Pirelli has agreed a new three year Formula 1 tyre supply deal from 2017 to 2019 inclusive, but a new approach to F1 tyres will come into force as soon as next season.
While the company is working with F1 stakeholders on the ‘sexing up’ of F1 from 2017 onwards with faster, more aggressive cars, plans are also taking shape for a rethink of 2016.
The latest plan is for Pirelli to bring a default prime tyre, for example the soft last weekend in Sochi, and teams will be able to pick two other tyres from the range.
So you might select three sets of super soft plus three sets of the new “ultra soft”, about which not much is known as yet. It will give teams enough tyres to have some strategy options.
The idea is to increase variability – as with the changes to race start procedures this year – as some teams will choose the ultra soft compound to boost their grid slot, even if it means a slight compromise on the length of the first stint of the race.
As a general rule the races where the pit loss time is shorter will see more strategic variation. Sochi, for example, with its long and slow pit lane will likely remain a one stop, as would Monza.
Both would need a higher pit lane mandatory speed to get the stop time down by around 4 seconds, to make it strategically interesting, but the FIA isn’t willing to budge on that, apparently, for safety reasons.
If more venues can be made to encourage N +1 stops, where N = the default strategy, then this will improve the racing and it doesn’t benefit the fast teams. It makes the race more interesting.
One side effect of this 2016 tyre proposal is that it will make it very hard for teams to evaluate their development during the season, as there are so many variables. From one race to another, when introducing a new front wing or floor, it will be difficult to evaluate the precise gain.
During pre-season testing it will be extremely hard to judge what level a team is at relative to the opposition, as there will be greater variety of tyres as well as fuel loads in testing.
The new 2017 deal
The Italian firm had been in competition with Michelin for the new contract after the French company submitted a rival bid earlier this year. But after Bernie Ecclestone met with Pirelli chairman Marco Tronchetti Provera in Sochi, the news filtered through that F1’s existing tyre supply would be extended.
While Pirelli has reached a commercial agreement with Ecclestone, the new contract still has to be formally ratified by the FIA, which the company’s motorsport boss, Paul Hembery expects to be confirmed.
He said: “There is still a formal process to go through with the FIA and it has to go to the WMSC for approval. That is the closure of the loop, but it should really be a formality in that they have already given technical approval for us to supply.”
One of the sticking points of any new deal for Pirelli was the return of tyre development testing ahead of the changes to the F1 regulations in 2017 that will include wider tyres and new aerodynamic concepts.
Hembrey explained that Pirelli needed a guarantee it could test its new tyres before committing to a new contract, although the exact technical regulations for 2017 are still be finalised.
He said: “There were some areas where we needed some assurances like testing, that we would be put in a condition where we could do our job. We have been given those assurances, even though we don’t have the final solution, as the rules are not set for 2017.
“So we don’t know if we can test the new wider tyres on a modified actual car, or if it needs a hybrid car. So there are a lot of question marks still to cover there.
“But the concept of testing has passed and the need to have race drivers doing the testing and giving us clear input is also something that has been well understood.”
Hembery also revealed that his company has again been asked to produce tyres that degrade to such an extent that multiple pitstops are necessary, as Pirelli did when it first re-entered F1 in 2011.
Those tyres produced races with different strategies and more overtaking, but as drivers became more vocal about not driving at full speed to preserve tyre life and teams complained that the 2013 tyres were too fragile, Pirelli introduced more conservative tyres for the last two seasons.
Hembery said: “We are still being asked to do two or three stops, that is the idea. They want us to try to come up with a degradation that is probably similar to what we have seen in the past.
“It is a strange situation because, if you talk to the fans, they all loved that initial racing, and the monumental increase in overtaking manoeuvres, and from a spectacle it was interesting, but for the drivers it was such a big change that it was something they found difficult to deal with.
“Now we are somewhere in the middle. We are not happy this season doing one-stop races; it is not in reality what we have been asked to do. It is something we recognise and it is something we need to change in the future.”
What do you think of Pirelli’s new F1 contract? Will its plans make F1 more interesting to fans? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.