Teams still struggling with Pirelli tyres
By Berthold Bouman
After the European Grand Prix at Valencia, it has become apparent most teams are still struggling to unlock the secrets and full potential of the Pirelli tyres. Even the top teams had to use an extra set of softs during Saturday’s qualifying to secure a position in the top ten, which also meant they only had one set of new softs left for the race.
But according to a pit stop summary published by Pirelli, Kimi Raikkonen, Nico Rosberg, Romain Grosjean, Sebastian Vettel and Kamui Kobayashi didn’t even have an unused set of softs available for the race and it will therefore be no surprise they suffered from massive tyre degradation at the closing stages of the race. Paul di Resta was the only driver to finish on a one-stop strategy, the rest needed at least two or more stops to get to the finish.
But it is very difficult to assess who was struggling and who was not. True, winner Fernando Alonso won the race on two sets of unused softs, and one set of unused medium tyres, but Raikkonen finished just 6.4 seconds behind the Spaniard on two sets of used softs and one new set of medium tyres, so the advantage Alonso had with an extra set of fresh softs, wasn’t such a big advantage time-wise, both Alonso and Raikkonen made two stops. And to make it even more complicated, Vettel had, until the Safety Car came on track, already built up a gap of over 20 seconds to the number two — on his used soft tyres.
Lewis Hamilton (soft used, medium new, medium new) had to defend his second place during the final stage of the race and later commented it was like he was driving on ‘two flat rear tyres’. Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh explained, “It was a bad day in the office and I think we really struggled with the tyres. The inherent pace was where you were on your tyres. Lewis struggled on the first set and was better on the prime in truth, but ultimately it went away.”
Lucky winner Alonso said, “When I went into the lead after Vettel retired, we were all hoping the tyres would last to the end. I was always talking to my engineer who told me I was running the same pace as those following me: in the end, there was not much left!”
Second place man Raikkonen also had tyre problems, “The rear tyres were pretty bad, especially in the middle of the circuit where there were three or four corners that were quite tricky. I think everybody had quite old tyres by the end; I just didn’t have enough left in them to push any harder.”
Michael Schumacher (medium new, soft new, soft used) scored his first podium since his return, but had to change from a one to a two-stop strategy, and he commented, “We obviously had a late decision converting from a one-stop to a two-stop strategy, which meant we had good tyres towards the end of the race, when other people either did a one or an early two-stop strategy and therefore struggled by the end because they had no tyres left.”
Team Principal Ross Brawn said, “Our early strategy did not come together as the tyres behaved differently to our pre-race predictions. So we had to react, and we did so extremely well, leaving our stops as late as possible to give our guys fresh rubber at the end.”
Mark Webber, who finished in fourth place, wasn’t really sure his strategy (medium new, soft new, soft new) would work. “It was only towards the end of the race that our strategy came into its own,” said Webber. “In the middle section of the race, when I was fighting with slower cars and being held up, I wasn’t sure we’d got it right, but we did and it was a great effort by the team.”
Number five on the list, Nico Hulkenberg, also encountered problems at the end of the race, “The two-stop strategy worked well, but the last stint was very long and it was hard to hold off the cars behind me on fresher tyres in the last few laps.”
Nico Rosberg who finished behind his compatriot Hulkenberg had converted to a two-stop strategy during the race, and for him it did work out. “Thanks to the strategy guys, we were on fresh tyres when everybody else was struggling. I was in P12 on lap 47 and P6 at the end, so it clearly worked and we are very happy with a good team result,” the German said.
Sauber’s Sergio Perez also ran into problems, “We risked quite a lot with our strategy and in the end the tyre degradation was huge,“ said the Mexican who finished ninth. And of course there were teams who had plenty of new rubber available, and therefore didn’t have any problems, like Toro Rosso, Caterham, Marussia and HRT, but they didn’t really play a major part in qualifying or the race.
Next race is the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, a completely different circuit from a tyre point of view, together with Monza the fastest circuit on this year’s calendar. For teams who have a car that works best in high temperatures, like Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus, it will be a challenge to get the tyres up to the right temperature.
Pirelli this time opted for a full step between compounds and the hard (silver marked) and soft (yellow marked) tyres compounds will be available for the British Grand Prix. With this choice Pirelli hopes different strategies will be possible, and it is even expected rain will play a role at Silverstone.
And Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner summed the current situation up like this: “I think that the [tyre] window is so narrow on this that it’s difficult. You can move the performance around: you can attack qualifying and maybe it hurts you in the race, or you can go soft in qualifying and perhaps be stronger in the race.”