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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