Kovalainen, Hamilton and tyre wear

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Heikki Kovalainen gave a revealing assessment of his performance in the British Grand Prix:

I just struggled with my rear tyres all the way through the race, to be honest. They were going away and I was damaging them excessively. The car control became difficult and I had to slow down. This was the reason I couldn’t keep up. I think it’s a bit of both. It looks like in the low grip conditions I put more load on the tyres. We saw that a little bit in Canada, where I had more tyre wear compared to Lewis again. In the rain when the grip is lower I put a little more load on the rear tyres. It’s probably something I need to look.

What I thought was particularly interesting about this is we have often thought Hamilton the hardest driver on his tyres – but here Kovalainen is saying he had more of a problem with it this weekend.

At Istanbul Hamilton was generating so much energy in his front-right tyre at the long, punishing turn eight, that Bridgestone forbade him from running an optimum two-stop strategy. He instead made three stops for tyres, to avoid a repeat of the catastrophic deflation he suffered last year.

Other famous occasions have provided examples of how destructive to his tyres Hamilton can be: wearing his intermediate tyres out in Shanghai last year, and the disastrous switch to a three-stop pit strategy at Interlagos that contributed to him losing the championship.

So what has changed? It’s difficult to say but, thanks to Kovalainen (as Ollie reminds us, such insight does not always come flowing out of McLaren), we at least have an idea what’s going on.

Perhaps Hamilton has found something his in car set-up. Perhaps Kovalainen just had a one-off bad day. Perhaps he’s lying and trying to throw the opposition off the scent.

But if McLaren have now unlocked the secret of going very quickly without shredding their tyres, they may be in better shape for the second half of the season than I thought when I pessimistically assessed Hamilton’s chances of winning the title.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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13 comments on “Kovalainen, Hamilton and tyre wear”

  1. It’s strange that this is the first we’ve heard of this problem for Kovi… although I don’t read all the press but the majority of the coverage I have seen pointed to Hamilton as the tyre-shredder :)
    Have there been any other rumblings about Kovi’s excessive tyre wear? Or did he just have a bad setup on these occurances?

  2. “and the disastrous switch to a three-stop pit strategy at Interlagos that contributed to him losing the championship.”

    How do you know that was due to excessive tyre wear?

    Evidence please, or is that just your assmuption?

  3. Is it the car itself? Did Kovi have issues like this at Renault?

  4. Sav22 – McLaren said afterwards they moved him onto a three-stopper because they thought the tyres wouldn’t last. Their expectations of tyre use at the circuit changed because the re-surfacing.

  5. I think you’ve missed the point here, Keith. According to that quote there Kovalainen is saying that he was harder on the tyres in low grip conditions than Hamilton, but in normal racing trim Hamilton is still harder on the tyres.

  6. @ Nathan

    Heikki said in Canada he had more wear on his rear tires than Hamilton too.Although that is a lower grip track(this year more than ever)it is still not in rain conditions.

    ..if I understand correctly,Hamilton is having problems with the front tires and Heikki is having trouble with the rears?

  7. My read of this is that McLaren are hard on tyres full stop. So both drivers are struggling with this. We also heard Ted Kravitz suggesting that McLaren couldn’t use the full wets well this weekend. That’s a good sign for McLaren because if it’s something that’s happening to both drivers then it’s probably something that they can engineer out rather than a driving style which is much harder to tamper with.

  8. Possibly a balance problem….maybe they need to get Fernando to set up thier cars for them.

    Sorry….I couldn’t resist.

  9. At the end of the day, Kovalainen is a rookie the same as Lewis Hamilton. Compared to some of the other drivers, like Raikkonen and Alonso, Kovalainen has far less experience.
    The one point of note in all this, is that Hamilton goes pretty damn well in wet conditions, and can run well on worn tyres in those instances.
    Fuji 07 and Silverstone 08 were two very good examples of this.
    However, this year has been without the threat from Alonso that was so persistent last year. Fernando in the McLaren would have been a far more difficult proposition for Lewis than Kovalainen.
    In this I feel that McLaren are at a disadvantage by running two young guns, and not having an experienced guy in one of the cars. Winning races infront of the home fans is awesome, but what about the constructers championship?
    Consistency is what really matters, with both drivers not just the one.

  10. Kovi specified rear tyres. That to me indicates he’s not as sensitive on the throttle sa Lewis, and was proably spinning up the rears too much out of the corners in drying conditions.

    Lewis punishing a front outside tyre in the dry more than Kovi probably indicates a different setup, or a different driving style. He’s either got wider lines/higher apex speeds, or he’s setting his car up with a loose front? LOL, I really don’t know much.

    I remember Prost & Senna at McLaren had such different driving styles and set ups that they found each others cars undrivable (IIRC).

  11. Missouri Mike
    10th July 2008, 5:34

    This is only my second comment, so this is a legit question and not rhetorical at all, (i.e. please tell me what you all think). Can Hamilton’s huge margin of victory and overall pace at Silverstone tell us anything about his tire management? I know that the McLaren pit crew opted to give him fresh intermediates wheras some other teams were pitting without tire changes, but surely to keep up a pace whereby he won by over a full minute over the rest of the field means he can’t be chewing through his tires THAT badly. I have noticed in the dry that he locks up his inside front tire more than anyone else in the braking zones (it was really obvious at Bahrain and Malasia), and I wonder how stiff his car is set up compared to the other cars in the field, and whether this might have something to do with the inside tire locking up so much.

  12. It seems that Lewis likes quite a bit of oversteer in his setup – more than most F1 drivers. That’s why he’s especially hard on his front tyres. And gentler with his rear tyres. And in wet conditions ability to handle the excessive oversteer is a key factor. Maybe that’s why Lewis is such a good driver in wet conditions.

    At Silverstone Lewis had problems with his tyres only towards the end of the first stint when the track was its driest and Kimi was catching him. But after that, when it was wetter, he was fine.

  13. Scott Joslin
    11th July 2008, 12:22

    I agree with teamorders, I think this has to do with driving style than specific set up problems with the car. Sounds like lewis is more balanced with the power application (although from the outside that does not always look so).

    I am not a driver and perhaps Ben can offer his advice.

    For example, if Lewis carries more speed into a corner due to having more confidence than Kovi, would this mean Lewis can await a bit longer to get on the power, and apply the throttle more gradually. Where as Kovi is applying it earlier to make up for a slower apex speed?

    This could also come down to tyre management, Perhaps Lewis found wet patches off the racing line when the surface was drying. This would have protected his tyres better, had Kovi not been doing it as much. – But this is all just an assumption.

    I am surprised at this story as Kovi looks smoother than Lewis.

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