What role can tyres play at the Australian Grand Prix?
Tyres, tyres, tyres – they certainly caused a headache for teams and drivers alike in 2012. Pirelli, F1′s official tyre supplier, were asked to make tyres which degrade quickly to ”improve the show”. This was based on the assumption that higher tyre degradation would lead to more pit stops, and thus, more exciting races. Pirelli were able to achieve success in this respect; however, teams found it very hard to understand these tyres. Moreover, these tyres showed a sudden and massive decline in performance. For instance, Raikkonen slipped from 2nd to 14th within a few laps during the latter part of the Chinese Grand Prix. But 2012 is over and the question is whether tyres will play the same role in Formula 1 in 2013 as they did in 2012.
For 2013, Pirelli have made some major changes to their tyres. “All the constructions and compounds are new – in fact, these are probably some of the biggest changes that we’ve introduced since entering Formula One in 2011″, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery told Rach F1 in an exclusive interview.
This year’s tyres will degrade more quickly. However, the degradation will be even throughout the tyre. Also, tyres are much softer than last year – last year’s medium tyre is effectively this year’s harder tyre. Further, Pirelli will be more aggressive in their approach of choosing the two tyre compound for each Grand Prix after a rather conservative approach led to one-stop races in the second half of 2012.
However, there are a number of changes that will make life easier for the teams. The first major change is in the working temperature of the tyres. The working temperature is the temperature range in which tyres perform optimally and degrade at a normal rate. Pirelli have widened this working temperature range so that tyres perform at their best. This will help teams counter high degradation problems, because teams simply weren’t able to get tyres in their optimal working temperature. Further, the new tyres will get warmed up more quickly, and this will benefit the teams after a Safety Car period, and otherwise during qualifying and race.
How these changes will shape the Australian Grand Prix?
Pirelli is bringing super-soft and medium tyres this week in Melbourne. These two tyres have a lower working temperature – super-softs work at their best between 85C to 110C while the mediums between 90C and 115C. This is the right choice, because temperature is expected to fall to around 20C during race day.
The Albert Park circuit currently has the longest pit lane among the 19 races, and that means teams will have to make more gains on tracks if they are to go with an aggressive strategy. Thus, most teams will do between two and three stops. Like last year, teams who are able to manage their tyres better will benefit by making less stops. Lotus showed in testing that they are still easy on tyres; however, such a behavior is not yet seen in the Sauber C32.
Another thing which may affect frequency of pit stops is the Safety Car. There have been four Safety Cars in the last five years, and another one this time will help teams make one less stop. Also, a driver may benefit from the timing of the Safety Car, like Vettel did in 2012 when he pitted just after the Safety Car to leapfrog Lewis Hamilton for second place.
With Mercedes and Lotus both looking strong and closer to the top 3, it will be harder for midfielders to make it into Q3 in qualifying. That will encourage teams to be either too aggressive or do one less stop than others to make their way into the top 10. Last year in Australia, Sergio Perez moved from 22nd place on the grid to 8th by the chequered flag. Expect similar strategies from midfielders, particularly Sauber, this weekend and throughout the rest of the season.
So, while it is clear that tyres will play an important part in shaping the Australian Grand Prix and the rest of the season, they won’t cause that much of a headache for the teams. The learning curve of the new tyres is rather gradual, and once teams have a full understanding of these tyres, they will be able to exploit them.
Do you think tyres will play the same role as they did in 2012? Or will big improvements on the technical side, like passive DRS and Coanda exhaust, shape the field? Let us know through the comments section below.