The rebirth of Pirelli as a tyre supplier began today with the first test in Abu Dhabi.
In total there were 13 drivers on track today, with Force India giving both Adrian Sutil and Paul di Resta a run.
The fastest time was set by Felipe Massa in 1m 40.170, which was a shade faster than he managed in qualifying for last week’s Grand Prix. But of course that does not tell the whole story.
To complicate the picture further, there is the chemical reaction which takes place when one manufacturers’ rubber mixes on the surface with another. This takes some time to work through.
My research from talking to a number of senior engineers this afternoon is that the Pirelli tyres are around two seconds per lap off the pace of the Bridgestones, which bowed out last week. The engineers will get a clearer idea tomorrow in the second and final day. Today was mostly about set up, finding ride heights and camber angles. Tomorrow we may see more performance runs.
Jaime Alguersuari had the honour of turning the first lap for a current F1 car on Pirellis this morning on a hot track surface.
Engineers noted several things straight away. The camber they need to run with these tyres is different and inevitably there will some changes to suspension geometry required in designs for next year’s cars, which is to be expected.
Many reported that the front tyres were more positive in braking and turn in than this year’s Bridgestones which is likely to be good news for drivers like Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa who struggled with that this year. I imagine both of them are feeling quite relieved tonight, although Schumacher has yet to try them as it was Rosberg’s turn today. Rosberg wasn’t as positive about the tyres as others, telling Autosport that he felt the tyres were “weaker” than the Bridgestones.
But Massa had a very different feeling. “I felt at ease from the start,” said Massa. “And there were no unpleasant surprises.” Massa added that the medium tyre needs work on the long runs, while the soft was quick on the first lap and had quite good durability.
Pirelli have already said that the tyre construction will not change for next year, it is already pretty much locked in. The company plans to do a lot more work on the compounds, however, on stiffness and on working range.
The only negative was a rear tyre failure on world champion Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull car right at the end. Pirelli will be hoping that there is no repeat of that tomorrow.
But the overall view is that they have the construction right and that is the main thing. The tyres are almost ready to go now, which is a fantastic achievement by Pirelli engineers after an absence of almost two decades from the sport. They have a three year contract as sole supplier to F1.
There are some significant aerodynamic effects from the tyres as they are a different shape from the Bridgestones, this will be the focus of a lot of wind tunnel and CFD work over the coming months.
The tyres seemed to warm up pretty quickly, which is not surprising given the heat of Abu Dhabi, so we don’t know yet what it will be like in Spain in February. Nor is it clear what the graining will be like on a green track. These things will be discovered when 2011 testing starts in earnest.
The soft tyre was faster than the medium, which engineers found a positive discovery as that wasn’t always the case for Bridgestone – just ask Nico Rosberg about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. There will be two other tyres in the range of four, which the teams will race with next season.
Interestingly when I spoke to Jenson Button about his reasons for not testing the new tyres this week, he said that the McLaren engineers had advised both him and Lewis Hamilton that it would be a waste of their time as the tyres were expected to change beyond recognition over the winter. That is not the impression I’m getting tonight from the teams. They feel that they have a good handle on the tyre now and that the changes will not be on a major scale.
“Whilst a lot of details remain to be understood, we feel that we have gained an initial understanding of the operational requirements of the two compounds that we have and
have highlighted some important areas for investigation and improvement,” said Mercedes boss Ross Brawn. ” We have been lucky to have been able to get exposure to the Pirelli tyres at a track with which we are now very familiar and in conditions that we will not experience again until the final test of the season in Bahrain. Michael watched today’s proceedings with great interest and is
looking forward to experiencing the tyres for himself tomorrow.”
Abu Dhabi Pirelli Tyre Test, Yas Marina Circuit
1. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m40.170s 94
2. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m40.500s 77
3. Gary Paffett McLaren 1m40.874s 94
4. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m40.950s 83
5. Robert Kubica Renault 1m41.032s 39
6. Rubens Barrichello Williams 1m41.425s 91
7. Paul di Resta Force India 1m41.615s 20
8. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m41.778s 81
9. Jaime Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1m42.019s 71
10. Adrian Sutil Force India 1m42.859s 20
11. Timo Glock Virgin 1m44.124s 78
12. Heikki Kovalainen Lotus 1m44.686s 88
13. Pastor Maldonado Hispania 1m45.728s 83