Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Montreal, 2011

F1 technology in 2011 part 1: Tyres and DRS

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In the first of a two-part series looking at trends in technology in 2011, John Beamer talks tyres and the controversial Drag Reduction System.


Fernando Alonso, Renault, Silverstone, 2005
Fernando Alonso, Renault, Silverstone, 2005

As pre-season testing indicated, the characteristics of the Pirelli rubber are very different to the old Bridgestones. It?s worth going through a bit of history to understand how we got here.

Ten years ago pit stop strategy was an essential element of Grand Prix racing. The tyres would wear out quickly and teams had to work out whether the speed advantage of a series of short sprints outweighed the cost of spending more time trundling down the pitlane. The problem was that Ferrari and Michael Schumacher were imperious and the spectacle was dull.

To try to spice things up in 2005 the FIA banned tyre changes. The thesis was to bring tyre management into play and make the sport more exciting.

The tyre companies (Bridgestone and Michelin) at the time poured research in to developing more durable compounds that wouldn?t degrade so much over a 300km race.

The racing was better but this was because the Michelin-shod teams had better rubber and were able to close the gap to Ferrari who stuck with Bridgestone.

Then came the ill-fated 2005 US Grand Prix where the high lateral loads caused by the banked Indy speedway dangerously weakened the sidewalls of the Michelins.

We all know what happened next ?ǣ the Michelin teams weren?t allowed to race turning the Grand Prix into a farce. That saw the sport scarp the ‘no tyre change’ rule and move to a single supplier for tyres (Bridgestone) for 2007.

The 2007 control tyre was based on the compound developed in 2005 and the tyres were very durable ?ǣ degrading a maximum of a 0.05s per lap. Fuel stops still gave a strategic angle to race day.

It wasn?t until 2010 and the refuelling ban that the F1-watching public started to cotton on to how important tyres were in deciding the outcome of a Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel demonstrated how durable the super-softs were last year in Monza when he ran them for practically the entire race distance.

Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Montreal, 2010
Sebastien Buemi, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Montreal, 2010

A few races earlier, the combination of compound choice, rain and asphalt characteristics turned the Canadian Grand Prix into an overtaking bonanza as the tyres lasted a handful of laps.

These events dovetailed with Bridgestone?s decision to exit the spot and when Pirelli was selected as F1?s sole tyre supplier it was give the mandate to make rubber that would degrade faster.

In the Bridgestone days the biggest problems the teams had was graining. This is when the first layer of rubber is torn by the asphalt temporarily resulting in reduced grip. Once the graining phase was over the tyres would work as normal.

Simply put, the Pirellis don?t grain. The tyres just degrade ?ǣ the rubber is more consistent throughout the tyre and it wears away (hence the marbles which appear off the racing line).

Driving style has a limited effect on degradation. Witness Lewis Hamilton having to claw back places in Turkey following a poor start ?ǣ his tyres were done a couple of laps before the others.

Drivers have to work out when to push and when to hold back but the point is that two drivers going the same speed will have a very similar degradation pattern whereas with the Bridgestones there was more scope for managing the tyres.

The other point of note is the extent to which the Pirellis amplify the difference between team mates, particularly in qualifying.

Vettel, Hamilton, Alonso and Rosberg have consistently outpaced Webber, Button, Massa and Schumacher respectively ?ǣ and typically by a greater margin than last year:

DRS and rear wings

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Montreal, 2011
Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Montreal, 2011

The Drag Reduction System is probably the most radical rule change to F1 since shaped under floors were outlawed.

As everyone who reads this site knows the flap may open by a distance of 50mm reducing its angle of attack. Drag squares with speed and the open flap allows cars to find roughly 10-15 kph on the straight.

As we saw in Turkey the effect DRS has in the race can be substantial. However, perhaps the bigger and much less discussed consequence is that Red Bull?s qualifying dominance is largely down to its ability to use DRS where others can?t.

At the recent Spanish Grand Prix, coming out of the last corner the RB7 had its wing open entering the last corner where as the McLaren, its closest challenger, waited until the car was past the corner apex. It confirms how much raw downforce the Red Bull has.

On an average track in qualifying trim the RB7 has a second a lap advantage over the MP4-26. That?s huge. On Sunday when DRS use is restricted the gap contracts to a less jaw-dropped 0.2s (and McLaren believe they are quicker over a race distance), which goes to show how unrestricted use of the DRS exaggerates the performance gap.

Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Montreal, 2011
Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Montreal, 2011

In addition the design of the DRS system and rear wing can also effect performance. The Mercedes has the most aggressive DRS design.

The chord length of its rear wing flap is short and in the early races when the DRS deactivated it took too long for airflow to reattach to the underside of the flap. This meant that downforce couldn?t be recovered quickly enough and was one reason why Schumacher and Rosberg struggled during qualifying in the early races.

Ferrari’s banned rear wing

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Barcelona, 2011
Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Barcelona, 2011

There wasn?t a lot of innovation in rear wing design until Ferrari appeared in Spain with a raised lip on the trailing edge of the rear wing (pictured) that resembled a gurney flap – and caused the rear wing to exceed a maximum height threshold.

Closer inspection revealed that the trailing edge is part of the extended wing separators as specified by article 3.10.3 of the technical regulations.

The article mandates two central supports between 2-5mm thick and a maximum distance of 30mm from the wing surface that fully enclose both the main plane and flap of the wing. Ferrari joined the two separators together and then split them at the trailing edge of the flap so they then shadow the rest of flap along its length, 30mm from the trailing edge.

The benefits were obvious with the device acting a gurney flap, which is an efficient way to add downforce to the car. However, before free practice 3 the FIA deemed that Ferrari?s innovation contravened the regulations and it was banned.

At the start of the 2011 campaign there were fears that the writing of the DRS regulations would introduce new loopholes that canny teams would exploit to produce the 2011 equivalent of the f-duct. So far it hasn?t happened ?ǣ at least not to the naked eye.

The only parameters that designers can tweak are chord length and profile thickness. A shorter flap (i.e., small chord length) will shed drag more quickly when open but will produce less downforce when closed.

The second part of this article tomorrow will look at exhaust-blown diffusers, flexible bodywork, and the planned changes for 2013.

This is a guest article by John Beamer. If you want to write a guest article for F1 Fanatic you can find all the information you need here.

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Images ?? Renault/LAT, Bridgestone/Ercole Colombo, Red Bull/Getty Images, Daimler

39 comments on “F1 technology in 2011 part 1: Tyres and DRS”

  1. I’m not sure about the team-mates point, apart from Webber. Button and Rosberg are ahead of their team-mates in the points, and Massa’s finished ahead of Alonso 3/7 times.

    The Pirelli tyres have definitely helped Button in his intra-team battle, and seems to be helping Schumacher more and more as well.

    1. i disagree, schumacher has struggled on the tires this year and only showed race real pace last week

      1. Hahahah.. just because he got lucky in Montreal shows his real pace? Wait and see him in Valencia.

      2. He was also fast at Spain and Monaco, so I don’t just think Canada was a one-off.

        But still, I don’t think the tyres have exaggerated the margin between them at all, and it has perhaps closed it.

        1. I don’t think the tyres have exaggerated the margin between them at all, and it has perhaps closed it.

          That’s what Massa thought would have happened, saying he couldn’t bring the Bridgestones to temperature. Sadly he is still behind Alonso, even if the tyres have changed.

    2. The article says the tyres have helped separate the drivers ‘particularly in qualifying,’ which seems true.

      The Pirelli’s seem to have helped Button be more competitive this year than last, but that’s obviously not the reason why he’s ahead of Hamilton on points.

      1. Mostly because he took him out in the last race and Hamilton had all the misfortune in Malaysia and Monaco.

        1. Precisely.

  2. I’ve been missing these. Nice stuff :)

    1. Feel exactly the same. Thanks John, missed your articles :-)

      The tyre history part was really interesting for me.

      1. Agreed. I’d really missed these articles!

        1. dyslexicbunny
          19th June 2011, 15:14

          I share their opinions. More technical articles!

  3. ‘Driving style has a limited effect on degradation’ what about JB who constantly carry on with the same set 3-4 laps more than lewis?(except from malaysia, i think)

    1. There is more to it than that. Strategy often forces drivers to pit earlier.

    2. Vettel needed a pitstop less than Webber, at most races.

      1. Anyone out front and unchallenged is likely to be easier on their tyres than someone trying to carve their way through the field.

        1. Yup. Sitting behind a car you have less aero grip, meaning you need to compensate by using more mechanical (tyres) grip.

  4. Interesting article. I am not sure if the teammate battles are quite as clear cut as you make it out to be: I think the only clear thing you can see is that Vettel is outpacing Webber, and Alonso outpacing Massa (but less than last year). For the others, it is close.

  5. Specifically I was talking about qualifying. In the race there are other factors that affect tyre usage and strategies but I think in qualy this year the ‘faster’ driver in each team has come out on top 6 times out of 7 — especially if you ignore one-offs e.g., Hamilton in Monaco

    1. You point is probably valid but Webber has rarely had the car 100% during Q3 this year so looks worse than last year.

      1. Also John, very nice article. I can’t see why the DRS is allowed in qualifying anyone know the justification?

        1. Otherwise it is much more tempting to set the gears up such that without DRS you get the maximum at the end of the straight; so then DRS doesn’t ultimately have as big an effect.

          1. ….but why not only use the DRS in the same DRS zone as in the race.

  6. Great article. Made some point for which I didn’t give that much attention before.

  7. Nicely written John, I especially liked the history lesson on tyres, the everlasting Bridgestones make more sense now.

  8. Bigbadderboom
    18th June 2011, 13:37

    Nice piec John. Looking forward to the blown diffuser analysis. Especially as it’s destined to join the many short lived technologies.

  9. Beamer’s technical analysis never fail to amaze. He does a spectacular job of taking the complexities of F1 technology and putting them in layman’s terms. Thanks for these articles Keith.

  10. Michael Griffin
    18th June 2011, 14:44

    Great article. Explaining something so complicated in an easy-to-understand manner. Love it.

  11. I really wish F1 would get rid of the silly turbo boost drs button :(

    I realize that has improved overtaking, but I for one prefer a F1 with much less overtaking, but one that every pass shows the talent of the drivers.

    1. DRS-button is not a Turbo boost button. It’s a Rear wing-flap wind drag reduction adjustment button.

      I think DRS is great. But the actual DRS-zone distance should be reduced.

      1. Of course is not, I was being ironic. I’ve followed F1 since (almost) I was born on ’77 and I find this new technology preposterous.

        I can live with the ridiculously small rear wings. I can live (maybe…) with the proposed 1.6, 4 cylinder bicycle engine for 2013… But DRS is just plain silly. It remainds me of Daytona USA (the arcade game) in where the last cars were given (automatically) a boost in power so they could overtake easily, thus giving them an unfair advantage.

        If we’re going to have DRS then the drivers should be able to use it to their hearts content, just like the other turbo boost button: KERS.

  12. i think drs should be removed completely, its harmed the racing this year more than it has helped it.

    watching cars simply blow by other cars on straghts with the non-drs car unable to do anything to defend there position is nothing but a joke.

    the twin drs zone as seen in montreal was just plain ridiculous and the speed advantage drs enabled cars were gaining was also just plain ridiculous.

    i was undecided on drs before the season as i wanted to see just what effect it would have in reality before making an opinion. well after the 7 races we have had i have fallen firmly on the against side of the argument.

  13. Good article and easy to understand, gave me some insight into the banned Ferrari rear-wing, thanks!

  14. The only way to compare team-mates is results, who was faster here or there means nothing. If i were a team boss i’d be hiring the driver that wins races, not the fastest driver. Lewis is faster than Jenson in out right pace, no one can really deny that, but Button has the better race craft and more likely to score consistently over a few seasons than Lewis. Rosberg is a good racer but Schmey has lost his top form and you can’t really compare the two. As for Vettel and Webber, well i think Webber proved last year that he’s as good as Vettel and just as fast, last year killed his spirit though, it was his one and only chance to be F1 champ and he’s carrying that into 2011.

    1. JB is the opposite, he grabbed his ‘only’ chance in 2009, and that only increased his desire – moved to Mclaren and proved every one wrong by winning races and running Lewis pretty damn close over a season.

    2. Geordie Porker
      19th June 2011, 10:02

      John has already said that his point on teammates was about qualifying, where you’ll find he is perfectly correct. He implied this in the article as well.
      I understand what you are saying in your comment, and at least in part I agree, but John has put together a very good article here and it winds me up when people misread a single statement and criticise based on that.

  15. Good work, I think tyres are the thing that is bringing the most spectacle into this season.As pointed out some drivers from the top 4 teams are out pacing their team mates.Tyres are same for everyone it’s who uses less aggressively but still manages to have the pace.DRS it’s the team’s own work as the team with a clever work will have efficient aero work & like RBR who produce so much downforce that they can open their DRS long before anyone can.

  16. dyslexicbunny
    19th June 2011, 15:16

    I also really loved a lot of the background with the tires. I’ve seen some of it before in different places but it’s nice to see it all summed up here.

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