Pirelli plans to give F1 a speed boost

2013 F1 season

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The drive to build a faster car is part of the essence of Formula One. But ever-tightening rules, a freeze on engine development and the abolition of competition between tyre suppliers has gone a long way to halt advances in car performance.

This has largely been done for two reasons: to improve safety and reign in costs. And it has been successful: average lap times at F1’s fastest track are much the same as they were 20 years ago.

That trend may be about to change. Pirelli’s 2013 F1 tyre range, which they say were “developed in accordance with the teams and the various governing bodies” will boast “improved performance”.

Pirelli estimate the potential lap time gain at 0.5 seconds, though inevitably that will vary from circuit to circuit.

In terms of tyres, the pursuit of performance stopped when the FIA ended the Bridgestone-Michelin tyre war and introduced a single tyre supplier from 2007. When Pirelli took over in 2011 the sport wanted a new range of tyres which would promote better racing.

While Pirelli has been successful in that respect, lap times crept up. They grew by around a second at most tracks last year, compounded by new technical restrictions on exhaust-blown diffusers.

F1 getting slower

This chart shows the quickest lap time (in seconds) from qualifying at three of the first four tracks on the 2013 calendar over the last 15 years:


Albert Park90.0190.46290.55686.89285.84387.17384.40885.22985.32685.18784.78383.91983.52984.922
Circuit de Catalunya80.26282.08880.97478.20176.36477.1375.02274.79574.63780.59780.58479.95479.99580.98182.105

How much lap times have changed varies depending on the nature of the circuit.

At tracks Sepang, where aerodynamic efficiency is particularly important, the cars were 3.7 seconds per lap slower last season than they were seven years ago. But at stop-start Melbourne the picture is quite different – last year was the first time in five years lap times did not improve.

Pirelli test drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Lucas di Grassi evaluated the new tyres using a 2010-spec Renault R30 at Jerez, Spa, Barcelona and Paul Ricard. Motorsport director Paul Hembery expects drivers to have some difficulty adjusting to the new rubber:

“It will take some time for the drivers to re-adapt, as it did when we came into the sport,” he said. “They had to change some approaches, certainly in the braking zones, how they approached overtaking.”

“But it’s working in the direction they’ve suggested. They wanted us to give them an improvement so we believe it’s going to go in exactly the right direction.

“And they’ll appreciate, as well, improved lap times. We saw maybe three, four tenths when we were in Brazil [when the 2013 tyres were tested]. When you combine with all the new compounds we believes most race tracks will be half a second quicker.”

Predictions like this are difficult to get right and F1’s armies of designers are highly skilled at extracting the maximum from what the regulations permit. With few new restrictions on car design for this year we may well find the teams have found even more time.

With the first test less than two weeks away we won’t have to wait long to find out.

Notes on the data

  • Wet qualifying sessions at Melbourne in 2005 and Sepang in 2010 omitted
  • A new chicane was added at the Circuit de Catalunya in 2007

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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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27 comments on “Pirelli plans to give F1 a speed boost”

  1. Doesn’t this go against what Paul Hembery had previously said – that it is pointless gaining performance advantages with tyres as the tyre manufacturer isn’t credited with the improvement? Not that I’m complaining as I feel the trend for increased laptimes is counter-productive and lessens F1’s stance as the premier motorsport but still interesting nonetheless.

    I have a feeling though that in qualifying the improvements in tyre performance and of course the cars will be negated by the rule changes regarding DRS use in practice, so ultimately Hembrey’s points may prove correct (in the general spectrum of F1 fans). I have a feeling the laptimes will continue to creep up sadly.

  2. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    23rd January 2013, 17:49

    Half a second a lap? That’s too little as far as I’m concerned. A big increase in mechanical grip would be great along with a big decrease in aero grip. Then we could do away with DRS altogether.

    1. I’m in.

      1. Sign me up for that too.

  3. I’m surprised the move to V8s in 2006 didn’t decrease performance…

    1. Although, essentially the same motor, in 2006 the engines were allowed to rev up to 20,000 RPM, so they had more power than the current V8s.

  4. So he is allowing the cars to go .5 of a second quicker per lap but expecting some of the drivers to take half the season to be as quick as before .Looks like Perez might win a few races at the start of the season . At least I havn’t paid for Sky.

  5. I don’t believe the racing has been improved, I think the opposite is the real story, sure results have been mixed up and there have been surprising ups and downs in form but I don’t think of seeing Kimi go from a podium position to out of the points in less than 2 laps great racing, nor do I think seeing Jenson Button having to pit to change virtually new tyres because they got cold behind the safety car or cars circulating in a train of 5 or 6 driving to a delta time to save their tyres is better racing.
    Surprising ? yes ? unpredictable? yes, but better racing, no way.

    1. @hohum – I agree to an extent: for sure it is not good to see drivers circulating to a delta time, conserving tyres. However that said it is also not good to see drivers not having to concern themselves with tyre wear as they could last several thousand miles – a balance needs to be struck to allow for strategic play as well as flat-out on track action. So I am in favour of Pirelli’s approach but I don’t want them taking it to the extreme which will mean the tyres become as much of a gimmick as DRS.

      What we had in 2011 towards the end of the season I felt was a good balance: tyre wear was obviously still an important factor but it didn’t dominate the races. To me somebody trying a one-stop whilst everyone else is on a two-stop strategy can be just as intriguing and interestsing as drivers simply going flat-out. In my opinion we need startegy and driver’s extracting the maximum if that is possible.

      1. @vettel1, I agree that a driver trying to nullify the cost of multiple pit stops by using softer but shorter lived tyres against others using a harder slower tyre that requires fewer stops can be intriguing but why should the tyres have to be changed at all?
        The FIA have directed that no-one should gain an advantage by having a faster more fragile engine or gearbox so why should they mandate that tyres will not last a race distance let alone the five races they want engines and gearboxes to last, off all the areas of F1 that can be equalised in the cause of cost containment and fairness between resource rich and resource poor teams the tyres are the simplest and most obvious. Tyres have always been a technology too far for F1 teams and for most of F1 history a single preferred tyre was used by all competitors so why now do we have to have tyres artificially engineered to fail?

        1. Tyres have always been a technology too far for F1 teams and for most of F1 history a single preferred tyre was used by all competitors so why now do we have to have tyres artificially engineered to fail?

          It amazes me that, given how easy these statements are to check, people still make them without doing so.

          F1 had a single tyre supplier for the following seasons (not counting occasions on which a team entered for less than a full season using a different tyre): 1959-64 (Dunlop), 1975-77 (Goodyear), 1987-8 (Goodyear), 1992-6 (Goodyear), 1999-2000 (Bridgestone), 2007-2010 (Bridgestone), 2011- (Pirelli). That’s 24 years (rising to 25 next year); a distinct minority of the amount of time F1 has been around.

          1. @ilanin, I admit to being a “broad picture” rather than a statistical researcher, but unless you can tell me that from 50 to 59 the teams had to use different tyres I think I’m on the money, the word I used was “preferred” not “mandatory”.
            But thanks for the research.

          2. @HoHum Define “had to”. Teams used different tyres because chassis were developed with a certain tyre in mind and didn’t work with anything else…the Italians (and by extension the large number of people entering privateer 250Fs) used Pirelli tyres, the French used Engelbert, Mercedes used Continental and the British used Dunlop. It wasn’t in the rules, no – but I think it’s pretty apparent that “a single preferred tyre was used by all competitors” doesn’t apply to the first few years of the World Championship.

          3. (And of course everybody at the Indy 500 used Firestones, but I wasn’t counting that).

          4. Ok, you win, please mentally delete the word “single” or insert the word “most” where appropriate.

  6. It seems as if Paul H was waiting for Schuey to leave the sports

    1. Chris (@tophercheese21)
      24th January 2013, 1:01

      Haha Yes!

  7. Kudos to Pirelli, not only for their work on helping to improve the racing, but their ongoing engagement with the fans. If only everyone in F1 remembered that we punters make an important contribution to sustaining the sport.

    1. Pirelli did to F1 racing what FIA with its often stupid rule changes didn’t manage to do for more than a decade. Oh, sorry, during Ferrari-Schumi eary they were happy to keep things like they were :P

      Last seasons with Pirelli have been the best F1 seasons ever.

  8. Funny how at the start of the season last year nobody could figure out the Pirellis and that gave some great advantage and by the end of the season they became predictable and boring and no one had an advantage.

    Lets hope the promise of this new tire will create some good racing.

  9. A-Safieldin (@)
    24th January 2013, 3:42

    Can anyone tell me why the times from 04 and 05 are slower than 06??

    1. 03-05 featured Single lap qualifying on race fuel.

      2006 was the 1st year of the current knock-out system & while Q3 was still been done on race fuel having multiple laps to dial yourself in & get everything upto temperature helped them go faster.

      Also don’t forget that in 2005 they had tyres that had to last a full race distance as tyre changes were banned so the tyre construction was harder/more durable (Although compounds were similar to ’04) & therefore slower.

  10. With the first test less than two weeks away we won’t have to wait long to find out.

    I can’t wait. Bring it on.

  11. Interesting stuff, it’ll be very interesting to see how the drivers (and fans) react and whether or not Pirelli’s prediction is correct. I think they do a wonderful job, often just another headache to get around and I like seeing the teams struggle.

  12. Had problems with posting – if a moderator sees this, please remove comment

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