Have we overestimated the F1 engineers?

Posted on May 15, 2013

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A caveat. I have no quotes from team personnel, or Pirelli; I have had no conversations with F1 engineers; I have no vested interests. This is just a train of thought which gives a different perspective on the tyre issues of 2013. It might be completely wrong. But on the other hand…

The 2013 tyres are fragile – and intentionally so, for the number of tyre stops during the second half of the F1 season was significantly lower than in the first half. The prevailing wisdom is that the F1 engineers understood the 2012 tyres, got on top of what was needed to run them efficiently with less degradation, and thus we had more boring races with one stop, 2010 style.

So Pirelli were tasked with making tyres which degraded faster, forcing a larger number of stops, with the intention that the second half of the season would be better, and that the first half of the season would not become like late 2012. Quite categorically, Pirelli have succeeded in making tyres which degrade faster, and the teams are not on top of it. So the large number of stops is the fault of Pirelli? I’m not so sure.

The question that is not being asked is what would have happened in 2013 had we had the same tyres as 2012. Would the races have had fewer stops? We can’t know – but we all assume that we would based on the second half of 2012. But what if the second half of 2012 was dominated by conservative tyre choices and kinder (newer) tracks, which is not an unreasonable statement? How many stops at Interlagos? Suzuka? Neither were anywhere close to being one-stop. In fact, they were about right. The low number of stops is surely down to the selection of the (in)appropriate compounds to suit the track.

I’m reasonably sure that the teams have improved their understanding of how to get/keep the tyres in the narrow temperature window. But improved degradation? – it doesn’t seem so to me. My guess is that with the 2012 tyres, we would be seeing much the same strategies as we saw in 2012. It looks to me like Pirelli have assumed that the teams would have been able to reduce the number of stops by one due to their understanding of the tyres – and therefore have made the tyres more fragile to increase the number of stops by one. Makes perfect sense. But what we have seen in 2013 is an increase in the number of pitstops. By about one. In which case the mistake would be to have overestimated the F1 engineers understanding of the 2012 tyres.

Let’s not forget, the tyre construction change for 2013 has been done to make life easier for the engineers by making the operating temperature window wider. The teams got the different tyres they wanted – and the higher degradation producing more stops was part of that trade-off. Maybe the increase in downforce was also underestimated, but this is clearly down to the teams to sort out how to transmit the downforce to the road through Pirelli’s product. It is very hard to argue that Pirelli have not done what was required of them.

If there is any substance to this thought process, it would suggest that the second half of 2013 would be reasonably good with these new tyres – or with better choices of compounds for certain races with the 2012 tyres. It all depends on how well the engineers have really understood the tyres.

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