Tyre Sensors the key as Red Bull hold on to open a gap in title race
Posted By: James Allen  |  15 Oct 2012   |  11:02 am GMT  |  59 comments

On the same day that Red Bull’s daredevil Felix Baumgartner went faster than the speed of sound in a free-fall parachuting stunt, most of Sebastian Vettel’s rivals must have felt that they too were witnessing a man disappearing away from them at undiminished speed.

Vettel’s performance in Korea, like the one in Japan a week ago, restored him to the top of the drivers’ championship in emphatic style and the first 1-2 finish of the season underlined that Red Bull is now back where it was in 2011, taking front row lock-outs in qualifying, with Vettel controlling the race from the front.

He has gained 48 points on Alonso since Hungary; closing down a 42 point deficit and opening up a 6 point advantage of his own.

Rivals can point to the margins back to them in qualifying of a few tenths, to Ferrari harrying Webber and to Red Bull’s worry over tyre wear at the end, which we will look at in detail here, but the reality is that this is a domination we have not seen at any stage before this season; the polar opposite of the first seven races which featured seven different winners.

Stressing out over tyres
One note that does seem odd from Red Bull’s performance in the Korean Grand Prix is the anxiety with which Vettel’s engineer kept warning him to take care at the end because the front tyre was down to the cord and could go “at any time”.

We have seen blistering of the inside shoulder on the Pirelli front tyres before this season, during free practice sessions at various tracks, and there have been concerns going into the races. But they haven’t been realised on race day.

In Korea, Pastor Maldonado managed to do 34 laps in the race on a set of soft tyres (the ones Vettel was on at the end) and 21 laps on a set of supersofts. Of course he was going more slowly than Vettel, so putting less energy into the tyres, but still he covered 14 laps more with them than the race winner was attempting to do.

Vettel took a new set of soft tyres on lap 35, so they were only asked to do 20 laps and the dire warnings began with a few laps to go to the end.

“Knowing how much we had stretched the tyres was a concern,”said Christian Horner. “Other teams must have had the same issue, and then every time the TV was bringing up a slow-motion replay of bits of an inner edge flying off (the tyre).

“I decided I could not look at those any more from about half distance, I focused on the data instead.”

So how does the team measure how the tyres are behaving and how accurate is the measurement?

Each car is covered in sensors, measuring all sorts of parameters, like temperatures, pressures, wheel slip and so on. These are analysed and interpreted in real time by engineers sitting in the telemetry area of the garage and back in the factory.

There is no specific sensor for tyre wear; they measure pressures and temperatures.

But by using a conjunction of data from several sensors and comparing that with data from previous long runs on a worn out tyre, they can make a pretty accurate judgement.

Here’s how it works: as the rubber wears down the tyre finds it harder to retain temperature and the temperature drops. So heat measurement is the first thing they look at.

Then the slip sensors tell them how much the tyres are sliding and the energy that is being put into the tyres. So they have one data stream looking at the physical conditions of the tyre and one looking at the life. This would typically be done by the same person, sitting in the telemetry area.

Many teams employ ex-tyre company specialists, like the former Bridgestone technical director Mr Hamashima at Ferrari.

The right front tyre faces a stern challenge in Korea, due to the nature of the circuit and the corners. Red Bull’s dire warnings via radio were interesting as on one level they seemed to serve as a message to Pirelli, a kind of live lobbying, perhaps for different compound choices, perhaps for future direction and specification. The soft tyre was softer than it was last year when Pirelli brought the same choices to this race without any difficulties and the design has changed slightly, with less rubber on the inside shoulder to prevent excessive heat build up.

Whatever it was about, it certainly was a very public episode.

Red Bull is a team that always pushes things to the limit and there have been times in the last 18 months when Pirelli has had to set some firm guidelines for camber angles and such like. It will be interesting to hear more on this as time goes on.

New shorter rear bodywork on RBR in Korea

Awaiting Ferrari’s response
Either way, the last two races have shown the level of improvement of the Red Bull; it is never one thing, rather a combination of new aero parts, new rear suspension, new rear bodywork and exhaust updates and so on. Red Bull certainly seems to be finding good incremental gains at a time when rivals are struggling to do so, particularly Ferrari.

But the double DRS rear wing has certainly helped them to find more straight-line speed without sacrificing downforce and that’s played a role in them dominating qualifying, although their straightline speeds in Korea were not as high up as in Japan, as several teams went for the low downforce approach in Korea.

For Fernando Alonso, who lost control of the Drivers’ Championship for the first time since Valencia in June, Sunday was a sobering moment. There is no obvious way back without reliability problems for Vettel, who has made up 48 points on Alonso since Hungary.

Alonso’s two non-finishes in Spa and Suzuka have eased the task for Vettel, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Vettel lost a likely 25 points in Valencia and had two other non-finishes. So things have evened out on that front.

Although on the chassis side, updates haven’t worked to give them more performance, operationally the way the team has gone about qualifying and racing has been very strong. Technical Director Pat Fry flew home between Japan and Korea to oversee an upgrade which should come onto the car soon and if it can give Alonso a chance to challenge Vettel for pole position then there is a chance he might be able to make something happen,

“In the last seven races we haven’t brought anything new; three months in which none of the updates has worked. For the moment we are doing what we can, trying to salvage points, which we are doing really well every weekend.

“But I hope we can find some steps forward in terms of performance. There will be tracks where we will be more competitive and others less. We just have to score seven points more than Sebastian. It will be very hard, but we can do it.”

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Lachlan Mackinnon

James, re the whole public tyre issue and the dire situation in the final laps of the race. I support Pirelli in this case selecting the softer range of tyres. This forces the teams out of their comfort zone and to think carefully about their pits stop strategy. If the tyre was as bad as stated………pit the car. These are the decisions that spice up a weekend. The team that get it right comes out in front. The last thing I want is teams bullying Pirelli into conservative options…….ideally a 2 or 3 stop race should be the ideal dilemma teams should face each race weekend…….welcome any thoughts on this line of thinking???


Interesting how the DRS and especially the double version allows what was done long time ago in F1, lower the downforce level for qualifying then trim it up for race ensuring better tyre wear and a stable car for different fuel load and changing track conditions. Key for a higher downforce car like the RB.

Tornillo Amarillo

James, can you explain Lewis roll-bar technical problem in Korea, it looks weird for me, and disappointing.


It was all coded messages: “Mark is faster than you” but he didn’t hear them I guess.


Hi James,

just wanted to say that your articles on technology are really appreciated. Only with this kind of insight you can start to understand what’s going on on the race on Sunday.

Many thanks and keep them coming!


I feel I was the only one to notice how soft the RedBull wing is. On a slow mo shot of vettel jumping a curb, all the winglets seemed to have waved downwards quite easy. Quite flappy. Was thinking how it must work on the straights under forces. James maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think it should be so flappy.


I remember when two way telemetry was banned in formula one allowing the engineers to make adjustment on the car from the pit wall while racing.It was amazing to watch back then.

I am over with all the technology by engineers being communicated to the driver to adjust their driving or turn a knob it is the same thing as two way telemetry.

I know their is always talking about how to save money in formula one telemetry must cost a fortune to run.

How about banning electronic telemetry and driver aids like DRS and KERS all together in formula one.

Drivers get information about car condition from human racer spotter like they use in the old days and making Formula one pure racing like it use to be. Let the drivers be drivers not knob turner. You win on pure racing skill and superior car design.



Hear, hear!


I am slightly suspicious of the requests to Vettel to slow down. And think it was more to do with the team not wishing to appear too dominant in the race then tyre problems. There has been speculation for years about RB side stepping the RRA and this season RB have brought a sizeable amount of updates to each GP. Consistently more then the other top teams.

I personally am against the RRA and feel that the teams should be able to develop and test as they wish throughout the season. Like in decades gone by. But if the rules are as they are then they should be enforced and severe sanctions taken against those that break the restrictions.


My understanding was that the only top level team that follows the RRA was McLaren. I could be wrong though


James, how much time per lap does the ferrari upgrade need to find? 3 tenths? If this works in India, then the kast 3 races should be a development/driver shoot out, or if it fails then ferrari need a failure or rain to hang in the fight, what do you reckon?


2/10ths to 3/10ths will put them level provided RBR don’t develop any further, which they are sure to do


What do you mean by the “NASA approach”? If you mean that they have enourmous budgets and just throw money and scale at everything, then I would suggest that the biggest budget in the pit lane by some distance actually resides at Red Bull. Combined with Newey’s know-how, is it any wonder that Red Bull has dominated for so long?


Take away Vettel’s 12 points from the Monaco “hole in the floor” race and Alonso is still 6 points to the good. They pushed beyond the limit and went unpenalized once again by the FIA. Hopefully we’ll have a clean result at the end of the season.


Slightly more in keeping with this technical article – Reading Gary Andersons report on the BBC F1 site, I was struck by his ‘insider’ grumblings from Mercedes, with someone telling him that there were too many leaders now and no one was making any decisions. Ross Brawn may have been ‘putting all the pieces in place – with Hamilton being the missing piece of the puzzle’ but from their downward spiralling results and Gary Andersons report, they are getting a case of too many cooks…

Ferrari on the other hand seem to lack a decisive figurehead. Pat Fry is no doubt a talented man but he doesn’t seem to have built a team around him, more handed one and told to use it.

Red Bull are not simply the Adrian Newey show, but he is very much the centre of a web of talent – he’s got the perfect set up, he gets to do his brilliant genius thinking without a committee but he can farm ideas and processes out to very talented individuals and teams.

McLaren have the NASA approach based on Ron Dennis OCD personality. Sadly it just doesn’t seem to work in the more organic way RBR does under Newey’s direction.

Adrian Newey has clearly developed a lot of leadership skills as well as technical virtuosity (perhaps this is the one area he’s really developed in later years).


Apropos of nothing in the article I suppose – but Felix Baumgartner is 43 years old and showed a level of human fitness, reaction speed and daring that most people never achieve at any age.

Might be worth a few commentators remembering that when they start writing off any driver over 35 and insist that only the new funded by a mega-corporation 22 year old is deserving of racing in formula one…

Although – looking at it from another perspective, it possibly puts Vettel’s achievements into clarity for his age. He’s younger than some of the ‘rookies’ of the sport and has achieved so much thanks to some Red Bull funded technical brilliance and his own total precision (most notable in his qualifying accuracy). I suspect he could continue until 43 as well – although that gives him another 17 seasons in the sport – it’s very possible Schumacher’s reign as the most championship winning driver will be long over by then.


Nonsense. It doesn’t take anything except insanity to ride way up in a balloon and jump out.


Money is a good reason to switch from Red Bull to Ferrari. On a skill level I believe Sebastian Vettel is faster than Fernando Alonso both in qualifying and in race trim. Seb makes less mistakes as well coming off the line at the start of races.

Alonso has been playing mind games with Vettel for sometime now. Fernando’s comments towards Hammy being the only driver to win with a less than top rate car are directed at causing Vettel to make mistakes by over driving. It hasn’t worked yet, and I doubt it will work in the future.


Isn’t it tyre management, not just tyre sensors that are making the difference for RB?

Somehow they have understood how to re-balance the car from track to track so that the tyres are used to their maximum potential. Meaning they have understood what the tyres demand, and now (unlike in the first half of the season) have a large enough set-up window to tune the car to match this demand.

Looks like Ferrari have understood this as well recently, hence the resurgence of Massa. The problem seems to be, aerodynamically they are a bit behind RB.

And look how Mercedes despite all this fancy talk earlier about “understanding the tyres” have not understood them at all. Major update at Singapore – and they are struggling with tyre temperatures just as they were at the beginning of the season.


Nice piece James. I had been wondering what data Red Bull might be looking at to prompt such vehement requests to slow down, especially as the tires seemed to be in reasonable nick. Those ‘broadcasts’ did strike me as a little odd!

The Red Bull does seem to have evolved into a rather potent machine now, doesn’t it? After Japan, I was expecting a devastatingly dominant Bull in Korea but, behind the results, I was very pleasantly surprised with Ferrari’s pace throughout this weekend. Like you say, the Reds haven’t been bringing many workable updates so it appears they’re making a decent job of dialing in what they have (rather like McLaren earlier this season). Fingers crossed they can prevail over their wind tunnel woes and help deliver us a thrilling end to this season.


2012 is over as WDC and WCC winners are already known. As Kimi says who cares who is 2nd and after! At least it saves me 4 weekends this year :-).

Too bad that Lotus could not match the upgrades of other teams, otherwise we could have witnessed at least some more competition for 2nd place in WDC.

I dread for next year if RedBull is as fast as now and with Hamilton in Mercedes and Kimi in Lotus, only Ferrari in Alonso’s (or even Massa based on current form) can be of some competition. But going by their standard of last few years, it is unlikely that Ferrari will compete with RedBull. So 2013 will follow 2009 and 2011 pattern keeping up with the trend of odd years!


A season that promised so much is turning into another snoozefest.

I really hope Alonso or Hamilton can make a fight of it, but we’re fast running out of time and it’s starting to feel like 2011 all over again.


James, Ted Kravitz suggested it was a Red Bull ploy to slow Seb down and stop him hunting for fastest laps as he usually does at the finish. What are your thoughts, was there any talk of this in the paddock? It seems odd to me.

– Seb apparently ran a shorter final stint than Mark kas team radio stated) and was just managing the gap, yet his tyres became critical first

– other teams ran far longer stints on the same tyres

I heard no talk back to Mark re bad front wear, it seems more likely to be a ploy to me unless Seb had a massively different car setup. I’ll be interested to know others’ thoughts on this too. Protecting a win?




Thanks James, great article

In line with the analysis above, do you think the teams now have a good understanding of the tyres?

Is this perhaps the main reason we have seen an increase in consistency of performance – i.e. are we now are seeing results come due to outright performance rather than simply due to the right tyre strategy gamble?


Yes, I think that has been the case for at least four or five teams since Germany and gradually more have caught up

Tornillo Amarillo

But race in Korea is getting processional, not only Massa backed off…


If Red Bull were trying to lobby Pirelli in public regarding the tyres, then Red Bull had a more simple option, pit Vettel for fresh rubber.

In the early part of the season Paul Hembery quite rightly defended the tyres and said teams would eventually understand the tyres.

I haven’t heard any teams complaining about the tyres since before the summer break.

Although Christian Horner did voice his concerns about the state of Vettels front right, he did also say they were trying to get Vettel to hold back, knowing his appetite of setting fastest laps at the end of the race. It’s now the point of the season that really matters and you must finish at all costs.

What started out as one of the most unpredictable seasons for years, looks like finishing in a somewhat obvious fashion. It’s difficult to see Vettel not winning the title. The Red Bull seems to have made a serious step up in performance.

I’m not a fan of Vettel myself, but even though he has generally had the best car, he is exceptional good and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him equal or beat Shueys 7 titles.


If I remember correctly he still went purple in sector 3 on the last lap though.


The wind tunnel issues are far greater then they are telling


Why is it that Ferrari have so much wind-tunnel trauma?

This happened in 2010, I think & wasn’t there mention of ‘recalibrating’ last year?

Why would they have to do this so often, or is it just a red-herring?

The only time you hear of wind-tunnels from other Teams is if the smaller ones can afford to buy one (huge expense) or those who have them are upgrading from time to time.

It seems odd to me that Ferrari make it so public that their wind-tunnel is up the shute, where other Teams don’t.

You’d think this would be almost as embarassing to admit as have a car that is not moving forward much in design.


I read somewhere that is because they started late on developing their wind tunnel because they had testing back then and Ferrari had their own track. Having your own track means you don’t really need a wind tunnel as long as you can test new parts on the track.


I wonder if the FIA have a permanent observer at Fiorano, just in case it’s too tempting during the season!

No,silly, it’s out of the question.


Yes – good point.

Based on Ferrari’s wind tunnel PR you’d expect them to get betterresults with a hairdryer and a treadmill!

Come on lads – sort it out!


What’s sadder is that they are using the old Toyota facilities in Cologne.

A team that: A. never designed an aerodynamically competent racer; and B. was penalized for copying Ferrari’s designs.

Outlook not so good.


Yes, but it’s an excellent tunnel, McLaren also use it a lot



This is not to do with the piece you just posted but wanted to pick your brain about something else, maybe you can do a piece on it soon.

Been hearing these Vettel to Ferrari stories for quite some time now and 2014 has been talked about as the likely year.

As i understand things to be, Vettel has a contract with Red Bull until 2014-that probably has get out clause but they would certainly be performance based.

With the rules stability, do you see Adrian Newey designing a dog of a car for next season, something similar to the Mercedes of this year? I’m quite sure Vettel’s contract would have a clause something along the lines of ” race winning car ” or ” fighting for the world championship” something along those lines.

Would that not be a given that Red Bull will have a car capable of winning races at the very least? Others might improve and possibly pass them but they would still be very competitive. So how exactly is Vettel going to get out of his contract and move to Ferrari?

Another thing, is Vettel so secure, confident and assured of himself that he thinks he can go to what is effectively Alonso’ team and take him on? I know where you stand on it, your past articles give it away but this is not the Alonso of 2007, he has learnt and seems to be a lot more mature. So kindly without going into the whole 2007, based on the way both drivers are today, is Vettel ready to leave his team and come to Alonso’s team against the advice of people like Sir Jackie Stewart.

There are other reasons that make me feel it’s highly unlikely and makes no sense but maybe you can shed some light on it for all of us.


Vettel’s contract will have exact positions in the championship..not only “race winning car”. They will have exact time difference between pole sitter and the RBR car in qualy and most likely championship points too compared to their rivals.

Lawyers will not leave something as “winning championship car” in a contract.


“he has learnt and seems to be a lot more mature”

Interesting use of the word “Seems”

Why did Smedders ask Felipe to hold back 3+ seconds then ? What an unusual request, yes, it would mean clean air, but he was clearly capable of running happily behind his teamate, why ever would he need to be so far behind. I cannot ever recall such a request.

The only real obvious explanation would be that his teamate is in a mentally and emotionally fragile state, despite what he says. Just who was taken in by his declaration that he was not bothered about the loss of the WDC lead ? That Ferrari’s passing McLaren for P2 WCC was some kind of valuable swap for a WDC ? Especially given Ferrari’s well known disinterest in WCCs.

Vettel in a Ferrari is going to be so much fun, whatever will happen when he starts winning there !?!


Why? To stay out of the dirty air and preserve the tyres! No point sticking 1 second behind someone you are not going to pass to assist their championship hopes, when you could drop back and save your own tyres.

Notice Massa’s drop in pace at the end.


I don’t believe Vettel’s tyres were critical at all. I think it is just RB’s way of telling him to slow down a bit because he was far enough in front they wanted him to take it easy rather than chasing fastest laps against Webber.


I agree, I think it was a way to keep reminding him not to put in his usual fast lap run at the end and blow the race (potentially).

I think it was the last race where i noticed that they were less than impressed by his last lap burst.

Really, with the championship on the line I agree with the team (unfortunately).

Mark in Australia


Any insight to the BBC’s article about Seb joining Ferrari in 2014?


I’believe it only once I see it. Not a Ferrari modus operandi


Montezemolo is quoted as saying it is untrue.


Well then that settles it, doesn’t it?


Only from the point of view that if the press say something & say it loud enough & often enough, they hope someone is going to confirm or deny their ‘story’.

So, if LdiM is saying it’s untrue, do we believe him? (remember, he’s a politician).

I think McLaren 78 was saying ‘you can’t expect the truth anyway’, which is what gave rise to that excellent thread on JAonF1 re.what Perez told the Press.


And Whitmarsh was saying tehy had no plan B and then Perez confirms he had been contacted weeks ago.


Do you really expect any senior manager to reveal their commercial negotiations before reaching a deal?

Of course not, otherwise other teams would be given an opportunity to poach McLaren’s first choice of driver and you would then be criticizing MW for opening his mouth and spilling the beans.

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