Insight: What is it about Pirelli rain tyres that means wet F1 races need careful management?
Brazil GP 2016
Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Nov 2016   |  2:25 pm GMT  |  85 comments

Two red flags and 27 laps driving behind the Safety Car at Interlagos on Sunday, but we had F1 drivers saying that the conditions were nothing like as bad as Silverstone in 2008, for example.

So what was going on in Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix that made the Race Control take a cautious approach, even red flagging the event the second time without an accident to trigger it?

Many fans have been asking this question.

Pirelli wet F1 tyres

Nico Rosberg offered the beginnings of an answer after the race,
“It’s down to the tyres, you know, not coping well with the aquaplaning. We know that and we’ve been working on that now for next year and so we’re hopeful to make progress on that. Of course it would be good, you know, if it wasn’t so on the edge as soon as there’s a bit of standing water.”

Max Verstappen added another important detail: “It’s a combination of having more horsepower now (compared to ten years ago), so more torque, so the cars are speeding up more and less downforce at the moment. Yeah, I think next year it should be solved already, it will be much easier to drive the cars in the wet because of having quite a lot more downforce on the race. Of course, I think we can do improvements on the tyres, we’re working on that for next year but I think that with more downforce that should help already.”

Fuji F1 2007

But there is more than meets the eye on the question – why are the Pirelli wet tyres seemingly not on the level of the Michelin and Bridgestone wet tyres of the past?

To fully understand this we need to go back to the mid 2000s, when there was a tyre war between the two tyre giants. At that time they each had partnerships with their contracted teams and they tested extensively with them. Ferrari was Bridgestone’s main team, while Michelin had a close relationship with Renault in particular, but also with Williams and McLaren.

Because of the tyre war, the manufacturers did extensive testing of all types of tyres, including intermediates and wets. With slick tyres the main areas to concentrate on are compounds and construction, while with wet tyres you add in the tread pattern.

Renault F1 2007

Engineers working on the Michelin programme have told this website that in a typical day’s wet weather tyre testing, they would try 18-20 sets of varying stiffness, tread pattern and compounding in a process of elimination that arrived at the right tyre for F1 wet races.

Pirelli has neither the access to the test days or the cars to do that level of work and possibly for that reason, hasn’t signed up many of the engineers from Michelin or Bridgestone from that era.

As testing is limited and wet races feature relatively rarely in the F1 calendar, the bulk of the work goes into the five different slick tyre products. The 2016 rules say that teams must select three different compounds and by and large this has worked pretty well this year with some interesting strategy choices.

In winter testing this year there was a limited amount of wet tyre testing and results were not ideal especially with regard to the base of the channel of the grooves and its ability to move large amounts of water. With precious little time to work on it, as Pirelli could only work with the limited test days allowed in the rules and with no specific team affiliations, there was not much more to be done.

Max Verstappen Daniel Ricciardo

But on a day like Sunday where you have proper rain and a fully wet condition, the critical point where the wet tyre cannot shift the water can arise and that has just been something everyone on the inside of F1 was aware of and would have to manage if and when it arose, as it did on Sunday.

The second Red Flag came about because of this – not for an accident – and drivers were frustrated because in the initial laps as they circulated, they felt that it was ok to race and was at an intermediate condition, but moving slowly behind the Safety Car the water was allowed to build up on the track surface and the tyre temperatures fell and that brought out the second red.

Mark Webber Tweeted at the time that the Safety Car should be ditched and the leader, Hamilton, should lead the cars around at 60% pace until a consensus of drivers said that it was good to race. This is how it is managed in karting and all the F1 drivers have experience of this kind of situation, so would have no problem adapting. Some will be calling at the next Drivers’ Meeting for this to be adopted in future in F1.

“I don’t really understand why the last one (red flag) came out but the track was the same pretty much throughout, apart from after the first Safety Car so it was kind-of a pointless need to have a Safety Car come out, we should have just kept going,” said Hamilton.

There is also the unspoken aspect of race manageent post the Jules Bianchi accident in Suzuka 2014, which comes into play at times like this and adds an extra layer of sensitivity.

There has been a strong emphasis on wet weather tyre testing for the new F1 2017 rules, partly because of the above but also as there was concern that a wider tyre might lead to greater risk of aquaplaning. Red Bull has done two tests in the last two weeks on a wet track in Abu Dhabi Pirelli’s Mario Isola reported last weekend that this had made good progress for next year. The wet tyre specifications are now set and will go into production.

In the two pre-season tests for all teams at Barcelona, if it has not rained by Day 3 of the first test, then the fourth and final day will be a wet tyre test for all F1 teams.

It is worth pointing out that another dynamic at play here is that F1 teams now have such sophisticated simulators that they don’t need to test as much as 10 years ago. They can carry out development work, aerodynamic simulations, and much more without leaving the comfort of their team headquarters; hence the way the testing has been cut down so dramatically in recent years.

This saves money, travel costs, mechanics’ time and much more. But it doesn’t help Pirelli, which needs cars on a track to develop its products.

Another example of where the business side of F1 acts to the detriment of the sporting side? As ever it’s a bit more complex than that.

What do you think? Leave your comment in the section below

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The torque from the hybrid engines is so immense and kicks in instantly is so that the tires looses grip. Similarly, when slowing down and energy recovery kicks in on a wet track with very low friction coefficient – that varies consistently on the track – the tires may easier lock resulting in lost grip. Before hybrid engines the torque curves were never (freely aspirated or turbo-era) as radical as on today’s hybrid cars . Wing sizes (downforce) and tire widths had also been reduced in this hybrid era. I believe any manufacturer would have had some issues with the regulations in place 2016. Yes, on some occasions Pirelli has probably made the tire choices more extreme than intended. . But the level of difficulty to make working tires have never been as in the hybrid era. Also the regulations have called for tires that should not last – which again is part of strange modern F1 ideas to make the sport “more interesting”. Which is because of some modern street track 90 degree curves with no overtaking possibilities.
On these the pit-stops offer the only chance for overtaking. Would agree that In some races it has been dangerous with tires disintegrating without any prior warning.
For 2017 larger wings and wider tires will improve the situation to some degree. The regulations are maybe also to blame. I did prefer the classic style F1 when the driver/team made the choice of best tire based on situation. Testing bans are also part of the problem. Rules where changed when Red-Bull – Renault had the upper edge – Mercedes then got the edge – Now new rules again, in the name of cost savings. Keeping the same regulations and allowing more development would even out differences over time. When one team is dominating the outcome of the races become quite predictable. In that sense good that Mercedes let their drivers race. The Schumi / Massa era at Ferrari was a joke. “Michael is faster than you…”. To much penalities – and inconsistency in how the regulations are applied is also an issue. Yes nice with a fighting new driver – but Verstappen should have got a few penalties in 2016 if there are regulations they should be followed for all drivers. He is the new Schumacher in the making by FIA – rules applies to all drivers except one. Having said that great with a driver who overtakes on the outside. But in a couple of races the defending moves went clearly a bit too far and the delay in decisions impacted in that way the final outcome of the races.


Jules gets mentioned a few times in these comments in relation to wet tyre performance and the worst case scenario. I feel like it’s important to note that nothing happened to Sutil when he slid off into the barriers, travelling much faster than jules. It’s what the whole of F1 has been designed for.

The difference in Jules’s case is the recovery truck. That’s the lethal aspect. Without the truck, he’d have been fine.

Allowing circuits enough slack on the fees so they could invest to develop a system that doesn’t require a truck on the circuit – static or mobile cranes situated outside the barriers would remove the fatal element.


Lack of competition stifles innovation. It’s the antithesis of what F1 should be.


Every year we wait for wet races as a rare joy.. every time at the start.. oh they will allow a race start.. and then oh wait its behind the safety car. The same old story again and again. And it’s the same circle jerk of old guys running the show. Well it’s boring as…. it’s tiresome as… insert your choice word here.

If drivers are worried just drive slower. It’s their choice how much risk they want to put in. If everyone is aquaplaning I understand, but that’s not always the case. Why not let the risk determine the outcome? Smaller teams will risk more and may score more etc. I think it’s a joke this daredevil sport of ours. As for numerous people bringing up Jules as some sort of poster child for cowardice, I very much doubt he wants that title. Accidents happen. Have I lost my mind? This was supposed to be a sport for daredevils. I’m more of a daredevil staying up all hours of the night because of their red flags and then going to work. My two cents.


What is needed going into the new era post Bernie is a completely new market orientated approach.
Why not open up the whole process using the same point system in place for drivers and manufacturers:
Champion Driver
Champion Chassis
Champion Engine (all components)
Champion Tires
Champion Fuel.
To avoid repeat of Bridgestone/Shumi/Ferrari debacle all suppliers must supply to all competitors at reasonable rates.
This would open up everything to getting the best being delivered to as many as possible.


I really feel that the basic need of a tire manufacturer is to have a representative F1 car for their testing (cost or no cost). Cost saving doesn’t help them in particular get them best product out


I love a wet race, the excitement I get before the start of a wet Spa, Monaco or Brazil is unrivalled. However, I have to be honest, when I saw Kimi’s car sliding across the start finish line submerged by spray, with cars narrowly avoiding him, I felt they should have called the race off. It is simply not worth the risk to life and as I have got older, I weight that much more than just seeing an exciting race. I don’t want to see any of these guys get hurt.

But credit where it is due, the call to restart the race for the final time was absolutely 100% spot on and suggested to me that the issue is purely with the tyres not being suited to the conditions. I feel the FIA need to look at the issue of whether it is worth mandating that extreme wets have to be used during a certain window, before opening the window to move to inters. That helps prevent the gambles we saw with drivers moving to inters too early and inevitably sliding off. Hopefully they will sort the situation out with Pirelli next year.

It still amazes me that they don’t monetize testing. Sell cheap tickets at some of the major European circuits, broadcast rights to free to view TV, and have non-championship sprint races to end the days testing. Have a golden helmet award for fastest lap etc. It would be the F1 equivalent of 20/20 cricket and would bring in younger viewers. F1 is absolutely crazy not to be looking into this, hopefully Liberty Media will innovate in this area but I’d suggest it would need younger blood to be running the sport before any of that can happen.


I’m sorry but I think this article entirely misses the point.
It’s not a problem with the grip level of the tyres. The drivers just have to slow down/adjust for that as any race driver do with low grip levels. (aquaplaning is of course a problem).

No the real problem is the visibility from all the water spray! And it does not make it any better creating a tyre that throws more water up in the air reducing visibility even further.

Kimi almost got collected by a Manor appearing in the spray at full speed. If the spray would not have been there it would not have been such a big issue.

Fix the spray problem so that we can have good wet races with a wet tarmac! I don’t want to see F1 cars needing tyres to create a dry line before they can go racing.

Thinner compounds for wet races with greater tread depth? Wheel covers when declared a wet race? 🙂


Maybe there should be different supplier for wet tyres if Pirelli doesn’t get its act together in the wet department. No driver (or other person) should leave the track in body bag because the underdeveloped tyres didn’t do the job they were supposed to do.


One of my hobby horses about the way the FIA mis-manage F1 is the ban on in season testing “To save money”. I use quote marks because it’s one of those things which is said to prevent argument but rarely justified like “For security reasons”, or “Think of the children”. Stopping an F1 spending money on one thing just means they spend it on something else.
Effectively what’s being said is Pirelli’s wet tyres are under-developed because of the test ban.
I think with the greater rake current cars run the plank hitting the water and turning the car into a boat is less of a problem than it was. Greater downforce will help push the tyres into the water and help lift it instead of floating on it.

Fundamentally interlagos was very wet indeed – and after Bianchi’s accident people looked at the conditions and made decisions which were a bit risk averse. That’s understandable; if they had used the same thinking as (say) Silverstone 2008 – one of the few races I’ve kept a recording of because Hamilton’s drive was astonishing that day – and then someone had got hurt … you can imagine.


Bear in mind that the in season testing ban is as much motivated by the demand from the teams to save money as anything the FIA wants. . It started with the Credit Crunch and the teams were desperate to drop their test teams etc. The Sims are so good now they don’t need to test.

The problem with F1 governance os the three way thing between Ecclestone, teams and FIA. It’s been proven not to be the best thing for F1 but the structure doesn’t allow for moves to change it. All sides have vested interests.

Liberty Media takeover perhaps represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to structure it differently so:

1. Someone eminent and respected like Ross Brawn writes the rules after listening to inputs from all sides and with an eye to the FOM’s promotional needs to popularise the sport

2. Teams build the cars to those rules, manufacturers build the engines, end of.

3. FIA regulates the game, end of.

That is what would be best for F1, Brawn will do it if the conditions are met.

It’s up to the stakeholders now to each give something up for the greater good.


Lets hope so the first step is always the hardest


when MR E is gone, most if not all of formula one problems will follow him out the door.


Put that way it’s so logical and so obvious that there is almost no chance of it happening!

However, funnily enough that’s almost exactly how it was back in what most people would regard as the heyday of F1 – the 70s/80s/90s. Hard to believe I know but once upon a time, Bernie was both eminent and respected. And aside from Ferrari and occasionally Renault, grids were usually made up entirely of non-manufacturer teams – Williams, Lotus, Tyrrell, Brabham, McLaren, Benetton. Which meant that no-one could use the saying that James Encore didn’t mention above – “You can’t do that because the manufacturers will leave”. F1 works better when manufacturers are not part of the game, except to supply engines, tyres etc.


Its not like Pirelli landed in F1 yesterday. Its not the first time they’ve ran wet tests and they have access to incredible amount of data not from 1 team but 11 teams being a sole supplier so in a sense they have considerable advantage compared to tyre war era.

Yes its true they have not tested anywhere near as much as past manufacturers used to , but just like the teams have evolved their R & D areas inhouse I think Pirelli should do better in this area also. The rules pre 2013 were ridiculous and hampered their ability to test but things have moved on since then.

Finally I will add that F1 now has 21 races as opposed to 16 races in 2005, which is almost 1/3 more in the “knowledge bank” to put forth to coming seasons. Of course we dont know what they are being paid by F1 management and what other conditions are applied given how long the season is now and all the extra people & resources they’ve had to put on since they signed their deal.


The solution to Pirelli’s lack of track time seems simple to me. Why wouldn’t they develop sophisticated similation tools in the same way the teams have in response to the testing restrictions?


I really don’t believe that it is fair or remotely reasonable to blame Pirelli for the current tyre situation. The lack of real world testing would be the first on my list of things to fix. Tyres can’t be effectively tested using simulations, there is no substitute for track time in varying conditions.

The next is parc ferme that prevents teams setting the car up for any change in conditions. It’s not that hard to develop a simple list of what teams can change overnight due to conditions. Easy stuff like wing angles, ride height and suspension settings. The teams can decide what they change up to, say, 1 hour before the race start. As well as resolving changed conditions safety issues that would introduce an element of risk, some teams may move/stick with the wet weather set up, some full dry, some in between. In changing conditions that should mix up the racing somewhat.

Lastly, unlike internal combustion engines electric motors don’t have natural torque and horsepower curves whereby a good driver can appropriately choose his throttle position and gear changes. To overcome this, teams build into the software and fly by wire systems a semblance of curves that the driver can select from. This involves a complex development process involving simulations (yet another issue created by the limitation on real world testing) which puts an even bigger gap between the teams with the budget and those without.


Hi James, why was Bridgestone seemingly able to handle rain tires when they were the sole tire supplier? By that time testing had been reduced significantly. There were some immense rain races during those years.

James could you also touch on why simulators cannot use tire data from pirrelli? Even if not perfect it must be better than nothing and help inform Pirrelli to make more use of the few wet testing.



Well they had had years of development that’s how. They didn’t unlearn that when Michelin left!!

The rain doesn’t change much in character – the downforce level of the cars did a bit but mainly upwards


In general Pirelli seem to have resolved most of the issues from the past with slick tyres, and the choices of 3 types per race has added an extra element of interest this year.

The wet tyres definitely seem to be lacking though, and I feel like we were robbed of some exciting actions, particularly at the start, in both Brazil and Silverstone this year. It felt like overreaction at first to have the safety car at the start in both races, although there were plenty of incidents to show that the current cars (or specifically, tyres) really do struggle in these conditions.

Wet races used to be particularly exciting and unpredictable, but now they’ve had most of the excitement taken out of them from extended stints under the safety car. Hopefully Pirelli can improve the wet tyres next year.


.. Pirelli could only work with the limited test days allowed in the rules and with no specific team affiliations, there was not much more to be done.
These cars go on tires. So pity Pirelli wets were creating such problems. They (Pirelli) should offer the right tires.


Maybe someone can explain why the following isn’t possible.
Build and use a speedy road car those weight is equivalent to an F1 car plus its downforce, and modify it so it run using the F1 tyres for testing. This will ensure that the tyres are stressed to loads that an F1 car would put on it, with the exception of the actual speed going over the surface of the tarmac. Even for the last bit, surely there must be some old F1 cars they can use for that.
Oh well, it’s a bit late now, that F1 in its infinite wisdom (sarcasm) have decided to change its formula yet again.


not sure a road car can generate the level of downforce f1 cars generate..


@aveli As I mentioned; the weight of the test car would equal the weight of the F1 car plus the downforce exerted by the F1 car. Remember downforce simply increases the amount of load on the wheels. You can easily simulate this by simply increasing the weight of the car.


not the same, increasing the weight of a car by adding mass affects how it accelerates, corners and stops in a completely different way so test results for tyres would not be suitable for f1.


In Brazil it was the car’s floor which was aquaplaning and not the tyres.


Not according to the drivers or the people within some of the teams that i’ve spoken to over the past week.


why can’t the teams just change the downforce/dampers/ride height and stuff to a full wet setup if it’s looking like a wet race?


Parc Ferme rules. Rules presumably included to spice up the ‘show’ by ensuring everyone would be on a ‘wrong’ setup in such circumstances. Seems to have worked on this occasion, don’t you think? Creating a situation where at least half a dozen drivers could have been killed, just like the old days. There seems to be a bit of a clamour for some kind of ‘retro’ F1, so hey, why not go the whole hog?


They are allowed to change the setup during a red flag. Mercedes change the setup on both cars during the second red flag and Paddy Lowe attributes the changes made for their one two win.


I’ll let you in on something . Merc did change suspension components during the red flags in Brazil giving them effectively a wet setup on both cars to have any hope of securing a 1-2 even allowing for RBR strategy blunders. . The fact Rosberg couldn’t match Verstappen after the red flags with a full wet setup shows how poor his wet weather skills are. Maybe this explains some but of course not all of the factors behind why the performance of Hamilton in Brazil ended up being so dominant.


Pirelli is doing bad, it’s a real shame. Same was during the GB Grand Prix.
One question, though: could the fact that now the run-off areas are no longer sand/grass/earth but is now only asphalt provokes that the water on the track is more important (as it is not absorbed by the earth, but runs on the asphalt and goes on the track, such as in the Senna S) ?


I really wonder at the business sense in Pirelli supplying the tyres for F1?
They are on a genius nothing, without better testing I’m amazed that they are as good as they are. While all the time promoting a type that doesn’t last very long?
Mind you I’ve got 4 of their tyres on my motor.
I do think that the safety car is useless though. Not in principle,Mercedes that is used is a dog for handling in the dry so why it’s gonna suddenly behave well I’m the wet is another mystery,I’d have thought something 4 wheel drive for a start.


Bring back bridgestone they made great tyres


Bringing any tyre manufacturer to replace Pirelli will NOT improve anything if the said manufacturer doesn’t receive enough support to perform a proper testing of the compounds use for the tyres – please understand that the problem is not Pirelli as a manufacturer, the problems are caused only by the out of touch rules set by FIA – limited testing for the tyres and the allowance of self destructing tyres (a “normal” degradation would be welcomed but what we have now is a mess).


….for Ferrari!


Bridgestone only developed close ties to Ferrari from 2002 as Ferrari were the only big team left running Bridgestones & therefore the only team that could afford to do the testing.
The other Bridgestone teams in 2002-2005 were Sauber, Minardi & Jordan who couldn’t afford to test.


In the the old grooved tyre days Bridgestone intermediates could have dealt with those conditions we saw in Brazil. The Pirelli Full wets could be sorted with wet weather only tests at Silverstone in my and at Italian Circuits depending on a teams locality factory wise.

However people should not forget that in the the first 3 seasons of the Michelin/Bridgestone tyre war Michelin’s intermediates/wets were truly terrible compared to Bridgestones meaning there if was a wet/dry scenario in a race Michelin runners most of the time would from drys to full wets because the inters were rubbish- despite a lot more testing than Pirelli get now. Even Michelin full wets were inferior to Bridgestone equivalent even if they slightly better than the dreadful Michelin Inters which nobody trusted for those first three seasons of the tyre war.

This gave Ferrari and other Bridgestone runners a huge performance advantage in wet conditions . The Jordan that won the 2003 Brazilian GP in the hands of Fisichella also used Bridgestone tyres as did Coulthard’s McLaren that won the 2001 Brazil race. It wasn’t until 2004 that Michelin cracked wet tyres . Give Pirelli the benefit of the doubt for now.


I just understand every article is kind of an apology for pirrellis screw up…..I dont think Pirrelli has what it takes to build a good racing tyre. They have been in F1 for 6 years now and still haven’t produced a satisfactory tyre. You can go and look at races from 80s 90s we had races in worse conditions…this is not only strange but totally unacceptable for F1 to have come down such a low level. The safety car rain races are just a procession…Pirelli needs to build a good race tyre or they should be shown the door.


A big part of Pirelli’s woes seems to be that they need to rely so completely on the teams for testing. It’s unfortunate that there’s no way for them to acquire a representative year or two old F1 car and hire their own experienced driver to run laps on a test track.


Nothing stopping them from doing that, In fact up until 2014 that is what they were doing with 1st a 2009 Toyota & after that a 2010 Renault.

Pirelli stopped doing that because of how much it was costing them. It’s the same reason the actual teams wanted testing banned, Testing is massively expensive & you need a dedicated testing team of people to run the car so that the race team can focus on the races.


Kimis comments about Pirelli wet tyres. He is not too fond of them either!


To be honest I don’t really miss the tyre wars of Michelin and Bridgestone. I always felt teams that were the closest to the manufacturers would get privilege treatment (Ferrari and Renault for example), I think they should be the same to everyone (I once read that tyre pressures are the ultimate F1 secret, as they influence so much the behavior of the car). Anyway, I don’t feel like most F1 fans apparently, and I actually think Pirelli has been doing a tremendous job, and the this year specially with the introduction of the ultrasoft. I just think there should be more tests specifically for tyres. Yes F1 needed to cut costs when it came to testing, but I think we went from 88 to 8, and I believe we can find some common ground. I think 6 or 8 tests a year could do the job.

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