Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018

Pirelli goes aggressive: How new tyres will shake up F1 strategies in 2018

2018 F1 season

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With the technical rules largely unchanged for the 2018 F1 season, alterations to Pirelli’s tyre line-up could have the biggest effect on the racing this year.

The addition of two new tyres to their range has attracted a lot of attention. But the changes go much further than this and can be expected to have a bearing on races long before the new hyper-soft tyre makes its debut in Monaco.

In 2017 Pirelli had to design tyres which could withstand the punishment meted out by cars which generated much higher levels of downforce. Their problem was there was no suitable machinery to develop them with. They resorted to running 2016 cars with extra-large wings, but these were inadequate to simulate the increased loads.

That hasn’t been a concern this year. Throughout 2017 Pirelli had access to the team’s current hardware to develop its 2018 tyre range. And while the hyper-soft and super-hard names are new, almost the entire range has been refreshed.

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“The compounds are more or less all new,” explained sporting director Mario Isola. “Except for the medium, that is the soft coming from last year. The soft, super-soft, ultra-soft and hyper-soft is completely new.”

Pirelli’s 2018 tyres are already one stage softer than last year. And after the opening races their tyre allocations will become more aggressive:

2018 tyres2017 tyres
MelbourneSoftSuper-softUltra-softSoftSuper-softUltra-soft
BahrainMediumSoftSuper-softMediumSoftSuper-soft
ShanghaiMediumSoftUltra-softMediumSoftSuper-soft
BakuSoftSuper-softUltra-softMediumSoftSuper-soft
CatalunyaMediumSoftSuper-softHardMediumSoft
Monte-CarloSuper-soft*Ultra-soft*Hyper-soft*SoftSuper-softUltra-soft
MontrealSuper-softUltra-softHyper-softSoftSuper-softUltra-soft

*Not formally announced

2018 Pirelli tyres
New seven-tyre range won’t confuse fans, Pirelli insists
From round four in Baku teams will effectively be racing on tyres which are two ‘stages’ softer. Pirelli had to nominate its tyres for the opening races weeks before testing began, which explains why the selections for Melbourne, Bahrain and Shanghai are more conservative.

However it obtained an agreement from the FIA and teams to delay making its tyre choice for Montreal until after pre-season testing had begun. That has given it the confidence to nominate the softest tyre in its race for that race, which will also appear in Monaco.

Pirelli’s stated aim with these softer tyres is to move F1 away from the one-stop strategies seen at most races this year and open up more strategies for teams to exploit. They have developed a new software tool to help them choose a selection of tyres which gives teams a greater number of strategic options.

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Following the tests at the Circuit de Catalunya, Isola gave an illustration of the potential strategic options which will be open to teams in the Spanish Grand Prix:

“It could be super-soft at the start, because you have to qualify on super-softs, then it could be two mediums. Or maybe if the car is not too severe on tyre you can also try to have super-soft-medium-soft or super-soft soft soft. In our tool we have many different combinations using these three compounds.”

“If some teams have a performance advantage and if they are able to go through to Q2 or Q3 using the soft obviously you open the door to other strategies.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit de Catalunya, 2018
Some teams blistered their tyres in testing
The teams have now experienced the 2018 specification rubber in warm temperatures at Yas Marina and considerably cooler temperatures in Spain. This has given them more data to plan their strategies with, but Pirelli is hopeful they will find multiple viable strategies which will help produce varied races.

“All this data is golden for them,” said Isola. “They will start making some assumptions to understand in Melbourne if they can go with a two-stop strategy, one-stop strategy.

“In some selections we had a situation like Bahrain: In Bahrain we have medium, soft and super-soft. With our tool you are between one stop and two stops.

“The quickest strategy is two stops but there is a one-stop strategy which is very close to this. If for example you start from the back and you have to recover positions and you don’t want to be stuck in traffic you can choose one stop and try to have a first stint which is longer to take an advantage from that. It depends how much you make the tyres degrade.”

Having erred on the conservative side last year, has Pirelli now gone too far the other way? Blistering – a symptom of overheating rubber – was seen on some of its tyres during testing. Intriguingly, Sebastian Vettel put that down to some teams (read: Mercedes) trying to dissuade Pirelli from being too aggressive with its choices.

Pirelli has done more testing, created more aggressive tyres and been bolder with its selections. The question now is whether that will add up to more varied and exciting races.

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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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  • 34 comments on “Pirelli goes aggressive: How new tyres will shake up F1 strategies in 2018”

      1. Same here!

        1. I hope so too, but I think we will just have to see it to believe it. For now I’m going to assume that most teams, once they learn the tires, will end up on similar strategies, but I do hope I’m wrong.

          I note too that nothing has been mentioned of finicky operating temp windows, nor anything whatsoever about optimum windows, so, not sure if those will continue to give drivers grief no matter the compounds.

          Anyway, surely this year can’t be worse wrt tires?

          1. Kind of agree. I think most teams will adopt the same strategy once they’ve figured out the compounds. There might be the odd driver just in or out of Q3 that might experiment with a different strategy, but at the front it should be pretty much similar.

          2. have the feeling these tyres are a step back

      2. I hope not, the only strategy choice I want to see is fast early or fast later, on the tyres I choose to start (and finish) on, those who watch MotoGP will know what I mean and those that don’t/can’t watch MotoGP, my sympathies.

    1. I don’t see it being any different.

      What would be aggressive would be to allow teams to nominate their 3 compounds from the whole range for each race. That would allow a team to take an aggressive gamble by choosing varying combinations – wth the way it is arranged now pretty much every team goes the same way.

      1. Interesting. Maybe having one compulsory compound to be used that weekend, and the other 2 are picked by individual teams. That could make it potentially more interesting, or it could just end up being similar choices once again. I think mid field teams are more likely to gamble than the frontrunners

      2. Agree with you @dbradock

        You want to see variation in strategy? Just let the teams pick whatever compounds they want. Want to run a no-stopper on the superhards? Go for it. Want to run a 4 or 5-stopper on the hypersofts? Go for it.

        1. I couldn’t agree more. The rules are confusing enough. Prescriptive tyres from 7 different compounds aren’t helping!

        2. exactly, they keep talking about tactical variations, but still mandate a tyre to be used during the race, selecta the compounds to every race weekend and make the top 10 start on the tyres used in qualifying, no sense whatsoever, but we should be used to it by now

      3. @dbradock I don’t think that would work at all. I can imagine teams like Sauba and Williams nominating the super soft, ultra soft and hyper soft for a track like Catalunya and causing all sorts of mayhem with blowouts and a million pit stops, all for a bit of brief glory and fleeting spot light on the time sheets during qualifying. Blowouts would be a PR disaster for Pirelli. Also I can see drivers like Perez and Grosjean sacrificing their sundays just so they could use the softest tyres at inappropriate venues just for a chance at pole on Saturday.

        1. It’s easy enough to manage (Pirelli can stipulate “maximum” lap numbers) and you can’t underestimate the fact that teams do have common sense. They’re not going to put their drivers at risk by going to an extreme and dangerous option.

          I terms of someone bolting on (say) a set of hypers for quality to take a shot at pole on an inapppriatw venue, I think you’ll find that by the time they finish the lap the tyres would be completely shredded and they’ll be slower than they would have been with a more sensible choice.

          What I’m saying is allow the teams to make those sensible choices based on the characteristics of their car to finish the race in the fastest possible time. That stands a chance then of having some even more intense battles, particularly midfield and below. If that means that for a few races, they’re actually competitive with the front runners, that’d be a bonus.

      4. @dbradock: The primary downside of allowing teams to choose the compounds for races, would be, the focus on victories shifting more towards the tyres that were used and not the quality of driving. Allowing teams to choose any 3 sets would be very dynamic, but at the end of the day Vettel or Alonso (say) could purely lose due to one wrong choice which will be narrowed down to poor strategy from the team–not that it isn’t happening now, but now there is some sort of a level playing field wrt the choice the teams/driver have. If confusion among the compounds is an issue, then lets do away with the names and lets just have an A-B-C classification. What A,B and C are is something only hard core fans like us would care about. They can choose to leave it at that (this nomenclature issue was discussed very well by fans in another article a few months ago).
        Adding more compounds to the range should certainly make it more spicier strategy wise, and the time advantage between each tyre has been already revealed. All Pirelli has to do is choose A-C-D in the sequence (A being the softest) instead of the regular A-B-C.

        1. @Webtel: good point although, as you say, there’s already a lot of wins (or failures) that are dictated by team strategy.
          I really don’t think it would make all that much difference at the top of the table, but what it may do is allow someone like (as an example) Hartley or Ericson or Stroll to show that they can match it with the better rated drivers (and maybe even pull off some great passes) because they and their team used as Medium/US/HS combination that allowed them to stay on the same lap as the Leaders and then close them down in the final stages when the leaders used S/S/SS.
          Would people say “oh its just the tyres” or would they say “wow they really flew in those last few laps and pulled off some great passes” – they never say that about Max V fore example if he’s on a charge, they rave about his skill.
          I dunno – its just food for thought and would offer something different that what is largely processional racing because everyone is on the same tyre strategy or at least are close to using the same and perhaps give some of the lesser teams drivers an opportunity to shine.

          1. @dbradock Don’t see a scenario where the leaders would be using harder compounds at the end of a race unless they are way ahead in front–in which case the race at the top is over.
            A situation wherein the bottom 10 would use aggressive tyre options is only when they are racing to get into the points. At the final stages, there is normally a fight for places 9 and 10–this fight is between drivers exhibiting their skill in their respective cars but not at the cost of a pit-stop for a softer option.
            Nevertheless, why would Brendon or Marcus pit for the soft tyre unless they are looking to go for the fastest lap? can they go for the fastest lap ? Alonso was successful. Is it really worth it ? Maybe not.

            All of us do not want to see processional racing. Totally agree. The best way to see cars at the end take aggressive strategies is when u have points for the entire grid or atleast like MotoGP–points for the top 15. You need something to fight for; else it is just a procession.

    2. I know the reason why Pirelli says they don’t let teams choose any compound is logistics (they can’t carry soooo many tyres to each race to let teams choose). But there are two easy solutions for this:
      1. Each team request the tyres some time in advance (let’s say, 2 races in advance). Pirelli keeps it secret, as I don’t see any sensible reason why they need to reveal the chosen sets.
      2. Pirelli gives all teams, let’s say, 200 sets of tyres, in different compounds, at the beginning of the season – in sealed boxes / cases that can’t only be open under FIA scrutiny.
      This way the teams decide which tyres to bring for each race (transport logistics solved).
      If it’s too hard to manufacture so many tyres at once, this process could be divided, so Pirelli can give the teams all the necessary tyres for three or four races, and then repeat the process again.

      1. Re yr item 2) An excellent idea.
        If the teams run out if one grade of tyre they must pick from what they have left.

        In fact you could take this further, no need to actually deliver the tyres, just say each team has a possible allocation of say 5 tyre sets per car per race weekend, (assuming dry race) These will be supplied as one team set of each grade of tyre (ie two car sets) From their race allocation teams may use whatever tyres they wish whenever they wish, there will be no further supply of any grade of tyre except full wet and inters where two sets per car may be allowed if a wet race is declared.

      2. 2….- in sealed boxes / cases that CAN only be open under FIA scrutiny.
        Horrible typo there. Sorry

    3. +1
      I think it’s totally doable, and would enable teams and drivers to better exploit their strengths, ex: Sergio Perez going without stop on super hards, or every team using tires tha had optimal temperature windows. This would bring much more variety in the races, making much tougher for every team to get the right call every time. That would be much more exciting and less forced. The less mandatory rules, the better.

    4. I still think having a no pit stop option would be quite helpful for strategy variety. I mean the way technology is nowadays strategy will never vary that much, but why not also give that option. And maybe just have 3 or 4 compounds and take them to every race. I don’t understand what good having 20 compounds is if there is only one tire maker and they choose only 3 per race.

    5. Pirelli were at their most aggressive in 2013 and the impact that had on the racing was quite negative. Generally, drivers were unable to push leading to some rather submissive racing dictated mostly by pitstop strategy. Engineers telling their drivers to ‘maintain a two second gap’ was never a good thing to here. There were also a spate of tyre failures throughout that season with the nadir being Silverstone, no less than six in the race alone.

      2017 was a positive step in terms of drivers being able to push hard and race each other despite the ever constant problem of the aerodynamic wake. Hopefully drivers will still be able to push.

      1. 2013 although a little artificial was quite good until Mercs illegal tyre test followed by Merc and Red Bull getting their way for harder compounds, after that Red Bull won nearly every race.

    6. The issue with the current tire situation: “you can also try to have super-soft-medium-soft or super-soft soft soft”.

    7. I say just make three compounds, hard, medium and soft with a tangible performance difference and bring them to every race. This way fans dont have to keep a tab and racing becomes simpler to all of the viewers. Team can then decide how many sets of which tires and lets keep it a secret from other teams so they can’t predict each other’s strategy! Now we have a race in hand. no stop, 1 stop or 5 stop who cares! I bet that will be real fun!

      1. And let them mix compounds again.

        1. At least let them mix front and rear sets as I think @darryn means, they have different sizes why not compounds if that is what works best ?

    8. If they really wanted to mix things up … each team is given an allocation of each compound … for the ENTIRE SEASON.

      They’re doing it with power units, why not do it with tyres ??

      1. That would actually be great!

    9. And Pirelli have said this won’t confuse fans. They lost me after their second paragraph. Every year Pirelli swaps between going one stage softer and one stage harder.

      I was hoping this wouldn’t be another year where the tyre compounds dominate, but it’s already obvious that will be. I enjoyed the improvement in 2017

    10. So in simple terms the medium is simply last year’s soft, with the soft being just slightly softer than this. The super-soft is softer than the softs, but not as soft as the softest tires in the range, being the ultra-soft and the hyper-soft, which are softer than any soft compound we’ve had before.

      None of it is very hard…

    11. I hope we will see more 2 or 3-stop races this year, as was the case in 2011-2013. There were complaints, but the racing was usually exciting while 1-stop races mean that the order is staying the same. Building tyres for the entire race distance to allow the drivers “push to the limit from start to finish” without pitstops would make things even more boring.

    12. Really feel that seven compounds isn’t enough in a 21 race calendar. With the arbitrary mandate to use 2 compounds in each race, Pirelli should stop being so stingy and make 42 compounds available to the teams.

      No team would be allocated the same 2 sets of compounds. The compounds for each team would be selected two weeks in advance via a PPV ‘SuperFan Event’ where drivers would be forced to perform their best Jackie Stewart impression. Winners would be chosen by a panel of SuperFans who have no idea who Sir Jackie is.

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