Saturday, January 7, 2017

Despite ‘Mule Car’, Pirelli still unsure of 2017 tires

Ever since Pirelli entered Formula 1 with a mandate to provide high degradation (HD) tires, they’ve been engaged in a balancing act between gimmick and actual performance. Creating a tire the degrades quickly is one thing but it also has to perform very well under extreme conditions prior to its degradation path downward. Since entering F1, they’ve been accused of being too aggressive and as a reaction that, too conservative.

Now the Italian company finds itself creating a wider tire for 2017 that will experience even more extreme condition with higher temperatures, more side-load and more downforce. This is not an easy task to do when the sport still wants to rely on the HD concept for their tires.

Ever since the concept of a wider tires came up, Pirelli have been adamant that they can provide whatever F1 wants but they need real F1 cars and serious testing in order to create the tire spec both the teams and drivers want. The FIA relented by adding some tire testing dates and a few of the top teams such as Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari built what they call “Mule Cars” in which to test the numerous compounds that Pirelli created for 2017.

Unfortunately, it seems to mule cars aren’t producing the levels of downforce Pirelli feel are representative of the 2017 cars and that’s still a concern as Pirelli’s Mario Isola explained to Motorsport.

“They [the mules cars] lacked a bit of performance,” Isola said. “Although the modified cars aimed to simulate the downforce levels we will find, we have not seen the true performance that we will have in 2017.

“We have seen from the simulations that we have been sent by teams, based on patterns with the new cars, that the performance will be better than those we saw from the mule cars.

“This leads us to still have some question marks on the feedback that will come from the track in the first tests and the first few races of the world championship.”

“It is not an integrity problem, because our indoor tests are calibrated to the values that have been given to us by the team simulations,” he said.

“But these simulations are one thing. There will be a completely different performance window in which the teams will arrive in the second half of the season – where we often are on track with high temperatures.

“Will degradation and overheating be the same as with the simulations? It’s a check that we can only do on track.”

It’s not necessarily a safety concern for Pirelli but a heat and integrity. One of the interesting challenges Pirelli face is the request by drivers to allow them to push the tires harder and avoid one of the big criticisms of F1 of late—tire management and driving to lap times.

“They are completely new compounds,” he said. “We have encountered a very low degradation, and on the few occasions there was overheating, it quickly returned to the optimum value.

“The drivers made specific requests to us about this – because if they were following another car in the race then they would lose downforce, slide more and then overheat their tyre.

“Our goal is for the tyre to return to a normal condition in a very short time, which will help improve grip. In testing we have seen that this target has been reached – but it needs to be verified on the actual cars, so we will wait for the first few races.”

If you imagine the challenge of making an HD tire that is wider, provides much more grip but still degrades quicker than a normal race tire and yet returns to optimum levels quickly if overheated, you start to get the idea of just how difficult this task would be.

I have a lot of time for Pirelli and what they are trying to achieve in F1 at their own brand equity expense. Michelin wouldn’t even enter the series with its current request for HD tires as it contravenes the very reason tire companies exist—to make high performance tires that last long and provide massive grip that can be double and triple stinted in races such as Le Mans.

The HD tires era has prompted one common theme that flays Pirelli whenever something isn’t quite right or goes wrong with a tire. The only time Pirelli is mentioned is when things are negative. What company wants that kind of showcase for its tires? Kudos to Pirelli for enduring a tough situation and marketing as well as branding quagmire.

Hat Tip: Motorsport

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