How do Ferrari and Red Bull get the front tyres switched on in the wet?
Posted By: James Allen  |  22 Jul 2012   |  7:55 am GMT  |  46 comments

The qualifying in Hockenheim showed for a second race in succession that Ferrari and Red Bull has an advantage in wet conditions when it comes to finding grip.

One of the leading engineers from a rival team suggested to me in Silverstone that both teams have “found something” to generate front tyre temperature and this has undoubtedly played a part in the outcome of the last two qualifying sessions.

There is a limited amount of possibilities of what could be happening as the rules don’t allow many options here but clearly heat is being generated in the front tyres from the outset which is important with these Pirelli wets and intermediates as they can lose temperature very quickly. This is what others were finding.

At the same time, Ferrari’s Pat Fry said after qualifying yesterday that the decision to do a pit stop with Alonso before the final run in Q3 to give him fresh wet tyres for the final laps, was due to concerns that they were “overheating” the wets.

It was judged perfectly, Alonso’s stop gave him wets with fresh bite and his two timed laps were both fast enough for pole. In contrast his rivals from Red Bull and McLaren were toiling around on tyres that had done five laps. The track was improving as the rain eased off, but they weren’t able to take full advantage.

As McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh said afterwards,”Every time you go out in wet conditions it’s different, there’s different amounts of water and different conditions on the track. These tyres are undoubtedly very peaky, they have a very small sweet spot.”

Drivers have different methods for dealing with the problem; at one stage we saw an interesting and revealing on board shot of Michael Schumacher deliberately understeering his car and then accelerating hard to drive temperature into his front tyres by forcing them to slide. It was a crude technique but seemed to work reasonably well, as he set the fourth fastest time. It shows that the old master still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve.

The challenge then is to find out what Ferrari and Red Bull are doing with the fronts, the likely explanation is something to do with heat soak through the wheel rims from brake temperature, but it seems that there’s something more sophisticated than that going on.

It also doesn’t explain why Felipe Massa was eliminated in Q2 when the rain started. Sent out on intermediate tyres with instructions from engineer Rob Smedley to get the lap time straight away he made a mistake on his first lap and couldn’t get the lap time after that.

However to argue that the conditions made it impossible to improve is not accurate as Mark Webber managed to set his best Q2 time on his third flying lap, some seven minutes before the end of the Q2 session. It was a full second faster than his first effort.

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Robert Gunning

Schumacher deliberately forcing understeer (driving beyond the slip angle of the tyre) is similar to the technique Alonso employed with the Michelins when driving for Renault (look at the opening laps of Hungary 2006).

However, I think wet weather driving is more car specific these days, when compared to era in which Ayrton Senna drove. If you examine Alonso’s performance when driving for Ferrari (c. 2010 – 2011), his wet weather performances were merely acceptable, when compared to when he drove for Renault and McLaren (excluding Fuji 2007).

Alonso and Hamilton are both very good wet weather drivers, but their driving styles are very different. Hamilton prefers a car that oversteers, which is slightly faster, but less predictable. However, Alonso prefers an understeering car, which in turn generates higher front tyre temperatures; this coupled to a car which now excels in the wet has seen an upturn in his recent wet weather performaces.

Robert Gunning

Also, I would like to add that in extreme wet conditions, it is evident that Alonso plays a percentage game when compared to Hother drivers such as Hamilton (excluding the final Hockenheim qualifying session). I think Alonso’s wet weather abilities excel on intermediate tyres and on a damp/drying track (similar to Button).


I noticed schumi deliberately creating understeer to force the fronts to work harder and gain temperature, I think thats what made the difference between him and nico.

In regards to Mclaren, their problem is still getting equal tyre temps between front and back tyres which is affecting the balance of the car.


Great discussion here guys. Brilliant. I think if we compare Fernando to Felipe, we have to traditionally look at their relative performances in wet weather conditions. Of the top drivers, Fernando, Lewis, Mark, Seb, Michael and Jenson have all throughout their careers been very strong in the wet. While drivers such as Felipe and Kimi have not been that good in the wet throughout their careers. Of the drivers which qualified in the top 4 – all of them are known for excellent wet weather skills.

The drivers who are known for wet weather prowess and who did not perform were Jenson and Lewis. So this suggests that the McLaren certainly does have a problem generating sufficient levels of heat to get the Pirelli wets to the narrow operating window.

Jonathan Silvester

Judging by Frank Dernie’s reply it sounds like the key is in getting a larger contact patch for the tyre which would possibly be achieved by running a lower tyre pressure. This would also heat the tyre up more as the carcass would presumably be absorbing more energy as it would be moving around more.

It could also explain why McLaren are not able to achieve the same improvement. At Spa last year Red Bull were happy to run the tyres outside the recommended specs of the manufacturer but McLaren were not.


@Jonathan, I think the change Red Bull made that year was to do with the camber angle being to extreme as oppose to tyre pressures.

I am assuming you mean run with lower tyre pressures, for mclaren I see 2 problems,

1) their car sits very low (historically), would maybe cause the car to bottom out ?

2) lower tyre pressures have the effect of slower acceleration and the car sitting up on the tyre as the load goes through it via a corner.

Higher Tyre pressures mean less contact patch and more prone to picking up punctures…


See my earlier reply…this is one route that could work…along with other subtle mechanical setup changes..a lot will depend on the fundamental design etc..


Is it possible that tires are just inflated with hot air to start with?!


The hot air suggestion wouldn’t work..the actual mass of air is tiny compared to the mass of the tyre and wheel and therefore would not have any measurable effect…unless you were running pressures something akin to a steam turbine!


I think they use inert gas, not air.


Well done Kris, that is the secret that Frank has been trying to hide – now you’ve ruined it!

Marrusia P1 at the next wet quali with this knowledge!


I know exactly why they can heat the tyres. Not many people know what it is, and I am not saying. It is one of those things you learn with years of experience, lots of time in the old days tyre testing helped!

It is such a valuable piece of info that anybody who -does- know will always come up with a false answer if questioned.

FWIW getting the tyre into optimum working condition has always been important. It has come into the news more this season since it seems more difficult to get right on Pirellis, and the Bridgestones were the least sensitive and easiest to optimise tyres I ever ran, so race engineers with less than 10 years experience are at a severe disadvantage (and inexperienced drivers…).

Anybody who has written a simulation programme (I did my first crude one in 1982) knows that the tyre Mu is the only parameter that trumps aero.

It is quite complicated and very interesting 🙂


Thanks Frank!

Do you reckon Mr Hamashima’s presence with the team has been instrumental?


Certainly, but a lot of the running tricks and setup tricks were not shared with the tyre companies. The data will have been available to him, so he could deduce it for himself, maybe some engineers would have given him a heads-up, but I expect he would have to have worked it our for himself.

The tyre guys know a lot about the rubber chemistry and construction loading and distortion, but not necessarily about key setup data which teams guard for themselves if they have any sense.


James, perhaps Ferarri and red bull quail pace is not so dependent on DRS. Or their DRS is not percentage wise as influential to their lap time over other cars ( don’t have a strong DRS, or car is fast in corners not straights resulting in more downforce to warm tyres).

When it’s wet, DRS is not being used everywhere and hence they get up front.


I would agree on the best drivers in the rain, perhaps not the best drivers overall.

I wouldnt say Webber would be in the best driver category if you asked Formula one experts.

In my opinion currently best drivers would have to be alonso and vettel, I used to put Hamilton in that regard but he seems to have thrown a sprocket in the last two years.

I am not personally a fan of either vettel or Alonsos attitudes and some things they have done in the past.

But in a car that is not really the best, I think he does very well when the chips are down.

From my uneducated viewpoint I am not an expert,

I would rate Alonso as one of the best drivers of all time.

To do what he does with underperforming ferrari is amazing.

As opposed to Hamilton who has a fast mcclaren at times and seems to self destruct

Grayzee (Australia)

All this talk of so called heat generators is rubbish. Wet weather ALWAYS brings out a drivers skill. That’s why we have the 4 most skilful drivers at the top. Alonso, Vettel, Webber and Shumacher. All of them are “rainmeisters’ . End of story.


Didn’t Hamiltion win a wet-to-dry Monaco in 2008, starting from 3rd on the grid? I remember that as being an amazing drive.


Whilst Hamilton was very good in the wet at Monaco and Silverstone 2008, the reason for this has to be partially apportioned to strategy. In Monaco, he hit the barriers, and had to come into the pits to change tyres. The safety car was deployed and none of the leaders had pitted yet (Massa and Kubica), putting him into the lead (you could not pit under the safety car in 2008). At Silverstone, Alonso and Raikkonen were catching him in damp conditions. However, at the first found of pitstops McLaren changed tyres, whilst Ferrari and Renault did not. The heavy rain arrived and both Alonso and Raikkonen had no grip, meaning Hamilton could drive off into the distance.


Sorry man, look at Hamilton, Silverstone 2008 when pretty much every other car but his fell off the road. I would apportion that 50% Hamilton, 50% car.

Same with Jenson in Canada last year where Vettel lost it on the last lap.

Don’t disagree with the skill of the drivers you name, but there others too who are very good in the wet and I think the car does play a major part in it.


Whilst I love the speculation about fantastic ducts, surely the logical answer has to be using the heat generated by braking. There are many hundreds of degrees of waste heat being generated under braking, it would be mad not to use that and spend money and effort somehow channelling heat from the exhaust system. The brake ducts channel heat away from the pads and discs and ensure they don’t overheat, this heat could be directed towards the rims and heat the tyres far more easily than ducts running the length of the car. Mercedes have proved it’s possible true, but I’m sure that anyone aping their system would use it for aerodynamics rather than heat transfer.


I am betting that the brake ducts are trick where if you block off a portion it allows the brakes to run at max temp with routing for all the extra heat to the wheel which has some clever design to use that heat. and in the dry you just dont block off that portion.


Yeah I was think what a Richard lol


Alonso in the wet. I trust the Spanish is clear enough to be understood.


*Comment by Leigh Woolfold*

Maybe it’s some kind of off throttle

exhaust blowing thing that’s giving them this ability as shown by the fact the Red Bull team is under investigation this am

Apparently many people have been hearing this for a while even

f1photographer (Darren Heath) is

convinced that both Red Bull and Ferrari are doing this!

He has tweeted it on numerous occasions as he gets to hear the cars close up, a lot!


Bet I’m miles from the truth, but is the answer as simple as softer suspension?

Mclaren tradionallly have a stiffly sprung car to aid the aero, and a recent race showed an inboard shot of a Redbull (I think) with huge amounts of suspension travel at low speed but less at high speed when the downforce ‘took up the slack’. I think DC mentioned in the commentary at the time about the suspension stiffening at higher speed somehow.

I believe soft suspension works the tyres more and therefore generates more heat.

JB’s smooth style also generates less heat and compounds the problem on a stiff car (and a cold, wet track makes it even worse!). Lewis suffers less due to his more aggressive, heat generating driving style.

Redbull run softer cars and get more heat……and Alonso and Schumacher are just very, very smart!

Could also explain why Mclaren work best in hot temperatures (when we finally get them this year!) – the rest are generating too much heat from their softer suspension then.


Hi Albt,

my understading is more the other way around – harder springs lead to the tyres coming off the ground more often and therefore the car skips and slides as it touches down, generating greater heat.

In the two hot races that we have had – Bahrain and Valencia, McLaren has been off the pace.

Camber and toe-in angles are options for distorting the tyres when running in a straightline and this generates additional heat.

Tyre pressures are another way to adjust the running temperature, and to me the most likely explanation of what is going on with Ferrari.




I’m with Martin on this one. Rob Smedley gave a very good clue when he told Massa to get a fast lap in straight away.This indicates that whatever operating parameters they were expecting, wouldn’t last very long. This also implies that they had very little control over what they had set. This indicates to me a situation where they have set the parameters to create a very narrow window or the “sweet spot” described by Martin Whitmarsh.

I’d go either for them setting much higher pre-heat and or running lower pressures. This would bring the tyres up to temperature very quickly but would then explain the risk of overheating within just a few laps. They are going back to methods that were used years ago to “work the tyres” and inducing more movement in the tread blocks creating friction which produces the vital heat.They could also have a “wet” suspension setup i.e. change of part such as a shorter top arm to induce more camber change which again will produce more tread movement and heat.


a wild stab at it but why couldn’t heated engine air be vented on the trailing edge of the front wing via an Fduct tube and controlled by a hand operated valve switch. this would not be a moveable aero device as there is no aero advantage only a redirection.


If it was something done by the pilots while they were driving, we’d know already. It’s not as if it’s easy to hide what drivers do behind the wheel.


Hi James, that is very interesting, as the difference in Q3 times was quite extreme.

If Ferrari and Red Bull are getting more significantly more heat into the front tyres, won’t that hurt them in the first stint of the race, as they can’t alter settings before the first pitstop ?

It will be instructive to see how long a first stint they run.

McLaren apparently have a system for adjusting heat soak through the rims:

It didn’t seem to help them much.


Temperature increases or decreases due to the amount of molecular activity going on within the tyre, and I have heard rumours of a highly secret device dubbed a “molecular exciter” aimed at all four tyres. Since this is device that can operate at variable frequencies is able to increase or decrease tyre temperature within a narrow working range. Naturally it’s not that straightforward because the device has to be calibrated to operate within the prevailing conditions at any given circuit, but is very effective when set up correctly.

Tee hee had you going there for a minute!


right! – you’re going on my gloat list


Yeah… A mini-microwave magnetron mounted in each wheel hub, KERS electrical energy supply, and a waveguide to accurately aim the output at the inside of rims. Very Dr Evil.

[Good one Rich (he he!)]

William Wilgus

One such device is RADAR, another is an extremely high-frequency sound generator (ultra-sound). Of the two, the latter seems more likely.


Increasing tyre temperature would be the equivalent of firing a radar at it – a targeted microwave oven. The power demands could be the cause of those Renault alternator failures in Valencia 🙂

Cooling something down would be much harder, at least with my knowledge of current technology and physics.


can it warm my cup of tea?


Tea, coffee, mulled wine, you name it!!!!!!!!!


Ferrari hired that Ex Bridgestone Japanese fella late last year – that appears to be paying dividends now. I wonder if it’s possible their harnessing engine heat and feeding it back to the fronts somehow.

It was also interesting the different driving styles in the these wet conditions. Some guys were turning in to the kerb gradually and progressively feeding power on -(Raikkonen), others were running wide and turning in sharp. Surely in these conditions it was trying a few different techniques to find the sweet spot in the tyres.


Actually Massa did improve too in his first three flying laps, but not enough – afterwards he pitted and then conditions were probably far too worse.

Massa Q2 lap times from FIA:

11 1:42.230

12 1:40.379

13 1:40.212

14 P 1:43.575

15 3:22.831

16 1:43.472

17 P 1:53.310

Webber instead:

14 1:40.324

15 1:44.300

16 1:39.382

17 P 1:49.074

To compare conditions between the two drivers, know that Webber was about 15-20 sec ahead of Massa.


Felipe, Mark is faster than you.

Jonathan Silvester

As they can’t use kers in the wet I think they are using the kers energy to put heat into the rims somehow.


What do you mean they can’t use KERS in the wet? AFAIK they can, but it’s liable to cause wheelspin.


I Think your find they can and do use Kers in the wet, it’s DRS that they carnt use


They cant use DRS in the wet. They can certainly use Kers tho


They can’t use DRS in the wet. KERS as far as I’m aware is fair game?

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