Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, Interlagos, 2016

Two years after Bianchi’s crash drivers are still unhappy with Pirelli’s wet tyres

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The FIA’s report into the crash which claimed the life of Jules Bianchi two years ago identified seven recommendations for the sport to address in order to prevent a repeat.

Jules Bianchi, Marussia, Suzuka, 2014
Bianchi’s crash prompted a rethink on safety standards
Action has already been taken. New rules on yellow flags and racing at sunset have been introduced and improvements made to drainage at several circuits.

The report’s final recommendation, and arguably its most carefully-worded, concerned the quality of F1’s tyres for wet weather driving. “It is part of the challenge of a racing driver to drive his car as fast as possible given the track conditions combined with the characteristics of his tyres,” it noted.

“Although the characteristics of the wet weather tyres provided by Pirelli did not influence Bianchi’s accident or its outcome in any significant way, it is recommended that provision is made for the tyre supplier to develop and adequately test wet weather tyres between each F1 season, such that it is able to supply the latest developments to the first event.”

The report absolved Pirelli of responsibility for the crash but also recommended increasing the development work being done on its tyres. Drivers had already described the areas they felt the wet weather tyres needed to improve.

“The problem is that once there is a lot of water visibility is very poor,” explained Sebastian Vettel at Suzuka in the aftermath of the crash. “Once there’s too much water the inter [tyre] doesn’t work any more and the [full] wet only has a very narrow window where it works.”

“Also, with a lot of water on the track, water drainage on the [full wet] tyres is not as good as it probably should be, so that’s why I think the window is narrow.”

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In line with the report’s recommendations, Pirelli had a chance to test wet weather tyres earlier this year with Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren. One of the difficulties F1’s official tyre supplier faces is that opportunities to run its wet weather tyres in the most demanding conditions only occur infrequently.

Sunday’s race was the first time since that dark day at Suzuka that the wet weather tyre was needed for extended periods and the results were not encouraging. Several drivers lost control or crashed due to aquaplaning, particularly when the water levels on the track were rising.

A comment from Felipe Massa on the radio captured the dilemma drivers faced as the rain worsened. Massa was running on intermediates at the time but was reluctant to change back onto wets even as the water levels rose because the intermediate tyre was still potentially the quicker tyre.

What about 2017?

Pascal Wehrlein, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2016

With new, wider tyres coming for next year Pirelli has already begun testing its wet weather compounds. F1’s official tyre supplier has already completed three two-day wet weather tests with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

These were exactly the circumstances Vettel had described at the last extreme wet race. Massa found himself in the same dilemma late on and crashed as the rain fell while he was on 15-lap-old intermediate tyres. The similarities between this situation and those of Bianchi’s crash are unmistakable.

Inevitably this will prompt questions over whether F1’s wet weather tyres are not up to the job or whether this is a matter of drivers taking too many risks in extreme wet conditions. F1 has been eager to shield Pirelli from criticism from drivers, notably after last year’s blow-outs at Spa. But they are the ones taking the risks and their voices have to be heard.

If there’s one driver who can be relied upon to play things down, typically with a mumbled “it’s the same for everybody”, it’s Kimi Raikkonen. “You know if Kimi says something it’s important, because he never says anything,” FIA race director Charlie Whiting remarked last year.

“But if he feels strongly enough about it, he will say something, so you need to listen to what he says, because he actually means it.” Following his crash on Sunday, Raikkonen did have something to say about Pirelli’s wet weather drivers, and so did several of his rivals.

Drivers on Pirelli’s wet weather tyres after the Brazilian Grand Prix

Obviously it depends on the circuit, on many things, but if I’m comparing it to 10 years ago or 12 years ago, those tyres could handle this kind of water with no issues, no aquaplaning. The aquaplaning is the big issue.
Kimi Raikkonen

Romain Grosjean, Haas, Interlagos, 2016
Grosjean aquaplaned into a wall before the race started
[The crash] shows that the extremes are really terrible tyres and the intermediates are faster even though you have to take huge risks.

It was an on-off switch. Nothing I could control. Honestly I don’t know what happened. I have seen two other cars having the same issue. So we need to improve the wet tyres. In my case I was not even pushing. Very strange.
Romain Grosjean

It’s down to the tyres, you know, not coping well with the aquaplaning. We know that and we’ve been working on that now for next year and so we’re hopeful to make progress on that.

Of course it would be good, you know, if it wasn’t so on the edge as soon as there’s a bit of standing water.
Nico Rosberg

We are going at some serious speeds and there is a lot of water to disperse by the tyres and the tyre just struggles; the faster we go, the harder it is for the tyres. This wasn’t a particularly difficult race in terms of being wet, there’s been much worse races in terms of aquaplaning.
Lewis Hamilton

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2016
Verstappen believes more downforce will help
I think it’s a combination of having more horsepower now, so more torque, so the cars are speeding up more and less downforce at the moment. Yeah, I think next year it should be solved already, it will be much easier to drive the cars in the wet because of having quite a lot more downforce on the race.

Of course, I think we can do improvements on the tyres, we’re working on that for next year but I think that with more downforce that should help already.
Max Verstappen

When we go high speed and there’s water, for some reason these tyres that we use at the moment you can’t go through standing water without having a big risk of losing the car. I was not the only one.

For me if you look back ten years ago it was very drive-able in these conditions and I think the rest of the track was very drive-able but for some reason I think we need to work on being able to go through these pools of standing water without having this aquaplaning problem.
Marcus Ericsson

2016 Brazilian Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
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43 comments on “Two years after Bianchi’s crash drivers are still unhappy with Pirelli’s wet tyres”

  1. There’s an awful lot of talk during very wet races that the plank underneath the cars acts like a boat keel and actually encourages aquaplaning. If it’s a safety car start and cars are required to use the Extreme wet tyres, could they not also be required to run a higher minimum ride height in order to reduce that effect?

    1. Good point. I don’t know if that can be done within say 10 to 15 minutes.

    2. Hmm…there will be more downforce next year, pushing the car down onto the track more, and some of that will be from ground effects from the floor and rear diffuser, so something tells me raising the ride height will only make things worse for the drivers in wet weather.

      I think it is as Max et al has said. Next year the tires should be better, and there will be more downforce, so things should be better with changes already coming.

    3. as far as I know, there is parc ferme rules, which limits the teams to cope with any extreme situations

    4. could they not also be required to run a higher minimum ride height in order to reduce that effect?

      Currently, they aren’t really able to adjust the ride height at all (due to parc ferme rules).

      BUT the wet weather tyres have a larger diameter, so increase the ride height just by being used.

      For the current situation, the tyres need improvements. If cars running fairly slowly with extreme wets are aquaplaning on the straights in the conditions seen this weekend (which are not the worst conditions I have seen them race in by a long shot), there is something very wrong. To do this, Pirelli need a decent amount of testing in (probably artificial) extreme wet conditions.

    5. Wet tyres do increase ride height through having a larger diameter, not sure what the difference is though. You’re right though, the best way to ensure safe wet weather running is to design the cars to run safely in the wet, tyres included.

    6. The extreme wets are ‘taller’ and thus ride height is altered by a set amount automatically.

      It’s the same in all series.

      The plank has been there for much longer than ten years – the issue is the tyre design and just how little Pirelli wish to invest in its design.

      It’s always the same with a control series wet tyre whatever you race unless you just happen to be using a manufacturer that really knows it’s stuff (Bridgestone) or happens on an excellent design spec.

      I for one will never buy a certain tyre for my car simply because of my experiences racing it’s control wet!

      I am pretty certain I won’t ever be putting a Pirelli on my bike where it’s really critical and I already disliked them on my cars…

      They are not helping themselves really.

      1. The plank has been around since about 1995, so, that isn’t an issue (I would have thought that should it act as a boat keel, it would also help to keep the car straight as it does on a boat) . Even they tyres width hasn’t changed massively over the last 20 years, so the data is available to see what makes a good wet racing tyre.

        Pirelli saying they dint have a suitable test venue for testing wet tyres isn’t really a suitable answer either, does the Paul Richard circuit have a water spray system around the circuit?

    7. @jodrell teams raise ride height for wet races.

      1. yes, I realise that…but as with everything else they’re going to raise it the absolute minimum they think they can get away from rather than something ‘safe’

    8. Wet tyres have a wider circumference than dry tyres, specifically to raise the ride height to prevent the floor interfering with the tyres’ operation. If the car is bottoming out, it’s supposed to be because the tyre has exceeded its water clearance ability anyway. That’s more difficult at Brazil than other tracks due to the bumps and cambers.

      Paul Ricard has a spray system, but you need multiple cars to test proper wet-weather conditions properly, and Pirelli’s often had trouble fielding a one-car test team, let alone more.

  2. I think I’ve shared more than my fair share of opinion in other threads about this, just really glad to see a lengthy article on the matter. Thanks.

  3. “Verstappen believes more downforce will help” regarding 2017. Yes, but wider tyres mean more contact with the road and therefore more aquaplaning in the wet. I wouldn’t be surprised if driving in the wet becomes even more difficult next year.

    1. I don’t think wider tires has to mean more aqua planing. There will also be more contact with the road. It will depend on the construction of the tread, but also there should be a much bigger performance window as they will not be so temperature sensitive. The drivers sure seem to think it will already be better next year with the changes already under way and locked in.

      1. Yes, he thread can be much more open and still have the same amount of rubber on the road as the current tire.

        A, say, 20% wider groove will be able to clear well over 20% extra water as the wider grooves restrict the flow less.

    2. The wider tyres will clear the water more effectively, which will help to prevent aquaplaning…

      1. Look at a waterski – do you think a very thin ski will be best at surfing on the water, or a very wide..its the same..at a certain speed and water level the tyre can’t drain any more water and becomes a ski..

      2. Nope, it has more water to clear. I know the tire is wider to cope with it but it doesnt quite work like that.

  4. I wonder what’s going to happen next year with the wider tyres. Wide tyres are more propense to aquaplaning and it’s already an issue with this tyres.

    1. @fer-no65 – for the same weight of car, wider tyres are more prone to aquaplaning because the mass per unit area is reduced.

      However, one hopes that the increased downforce expected next year will increase the downward force of a moving car to overcome this characteristic of a wider tyre.

      1. for the same weight of car, wider tyres are more prone to aquaplaning because the mass per unit area is reduced.

        ah so that’s why people are saying wider tyres are more prone to aquaplaning @phylyp !

    2. A wider tyre will have more water dispersing capability than a narrower tyre.
      As long as the tyre is used within its water dispersing capabilities it will not aquaplane.
      In Brazil it was the car’s floor which was aquaplaning and not the tyres.

  5. I thought the bigger issue was aquaplaning on the plank rather than the tyres themselves. It always confuses me when drivers/fans complain that the intermediates are faster but don’t work in standing water when surely that’s supposed to be the difference between intermediates and extremes.

    The tyres could be improved with enough cost and testing I’m sure but unless they try something revolutionary like mud guards in the wet it’s going to remain visibility that’s the limiting factor.

  6. I was taking a look at some old videos, and I think there is another important factor that decreases drivers confidence on these Pirelli tyres. What I am about to say it is also dependent on the aerodynamics.

    I noticed that current cars have much more spray raising from the front wheels compared to the old ones, and also it is dispersed from the side of the wheels (I think this effect happens because of the aerodynamics in the front wing) which creates a wider trail of spray. Spray being raised in the front wheels could be a mixture of the car’s aero and the way the grooves are designed, they can scoop water from under the tyres and only release it when the grooves are already on an upwards movement. Of course these situations do not affect aquaplaning, but could have a negative influence in visibility.

    I also noted that the spray from the back of the car used to be raised much higher than now, that could help water to dissipate and therefore improve visibility.

    Nevertheless, as the article mentions, the biggest problem is that drivers are tempted to go as quickly as possible to the inters to gain the advantage. The full wets should be quicker whenever there is water standing or running trough the track, or to put it even more easily, whenever it rains, and inters should just be used in drying conditions, when the rain stops and aquaplaning disappears, unfortunately it seems that the tyres do not perform like this.

  7. Reading Bianchi accident on the same sentence with Pirelli is really remind me the hurt I felt reading FIA announcement back then.
    No responsibility, very defensive.

    1. @ruliemaulana
      Imagine what it must feel like for the people close to him. Corporate and commercial interests vs human lives, have your pick.

  8. The cars 10 or 12 years ago had more downforce than the cars today. On wet track this makes big difference. The less downforce there is the lighter the car pushes its tires on the ground and the lighter the load on the tires the less it takes for the tire to rise on top of the water and start aquaplaning. The current cars are slow in the corners and fast on the straights. This will make the current cars trickier at higher speeds in the wet than the previous cars.

    Next year with more aero the rain tires may suddenly become good again. That is assuming that the wider width of the tires doesn’t counter the effect of increased downforce.

  9. Could not agree more! Having said that, the 2003 Brazilian Grands Prix saw plenty of accidents with cars aquaplaning off at turn one. At one stage there were atleast three cars down there smashed up, all from sliding off in the wet, very reminicent to this years race. The way that final sector is at Brazil in the wet does the drivers no favours, the water just runs down that hill from both sides, with the cars having to climb up the hill and come back down doing 180mph.
    Secondly, with walls either side on the start/finish straight, there is nowhere to go in an accident. Raikkonen was very lucky no one clipped his car last Sunday, very lucky indeed! The tragedy of the Bianchi incident for me was that
    is was under localised yellow flags so that marshalls could remove Sutil’s car. For the rest of the lap the drivers were doing their normal speeds, only at Dunlop did they slow. So you have cars having to brake, with rivers of water coming across a circuit, from very high speeds, with a large digger on the circuit. A recipe for disaster no matter what tyres you have on the car.
    The sensible thing would have been to deploy the safety car, end of story. If the conditions are so bad, even behind the safety car, then red flag the race.

  10. I think a bit of caution is needed here, because it would appear that correlating the incident with Pirelli’s tyres could be seen as libellous. There is much talk about the tragic demise of Jules Bianchi but many people seem to forget Maria De-Villotta’s death and the most bemusing part of her accident is that there was a heavy goods vehicle trailer left somewhere on the track with its tail lift down and furthermore a number of failures or settings on the car effectively meant she was struggling to stop the car and rather than slowing down an anti-stall system was causing it to accelerate.

  11. Which other categories run during rain, WEC? GT? Any others? I guess many. I know many of those other categories have the tyre covered by mudguards and the car bodywork. But there are categories, as Japanese Superformula, which have both open wheels and races in rainy conditions.
    Can’t Pirelli “copy” the tread design from those other categories?
    And maybe Pirelli, being a factory which also makes wet-conditions tyres for urban cars, can use all that expertise for the development of a really good rainy tyre.

    1. @omarr-pepper It’s not simply down to the tread design. I gather the Pirelli tread pattern & depths are not that unsimilar to what Bridgestone used to run in F1, However the philosophy of the compound & the way the tyres work are very different as I describe in this comment further down…

      http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2016/11/17/two-years-after-bianchis-crash-drivers-are-still-unhappy-with-pirellis-wet-tyres/#comment-3351516

  12. Have the drivers or fans liked any of the Pirelli tyres since they came into the sport is the bigger question. Wet or dry.

    1. No but they usualy dislike the tyres because they provide poor racing and not because they are unsafe.

  13. Better raintyres would have saved Bianchi, not racing while there is cranes on the track would have saved Bianchi, going slower would have saved Bianchi. Who is responsible? noone ofc…

  14. Present day Pirelli tyres “intermediate (green) are designed to disperse aprox 25 liters of water per second at full speed while full wets (blue) are designed to disperse up to 65 liters of water per second at full speed”. These water dispersing capabilities are no less than that of the tyres of ten years ago. any one of these two tyres is the faster in the conditions they are designed for. the risk is being taken by both the driver and the team, the driver by abusing the tyers capabilities, and the teams by setting the ride height low which contributes to aquaplaning. Aquaplaning has nothing to do with tyres as the tyres can only disperse water from under their own foot print and not from under the car floor.

  15. I still think the FIA decision to leave Pirelli blameless was more a corporate decision made to cover both Pirelli and the FIA. Since both Perez and Bianchi aquaplaned causing them to go off track on tires made by Pirelli approved by the FIA I do not believe a properly juried decision might have come to the same conclusion. Could better wet tires have made a difference there and in future wet races? The FIA post investigation recommendations sadly swept that aside as though it was completely insignificant even though there is an obvious possibility that better wet tires “might” have made a difference in both Perez or Bianchi going off track or not. To pretend the tires were not a factor at all is ludicrous.

    The emotions still run deep even after this passage of time, but no apologies for that bit of a rant. Especially when watching another wet race that could have had tragic results and still the wet tires have not been properly addressed.

    As much interest as a wet race creates for the fans, admittedly myself included, maybe the FIA should really reexamine their protocols of racing in wet conditions, absolutely demand proper wet tire testing by Pirelli and the teams and mandate proper wet tires or simply not race during conditions that are deemed too wet. (Decided by race control as it is now or some other predetermined factors?) It is an easy bet that if one of the incidents in Brazil had turned into a tragedy there would be a clamor on all sides for decisive changes to be made with the tires and wet racing protocol. As it is now it is mostly the drivers who are risking their lives that are speaking out.

  16. It’s time to seriously reconsider electronic / adaptive suspension. Just being able to toggle the car between “wet” and “dry” running would be a huge help to the drivers, and being able to maintain level aero balance would significantly improve grip.

    However, I’d also suggest that it should be a standardized component like the ECU, with a few pre-programmed modes that can’t be changed once parc ferme is established.

  17. The tyres in that photo look like the Intermediate tyres. According to Pirelli’s media release on F1 tyres, the Intermediate tyres are designed to cope with a maximum of 2 mm of water, which, to my untrained eye, seemed to be inadequate for the Sao Paulo track. The Extreme Wet Weather tyres can cope with 5 mm of water, meaning they were better suited to the conditions there than the Intermediate tyres, although Kimi’s loss of control is proof that even those tyres were really inadequate for the conditions. My suspicion is aquaplaning contributed to the Sauber’s accident. I think a tyre called “Extreme Wet Weather” should be capable of handling at least 1 cm of water.
    This race highlighted a whole lot of inadequacies, not just with tyres, like inability of a driver to see a car in front, especially when that car has had some mishap. It seems ludicrous to suggest F1 cars need to have road car style “night lights”, e.g. red lights at the rear, yellow side lights, white lights at the front, but the onboard camera video at least suggest there was so much spray in the air that drivers could only see the cars in front because the recharging lights were flashing, and that without those the driver would have no idea what was happening in front. It was only a miracle that some drivers weren’t taken off to the morgue.
    As I see it, tracks should be capable of draining off the amount of rain incurred during a regular downpour, yet this wasn’t apparent at Sao Paulo. Races should be held at a time of the year when weather conditions like those aren’t expected. Cars should have a “wet weather” setup which limits the amount of spray for vehicles behind.

    1. Yeh just angle all the spoilers downwards in wet conditions.

  18. Dark Schneider
    18th November 2016, 1:12

    Problem.
    How to make good tyre without accepting Pirelli to do more tests ?

  19. Tires are easiest the weakest link in F1 2016. Downforce and weight is at alltime high so aquaplaning should be at an alltime low. But it is not.

    1. Downforce is not currently at an all time high. But yes by all accounts the wet tires aren’t good.

  20. I gather that the problem with the Pirelli inters/wets isn’t that there not clearing away water it’s that there as temperature sensitive & have as small an optimal operating window as the dry tyres.

    The Bridgestone inters/wet’s for example were designed to work with a very large operating window which is why you would often see them work just as well on a super cold day where it was chucking it down (Fuji 2007 for example) as they would on a warmer day where it was wet/damp (Silverstone 2008 been one example).

    With the Pirelli’s the problem is that if your outside of the operating window you have a lot less grip which means your having to drive slower which is then putting less energy into the tyre which causes you to lose more temperature which causes you to have even less grip.

    It’s not necessarily due to there tread depth/pattern/design, It’s about the compound & how its designed to work. There been designed to work the same as the dry’s in terms of the operating windows & all that when they really shouldn’t be.

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