 2008. Preliminary forecasts suggest a high probability of rain during this weekend though, meaning that Pirelli’s P Zero Orange rain tyres and P Zero Blue intermediates could also be called into action.

The circuit is unchanged compared to last year, apart from some small modifications to the kerbing at Turn Two. Here are some of the most challenging parts of the track from a tyre’s perspective.

The track:

Memorial corner comes after the longest straight of the lap. The maximum speed reached on the straight is about 300kph, with the cars generating extremely high levels of downforce that pushes onto the tyres. The braking area covers 104 metres, with a 4G deceleration, while the bumpy surface destabilises the car. The front tyres have the equivalent of 600 kilogrammes loading them, guaranteeing grip, a sharp turn-in, and optimal precision throughout the corner.

Another famous corner is Singapore Sling. In order to cut the corner the drivers use the kerbs. The tyres hit the kerbing at 130kph, filtering and reducing the vertical movements of the car and helping the suspension to absorb the shock.

There is a short straight with speeds of 250kph, followed by the final two corners, which have an equal radius. On entry to the final corner, the front-right tyre has to guarantee the best precision possible in order to maintain the ideal trajectory. In the middle of that corner the drivers open up the throttle and unleash full power, with the right-rear tyre having the job of putting all that power down onto the track. With all the corners that characterise the Marina Bay circuit, one of the biggest causes of tyre wear is wheelspin. The softer compounds in the P Zero range are the most efficient in terms of gaining traction, which is another important reason why they are nominated for Singapore.

Rain tyres in the dark:

If it rains when the cars are on track this weekend, it will actually not be the first time that a Formula One tyre has run at night and in the wet. During its pre-season testing campaign, Pirelli tested for two days with Pedro de la Rosa and the Toyota TF109 at the Abu Dhabi circuit in January, on an artificially-dampened track. In the process, history was created – as this was the first time in grand prix history that a Formula One car had run in the dark with ‘rain’.

It was a spectacular show, but with a very serious purpose. Rain is not always associated with cool conditions, so the Abu Dhabi test allowed Pirelli to assess the performance of the P Zero tyres over nearly 400 kilometres within a temperature range of 20-25 degrees centigrade: similar to the conditions that we will see in Singapore this weekend.

De la Rosa was also able to report back on how it felt to drive in wet conditions at night from a driver’s perspective. Although he reported some reflection of the light in the standing water, he added that visibility was not an issue and that it was an enjoyable – and so far unique – experience.

As Pirelli’s motorsport director Paul Hembery explains: “Theoretically, there’s absolutely no difference between running our wet tyres at night than there is during the day. The biggest difference is temperature, but the Abu Dhabi test enabled us to gather very useful data about how the wet tyres behaved in unusually warm conditions. We were very pleased with the results of that test, so we know that if it’s necessary this weekend, we can run the wet tyres in the dark with complete confidence.”

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