Pirelli’s impact on F1 has been impressive this season. Despite negative noises from drivers during winter testing, where at times it looked like F1 could be more about pit stops than about racing, the first three races have provided real variety in strategy and the feeling after the Chinese Grand Prix is that the balance was about right.
In aerodynamics, electronics and all areas of F1 car performance the teams have learned so much in recent years and when framing the rules they never seem to be able to go back to something which is better for racing, rather than engineering.
But the tyres this year are an exception. They have been designed to degrade and to last 20 or so laps and this presents teams and drivers with choices about how they want to race, which has led to overtaking as cars are out of phase on new tyres. Looking back on the Bridgestone years now, you can see how long life conservative tyres were really not in the interest of good F1 racing.
The Pirelli race tyres are made in a factory close to the Istanbul circuit, 50,000 of them a season and this weekend the chairman of Pirelli, Marco Tronchetti Provera, has been here to give his thoughts on the start the company has made and to make the point that they will stick around as long as the costs are right.
“We have a three-year contract, and we want to learn together with the teams how to do anything that helps to have more attractive and fascinating races,” he said. “We have achieved our targets until now and we want to continue. F1 is a long term project if it is affordable. If it is a formula that is not too costly, then we are ready to continue. We left because of the costs, we came back because it was affordable and we will stay if the teams are providing us with an opportunity to stay.”
Last year Pirelli was selected to be the sole tyre supplier, beating Michelin to the deal. One of the criteria was that the Pirelli tyres were cheaper and they would supply more sets than Michelin.
Then to underline the point about unlearning what we’ve learned, he said, “We reached a target that is much more difficult than building tyres that last for the entire Grand Prix. The tyres perform well, we pit twice for the highest speed in different circuits so our tyres are performing, the structure is okay and the formula is such that they last as the circus wants.”
This weekend with loads of 1,000kg going through the tyres in Turn 8, which the cars are in for almost 8 seconds, the tyres face their sternest test to date. The likelihood is that we may see three stops being the fastest way to cover the 58 lap race.