Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2016

Why it’s too soon to call the new tyre rules a success

2016 F1 season

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The 2015 season ended with Mercedes running first and second for almost every lap of the final three races. Compared to that, the opening two grands prix of the new season provided some welcome variety – even if they yielded similar results.

Ferrari were genuine contenders for victory in Melbourne and could have been in Bahrain as well. And there was plenty going on elsewhere in the races too: The action came thick and fast in the midfield last Sunday with positions changing in the points places up until the final lap.

What was the key to this welcome disruption of what had become an underwhelming spectacle? Could it be the complex, much-maligned new tyre rules?

One of the paradoxes of Formula One is that while close competition and overtaking are widely appreciated, they are contradictory goals. Close competition means cars which have similar performance, yet for one to overtake another it needs a clear performance advantage.

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Bahrain International Circuit, 2016
Conservative Williams fell prey to aggressive Haas
Having cars running on different tyre compounds which degrade at different rates goes some way towards solving that problem: A Toro Rosso on super-soft tyres might pass a Force India on softs, for example. In theory the new tyre rules should increase variety in strategies and therefore improve the prospects for overtaking.

Bahrain gave plenty of evidence that this has happened. This year and last 17 drivers saw the chequered flag but 12 months ago they used just five different strategies compared to fourteen on Sunday.

Not only were there more strategies in play, but the addition of a third compound meant there was a greater range in performance between the available rubber. And as it was a softer option than the teams had available last year it encouraged more aggressive strategies.

So we saw Grosjean pushing hard from the off by running three stints on super-softs. Up ahead Williams found themselves in second and third after lap one but opted for the medium compound and were easily overhauled by their rivals.

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The new rules seem to have worked which is an encouraging development, particularly at a time when the sport is heaping ridicule on itself after unnecessary changes to the qualifying format were forced through. Those who insist consensus, discussion and democracy can only fail in Formula One should note that’s exactly how the new tyre rules came about.

But it’s to soon to call the them an unqualified success, for several reasons.

Start, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2016
The 2016 field is larger and more closely-matched
There are other changes at work in F1 this year which have also shaped the quality of racing. Chiefly the increase in the number of cars (more competitors means greater potential for action) and the fact that the field is more competitive as a whole than last year. Last year 20 cars were covered by 7.2s on the grid in Bahrain – this year 22 cars were covered by 4.9s.

Other new-for-2016 rules may also have contributed. In the first two standing starts of the year some drivers got away brilliantly while others struggled, a consequence of the new clutch restrictions. Tighter rules on what can be said on the radios has presented drivers with another challenge.

But the real test of the new tyre rules will be whether it continues to present a challenge to strategists. As we have seen before, teams adapt quickly to new rules which could mean we soon stop enjoying the kind of variability seen in Bahrain.

The reintroduction of in-race refuelling in 1994 is a good example: after a couple of seasons teams had largely sussed the nuances of refuelling strategy and it stopped producing surprise developments.

In the case of the 2016 tyre rules, there is a particular reason to be wary of this happening. In Australia and Bahrain teams had to use tyres they had chosen before they’d even run their new cars in testing. This will inevitably have involved a degree of guesswork which helped produce unpredictability.

But by the Spanish Grand Prix teams will be using tyres they selected with the benefit of far greater knowledge about their cars. The real test for F1’s new tyre rules will come then.

2016 F1 tyre choice deadlines

RoundEventCircuitRace dateTyre choice deadline
1Australian Grand PrixAlbert Park20/03/201613/12/2015
2Bahrain Grand PrixBahrain International Circuit03/04/201627/12/2015
3Chinese Grand PrixShanghai International Circuit17/04/201610/01/2016
4Russian Grand PrixSochi Autodrom01/05/201624/01/2016
5Spanish Grand PrixCircuit de Catalunya15/05/201620/03/2016
6Monaco Grand PrixMonte-Carlo29/05/201603/04/2016
7Canadian Grand PrixCircuit Gilles Villeneuve12/06/201606/03/2016
8European Grand PrixBaku City Circuit19/06/201613/03/2016
9Austrian Grand PrixRed Bull Ring03/07/201608/05/2016
10British Grand PrixSilverstone10/07/201615/05/2016
11Hungarian Grand PrixHungaroring24/07/201629/05/2016
12German Grand PrixHockenheimring31/07/201605/06/2016
13Belgian Grand PrixSpa-Francorchamps28/08/201603/07/2016
14Italian Grand PrixMonza04/09/201610/07/2016
15Singapore Grand PrixSingapore18/09/201612/06/2016
16Malaysian Grand PrixSepang International Circuit02/10/201626/06/2016
17Japanese Grand PrixSuzuka09/10/201603/07/2016
18United States Grand PrixCircuit of the Americas23/10/201617/07/2016
19Mexican Grand PrixAutodromo Hermanos Rodriguez30/10/201624/07/2016
20Brazilian Grand PrixInterlagos13/11/201607/08/2016
21Abu Dhabi Grand PrixYas Marina27/11/201621/08/2016

NB. Teams must inform the FIA of their tyre choices fourteen weeks before each non-European round and eight weeks before each European round. The European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan is considered a non-European round. Pre-season tests were held between 22nd and 25th February and 1st to 4th March.

2016 Bahrain Grand Prix

Browse all Bahrain Grand Prix articles

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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51 comments on “Why it’s too soon to call the new tyre rules a success”

  1. Very good analysis!

    1. But the reason for this: “” this year 22 cars were covered by 4.9s. “” is the tire choice that influenced the timetables.

      1. Manor haven’t found multiple seconds because of the tyres, it’s because they’ve got a competitive power unit now.

  2. I think the important thing about the new tyre rules is that even when they, inevitably, get figured out by the strategists there will still be more choice of strategies than before so that should still lead to more variations than before.

    It could be interesting if the only rule was that teams had to make a pitstop and could use only one type of tyre if they wanted but for now I like the current rules.

    1. I’ve come up with an idea regarding mandatory pit stops / tyre choices.

      The rule is exactly the same as it is now, except it would state “if a tyre change is made”, therefore a no-stop strategy could be tried, but otherwise they still have to use different tyres to mix it up.

    2. Indeed I’ve been trying to say the same, this is a great piece on the subject and this is a perfect forum to discuss such matter. Speaking of refuelling, the end of refuelling for the 2010 season is viewed as maybe the last perfect rule change, unanimously well received. I feel the 3 tyre rule risk getting undeserved credit as in my view, happened with the refuelling ban. I’m afraid as it almost happened in Bahrain and certainly did happen in Australia that the top teams will run the qualifying tyre and then a hard race tyre and no more. I don’t think it will give more strategy outcomes, it will just remain as safety net in case a top team gets their picks wrong.

    3. Good point with 3 tyres there are still many variables as good as each other where with refuelling it was 1 variable, same with 2012 tyres, they worked out how to use them and only 2 tyres to use and had to use 1 of each type. China will be very interesting as it is hard on the tyres. Will medium be too hard and an extra stop using softs will be better? Hard to tell even for the teams until after Friday practice. Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari look like they can go either way whilst teams like Willis seem to be in a corner on their chosen compounds. As the year goes on I think the tyres chosen will converge so they have more strategy options.

  3. “The European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan is considered a non-European round.”

    This makes me laugh: The European Grand Prix is a non-European round. It is both European and non-European. Maybe it’s Schroedinger’s Grand Prix: When we open the box, we will know which it is!

    1. @drmouse Well, there was this Swiss GP held when motor racing was banned there and Imola has hosted both the San Marino and the Italian GP……….

      1. The nurbugring also hosted a couple of luxenbourg grand prix.

      2. @davidnotcoulthard, indeed, one poster has pointed out that the Swiss GP that was held in Dijon Prenois could technically be considered to be the race that was most distant from the nation that it was named after.

        1. While Dijon holds this record for Formula One, it should be remembered that Imola held a GP2 Asia race once…(well, twice, technically, GP2 calendars being what they are).

    2. Or if it’s even there!

    3. ColdFly F1 (@)
      5th April 2016, 15:16

      The European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan is considered a non-European round.

      That’s indeed a cheeky footnote. @drmouse

      Interestingly Baku (be it in Europe or Asia) is the closest races to the Pirelli factory in Turkey ;-)

      Actually also the Gulf & Sotchi races might be closer than the European rounds (Hungary??).

      1. I don’t understand why they need the non-European choices so soon. It doesn’t make several weeks difference to send them does it?

        1. @strontium I think it’s just for worst case scenario like in Japan or America. I don’t know if the logistic they used is air freight or by sea, but it makes much more sense to just use sea route as it’s much cheaper especially considering the volume and weight involved. And shipping those to other side of the world could take almost a week by itself before the checks by local customs.

        2. Pretty sure they DO need several weeks to send them – Pirelli certainly sends the theavy tyres to Australia, Bahrain, China, Canada etc by ship rather than by plane (because of the huge cost of air freight especially for heavy things). And to Baku and Sochi it would also take a while for them to get there on trucks (especially since borders can take a day or 2-4 each) @strontium, @sonicslv

    4. It’s modern F1 in a nutshell really…

  4. The other thing is that quite a few rules changed after the teams were required to decide their compounds, because they must be decided 14 weeks before the start of the season, and several things – including the pivotal qualifying situation – were not decided for 2016 until long after that point came for the first few rounds of the season. It is entirely possible that in three months’ time, when decisions were made based on the actual 2016 set-up (assuming we get a final decision on qualifying before China), we might finally get to see the real match-up between tyre choice and race result, and finally be able to see the contribution of tyre choice to the excitement of the race.

    Also, 2015 was an unusually dull Bahrain Grand Prix. Double DRS seems to have made quite a difference to this particular track, which didn’t work even as a single-DRS venue, but has such long straights that double DRS advantages the more slippery cars, which can’t get round the corners well enough to qualify well. Further, lots of cars were damaged very early on and therefore could not rely on behaving exactly as designed (of course, some drivers/teams handled it better than others, and some cars were more damaged than others).

  5. It gives teams more options during the race when there are unforeseen circumstances, like Mercedes putting the mediums on Lewis in Australia after his poor start, and again in Bahrain after his contact with Bottas. It was a shame we didn’t get to see how that would have worked out in Australia.

    If you make a mistake in qualifying and end up way back down the grid, going for an unorthodox strategy could help you to gain places. It might not, but it could be worth a punt. I’m sure that for the most part we will see similar strategies used by teams, however having that third tyre could tempt some teams to try something different on the odd occasion where they are out of place or there is a safety car etc etc, which could really make it interesting.

  6. Maybe F1 generally becomes more interesting when drivers and teams have more choice. Five years ago, 83% of F1 Fanatic readers said that the rule, which requires drivers to use two different sets of tyre compounds during a race, should be scrapped. More than a year ago, 89% agreed that drivers should not be forced to make two pit stops. Perhaps a wider choice of tyre compounds is a good thing but should it not be complemented by more freedom in the choice of strategy?

    1. @girts – Sadly the bulk of F1 fans haven’t realised that Bernie will do the opposite of whatever it is the fans want every time. I am still yet to understand why but I assume it’s a little game he’s playing to keep him busy in his slightly confused state…

      I’d say the solution is therefore to ask (as fans) for a gimmicky, expensive, exclusive advertising platform based primarily around car parks in the Gulf. Ideally, we’d rather F1 be decided by suppliers rather than teams or drivers whilst the sport should be focussing on mega fuel efficiency, mega tyre inefficiency, qualification sessions which are exceptionally complicated in order to mix up the grid and any alteration possible to ensure it is more difficult for the drivers to follow each other…. oh… hang on…. Sorry I got carried away there – I mean vote to keep what we have now.

  7. “But the real test of the new tyre rules will be whether it continues to present a challenge to strategists. As we have seen before, teams adapt quickly to new rules which could mean we soon stop enjoying the kind of variability seen in Bahrain.”
    So that means that the new tyre rules are a success … for now. Just like the Pirelli designed-to-degrade-tyres were a success in 2011 and 2012.

    Anyway, these new rules didn’t make things worse, so I don’t mind keeping them.

    1. @paeschli – What it means is that if you ask teams to pick tyres before the season starts at a point where they haven’t finalised their cars or tried the tyres out on track, it creates some variables.

      We’ll see how it works once the teams actually get to pick the tyres based on anything other than gut feeling!

      1. Bernie could achieve the best result by having the tyres allocated by lottery, and with so many compounds and so many needed the lottery could be an hour of entertainment to supplement Q.

  8. Personally I think F1’s main problem (or one of, but a biggy) as highlighted by one of Keith’s paragraphs particularly, is that they have to get away from the notion that close competition from similarly performing cars, and overtaking, are contradictory. That is only the case, as proven time and time again, when cars are too dependent on clean air.

    No mention of overtaking from one driver being better than the other, or having a better day…it all comes down to one driver having a technical performance advantage of some sort through the regs.

    I think cars can be technical marvels and not be spec cars, and therefore have some variance that way, but stable rules can close them up, and it should then come down to a driver vs driver competition…not a driver vs disadvantaged driver either through drastically different tires or their status, or DRS, or silly attempts on Saturday to shake things up.

    Haven’t we seen enough through the years? Anyone notice that when MW had set the previous Bahrain track record it was on grooved tires? Ie. Lots of downforce had to have helped. When they have to invent gimmick after gimmick to the point of ridiculousness I think it is high time they tried something different…seriously curtailing the amount of aero downforce and bolstering the amount of mechanical grip so that we can talk once again of gladiator vs gladiator…not passenger vs. momentarily disadvantaged passenger due to gimmicks that mask talent.

    They’re always going to adapt to the curve balls thrown at them, and what we’re left with is less integrity in the sport from all the gimmicks. Never has there been more need imho for them to zero the scales and get back to the basics of racing where it takes a driver’s skill first and foremost to make a pass over a similar performing car.

    How many passes have we seen so far this year that weren’t due to vastly different tire status or type, or DRS? Oh, they created ‘action’ but where’s the integrity? Where are the gladiators? They’re there…just not really allowed to show themselves. They’re overly dependent on their strategists. Pity that.

    1. I somewhat agree with this. My issue with the races so far this year (but especially Bahrain) is that with the amount of tyres and strategies going on, you have lots of action and overtaking but is it really GOOD fighting? Are we seeing people truly battling for position and when do we know that they are? It’s hard to track who has which tyres left because you don’t know what they selected unless you have a chart in front of you. It’s hard to track who is racing with who at the end of the race to an extent (I’m not talking about the sharp end as much as the midfield) and most of the overtakes and action are people on older/worse tyres being overtaken by fresh tyres out of the pits which is practically a given.

      I appreciate that there was a lot of action during the Bahrain race but it lacked… tension. I enjoyed Romain’s drive, but you used to be able to see the strategies playing out to a bigger picture and often at the first stop you knew it was a buildup to ‘OK after the third stop these two are going to be close to each other, who will be in front?’ and that’s kinda missing now… You are just sat there watching people passing each other until the last stop then you think so who is on what tyre?

      Not yet convinced….

    2. Thank you, @Robbie

      That was absolutely spot on and I can’t think of anything more to add.

      1. What you are looking for is a spec series, if F1 remains a constructors championship (Which it should be) there will always be a performance advantage by one team and that team and will keep winning. You can have wingless cars and bulletproof tyres but as long as one engine will perform better than another you’ll never have close racing, then you’ll start asking for wings to give performance to underperforming cars and the circle goes on. F1 knows this hence pirelli to give an extra dimension to the race. I think the racing is fine as it is just the politics is whats annoying.
        P.S we need to stop all this doom and gloom, there are a lot of positives in the last two races we can focus on.

        1. @muna I disagree. You are right that there will always be the top teams, the ones with more resources that usually nail their package better than others. But stability in the regs can go a long way to help tighten up the field. My main thing is that as long as cars are dependent on clean air or they’re ‘useless’ then they will never get away from the gadgets of bad tires, drs, and manipulated Saturdays to try to create a fake show that should be created by the drivers on the track under real apples to apples conditions. And I don’t mean spec cars.

          They’ll never go to wingless cars and bulletproof tires and I don’t expect that. But if they did, you know what we would have? Drivers actually taxed at their task, having to use their skill to pass each other, unencumbered by dirty air. Actually able to push themselves and their cars to their limits so that we feel like these are gladiators performing great feats.

          Sure there is always the risk of one team dominating, less so the more the regs are stable, but wouldn’t it be great if at least those two drivers if nobody else (and of course there would be similar battles behind under my scenario) could actually battle each other rather than one simply relegating the other to his dirty air where he sits handcuffed?

          LH is a three time WDC who couldn’t get by the very and only driver he had to and did beat in the season, in the last 3 races last year, due to the same dirty air that handcuffed NR from competing in several of the races throughout the season before the WDC was decided. The two Mercs remain similar to what we would see with spec cars…so similar in their greatness it’s impressive. Yet all one driver has to do is get ahead and that’s all she wrote, far too often and to far too great a degree. Thanks to their dependence on clean air.

          1. Yeah, for any kind of close racing we need performance differentiators. Like a lot better tire on the following car…

            Unlike DRS, multiple compounds give us that. Maybe we need reverse grids, so front running teams would optimise for overtaking.

        2. Muna,
          I think you misunderstood what Robbie said…and what I was agreeing with. The main point was that too much reliance on aerodynamic downforce by F1 is ruining the ability to pass and hence there is no good racing.

      2. Well thank you, @daved

        1. @robbie

          As @hohum has pointed out, it’s well deserved :)

    3. knoxploration
      5th April 2016, 17:38

      Amen. Glad to see someone here is rational!

    4. @robbie, Bravo, your comment should not only be COTD it should be adopted by @keithcollantine as editorial policy.

  9. Maybe Bernie will come up with a ballot for tyres just to “spice things up”

    1. @dbradock

      LOL More likely Bernie will come up with a “ballet” to “spice things up” and make each wheel-man do a pirouette before changing each tyre at pitstops and we’ll judge their style to decide when the car can leave pit lane. :)

  10. My problem with these tyre rules is that they’re actually punitive, at least for these few flyaway races. The tyres and the cars were unknowns, so the choices were made without too much knowledge. Some teams have seriously suffered from that.

    1. That’s the problem. It was at best, an educated guess. Once we move into a part of the season when teams can pick tyres based on data, they’ll all go the same way.

  11. Good analysis…

    Multi compound tire rule can be considered a success…

    Watching Ted’s Notebook or Sky show somewhere, I heard drivers mostly complain about front tires going off almost at once while following another car. They kindly asked to fix that.

    As a general rule cars with less downforce and less power are easier on tires.. So multiple choices do wonders like we saw last weekend Haas for example on supersofts able to generate great pace for 14-15 laps.

    For the future I hope to see slower degrading front tires, overall better tire working range and less termal degradation. And Que ever softer and softer compounds.

    Pirelli to their credit seem to be doing just that, hence amazing Q3 record. Hopefully 2017 year brings an end to their thermal degradation philosophy.

  12. Sorry but why does this article need to be?

    Pre-season we get opinion articles saying F1 as a whole needs to stop complaining. Now the second there’s something worth celebrating, it’s being belittled. Sure it might be a bit boring in a while if the teams figure out that they should all be on the same 2 compounds, but that can be dealt with when and if it happens. Why does it need to be brought up now? Just so you have something to link back to if it does happen and say “see I was right?”

    Anyway I don’t think the tyre rules are all that “successful” either in producing amazing racing, I think the exciting opening 2 races have had more to do with Ferrari’s improvement, the action in the midfield and exceptional performance from HAAS. But certainly not going to complain about them either when it’s just about the only rule change that unarguably hasn’t made the sport worse.

    1. the second there’s something worth celebrating

      If you grant that premise, which I don’t, which answers your opening question.

      1. @keithcollantine Well, I disagree because it’s objectively better than previous rule for the race (the cons of this new rule is involving logistics, not the race). The worst thing that can happens (after they figured it out) is every team picking the same strategy which make it the same as previous rule. But even then, it still open the option for some team to breaking the consensus and try something new instead of no option at all, so I think this rule should be celebrated.

        Also I want to be optimistic here, and I think it’s very possible after few races or seasons, each team preferred tires are not the same across the grid. We already seeing James Allison cars usually prefer softer tires and Mercedes or Force India is better on harder tires. This rule means they can fight with their preferable tires instead of disadvantaging one of them.

        1. @sonicslv

          I want to be optimistic here

          And I want to understand how the new rules are actually working within the context of all the other changes we’ve seen this year. This is why we’ve reached different conclusions.

          1. @keithcollantine What I’m optimistic for is the team won’t converge into single optimal strategy. But for the new tires rule is something to be celebrated, I’m sure of it, not just hoping for the best. While it’s true the improvement we have now is not solely because tire rule, it can’t be denied that the tire rule is completely useless either. If we took your argument on the article, other factor like closer packs, more entrants, and unreliable launch is actually doing something else to race than tire rule. With 3 compound the teams have more permutations on tire strategy to begin with (3^n instead of 2^n where n is number of pit stops), however closer pack and more entrants doesn’t lead into varying strategy like we saw in the past. They do contribute to more battles all over the field, assuming they in same strategy. Unreliable launch only shaking up the order which means the order at the end of 1st lap will differ easily than qualification result. It might force a driver to switch strategy (that enabled in the first place because the tire rule) and essentially its achieving the same thing as knock out qualification to put a car out of its order and forcing the team to change from their optimal strategy.

    2. I guess it is a low priority article, but with currently 30 comments (excluding this one), I’d say it attracted some attention, which at least kept 30 fans busy for a while.
      As Keith says, it won’t be until we get to the Spanish GP that we will actually see teams making choices based upon actual experience, all the previous tyre choices were based upon estimates. As we saw at Melbourne with Ferrari, they made a tyre choice that probably cost them the race.

  13. Lewisham Milton
    5th April 2016, 18:23

    So, at the Austrian Grand Prix they’ll be choosing tyres for Spa and Suzuka…this sounds like a flawed rule that surely won’t last long.
    Which means it’ll be stinking up F1 for years, like qualifying on race fuel (or tyres) and those grooved tyres.

  14. The new tire rules are great! Of course the improved competitiveness of the grid helps to produce better races (last year we only had 18 cars), but please don’t forget we had 100 grid penalties or so in most races to get some excitement in the race. The number of possible tire strategies with 3 compounds and 3 stops is so much larger than with 2 compounds and 2 stops, so it will probably take quite some time for the engineers to figure out the right strategy in all circumstances. At least we now have more aggressive tires and that’s also a good ingredient for more action-packed races.

  15. The one thing I like about the new tyre rules that I think will extend throughout the season: Some teams are better on softer compounds and some have better cars for harder compounds. This gives the teams a little more flexibility to play to their strengths.

    For example, Merc seems to dominate on the Medium tyres in most races but has trouble getting the SuperSofts to “turn on” correctly when it’s hot. Ferrari seems to really thrive in the super hot races like Singapore so they could stick with Softs and Super Softs while Merc may go with Softs and Mediums. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems that it could give the teams more flexibility they need to compete some times???

  16. I would also like to point out that, according to comprehensive Mercedes overtaking statistics for the Pirelli era (and Mercedes-based methods for this year, i. e. not counting lap 1 overtakes) the Sakhir circuit is the second most conductive to overtaking on the 2016 calendar, usurped only by the Hockenheimring (which, incidentally, has fewer data points for its annual average per GP number).

    This may also show the new tyre rule in a more favourable light than it may be in reality.

    Proving the point, Melbourne, which is statistically one of the worst tracks from an overtaking standpoint (especially discounting the outlier years, such as the tyre-drama influenced 2013), did not actually produced more overtakes this year compared to its average.

    For what it’s worth, according to a filtered analysis of the raw Mercedes data (without outliers), tracks generally in favour of overtaking (>40 overtakings per GPs quite consistently or close cluster) are the Hockenheimring, Sakhir, Spa, Montreal and Sepang – and I suspect Baku will be on this list as well -, tracks generally against (<20 or close cluster) are the Hungaroring, Melbourne, the Red Bull Ring and Monaco with all the others neither in favour, nor against.

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