The Pirelli tyres may just be one of the new rule changes for the 2011 Formula One season but they certainly seem to be the change that will have the most profound effect. Testing has shown the new rubber to be vastly different from last year’s Bridgestone tyres, which had the ability to last the whole race. The new Pirelli tyres degrade much faster and have met ample criticism from drivers. This has led many to ask has Pirelli taken its brief too far and made racing almost impossible without multiple pit stops?
It is worth noting that Pirelli didn’t just decide to make tyres that degraded quicker, they were asked to do so by the teams in Formula One in an attempt to make racing more exciting in light of the thrilling Montreal race of 2010, which saw drivers having to make multiple pit-stops because of the high tyre degradation. Despite asking Pirelli to make the tyres degrade faster teams now feel that they will have to make numerous pit stops, even as many as four in one race compared to the one stop strategies of 2010.
However the biggest problem facing the teams is how the tyres will work in qualifying. Testing has shown that drivers can only get one flying lap on a set of tyres; this heightens the pressure on the drivers who will probably have just one lap to get it right. It really is all or nothing. But at the same time if the drivers don’t conserve their tyres in qualifying one and two they may find themselves at the back of the top ten in qualifying three. This leaves the teams with a difficult decision to make which is complicated by the fact that drivers in the top ten start on the tyres they qualified on and that the teams will want to save as many tyres for the race as possible considering their unpredictability. All of these combined factors could see the starting grid for each grand prix being unpredictable and makes it possible for some of the backmarker teams to qualify well.
Many believe that the rate of tyre degradation in the race will be down to the driver, himself. If the driver can make his tyres last one more lap than the person in front or behind them they have an advantage. However teams may use a variety of different methods to make their tyres last longer, even gambling on unconventional strategies.
Testing has shown that many drivers partaking in race simulation had to make multiple pit stops as their tyres began to wear however this is not the only problem highlighted in testing. The Pirelli tyres produce ‘marbles’ which are pieces of rubber that come off the tyres and litter the racing line making it more hazardous. The marbles can also stick to the cars potentially disrupting the aerodynamics and preventing the cooling of the cars electronics.
In qualifying in Australia the tyres didn’t appear to raise any problems except for the teams, notably Toro Rosso, who used their soft-tyres before Q3 which was possibly because they didn’t expect to be there. The race on Sunday saw drivers making on average the expected two to three pit stops. The one exception was Sergio Perez who managed the full 58 laps with just the one compulsory pit stop that meant he finished in seventh position before being disqualified. Perhaps Perez managed his tyres better than everyone else but there has been speculation that teams are using aerodynamics to manage their tyres that may make them last just that little bit longer than their competitors.
Overall the tyres had little effect on the racing as most of the drivers were making the same amount of pit stops. However it is likely that other races in the season are going to provide us much more tyre degradation and with it many more pit stops that will demonstration how the drivers and teams deal with the situation. Australia seems to have shown that Pirelli has got the right balance between more tyre wear and too much wear and provided us with a race that whilst not spectacular depended on driver and team tyre management.
Perhaps it is too early to question how the Pirelli tyres will work over the whole course of the season and whether Pirelli have taken their brief too far. Whilst we can’t predict how they will affect the overall result of both the Driver’s and Constructor’s championships, the tyres are most certainly going to create some entertaining racing and no doubt their fair share of headlines too.