The first four races of the new season are set to feature plenty of interest and strategic challenges for the F1 teams as Pirelli announced today that it is making some changes to the tyre choices for those races. They have an aggressive plan for both Australia and Bahrain in particular, where there will be two steps between tyres and softer compounds used than before.
So what does it all mean? Well here on JA on F1 we will be leading the way in online Strategy analysis once again this season, as we have for the last three years, and today we will explain what kind of racing these decisions by Pirelli will give us.
Although experts predict that we will not see the kind of mixed up results we had in the first half of 2012, the changes to the construction and compound of the Pirelli tyres for this season, combined with the choices made for the early races, should make life challenging for the race strategists. It should also make for some thrilling (and close) qualifying sessions.
Melbourne: Supersoft and medium [2012 - Soft and Medium)
Malaysia: Medium and Hard [2012 - Medium and Hard]
China: Soft and Medium [2012 - Soft and Medium]
Bahrain: Soft and Hard [2012 - Soft and Medium]
For Melbourne, the Supersoft makes sense as it is usually chilly there, especially with a 5pm race start time, and the Supersoft has the lowest (temperature) working range. This is an aggressive choice because there are two steps between compounds and this is tricky to manage from a set-up perspective, however JA on F1 Technical adviser Mark Gillan thinks that the teams will welcome this move.
It will make for an interesting race, where teams will probably want to minimise the amount of laps on the supersoft tyre after the opening stint, but one or two may decide to be brave.
Qualifying is very important in Melbourne and with what looks like a very close field it will be even more important to get the car set-up for the best possible qualifying position. However, with a big split between tyres, you will have to compromise the set-up to be able to race well, which is where the points are handed out. This provides a stiff challenge for both engineers and drivers.
For Bahrain, they have gone one step harder from medium to hard. This is to protect against high thermal degradation, but the presence of the soft will again mean that qualifying will be a spectacle.
As a rough rule of thumb, there is a 0.5s per lap difference in performance between tyre compounds, but the harder of the two usually lasts a little longer. This is the trade-off. There is a crossover point at which it is clearly better to be on one tyre rather than the other and the secret is to get that right; to spend the maximum race time on the faster tyre. The teams work very hard on Friday in the three hours of practice to work out how to deploy the tyres for the fastest race strategy.
As a reminder, drivers must use both types of tyre during a dry race and the top 10 must start the race on their qualifying tyres, which are usually the softer ones.
It looks like the game in 2013 will still be getting the front tyre and rear tyre temperatures in their respective windows as soon as possible for Qualifying (and at the same time) and keeping them there as long as possible for the race, without overheating. This is what proved difficult last year, partly because of the significant amount of wet running in practice, which meant teams had little information about the slick tyres.
It’s about getting the front tyres at the optimum temperature for qualifying; hence the various rim heating devices seen last year and very complex brake/rim cooling devices.
The rear tyres typically need lots of cooling during a race and the front tyres less so. We have already seen teams unveiling clever devices on their new cars to disperse the heat from the rear tyres with this in mind.
In the race drivers are able to push hard, but it’s also about keeping the tyres in their best operating window. If you are too aggressive it overheats the tyres and then it’s impossible to get them back again. In testing you will see drivers on a long run doing a slow lap in the middle of a run, which brings the temperatures down. But in a race you don’t have that ability, so you can easily get a false reading on your tyre wear from doing that in testing.
One final note; Pirelli has changed the wet tyres this year and if there is no wet running in the Barcelona tests, it will be a big concern if teams arrive in Melbourne with no data on crossover points from wet to intermediate to dry. (The full wet tyre was the weakest tyre of the range last year and Pirelli has taken steps to fix that.)
[Additional Technical Input: Mark Gillan]
Watch out for the JA on F1/UBS Race Strategy Briefing and Analysis on the Tuesday before and after each Grand Prix, with a full in-depth look pre-race at some pointers as to how the races will unfold and the likely strategies and then post-race, a full analysis of how and why the race unfolded as it did. Examples here: JA on F1/UBS Race Strategy Report