This week the FIA announced a three-year contract extension for Pirelli as the sole tyre supplier to Formula One and as part of the deal the Italian company has managed to enshrine in the new sporting regulations plenty of protections, to avoid a repeat of the embarrassments of the last year.
The contract extension, which will see the Italian company act as sole supplier until the end of 2016, was a long time in the making as Pirelli insisted on changes to the sport’s testing regulations in order to provide more on-track data and to have adequate means to develop its racing tyres. The lack of testing since 2011 with relevant contemporary cars available to them, led to some extreme situations, especially last year with tyre failures on the one hand and a controversial test with Mercedes on the other.
Under the new regulations there will now be one day dedicated to wet-tyre testing, out of the twelve available, which will allow for extensive use of the intermediate and extreme wet tyres. In addition to this Pirelli had requested that each team must spend one of its eight days of in-season testing on tyre development and evaluation, which has been granted. There will be four two-day tests following selected Grands Prix this year.
2013 was a challenging year for Pirelli, with their determination to produce exciting racing also providing some negative side effects. Mid-season changes in the tyre construction from steel to kevlar saw a reduction in the number of failures, however Sergio Perez’s delamination at the Korean Grand Prix meant that further development was required.
And with the regulation changes in place for 2014 Pirelli must adapt its tyres to work on a completely different machine, catering for greatly increased torque and thus more wheelspin as well as lower levels of downforce – increasing the chances oversteer. So far they have had very limited opportunities to test the 2014 rubber on relevant cars. A December test was called at late notice and the onus is on the two pre-season tests in warm conditions in Bahrain in particular to optimise the tyres for the first part of the season.
Should Pirelli head in a conservative direction using tyres designed around strength and durability, as expected, then it will be interesting to see the difference between each driver’s style and whether drivers with a more aggressive approach will prove quicker than that those with a smooth style.
Thermal management was the name of the game with the 2013 Pirelli tyres and although the 2014 models are likely to be far more robust, tyre temperature management is likely to still be a priority for teams.
Also in the 2014 Sporting Regulations, each driver now has 12 sets of tyres for the Grand Prix weekend, rather than the 11 sets as before.
They now have two sets of “prime” (harder) tyres for Friday morning’s FP1 session, of which one can only be used for the first half hour. After that everything stays the same as before with a set of primes and a set of the softer option tyres required to go back to Pirelli after FP2. This should ensure more running on Fridays, but as it’s going to be highly important for the teams to do aeronautic development testing on Fridays, another way of looking at it is that it gives them the tyre capacity to get that running done.
It also encourages teams to use young drivers, as do looser regulations on the number of drivers that can be used in practice sessions. This should give more drivers a chance and creates an opportunity to bring in some much needed income for the smaller teams.