Pirelli

Haas and Renault’s clever Canadian tyre choice

Monaco marked the first appearance of the purple marked ultrasoft Pirelli tyre at a race weekend. Introduced at the start of this season and initially billed as a qualifying tyre, the compound seems decidedly similar to a supersoft in both pace and longevity. An assertion supported by Haas and Renault’s decision to take just soft and ultrasoft tyres to the Canadian Grand Prix, avoiding the supersoft completely.

It could be a rather inspired call.

Canadian Grand Prix Tyre Selection

Image Credit: Pirelli

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Tyre degradation: positive or negative?

As F1 fans across the globe continue to debate what is required to rejuvenate the sport, Top Gear posted the results of a number of polls in a recent article, which indicated which way fans are leaning in regards to a number of key topics.

In a collection of results which largely portrayed the lack of consensus among F1’s audience, it was rather surprising to see that 75% of the sample believed that Pirelli had ventured down a slippery slope with their tyre philosophy. High degradation has seemingly been a concept that many fans have taken issue with.

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Image Credit: Joseph Brent (via Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0]

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The Value of Two and Three Stop Races

As Pirelli and Michelin prepare to do battle to become F1’s tyre supplier for 2017 and beyond, after submitting their respective tender’s, FIA President Jean Todt has acknowledged that two and three stop races, promoting dynamic strategy and adding an element of unpredictability to races, are essential as F1 looks to regain the element of blockbuster entertainment.

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Silverstone Test: Day Two

The second and final day of the in-season test at Silverstone has drawn to a close and today’s running was even more intriguing than yesterday’s. Packed schedules across the board meant that it was a busy day up and down the paddock, and Pirelli hit the headlines for more positive reasons this time around at Silverstone, with the manufacturer trialling 18-inch tyres on the Lotus E22, driven by Charles Pic. Meanwhile, Jules Bianchi made an impression, once again, in the Ferrari, as the Frenchman filled in for the injured Kimi Raikkonen. Bianchi finished top of the timesheet, while setting very representative times.

Pirelli Debut’s 18-Inch Tyres

In this modern formula which is tying to develop technologies which are relevant to the road car industry, tyres appear to be the next port of call for an update. Pirelli brought prototype 18-inch tyres to today’s test, with Charles Pic in the Lotus, completing 13 laps with these attached. “We weren’t looking for performance,” Paul Hembery said, “the priority was to show people what a Formula One car would look like with a change of rim.” Unlike many other recent regulation proposals, this particular development seems to have received a reasonably warm reception among the public – I for one agree with the majority in regards to this.
The wheels on Charles Pic’s Lotus were hardly an eye-sore, but neither did they look magnificent. However, this is a positive thing. Anteater noses, for instance, received bad press due to how they negatively impacted on a car’s aesthetics, (as did step noses). While I’m not suggesting that this new tyre is attractive, it is aesthetically neutral. Meanwhile, it makes total sense from a business perspective. Tyre manufacturers are ultimately involved in Formula One, (and any other motorsport), in order to boost and expand their markets. They do not spend millions on a motorsport programme just to have some fun over the weekend – It is a form of marketing, and an expensive one at that. To get their moneys-worth, Pirelli want to have tyres in Formula One which are as representative as possible to their road car programmes. Who knows; such a development could restore a tyre war in the sport, which could spice up competition. Either way, Pirelli and the FIA seem to be heading in the right direction. It looks likely that 18-inch tyres will not be a permanent fixture until 2017, but after today, a change by this date looks likely.

Bianchi Fastest

He may be a fill-in, but Jules Bianchi did his best experienced driver impression once again today. The Frenchman took over duties in place of the injured Kimi Raikkonen and topped the timesheet, while completing an excellent programme of 89 laps. I have been incredibly impressed with Jules Bianchi each and every time he has jumped into the Ferrari, and today was perhaps the most sublime of them all. Jules had to complete a full programme with Marussia yesterday, before hopping into the F14 T today. The challenge of switching from one car to another is not a feat to be underestimated and Jules has been doing it throughout his career, switching from a Force India to a Ferrari during numerous testing weeks throughout 2012 and 2013. The term, old head on young shoulders has rarely applied more. 
Meanwhile, a number of even less experienced names took to the circuit today in search of some very valuable experience. Most notably, Julian Leal earned his very first taste of Formula One as Caterham continued to field their youngsters, following Will Stevens’ run yesterday. Leal, who drives for Carlin in GP2, has enjoyed an excellent 2014 campaign so far, exceeding expectations and currently sitting P6 in the championship after seven points finishes from ten races. The mileage that Leal managed today was indeed enough to qualify for his FIA superlicence, meaning that we will probably be seeing a lot more of the 24-year-old in the future. 

How The Mighty Fall…

…ok, maybe not, but Lewis Hamilton’s Wednesday was certainly not as good as his Sunday. After completing numerous slow-speed aerodynamic evaluation runs in the morning, Lewis suffered a spin at Stowe, bringing the session to a halt. Then, an engine change meant that Mercedes’ running was limited to just 47 laps. By his own admission, Hamilton’s day “wasn’t great”. However, the day was far from a total write-off and with Nico Rosberg’s mileage yesterday, in a day which he described as “a good day”, Mercedes won’t be too disappointed with their week.
Meanwhile, Red Bull suffered a similar issue with Sebastian Vettel at the helm. A change to the power unit did limit mileage to an extent, but the eventual 79 laps was far from a modest total. Some of this mileage was also very valuable for Pirelli, as the team tested the 2015 prototypes.

Overall, it seems that most teams have managed to gain at least one strong day of testing. Perhaps more importantly, the young talents and stars of the future have been given their chance to get ore experience behind the wheel of the cars and considering the performances of the likes of Daniil Kvyat and Kevin Magnussen this year, the talent pool certainly has more to give.

Day Two Timesheet
1 Jules Bianchi Ferrari 1:35.262 89 laps
2 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:35.544 55 laps
3 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:35.593 91 laps
4 Giedo van der Garde Sauber 1:36.327 84 laps
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:36.680 47 laps
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:37.193 40 laps
7 Max Chilton Marussia 1:37.359 77 laps
8 Dani Juncadella Force India 1:37.708 52 laps
9 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:39.811 76 laps
10 Charles Pic Lotus 1:41.906 39 laps
11 Julian Leal Caterham 1:42.635 51 laps.

Busy Bahrain Test For Pirelli

With all of the technical regulation changes stealing the headlines this winter, Pirelli have enjoyed a quiet Christmas, as the media storm of last summer is now no more than a memory. However, the changes to the tyre compounds for this season cannot be underestimated despite the admittedly more demanding aerodynamic and powertrain changes, and Paul Hembery expects this final test to place more intense pressure on the new P-Zero tyres, as teams look to find performance in their 2014 challengers.

Paul Hembery could be in for a busy four days in Bahrain

Qualifying Simulation Imminent…

Its that crucial stage of pre-season, where the majority of teams have assured reliability, solved the teething problems and are now ready to turn up the revs and hit the track in anger for the first time. While Mercedes had evidently stretched the W05 last week, the coming days will see the other teams examine their packages and run qualifying simulations. Aside from the race runs, Pirelli’s latest incarnation of F1 rubber has not been unduly challenged – the imminent qualifying runs will put the tyres through their paces.
This, coupled with the set-up work, will allow Pirelli to gauge whether their 2014 rubber will be successful. “We saw more work on tyres at the recent Bahrain test than there had been at the very first test in Jerez, and with teams likely to be attempting more qualifying and race simulations this week in preparation for the opening Grand Prix, we would expect this upward curve of tyre work to continue over the final four days in Bahrain,” Hembery is quoted as saying on crash.net. It is understandable if Hembery and company are a touch anxious heading into their most testing time so far in 2014. Following a controversial season for the manufacturer last year, where their F1 contract was challenged as a result of the safety concerns after the disastrous British Grand Prix. Mistakes were made, but lessons were learnt and it is unlikely that similar issues will be experienced this season – especially considering that this seasons compounds are markedly harder across the board.

Tyres Will Impact Performance

Being harder, the raw lap time yielded by the tyres will be reduced. The 2014 compounds could also impact on the number of stops required during a race distance, with Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas and Jenson Button all finding the tyres far more comfortable across a race distance as oppose to last seasons rubbery tribulations. Consequently, stint duration will probably be lengthened this season, which could make race strategy less poignant. This has a number of ramifications. It could mean that teams are less inclined to restrict running in Q3, with the potential gains on Sunday reduced as a result of less critical tyre life. Also, tyres that are more durable are less susceptible to fracturing on the surface and at the belt. Both of these are of course positive aspects of the harder compound tyres, and I for one, believe that Pirelli have got their priorities right this year. Creating safer tyres at the expense of tactic engaging degradation is an easy decision to make, from a business perspective as well as a sporting one. The regulations will make the on track action exciting regardless of whether tyres are on the limit of grip or otherwise. It will be interesting to see how hard the new tyres are and their impacts across a competitive race distance. We will get a sense of what is to come over the next few days, but we will not know the true characteristics of the rubber until as late as Malaysia, when they are likely to be tested thermally for the first time.

With the third and final pre-season test kicking off in Bahrain tomorrow, you can expect the usual coverage on the blog, with an analysis of the day’s events being posted at 7pm every night. This will be supplemented with my live opinions of the unfolding events on Twitter, whenever I can access my account. Its sure to be an exciting four days as teams make their final preparations before Melbourne.    

Hungarian Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

Three weeks without F1 is always a painful experience however, as the paddock arrives in Hungary anticipation for the latest installment of the 2013 season reaches a crescendo. Following the YDT at Silverstone, the Pirelli tyre concerns seem to have abated yet now attention turns to mastering and understanding the new compounds. In terms of the complex battles within both championships, can anyone catch Sebastian Vettel? Can McLaren overturn the deficit to Force India? Can Lotus maintain momentum following their impressive double podium in Germany?

Flashback 12 months and Hungary provided one of my favorite races of an action packed 2012 season. Lewis Hamilton managed to consolidate his pole position, leading throughout the race, yet faced considerable pressure from the Lotus’ behind as the high track temperatures suited the E20. The Enstone team faced a hair raising moment after the second round of stops, as Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean came perilously close to contact into turn one.
Raikkonen fiercely hunted down Hamilton yet eventually ran out of laps to reel in the McLaren driver who finished just one second ahead of the Finn. Further back, Sebastian Vettel completed a disappointing race, finishing in P4. The German was squeezed out be Grosjean at the start and dropped behind Jenson Button. Vettel remained trapped under Button’s rear wing for the entire first stint, which left him with considerable amounts of work to do. Sebastian is still yet to win at the Hungaroring and will hope to change that this weekend.

Massa Hoping For Hot Hungary

Felipe Massa is currently under the spotlight once again following a serious downturn in form which has seen the Brazilian score just 12 points from the last four races. In this critical phase of Ferrari’s season, they are somewhat reliant on Felipe’s role within the team, in order to claw back the deficit to Mercedes and support Fernando Alonso in his title challenge. While the Hungaroring should suit the RB9’s characteristics, Felipe is optimistic that the sweltering temperatures which are currently predicted for the weekend will bring Ferrari into contention.
“We are trying everything we can to improve the car and make the car better,” he said earlier this week. “Even if Hungary is normally a good track for Red Bull, I hope we can be competitive there. It should be hotter; we didn’t have so many hot races this year and I think it’s important to get the hot conditions as they’re always a big help for our car. So I hope we can be competitive there.”
Ferrari’s frighteningly fast start to the season struck fear into Red Bull, as the prancing horse was menacing on both Saturday and Sunday. However, the team have speculated that a part which was fitted to the car in Monaco has had a negative effect on their overall performance. The issue at hand is trying to identify which of the numerous upgrades are having this detrimental effect.
The recent drop in pace has seen Mercedes rise above Ferrari in the constructors standings, yet Felipe Massa is confident that the team can gain ground on the German outfit this weekend, predicting that they will suffer similarly high degradation levels to that of the German Grand Prix. Asked if Mercedes could also be a big threat this weekend, the Brazilian replied: “In the qualifying, yes. In the race maybe a bit less. You always look at Red Bull as the more complete car talking about qualifying and talking about the race. Mercedes is normally the quickest car in the qualifying and they normally struggle a little bit more in the race. Maybe even now that we cannot swap tyres anymore they struggle even more.”

Practice Mileage Is Critical For Mercedes

Following their exclusion from the YDT, Mercedes are heading into this weekend on the back foot, after not being able to complete any mileage on the latest compounds which Pirelli have built. Consequently, the team have admitted that the three practice sessions are going to be crucial and have the capabilities of making or breaking their weekend. 
Toto Wolff voiced the team’s concerns yesterday. “First, we will need to do extra homework on Friday to understand how the new tyres work with our car,” he said. “Then we will have to get to grips with the high temperatures, a demanding circuit and the soft and medium compound Pirelli tyres. During the race at the Nurburgring, we were overheating the tyres and we want to minimise the chance of suffering a repeat problem in Hungary, where the track temperatures will also be high.”
It has been a busy few weeks for Mercedes, despite their testing embargo as the team have worked to bring updates to the W04 in order to consolidate their current standing in the constructors. “The team has worked thoroughly since Germany to improve the situation and we will find out how the new tyres will affect that situation, too,” he continued. “Our motivation is high to score a good result that we can take into the summer break but we know there is plenty of good work needed to achieve that.” 
This weekend is likely to be a damage limitation affair for Mercedes. It seems that everything is conspiring against them at the moment. The circuit characteristics of the Hungaroring do not suit the W04, while the high degradation is only amplified by the exceedingly hot track temperatures, which are expected to top 50 degrees. A typically strong qualifying performance is crucial to Mercedes this weekend, if they are to salvage anything come Sunday.

FIA Introduce Two DRS Zones

In what appears to be a bid to increase overtaking, the FIA have introduced a second DRS zone for this weekend’s race, despite the lack of long straights at the tight Hungaroring circuit. There will once again be only a single detection point positioned at Turn 13 with the first activation point after Turn 14, which is just before the start-finish straight. However, this year drivers will also be able to activate DRS at the exit of Turn 1, which should increase their chances of passing in the notoriously difficult overtaking area in Turn 2. Hopefully this does not have the negative effect of making overtaking too easy. On the other hand, it may prevent the possibility of a train forming behind the Mercedes duo early on.

Final Thoughts

While it may not promote on track action, the Hungarian Grand Prix is a favorite of mine. The high speed nature of the circuit, coupled with the packed grandstands simply adds to the spectacle. This years race promises to be a classic, with several unknown factors which could decide the outcome. 
The sizzling temperatures, (with a scorching 38 degrees ambient temperature predicted for Sunday), Lotus and Ferrari should become Red Bull’s biggest challengers. However, considering Ferrari’s lackluster pace recently, the top three from Germany may well become the main protagonists in the battle for P1. Throw Mark Webber into the mix and a classic Grand Prix is in the script. 
Who would dare bet against Mercedes for the Qualifying glory. Hamilton’s record around the Hungaroring is impressive to say the least, as the Brit has managed to clock three victories in six appearances. Inevitably, he has to head into qualifying as favorite to snatch pole position, yet Nico Rosberg is never far behind. With 11 victories in total, McLaren are the most successful constructor when it comes to Hungarian Grand Prix triumphs, yet even 2006 winner Jenson Button will admit that a 12th success in 2013 is unlikely for the team.
Keep track of all the weekend’s events, including the action from Friday, Saturday and the all important race on Sunday. After each and every session, I will upload in-depth analysis of the events giving you my personal take on the action. Personally, I cannot wait for FP1 tomorrow morning and  for the weekend to begin!    

Grosjean Wanted YDT Opportunity

Following the intensive restrictions Pirelli placed upon the race drivers at last weeks Young Drivers Test, the majority of teams opted to allow their young stars all important track time. Lotus were one of these teams, with Nicolas Prost running two of the three test days, with GP2 reigning champion Davide Valsecchi putting the car through its paces on Thursday. Neither Kimi Raikkonen or Romain Grosjean received track time; A decision which has left the latter disgruntled.

The use of race drivers at the test has been a topic which has divided the paddock. Once the YDT had been transformed in part, into a Pirelli tyre test, it was announced that teams were permitted to complete a full day of testing with their usual race drivers behind the wheel. While teams like Red Bull and Ferrari relished the opportunity, others including Lotus and McLaren declined the offer.
Lotus’ lack of race drivers at the test was particularly poignant, considering that initial schedules had Kimi Raikkonen set to test the E21 throughout Friday. However, a late change of heart prompted a Wednesday morning announcement from Alan Permane; Kimi would not run and would be replaced by Nicolas Prost, allowing the Frenchman to build upon his work completed during the first day of the test. Meanwhile, Romain was never factored into Lotus’ YDT plans.
When asked whether he was frustrated by the decision, Grosjean said: “As a driver, you always want to be in the car getting as much experience as possible; especially when there’s something new like different tyres. The tyres we used at the Nürburgring suited us pretty well, so let’s hope the latest version will also suit us at the Hungaroring.”
Grosjean explains a well-reasoned argument. While the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa have explored Pirelli’s prototypes, Lotus have not had the luxury. This fact alone will surly place the Enstone team on the back foot, while diminishing the disadvantage faced by Mercedes as a result of their test embargo. Irrespective of the Pirelli and FIA restriction on race drivers, the benefits are still worthy of recognition. In a sport which is decided by fractions of a second, any time behind the wheel is valuable time.