Before the season started, JA on F1 Technical Adviser Mark Gillan observed in the first podcast of the season that the key to success in 2013 would be thermal tyre management. And the first Grand Prix in Melbourne proved it, with Red Bull able to dominate qualifying, but losing performance in the race, while Lotus went the other way.
So what was happening? And will it happen again this weekend in Malaysia?
The key with the Pirelli tyres is to get the fronts warmed up evenly with the rears for a single lap in qualifying. But with the same set up, the car has to then manage that heat, particularly the rears, on longer runs. Having the front tyres in the right temperature window is particularly important for grip on turn-in to the corner.
One of the ways teams manage the heat is by playing around with heat soak from the front brake discs. It was while experimenting this early last summer that McLaren’s Jenson Button struggled, for example.
Red Bull had complete front drums in Melbourne, so little heat from the brake discs was going into the front tyres. Their car obviously doesn’t need that extra heat from the discs, with the downforce from the front wing and the front geometry generating tyre temperature. But they couldn’t keep the tyres in the ideal window on the longer runs on a chilly race day.
In contrast Lotus had a drum which stopped where the disc is located, so all the heat from the disc would have soaked through the wheel rim and into the tyre. Raikkonen’s success was based on getting ideal performance from the tyres and this allowed him to use one less set, saving 23 seconds of pit stop time and maintaining track position. Lotus insiders have paid tribute to his ‘patience’, rather than grasping at opportunities he managed the race to perfection and still had plenty of performance in his tyres at the end.
Managing front tyre temperature with these devices is an area where Lotus were particularly aggressive last season, even resorting to asymetric geometries last year from left to right, depending on circuit layout and important corners.
And it looks like they are doing it again this year, with excellent results in Melbourne.
Despite qualifying 1.3 seconds slower than Red Bull, they managed to race faster and use one less set of tyres to achieve it, with Raikkonen setting a fastest lap some 1.2 seconds faster than Sebastian Vettel on a two stop strategy to Red Bull’s three. That’s quite a swing from relative qualifying pace to race pace.
For the heat of Malaysia, they are likely to revert to a full drum set up to reduce heat soak.
This will be a crucial area of focus for the engineers and drivers this weekend. With the same medium compound as Melbourne, but also the hard tyre which has a higher working range, getting the balance right with track temperatures of 45 degrees will present a compleletly different challenge.