How new tyres will change F1 in 2011

2011 F1 season preview

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Silver Pirelli lettering on dry-weather tyres

Moving rear wings and hybrid engine systems are the attention-grabbers in the new 2011 rules.

But the change of tyre supplier is surely going to have an even more profound effect on F1.

Testing has shown F1 has swung from extreme to another: from rubber that lasts a whole race to tyres that need changing several times.

Four-stop strategies?

While the tyres are very different to what we had last year, the rules have changed little.

There will still be four different dry-weather compounds; they will still be called hard, medium, soft and super-soft; two versions will be brought to each race and drivers will have to use at least one set of each during the race.

Yellow Pirelli lettering on dry-weather tyres

The dimensions of the tyres has stayed the same too – but how they perform and how long they last couldn’t be more different.

They are a couple of seconds per lap slower than last year’s tyres and they wear out more quickly – particularly the softer compounds.

Pirelli have not gone in this direction on a whim. They were asked to do so by the teams who took note of the thrilling race at Montreal last year (rated best of the season by F1 Fanatic readers) which was produced by tyres that wore out quickly.

The days of drivers completing almost an entire race distance on the softest tyres available, as Sebastian Vettel did at Monza last year, are history.

Just how often they may need to make pit stops is hard to judge and has been the subject of considerable speculation. Vettel raised the possibility of four-stop races this year but Pirelli have consistently said their data indicates it will not be as many as that.

Doomsayers have predicted tedious races of drivers tiptoeing around to keep life in their tyres. But the strategic options available to drivers should be greater than that, particularly at tracks with short pit lanes like Valencia.

Nico Rosberg is expecting much more hectic races: “The race strategy is going to be fascinating and the number of pit stops should make it really exciting for the fans.”

Qualifying just got harder

Green Pirelli lettering on full wet tyres

A by-product of the change of tyre supplier could be more unpredictable grids.

Drivers have noted in testing that after doing a hot lap on a set of tyres there’s no chance of getting a similarly quick lap out of them.

So in qualifying they will be under pressure to deliver their best lap on their first effort and will have fewer opportunities to improve it.

The desire to keep as many new tyres for the race as possible will keep them from bolting on a fresh set and trying again.

That will also have an effect on the amount of practice running drivers do. The FIA have already confirmed drivers may be given extra tyres for Friday only for additional running.

Drivers who qualify in the top ten will once again have to start the race on the same tyres they used in qualifying. Last year drivers opted for the softer tyre at every race with few exceptions, because they were so durable. That will be a harder decision to make this year.

Spot the difference

Blue Pirelli lettering on intermediate tyres

Many unanswered questions remain. Theories over which drivers can coax the most life out of their tyres will be put to the test. Teams may find trick methods of getting the tyres to last longer, or gamble on unorthodox strategies.

Testing has also shown the tyres produce more ‘marbles’ – lumps of rubber that come off the tyres and sit off the racing line, making it more treacherous. They can also stick to cars disrupting their aerodynamics and impeding cooling, with obvious consequences.

What also remains to be seen is how we’re going to be able to distinguish between the tyres. Pirelli will make an official announcement in Australia but the final pre-season test at Barcelona gave a clue to the direction they’re heading in.

The dry-weather tyres appeared with either silver or yellow lettering, the full wet tyres had green lettering and the intermediates tyres – shown on Pirelli’s Twitter feed but later removed – had blue letters.

Heading into the first races of the season we know Pirelli will supply the hard and soft tyres for the first three rounds.

Beyond that very little is known – and it’s precisely that unpredictability that should make the tyres an exciting part of this year’s championship.

Update: Pirelli have confirmed how their tyres will be coloured.

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Images © Pirelli

Author information

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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53 comments on “How new tyres will change F1 in 2011”

  1. Rumors say there might be super-hard tyres in Turkey.

    1. May be that track do kill the front right tyre.

  2. Although these tyres may add to the excitement. I am concerned that because so many different teams will be on different strategies the race will become extremely hard to follow. I think it will improve the show on TV for sure, but will make following a race from the ground near impossible without one of those kangaroo things.

    1. You have got a point, im also concerned that the Tv race broadcasters will miss more action out on track due to following the increased amount of pitstops during the race.

      That aside though the new tyres sound good for fans wanting to see more interesting races. Bring it on.

    2. HounslowBusGarage
      18th March 2011, 10:53

      I think you’re right. But I suspect that the average or occasional viewer on TV may become confused, bored and then switch off.

      1. You’ve got a point, but I think the commentators will have a big role to play in this. They must be razor-edge sharp during the whole race. And while my local(Israeli) commentators are a total and unmitigated failure, I have lots of confidence in Bru and Cou doing it just right.

        1. I think the tyres will do nothing but add to the excitement. Passer-by type viewers are not the key market, the F1 fans are. If I sit down half way through a movie missing the beginning, its not the movie producers fault, is it?

          I think the mystery about who is actually leading will keep true fans of the sport stuck to their seats until the very end of the race. Having Lewis in third, catching up with the leaders at 2 seconds a lap because Lewis has fresher tyres will return the that epic orgasm that we used to have in F1.

          1. I hope that was a metaphor.

            I can sympathise with Bertie’s point, but then I suppose you’re expected to use modern technology when you’re watching the race live these days (mobile timing apps and so forth).

  3. Personally, I can only see positives from this change. Last year there was no point to the hard tyre, let alone the mandatory pit stop. This year will be far more unpredictable.

    Personally i’m still against the requirement to use different compounds, but its a step in the right direction.

    Qualifying will be brilliant though, it’ll really shake up strategy for the race as I imagine we shall see more of a shake up as to who uses what tyres

    1. Qualifying will be a do not miss event this year… I’m on the edge of my seat (with a week to go).

      1. Just the final minute of qualifying though.

  4. Pirelli have not gone in this direction on a whim. They were asked to do so by the teams who took note of the thrilling race at Montreal last year (rated best of the season by F1 Fanatic readers) which was produced by tyres that wore out quickly.

    I’m still not 100% convinced here. Montreal caused those conditions because of the nature of the circuit. The city experiences extremes in tempreature that can range from a hot summer’s day to being cold enough to freeze the St. Lawrence River. As a direct result of this, the surface of the circuit is non-porous to prevent water from seeping in and then freezing, which causes it to expand and break up the surface of the circuit. So I’m curious as to how te sirface will affect tyres, particularly at new circuits like India and under-used venues like Abu Dhabi and Shanghai.

    1. Another thing that suprised many in Montreal was, that the Hards did not last much longer than the sofst while being a tad slower.

      Now the hards will last about 5-10 laps more, but will be a lot slower. This makes for an entirely different picture.

      I think it might be exiting, if it helps making variable strategies viable for winning. The most boring thing last year was, knowing everyone from 1-18th would stop about lap 12-18 and get the hards to the finish.
      Due to the small difference between the tyres, there was just no sense in going at it the other way around, save some examles like Kobayashi in Valencia (but that was a lot to do with the SC chaos).

  5. I hope the soft tyres are actually significantly faster than the hard tyre. Not by a few tenths, but 2-3 seconds a lap faster.

  6. My only concerns are that:

    – The soft tyres don’t have enough of an advantage to compensate for the extra degradation
    – The slower tyres meaning the balance has shifted towards aero away from mechanical grip, again

    Hopefully we’ll see a lot more variety in starting tyre choice this year. McLaren in particular I hope will realise if they can’t compete for pole, starting 10th might not be the worst thing ever.

    1. Wouldn’t it be better to start 11th rather than 10th..? ;)

      1. Why run in Q3? ;)

      2. What I mean is get through to Q3 and then do it on the hards so you start on them.

        1. We could very well see more drivers opting for hards at the start if the softs go off so fast that they don’t give the leaders enough time to get away from the pack before their first pit stops.

    2. I think new soft tyre is not advantage but some sort of panalty which you have to use sometimes. problem is when. maybe you’d rather qualify with harder tyre.

      1. Much like in Canada where Red Bull feared that qualifying on the soft tyre would be too much of a risk.

        In the end starting on the supersoft tyre was the better thing to do.

        In that case the supersofts kept their pace over the whole stint though. Now they gain laptime at a huge rate.

        Start from pole and come in after 3 laps to find yourself trapped in the midfield.

        Whichever is best, it will only take the teams one or two races to figure this out. What you’re left with then is the same as any other race. Just that the drivers go slower and they make more stops.

  7. Seeing the difference between yellow and white at 180mph is going to be.. interesting.

    I don’t know why they couldn’t have just did what Bridgestone did, but instead of green, using white.. or even yellow (to go with the Pirelli natural colour).

    1. I doubt it will be much of a challenge, At high speed the letters might as well appear as a line anyway.

      1. they have to make sure you can tell the tyres appart from an on-board camera. letters on the side is not enough.

  8. I wonder if Brawn himself will become more involved again in strategy. Together with Schumi they were masters at this. From them I would expect a dry race with 5 stops at least once this season.

    Bring it on!

    1. From them I would expect a dry race with 5 stops at least once this season

      I wouldn’t be surprised if they proved you right!

  9. How new tyres will change F1 in 2011???
    A:in good way.

  10. The change was needed, but perhaps to a smaller magnitude, in terms of degradation. Also, it would have been totally interesting to have a compound that gives high grip advantage in very short time, like two laps, probably meaning more flexible team strategies. Whether what Pirelli have done is good or bad, we shall judge best after a few races, and I hope that the tires won’t be the main variable this season, as there are other important parameters, too.

  11. Nice to see that the drivers will get to play a bigger role in strategy (you can’t tell if the tyre is degrading badly by standing on the pit wall), rather than just having the ‘brains’ on the pit wall working out what lap will be best for him to come in on, so that the he isn’t held up on his out lap.

    Last season they knew that the tyre would actually get faster as the fuel came off and so the strategists could pick the ideal lap for their driver to make his stop.

    This season they won’t have the benefit of non-degrading tyres.

  12. I really hope we do get some interesting strategies on the tyres. I remember all this anticipation last year about great tyre gambles and we didn’t get it.

    Hopefully with these new tyres we get some exciting races.

    Also, If it’s four-stop strategies does that mean it’ll be about 7 stops in Montreal!? :P

  13. Whatever set up they choose, ideally a driver should only have to pit twice for tyres during a race at the most (wet weather races excluded). The difference between a driver changing tyres once and twice should be the major strategy breaker, I can appreciate someone winning because they took a punt on less (or more) changes for tyres, and driving the car skillfully to make the alternative strategy work.

    I hope these tyres facilitate that type of racing, but I fear it’s going to bring about something close to 5 pit stops or more. This could turn the pit lane into an English motorway on a bank holiday.

  14. I don’t see any more than 4 stops at the most. Probably 2 or 3 will be the norm. It may be that some races will see some cars having to pit 5 or even 6 times, but this will be more to do with car and driver issues rather than tyre issues.

  15. DeadManWoking
    18th March 2011, 12:48

    I don’t see 2 stops as being possible. They were only able to do 12-14 lap stints at Barcelona until degradation hit and the times dropped off. As de la Rosa says in Autosport:

    “As a driver you will feel the degradation earlier than the teams see the lap time loss. So I think that the driver will play a key role in knowing when the tyres are just hitting their end. If you leave it one or two laps too late you can lose five or six seconds.

    “The feeling of when the tyre has gone off will be extremely important, and this is something I realised during the Pirelli testing. The tyres have a linear degradation until suddenly they have a huge drop off.

    “And that huge drop-off, you will have to avoid it during any of your stints. And it will be a driver dependent decision, not a team dependent one.

    “You will have to tell the team over the radio that the tyres have gone off and that you are going in. This will be interesting – as it will not just be a matter of engineers looking at a screen to pit you in.”

    They will also have to change to the softs for a stint, if they haven’t in fact started on them, and they won’t last as long.

    1. Saving the softer tyres for the final stint of the race might be the way to go for everybody this season.

      1. Yes, it might turn out that way, at least for everyone outside the Top 10. Then again, people might go different ways in a mid-race Safety Car.

        I think 2 stops might be possible, the races won’t be as cool as the tests were. But I think only possible if they start on the hard tyres and finish on the soft ones.

      2. DeadManWoking
        18th March 2011, 21:38

        Long range weather is predicting a high of only 19 so I still think 3 stops. The top 10 will probably start on softs and pit after 8 laps or so. They’ll have KERS to get by the new teams with although the Virgin and HRT may still be behind them even with their stop.:) Then they’ll use the DRS to pick their way through the midfield who started on hards until they have to stop as well.

  16. My concern (as a Canadian) is that they’re going to have serious troubles at Canada now. If the Bridgestone tires
    required 3 or 4 stops how many will they have to do with the Pirellis? I can see the Canadian grand prix becoming ‘too dangerous’ because of the lack of grip and it being dropped. – My Canadian Pessimism kicking in.

    1. But the track will be certainly more rubbered in by the time the race is on this year compared to last year.

      1. That’s exactly one of the major problems with the Pirelli’s. They do NOT rubber the track in.

        They do litter the track with rubber, but that’s something else.

    2. I doubt Pirelli would let it come to that. Last year Bridgestone supplied Medium and Super-soft so I guess that Pirelli would supply at least Hard and Soft. Unless of course the teams get their head around the tyres more and they can manage them better.

    3. The Canadian race could be done perfectly well on two stops. All the front runners did (although some started on the wrong compound).

      That some teams went for 3 stops was simply a bad strategy call.

      That’s the whole problem with this illusion that fast wearing tyres are going to recreate the same chaotic race over and over again.

      The teams actually do learn from their mistakes. If they had run the same race again they would have all gone for two stops.

  17. Brilliant round-up of all things tyres Keith, ta.

    This article makes me so excited, cannot wait! I hope we sit somewhere nicely between more pit-stops than last year but not enough to de-value over-taking and pit-stop strategy.

  18. in a perfect world teams could chose their own tyre supplier and we would have a tyre war between 7 manufacturers. this way you wouldnt need any artificial rules like a gap between tyre compounds available, mandatory pit stops, etc. tyre companies would be working closely with teams on development and making their tyres both faster and more durable, or finding the best compromise between the two.

    but the truth is we do not have the money for that. the whole world is out of money hence so little few sponsors in F1. banning the tobacco sponsorship didnt help either.

    given our situation the Pirelli strategy is not bad though. i cant wait for the season to start. its been too long.

    1. At the end of the day the purest form of racing would just result in endless processions broken only by rain or crashes. Give everyone the freedom to do what they want and they’ll all pick the most advantageous and being a clever bunch they’ll work that out quickly.

      The key is to come up with rules that make alternate strategies as good as each other. This new set might just have cracked it, apart from the Top 10 rule – it should be everyone starting on the tyres used in qualifying and no mandatory switch between compounds, because there is already an incentive to use the softer/quicker one with qualifying. Why should those who sacrifice grid position for strategy have to use the rubbish set as well? Anyone on a newer set is faster, so they will slowly creep up to them and overcome the pit-stop deficit, by forcing them to use the softer tyre at some point in the race and thus equalise the number of pitstops it in the end favours everyone just doing the same thing.

      1. Sorry, that is a mess. Let me explain better.

        Vettel leads Q2 by 0.2 seconds from Alonso. Assume that stays constant in Q3. So Alonso decides to do Q3 on the hard tyre instead, which leaves him qualifying 6th instead of 2nd.

        Vettel sprints off at the start along with the other 4 guys. They then pit and Alonso is 1st, say by 25 seconds (30 seconds for the stop minus a 5-second lead coming in the start). But now they have fresher rubber and begin to close the gap. Alonso then pits, say only 22 seconds ahead now and is behind them again (by 8 seconds), but in turn starts to make the gap up. A little later, Vettel has to pit, let’s say 5 seconds ahead of Alonso, as the performance difference won’t be as great, making him 25 seconds behind Alonso when he comes out. But here’s the sticking point: Alonso has to pit again for his soft tyres. A combination of Vettel’s fresher rubber and Alonso’s pit stop puts Seb back at the front (with a lead of at 5+ seconds). So although Alonso has super-fast tyres and super-low fuel, he’s too far behind and Vettel wins. Whereas if Alonso didn’t have to stop he could try and out-run Vettel to the finish, closing all the time on better tyres as Alonso’s grip falls off a cliff.

        I find it ironic this morning I was worrying that the softs wouldn’t give enough of an advantage and am now arguing it will always be better to start on them no matter what!

        1. Of course, this is a 2-stop race starting on softs. If it’s a 3-stop race starting on softs but a 2-stop race if you start on the hards, then it might give an advantage to qualifying on the hards. So perhaps I am being a bit pessimistic here, since I doubt we will see just 2 stops per race or if we do, it will be in serious tyre-save mode for those who started on the softs.

  19. Hi Keith, Are you going to run the 20 questions article again?
    Thanks and great site btw.

    1. Yes (and thanks!)

  20. The only thing we will miss now is a new rule saying the driver has to manually change the tires himself without help from reammembers in the pit. That would make F1 even more a sport.

    1. And the run-to-your-car-and-get-in before you drove off

      1. Try that again:

        And the run-to-your-car-and-get-in-before-you-drive-off starts.

        Thats better

  21. If we really do see a noticeable change between the tire compounds, I’d love to see next year’s tire rules as follows:

    1 – At the beginning of the season, cars are allotted 2 sets of each compound for each race on the calendar. (So on a 20 race calendar, 40 sets of each compound)

    2 – Teams may bring any combination of 8 new sets of tires to each race weekend.

    3 – Up to 4 sets of each wet compound will be available per car per weekend if needed.

    The end.

    Imagine the possibilities as you could have a nearly endless combination of strategies between the teams.

  22. Pirelli have not gone in this direction on a whim. They were asked to do so by the teams who took note of the thrilling race at Montreal last year (rated best of the season by F1 Fanatic readers) which was produced by tyres that wore out quickly

    That’s simply not true. Pirelli presented this idea themselves. BEFORE they got the contract.

    Pirelli even ridiculed Michelin for their proposal. Michelin wanted to make longer lasting tyres, give the teams less of them and thus save money. To which Pirelli commented that this would obviously be bad for the “show”.

    At best you might ague that Pirelli might have gotten picked by FIA and FOTA because of this, but it’s still their own idea.

    I understand that the backlash of this idea is now dawning on them so they made FIA/FOTA defend them in public (which I’m pretty sure is in the contract as well).

    FOTA and FIA might have picked Pirelli because of their idea to have more pitstops, but they never wanted Pirelli to make the tyres degrade at such an insane rate.

    The drivers already indicated that it make it impossible for real overtaking to take place and losing 3 to 5 seconds of laptime on a stint is simply ridiculous.

    If the tyres themselves don’t hinder this, the amount of rubber flying off these poorly constructed tyres surely will.

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