The theme for Formula 1’s new regulations this season has been very much along the lines of bigger, faster and stronger. Wider cars and more complex aerodynamics have resulted in several seconds being shaved off average lap times compared with 2016, and the tyres have also been affected. To give the cars a more aggressive appearance, the tyres have been widened to resemble those seen back in the 70s and 80s, and Pirelli have also made them a lot more durable. To understand why, you have to turn the clock back a few years.
Pirelli’s troubled F1 return
Pirelli was a tyre supplier to teams such as Tyrrell during the early 1990s but never cracked the monopoly that Goodyear had on the sport. Their chance to impress on the biggest stage of all came two decades later, in 2011, when they were named Formula 1’s single tyre manufacturer. In response to Bridgestone’s incredibly durable compounds arguably producing dull races in 2010, the FIA instructed Pirelli to make compounds that degrade faster and force drivers to pit multiple times during a Grand Prix. Before refuelling was banned after the 2009 season, extremely durable tyres weren’t an issue, as cars would have to stop more than once for fresh fuel, but with that variable gone, every single race was a predictable one-stop in dry conditions.
The Italian manufacturer did exactly what motorsport’s governing body told them to do. Grands Prix now required two, three or even four pit-stops during a race, and those that didn’t conserve their rubber suffered the consequences. Despite criticism from some, 2011 and 2012 were good years for Pirelli. 2013, though, brought their darkest days.
The FIA requested that Pirelli soften their tyres for 2013 to a less-durable degree than even 2011, which they did. This wasn’t a huge issue, as drivers were complaining about not being able to push during races, but things came to a head at that year’s Silverstone. During the Grand Prix, Felipe Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton (who was leading at the time) all suffered punctures at high speed.
Lewis Hamilton was one of four drivers afflicted by seemingly random tyre failures during the 2013 British Grand Prix.
This was the low-point for Pirelli in F1, who got the entirety of the blame for "Tyregate", despite doing what they were told to. Huge changes were made to the regulations and the construction of the tyres for the next round in Germany and we haven't seen anything of that magnitude since.
The 2017 challenge
Three years of the V6 era passed without many major failures, but 2017 would pose many questions for Pirelli. Faster cornering speeds naturally mean more stress on the tyres, so they couldn't take any risks with their new wider compounds. This has resulted in very durable compounds that the drivers find difficult to warm up, ironically the very thing that Pirelli were brought in to remove from the sport. Indeed, these new tyres are so hard that the orange-walled "hard" compound has been shelved for this season as no drivers used it during the Spanish Grand Prix (its only appearance this year).
So, to go back to the original question: what should Pirelli do for 2018? If you ask me, it's simple.
Rebrand the current mediums as hards, current softs as mediums, and so on, and introduce a new softer ultrasoft tyre. Contrary to what some would say, I believe that there's nothing wrong with the construction of Pirelli's dry tyres - they're just too hard because they couldn't afford a repeat of 2013. Aside from Ferrari's troubles in Silverstone, they have been structurally sound, which Pirelli should be praised for. With the 2018 regulations being largely similar to this year's, the loads won't drastically increase, so this makes perfect sense.
As for the wet weather tyres, the intermediates seemed to perform well in China so I don't see an immediate need for change, although we haven't seen the new extreme wets yet in race conditions, so time will tell.
But what do you think Pirelli should do for 2018? Let us know in the comments below!
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