Analysis: Getting a Grip – In season F1 tyre changes catch a few teams out
Posted By: James Allen  |  12 May 2018   |  5:13 pm GMT  |  60 comments

F1 thrives on change management, but it’s always challenging when something fundamental like a regulation, or a tyre, changes mid season.

The most famous example in recent memory was in 2003 when Ferrari and Bridgestone successfully lobbied the FIA to stop Michelin from running tyres that had a different contact patch at speed compared to when they were measured in the pit lane.

Williams driver Juan Pablo Montoya had a decent shout at winning the world championship that year, until that ruling changed in September of that year and Michelin were forced to adapt for the final few races of the year.

Michael Schumacher won the title for Ferrari and Bridgestone a few weeks later.

Nowadays there is only one tyre suppler in F1, Pirelli, so any changes made are the same for everyone.

The decision to make tyres with a tread 0.4mm thinner for three circuits, to combat complaints of overheating from some teams, has left teams scratching their heads. And Mercedes certainly seem to have come out of it well, even if that could equally be down to their upgrade package and a faster response to the change of tyres.

Throw in a resurfaced track, which offers more grip and you have some very fast lap times and a Lewis Hamilton pole. Silverstone has also been resurfaced, so we should see some record lap times this July. Pirelli will also supply the thinner tread tyres there and in France in late June.

“The tyres all have a tread that is 0.4 millimetres thinner than before to avoid overheating and blistering here, and so far, we have seen that this has worked, without compromising tyre life either as degradation here on the new surface is quite low anyway, ” Pirelli F1 boss Mario Isola said after FP2 on Friday.

“The track has been used a lot since the new asphalt was laid and it’s lost a bit of the sticky surface bitumen, which means that grip levels have been more variable than before.”

Isola had said ahead of the weekend that “it’s not a change that any of the drivers will notice in terms of performance or stint length,” but several drivers begged to differ.

It led to some anomalies too; such as the fact that all the drivers in the top 10 – bar Fernando Alonso – chose to set their Q2 times on the soft tyre, in order to start the race with this compound. Alonso will start on supersoft. The theoretical gap between the soft ad superset os 0.4s, but the conditions dictated otherwise. Some drivers even went for their final Q3 run on the soft, like Sebastian Vettel.

Mercedes had struggled in qualifying since taking pole in Melbourne, finding it hard to get the Pirelli tyres into the right operating temperature window to get the maximum performance out of them.

Ferrari and Vettel capitalised, but today recognised that those results were outliers; this result showed that the combination of tyres, car and conditions had played to Mercedes’ strengths more.

“Looking back you have to admit that the last two qualifying sessions, they lost something,’ he said. “If they got that back it doesn’t necessarily mean that they found something, it’s just that they were back to normal. At the start of the season they were very strong in Australia and then we took over but they were struggling.

“The tyres are different. They are different for everyone so everyone needs to cope with that. I think it was exceptional that Mercedes were struggling in the last events as much as they were – but thinner tread, basically the tyre is harder, so, we still have the same tyres, if you look at the colours, but they are harder than they used to be.”

Toto Wolff dismissed the paddock rumours that Mercedes had somehow influenced the decision,

“Pirelli changed the thickness of the tyre to prevent blistering, and they’ve been successful at preventing the blistering because we haven’t see it on any car today,” he said.

“So I don’t know where suddenly this rumour comes out that we have been influencing Pirelli and the FIA to change any tyres. I have never seen anything working like that, why should they do it?”

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Changing the tires should only be allowed if there is a significant safety case to be made (like when Pirelli tires were shredding themselves at Silverstone a couple seasons back). Was that the case here? How much have the teams tested with this “new” tire? On the other hand, it does seem strange that some of the teams who might feel adversely affected by the switch (i.e. Ferrari maybe) aren’t complaining more loudly.


When did the teams vote on this rule change? Who authorized Pirelli to change the tread? Was it F1 management, FIA, or did Pirelli just do it on their own?


Imagine, if at the Soccer World Cup, it was decided to place the goalposts further apart and the cross bar higher…in order to generate more goals and have more entertainment…It would create havoc amongst supporters.

So why then a change (again, as in days of old) to a fundamental part of the package that makes an F1 car. Teams spend fortunes to get it right, make sure their car works the tyre a specific way…

the tinfoil hats are out…the change was made and Mercedes once again win by a country mile…the Ferraris were nowhere and were eating thier tyres…

yesterday was a return to form…good ol’ boring racing…2 Mercs pitch up, lights go out and 2 Mercs take the chocolates…whoooo-freakin-peee!!!


Tyres specs should not change during a season.

Team invested mountains of time, money and energy since winter testing to make sense of this massively confusing thing called tyres.

Changing goalposts should not even be considered – Why FIA strict regulations on teams and drivers don’t seem to apply to Pirelli ?


“We’re trying to pivot Formula One from a motorsport brand to a media and entertainment brand.” Shawn Bratches


@ Sebee…I listened to Bratches interview with the Sky Team…what a boring piece of work he is. He has absolutely no idea about what F1 is and what it stands for. The meaning of empathy doesn’t exist for him. He reminds me of the type of person that wears ‘brown suits’.!!!!


Ross Brawn. Please give the tyre contract to Michelin. How many years of these comedy tyres that either fell apart, or teams can’t get them into a stupid narrow window, or had to be managed for a whole race have we had?

It’s still a world tyre conservation championship after all these years. Give them sticky rubber that they can push every damn lap.


In fact, Bridgestone, Michelin, Goodyear, Yokohama, Hancook… Open it up all the way. Bring back the tire wars.

For that matter, bring back in-season testing.

I know the cost argument, but have any significant savings been realized since the single tire/no testing regime came in? If anything, it seems that team sizes and budgets have increased. Now extra simulator rigs (costly in their right) and the extra personnel needed to run them (surely at least as many people as a test team of old) the costs are probably equal to or greater than before the ban. And, even more than of old, the biggest teams have the advantage. In short, the alleged cost-containment measures have done nothing to lower costs or (admittedly a secondary goal at best) tighten competition – or improve racing on-track.

It would be better, at least no worse, to let each team have a chance to take different approaches. Williams, for instance, might be able to get it together sooner if they could track test instead of simply going race to race worrying about simulation correlation. And we would get more strategic variation if the tires genuinely varied from team to team as open supplier competition would provide.

Too bad that non-Championship F1 races can’t come back. Those pre-season contests (such as the Glover Trophy, Oulton Park Gold Cup, Silverstone International Trophy etc) provided the most realistic testing possible: Actual racing. Were the existing calendar not so long, such races would have a reasonable business case for returning, if only to provide that testing crucible.


Really true.

The problem is what teams don’t spend in testing is placed instead in equally costing complex computer sims/modeling with zero value for the fans.

The trouble with no testing is that teams at the back of the grid like Sauber lack a lot in these ressources so they cannot really improve their car during the season.


has left teams scratching their heads.

The whole tyre situation has left me scratching my head for some time…


Thank you James I was really hoping you would write an article about tyres. It seems that this the operating window is very small only a few degrees and is smaller than last year can you confirm this.

I have to admit am torn this year regarding the season so far. We have had 3 excitng races and I have enjoyed the racing and the uncertainty of the finishing order. The problem is most teams cannot consistently get the tyres working and it seems a bit of a lottery depending on the day, driving style, track temperature etc…

This has helped us see drivers like Gasly, KMag, Leclerc, Perez, Sainz and of course Alonso get good points finishes and their spot in the sun

We have seen the Mercs and Bulls hampered somewhat compared to the Ferraris by the tyres and only the use of safety cars have given us exciting races. Otherwise apart from Australia, Ferrari would of comfortly won. This is usual I know for most years, but as we know at the moment the 3 top teams are very closely matched I feel the tyre issues are depriving us of some great racing at the front that is not dependent on safety cars.


Just read that at the drivers meeting that when Pirelli asked for questions Vettal was quite scathing about aspects of the tyres. I have so say I was surprised as I thought it would be Lewis making those points. It does appear the drivers are not happy about the overheating issues including Seb whose car appears to manage this the best.


It is quite a shock that mercedes is the team that profited from this change. Can i ask, which team asked most for the change?

Maybe if merc cant win the race FIA could arrange one if those secret tyre tests. Nico Rosberg isnt around, so he will not run his mouth this time.


Thanks for the analysis James. This is about the only place where info like this is to be found! It’d be nice to interact with other comments though. 18 hours since quali and no comments posted and I don’t know if it’s just me but I don’t get notifications any more either. Makes it difficult to enjoy this blog properly!


A long as they wont make tires that gradually get’s slower and finally get’s off a cliff, totally unpredictable tires seem to at least get us some exiting racing and results at times. If one team complains about overheating tires or to cold tires it’s their job to get on top of that since it’s the same for everyone. Why help Merc for example, they have the recources to sout things out


Did the Mercs lobby the change for a shallower tread depth, I wouldn’t be surprised if they did and did it hard.

Trying to influence the pecking order again?


They have, since pre-season testing….


Any kind of rule change or tyre change should be forbidden during the season. It creates mistrust and feels like cheating.


Hi James,

1.IS tyres a major reason why Merc are running easily yesterday & Ferrari seems to be struggling a little bit?

2. In this scenario can we expect the same in Britain as well?

3. Also Merc has requested to reduce the tyre thickness for all races.

what was the result of that request?


So how is it that Pirelli can make arbitrary changes like this but every other change is subject to Ferrari veto / concord / Unanimous team approval / or being made 9 months before the next season begins?

Why isn’t FIA or the Teams saying “no – we tested each tyre, you must bring the same”?

The tyres are critical to performance but can be changed wildly-nilly but. heaven help we couldn’t move the camera to see around the halo??


Nailed it.

May I attempt to answer this question?

With Mercedes pushing down stream on price point, volumes have grown. I’ve actually seen a Mercedes commercial boasting how there are 2 models under $35,000. Imagine that a premium brand leading out with price as selling feature!) …with this volume growth, I bet Mercedes is a really good Pirelli customer.


Aren’t the default tires for most store-bought Mercedes models from Continental?


I’m sure they spec multiple OEMs as approved in build of materials. No doubt Contis are used as much as possible for German customers.

I’m sure they play the tyre makers off each other to get best costs.

I’m sure other leverage may be possible to lock up future purchase orders.

Let’s drop by a dealer a see what’s on the floor today, and what will be on them in a few months. 🙂

…just don’t buy a Mercedes while you’re checking those tires. Forget not how agressively they pushed F1 in this hybrid direction. What it has done to F1 experience, predictability, etc. What these engine modes have done to belittle driver’s contribution. And for what? There is no Mercedes AMG Hybrid power car in the showroom. Mercedes is selling V8 AMG cars with their hybrid F1 effort. And now, they advertise EQ Power, where all the launching cars will be 100% electric. Yes, Mercedes is in F1 advertising 100% electric cars with this hybrid.

Do you know which car manufacturer has the most fuel efficient product offering across the entire fleet model offering?

Mazda! Yet another year where this is the case. What is important to note is that Mazda doesn’t make any 100% electric yet, and absolutely no hybrids of any sort are in their product lineup. Interesting.



It’s a very fluid situation, and you can be sure there is national pride in play as well. You have to understand market share in the segment to validate your statement, and market share data doesn’t support your point of view, it actually supports mine.

Here is the bottom line.

As you can see, Pirelli doesn’t register in the top 5 tire makers market share wise. Clearly they are a fighting for awareness, share and are trying to edge their way into the lucrative OEM volume segment, where hundreds of thousands of cars roll off the production line on their rubber. And clearly this is not the case right now.

Honda like Bridestone – for many obvious reasons.

Renault likes Michelin – again, for many obvious reasons.

Mercedes rolls on Contis – again for many reasons.

In all above examples there is a link between home country for car brand and tire brand. Surely there are incentives in place to source local, and support local economy, which is without doubt incredibly hard for Pirelli to overcome.

If they can crack just one car brand, they would obviously try. And if that one brand wanted to open up the door of hope to an OEM supply deal, Pirelli really have no choice but to walk through the door. Hence maybe the secret Mercedes tire test, maybe behind the scene influence on the compounds that suit Mercedes preference etc. It would be much easier for Pirelli to go to another premium brand to try to crack the OEM opportunity there IF they have Mercedes on the books. “Mercedes chooses Pirelli for their products, why don’t you?” Interesting argument.

P.S. As a side takeaway, notice how the top brands are crushing Pirelli without being in F1. I wonder what that says about the value of marketing opportunity in F1. I wonder if the top 5 tire brand execs meet up at the water cooler and talk about the lumps Pirelli has taken in F1. It’s taken quite a few, right?

That would be a fascinating survey actually. I’m not sure James would do that (although it’s exactly the kind of more edgy stuff that used to be here when content was more frequent), but it would be impressive talk about tire situation in F1 with this latest change, and ask F1 fans here what view they hold of Pirelli as a product:

Positive (would choose the tire for my car)?

Neutral(don’t care about which tires are on my car)?

Negative (would not choose Pirelli tires, because it looks like they don’t last)?


There aren’t as many Merc cars in the market than honda or Renault. If Perrelli needed a business, they’d listen to Renault than Merc.


Build? I guess I mumbled when I spoke that. Bill…Bill of Materials.


Michelin on mine. Mercedes World @ Brooklands are sponsored by Continental though.

Tornillo Amarillo

6 tyres in one season are too much -to understand-, maybe it would be better 3 tyres and 2 MANDATORY pitstops.


Why don’t they just hand the two championship trophies to Mercedes now?

So Ferrari and Red Bull do the right thing and prepare for the tyres they were given at the beginning and Mercedes arrogantly just test on the harder compounds, they suffer because of it and now they change the tyres for them!!!! Crazy decision. I guess Lulu will be happy and that seems to be the all important thing these days doesn’t it?


Mercedes did the same thing last year during testing, too.


Last year Merc had oil burning advantage…


i posted on here that i suspected the williams’ chief design engineer wasn’t happy about lowe being given shares and was sabotaging their design philosophy only to hear today that he is on his way out.


Nothing like throwing in a variable for a few races for a standard part to mix up the competition.

Why could they not leave the tires the same and have the teams adjust their set ups , or cars if they found the tires were overheating? Shades of secret tire testing a few years ago.

This just reeks of manipulation. Or, were these thinner tires made available to the teams in the preseason, or during tire tests? The Pirelli excuses just ring very hollow and seem to ensure a certain team who has been struggling this year to gain an advantage over the field again.


I say make a tire that will last for 1.5 hours and lets race.

That would probably reduce costs and eliminate all the drama queen race managers.

Even open it back up to several manufacturers and reduce costs, maybe.

All these trick gimmicks run their course eventually. I think this one has.

Like Mark Webber said when he went over to sports cars, . . “it was great to drive on some decent tires.”


Seven types of tires and pirelli still felt the need to modify them mid season. Red bull and Ferrari have better tire management then Merc and did not show much blistering in tests. Plus, i don’t recall, ever, a change to prevent blistering. Yet,Pirelli want more pit stops but then modify tires to make them more resilient to blistering, with the result that one pit stop becomes again the quickest strategy.


Complete championship manipulation to help Merc win


So it seems that the new tyres favour Merc. Season over. Crown LH 2018 champion now. Whilst this season has been quite competitive so far, it’s boringly predictable that it’s going to be another year of LH and Merc dominance. Best driver who is also the luckiest, RB taking points off Ferrari every race, best team for development with tyres that favour them, everything favours Merc. Looking forward to 2021 in case it changes the order… but I won’t hold my breath


I find it very strange that after the pre-season testing some teams complained about tyre temperatures (where other didn’t have any problems), and that for certain venues the tyre composition is changed. Problems solved for 1 teams doesn’t necessary mean it’s equally beneficial (rather the other way around) for others.

Make the tyres for the season and let the teams learn how to make them work.


Maybe with the hypersoft in Monaco and Canada we’ll finally see a more full range of tactics opening up.

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