Slick tyres are making their long-awaited return to Formula 1 next year. Drivers and fans have largely welcomed the return of proper racing tyres to F1.
The FIA apparently intends to keep the rule requiring teams to use two different compounds per race. But in order to make this more of a challenge Bridgestone plans to increase the difference in performance between the two tyres.
I have two questions about this: why has this rule been deemed worth keeping, and how are we going to be able to tell the difference between the tyres?
Why keep the ‘two compounds’ rule?
The ‘two compounds’ rule was introduced in 2007 when Formula 1 switched to having a single tyre supplier.
Bridgestone, who won the tyre contract, were concerned that without the tyre war with Michelin there would be little reason for F1 commentators to discuss tyres at all. That would be no good for their marketing efforts.
So the FIA copied an idea used in Champ Car at the time (where Bridgestone also had a tyre monopoly) requiring each driver to use both a standard and a softer ‘option’ tyre at different stages during the race.
18 months on the rule has had its intended effect of making people talk about tyres more, which suits Bridgestone, but has it improved racing in F1? I don’t think it has.
Should the solution be to scrap the rule or to make the differences between the tyres greater? F1 seems to have bypassed this discussion and gone straight for option B, presumably to keep Bridgestone happy.
How will we be able to tell the difference between the tyres?
When the ‘two compounds’ rule was first introduced little to no thought was given to how F1 fans at the tracks or on TV might be able to tell which compound each of the drivers was on.
In Champ Car the softer tyre was distinguished by a red sidewall. To begin with the FIA chose to mark the softer tyres with a small white circle in F1. But they proved far too difficult to see at speed when they were first tried at the Australian Grand Prix.
So a new solution was found – Bridgestone painted a white stripe in one of the grooves on the softer tyres. This has proved successful.
But next year there will be no grooves on the tyres. A line painted down the middle of a slick tyre would surely get scrubbed off very quickly. So what will thry do instead?
I suspect some teams will oppose having sidewalls of a particular colour as it would conflict with their carefully-chosen, sponsor-friendly paint schemes.
I think the most likely solution would be to have white sidewalls with black lettering on the softer tyres. But this is F1 so expect a more complicated and less effective system to be found…