Start, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2018

Why F1’s post-Abu Dhabi test is crucial for ‘the show’ in 2019

2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

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Teams will test Pirelli’s new range of tyres for the 2019 F1 season in two days of running after this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

It comes at a sensitive time as drivers and teams have questioned whether the sport did the right thing by asking Pirelli to produce tyres which degraded more quickly. This was done through the ‘target letter’ given to Pirelli which sets down the desired tyre performance characteristics.

Higher degradation tyres were supposed to encourage teams to use more varied strategies. But at some races, such as in Mexico, drivers complained this meant they had to do an extreme amount of tyre management.

Instead of pitting multiple times per race, teams largely continued to stop just once while their drivers cruised around nursing their tyres – a recipe for poor racing. Pirelli motorsport director Mario Isola explained why.

“I have an interesting analysis made by my engineers that shows that for last year with more conservative [tyre] choices teams in general were managing their race pace a lot less than this year,” he said.

“This year we try to follow the target letter, we try to follow the indication coming from this sport: going softer with more degradation. But obviously we have to take it into consideration the approach from the teams. The teams are always using the best strategy, the quickest. It doesn’t matter if it is one stop or two stops.

“It is clear what emerges from this championship is that if we go softer, if we go with more degradation, they try to manage the pace in order to have one stop. We should learn from that to design something better for next year.”

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As next year’s tyres have already been developed the scope for Pirelli to respond to recent feedback is limited. Among the changes to the specification is a move towards a thinner tread as was using at the Spanish, French and British rounds this year. This is intended to make the tyres less sensitive to temperature.

“We made some modification to the new product, to the tread, in order to try to have less overheating,” said Isola. “Also the way in which we have designed the compounds, for example the new compounds have a slightly higher working range in order to protect the compound itself from the overheating.”

This brings with it the possibility next year’s tyres will be harder to warm-up. Isola said Pirelli is paying attention to this.

“The target is always to have a wider working window, this is clear but it’s not so easy. So if we have to decide, we decided to move the working range slightly on the higher side because in general during this year we had very few cases in which teams were complaining about the warm-up.

“Maybe only hardest of the three compounds was not ready at the first timed lap. It took two laps to have the tyre ready. But it was not a big issue, the warm-up. That’s why we decided to go in this that action to try to improve the resistance to overheating. I’m sure that we are not penalising the warm-up too much.”

Which tyres Pirelli selects for each race will also have a crucial bearing on what kind of racing we see next year. Here Isola says they intend to learn from how they have experimented with tyre compound selection this year.

“We had some races where the hardest and the middle [compound] that were a lot harder than the softest compound – when we jump a level for example [in] China we had medium, soft and ultra-soft to jump one level. And some other races we had, for example, soft, ultra-soft and hyper-soft. So just one that was harder than he other two. And we saw different results. Now it’s time to put all these numbers together and to understand.

“But we cannot do that before the Abu Dhabi test because the Abu Dhabi test is going to give us more reliable numbers. Don’t forget that during the season we test with one car or two cars. Now it’s important that when we are in Abu Dhabi we have 10 cars, we have two days, most of the teams last year came with their race drivers. They have the opportunity to test the complete 2019 range, as well as the 2018 if they want to make a comparison.”

At the last race in Brazil drivers put their concerns about F1’s tyres to Pirelli. Next week’s test will be the first indication whether they will be more satisfied with their rubber next year.

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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 “Why F1’s post-Abu Dhabi test is crucial for ‘the show’ in 2019”

  1. I’ve shared before my opinion that the tyres are not the main culprit, but more the difficulty to follow in the corners (aerodynamics) and time lost whilst pitting.
    But increasing the working temperature range will be extremely welcome. It allows chasing cars to abuse them more in the curvy bits to prepare for an overtake on the following straight.

    1. The cars are heavier and the downforce levels are higher than ever before. It is very difficult to make a degrading tire for those kinds of cars because of the dirty air and narrow temperature range combined with big forces acting on the tires due to massive downforce levels and car weight. It takes really small change to push the tire outside of its optimum performance which in turn makes it even more difficult to get back to the optimum temperature.

      The teams also want to do just one stop because track position is everything. It is so difficult to overtake that even if you can do it your tires take a beating and you can not save fuel when trying to overtake. It is just better to drive in clean air and conserve everything. Just like it is better to drive in dirty air and conserve everything than to try to overtake in dirty air. For this reason f1 needs to find a solution to add variety to 1 stop races.

      We now have 3 compounds per race and you need to use two per race. I think the easiest way to add variety to one stop races is to change the race tire requirements a bit. Instead of having to use 2 full sets of different compounds why not just make it that you need to use 2 sets of pairs of different tires. But you can mix the tire compounds and use different compounds on front and rear for example. On tracks with high rear tire deg a team could use softs on front and mediums on rear on first stint and then stop to change another similar set. In some other race they could use softs on front and mediums in the rear and then switch to mediums in front and hards on rear. Or use different tires in each corner of the car. Of course you can not use fronts on rear and vice versa and you can not use left side tires on right side but you can mix compounds as you wish. Including mixing wets and inters. Mix everything. Just need to use 2 sets of pairs of different tires.

      There is really no way to force more pitstops than one unless you make a rule that you need to pit twice. And then you are back where you started. Everybody will pit twice. But if you give the teams more freedom with the tire compounds you could at least add more variety to 1 stop races. And the best thing is f1 could do it technically right now. This change would also make it easier for teams to deal with flatspotted tires. Now if one tire is flatspotted the whole set is ruined. With this rule change you’d still have 3 of those tires usable. In extreme case they could put those 3 tires plus one another compound tire on the car and go with that.

      1. These ideas sound good.

      2. @socksolid,@coldfly,@drycrust, I agree with allowing mixed sets of tyres but disagree with forcing the teams to use suboptimal equipment for purely artificial means to supposedly mix up the results. Give them good durable tyres capable of a full race distance, qualifying tyres good for 10-15 laps and let them have at it as they want, even the full race tyre will be better when newer so the option to pit midway for a new set or 3/4 distance for q.tyres will still be there so there will be no tyre saving on hards.

    2. @coldfly Indeed. Precisely what I’ve been pointing out as well. The aero indeed is the main culprit here, not the tyres itself.

  2. I tried posting a comment along these lines yesterday, but it didnt work for some reason….. so I’ll try again

    While I agree that the levels of aero are one source of the current “problems”, I think an issue that is so often overlooked is the level of understanding, modelling, and engineering that teams currently employ into the use of the tyres. FIA/FOM/Pirelli then get caught in a 2way battle against the teams, effectively trying to outscore each other…. for example…

    Teams learn the dynamics of the tyres and adapt their cars characteristics, and the drivers styles and techniques to a certain extent too. This results in reduced number of pit stops in order to maintain track position and clean air, and therefore overall race pace. FIA/FOM/Pirelli then introduce a new rule, a new compound, or a new working temperature range to try and force teams be able to run at a faster pace, to which the teams respond by employing more strategists, better modelling and more engineering – and on and on it goes, all the while the aero levels go up and up, compounding the issue further. Occasional rule changes are brought in to reduce and nullify the aero effect but teams soon get wise to it, downforce levels go up and the field spreads out again.

    I dont profess to have the answer however, although maybe a solution is to limit the strategists and engineers employed in modelling the races

    1. This results in reduced number of pit stops in order to maintain track position

      @unklegsif – to me, this is the crux of the issue. The cost (time lost) of a pitstop is often too high to make pitting for tyres an effective strategy. With that, there is little reason for a car to pit, because the moment it pits and takes on better tyres, that car needs to make up ~20 seconds; and if the tyres are good enough to allow that, then its immediate competitor on track can pit the following lap, and push even harder since there’s one less lap to run.

      I’d wondered aloud if each pitstop should earn a car some manner of credit (such as free DRS use without a car ahead for a few laps after each pit stop), so as to reduce the time lost in a pit stop.

      1. If a pit stop would cost no extra time (cut off part of the circuit) then will be pitstop galore. We don’t need to go to that extreme, but cutting the ‘penalty’ to 15 or 10s could make a big change.
        @phylyp, @unklegsif

        don’t cut the ‘penalty’ to zero because I want to see overtakes on track. And how good would it be if a car can strategically decide to ‘invest’ 10s in a pitstop, to then be able to recover that and more with fresher tyres?
        This second part (overtaking) of course requires cars to be able to follow in the turns (to prepare for the overtake on the straight). Hence my hammering on a solution for that; you might recall the proposed new DRS: Downforce Recovery System, which allows the following car to create extra downforce in the corners (increase front and back wing angles) to limit the damage to his tyres when following.

        1. @coldfly – yeah, I didn’t mean nullify the pit stop loss (sorry if it read that way), but just reduce it to make a pit stop a meaningful strategic choice, not a painful option chosen only because the tyres are falling apart, or the rules dictate it.

          I don’t have a good enough understanding of aero to understand how DfRS would work, so will refrain from commenting on it, save for saying that it sounds interesting.

      2. @phylyp
        I wont ever support a return to full racing speeds in the pit lane

        …..create extra downforce in the corners (increase front and back wing angles) to limit the damage to his tyres when following…
        Downforce is the square of speed, so while greater downforce = speed = greater grip, it will also result in greater stress / forces / load on the tyres.. therefore greater temps and wear

        1. @unklegsif – to clarify, I’m advocating allowing cars that have pitted to use DRS on the circuit even when not in 1 second of another car, for a few laps. I’m not in any way advocating changing the pitlane speed limit, that place is as crazy as the deck of an aircraft carrier as it is. Leave the pitlane speed limit as it is, but compensate for it with what I’ve suggested.

        2. therefore greater temps and wear

          That’s exactly what Pirelli proposes: create tyres which can withstand more ‘overheating’.
          Thus such tyres – which can stand the lateral forces – plus the ‘new DRS’ – which creates more speed in the turns – will do a big thing in facilitating overtaking (following turns, overtake on the straights).

          @phylyp, they can reduce pit time by reducing the length of the pitlane. Now there is a long stretch before the first box and after the last one. Make that area safe (rail guards, no personnel) and then there is no need to have a speed limit.

          1. they can reduce pit time by reducing the length of the pitlane. Now there is a long stretch before the first box and after the last one. Make that area safe (rail guards, no personnel) and then there is no need to have a speed limit.

            @coldfly – hmm, that’s an interesting thought. Of course, given the narrowness of the pitlane entry/exit at many venues, that increases the risk of them crashing out. But hey, top drivers and all that, they better cope. And those places are probably among the safest spaces to crash without worrying about collateral damage.

          2. Maybe one way is to cut out a bigger piece of the race track. So, for example, at the Autodromo Interlagos (site of the Brazilian GP) the entrance appears to be between Turns 14 and 15, but maybe you could add a Pit Lane entrance between Turns 9 and 10. This is geographically close to the current Pit Lane entrance and doesn’t appear to have any buildings or barriers in the way. So a Pit Lane just there would be almost the same length as the current one. The only thing is there’s no track there, so it would need to be built.
            This would mean there’s less time penalty going in to change your tyres even though the Pit Lane has speed restrictions.

          3. @coldfly It’s a neat idea. The trouble is that the pit lane is homologated and is required to be the same length for all series…

      3. The problem with pitstops is that when you pit twice compared to pitting once you end up behind slower car that you need to overtake. With two pitstops you also need to pit earlier in the race. For example we have a division 2 car in 7th position. The cars ahead have 20s lead. There are 5 cars behind you inside 10 seconds. It is a 50 lap race. Do you pit on lap 16 and 32 or do you pit at lap 25? Let’s assume 2 stopper is 10 seconds faster.

        You stop at lap 16. You have good pitstop but you drop 15th from 7th. You have harder tires and now you are stuck behind slower cars. To make your 2 stop strategy work you need to drive faster than the cars around you. Even if you can overtake them you still lose time doing it. In worst case scenario you have to waste tires, fuel and lap time trying to pass some of those cars. After 10 more laps they have pitted. You are no longer in 7th position. You are maybe 10th. You are again behind slower car and need to drive faster. And you still have a pitstop to make. What was theoretically 10s faster turns out to be 10s slower because you can not take any benefit from 2 stopping. Cars in division 1 can two-stop because they can overtake the slower cars relatively easily and have less slower cars to overtake. And in most cases they have already built a gap so they are fighting among themselves. But even then you need to pay attention where you come back on track. You don’t want to end behind slower cars.

        And the worst part is all those position changes happened during pitstops. Not on race track.

  3. why cant they just remove the stupid heavy hybrid elements, and increase fuel flow rate? the formula would be cheaper, lighter, higher revving, better sounding (less power, but that balances out with lower weight car). less fuel saving, the list goes on. ive never been a fan of this stop gap hybrid trash. either keep it f1, or make it electric f1. ofcourse my wish will never happen as long as the manufacturers have so much control. The best “heavy” single seaters were late 80s, ealry 90s indycars, about 900hp and 800kg, great sound, manual shifting, cars with not much grip and lots of overtaking.

    1. why cant they just remove the stupid heavy hybrid elements, and increase fuel flow rate?

      They could, but it would do nothing to the dirty air which inhibits cars to follow through the turns and consequently stops them from overtaking on the straights :P

    2. kpcart, it seems that apparent from your later comments that you seem to have a rather fixed viewpoint that “keep it f1” means “keep it in a fantasy version of what I think the sport was like in the 1980s and 1990s when I was growing up”.

    3. Hybrids offer the best solution in the long term for road cars, hence manufacturer interest. ICE for long distance, small battery for city centre to cut down on NOx and particulates.

      Shame the UK politicians have it in mind to ban hybrids also, but we have 21 years for the penny to drop, might be long enough..

  4. F1 needs push on the limit as long as possible and save fuel, tyres and PUs as short as possible.
    In my opinion rules should be in F1:
    Principles F1 should follow: 1. safety 2. close racing 3. world’s fastest cars 4. efficiency 5. optimizing 1-4 points. The most fans want to see close racing among the best drivers in the fastest cars. How can we solve it? This is, decision makers and engineers should work for. I think it is possible with compromises.
    Some possibilities we have to consider:
    1. Less differences between cars in lap times.
    Some teams are better in PU and others in aero but we need less differences in lap times. I think we should introduce +weight/point system in short term (for example +20dkg/point or ~+0,5 pound/point, less or more) because it is a simple, cheap, fast, effective solution to decrease dominance and differences and we don’t need unification or freeze development. Smaller teams get the same PU (hardware, software, etc) as manufacturers. Decrease money/revenue allocation differences and decrease costs. I think it would be ideal if cars are close to each other in lap times but some cars are faster in straight and others are faster in corners. The slower teams get more test days.
    2. Less dirty air and less sensitive cars for dirty air in corners but fast cars: more mechanical grip, less or same aero downforce, the sport needs make it easier for cars to follow each other closely during races
    A, simpler front wing and aero B, (more effective diffuser) C, better tyres D, more powerful and effective PUs (natural development) E, slight changes in technical regulation year by year (differences will naturally decrease) and more freedom in development until regulations allow F, DRS? (open DRS time/race and drivers manage it) G, refuelling? (Cars can be faster and drivers could push harder during races but there would be less safety and more ’overtaking during the pit stops’) H, narrower cars I, less weight
    3. Increasing the role of drivers: A, drivers make decisions on strategy B, less radio instructions from engineers to drivers during races (maybe only safety reasons) C, minimum weight for drivers (for example 80kg with ballast less or more) but no limit for cars D, push on the limit as long as possible, and save (fuel, tyres, PU etc.) as short as possible -> faster lap times during races E, It should be more challenging to drive physically and mentally F, drivers manage ERS instead of a program (like they used KERS earlier) G, so more challenge mentally (drivers own strategy) and physically (more G force until it is safety) as well for drivers.
    And what else…?
    Let’s see the advantages and disadvantages of +weight/point system in short term. (+20dkg/point, less or more. It means if a driver has 10 points he has to carry +2kg as a minimum weight for the car.)
    Advantages: 1. Less differences between cars in lap time and close racing. 2. Fast, cheap, simple, effective solution. 3. We don’t need unification or freeze development 4. Finally the best team wins.
    Disadvantages: 1. Unfair? I don’t think (or partly) because finally win the best and if you have the best team and car you have to work harder to remain the best.
    Or at least this +weight/points system should be tested in smaller categories.
    Optimizing them!

  5. Nobody enjoys the race management that goes on, but I (subjectively) believe the racing has been better this year than last barring a few events. If I was Pirelli I’d focus on what went wrong at those events and make adjustments for those rather than the entire calendar.

    The trouble with the working temperature range is that (I assume) team’s will always run the car as quickly as possible without degrading the tyre and will therefore always aim to be just inside the upper operating temperature limit.

    It doesn’t matter if that’s 100 degrees or 110 degrees, because as soon as a car starts sliding behind another car it’ll push the tyres outside of that range and they’ll continue to degrade.

    @coldfly is correctly identifying aero sensitivity as the main issue.

  6. To this day, I still have to grasp why a thinner tread makes a tire less sensitive to temperature. I haven’t dwelled deep on this. Can anybody with solid background explain this to me? Every knowledge I have on this points to the contrary. Thanks

      1. @coldfly thanks man, but that article just states again the fact, without providing for technical support. As someone on the verge of getting a physics degree I feel a bit embarassed about this being so totally nonsense to me, as it clearly isn’t, judging by where it came from. No thermodynamics nor statystical physics that I know of seems to support the fact that a slimmer tire would be less sensitive to temperature changes. But again, I’m open and willing to listen and learn from someone who knows better.

        1. ? @alfa145
          Did you watch the video?
          It makes sense to me that repetitively stretching and relaxing rubber will cause it to heat up.

          1. @coldfly thanks again for repetition. I opened the link on a mobile and somehow missed the video entirely and just read the article. Now I watched it on a computer. Well, now I can state that some serious modeling and simulations must’ve been performed, because as it stands, it sounded like many oversemplifications have been assumed and would fail a first approximation approach. Just thinkin about thermal inertia. Less material to dissipate heat -> more heat accumulating. But I believe with the proper tools and analysis they understood there must be an optimum between shaving off rubber and adding rubber and to reach this optimum they had to take some away. As you said, not perfect, but a fair explanation. Thanks

  7. The engineers are using the same formulas to calculate what the best strategy is. So if you line the cars up fastest to slowest and everyone is on the same strategy what can be expected?
    As I’ve written before, in my opinion the easiest solution is to remove pit to car radio. Let the driver figure out what speed they should drive and how, if at all, they are going to manage their tires and fuel. With engineers practically driving the cars via the radio, the drivers are all doing the same thing, because again, the math says so. If we had the level of pit to car radio in the “good old days” we’d have never had the Professor and it was Prost’s ability to figure out the balance between speed and conservation that helped to make him a legend. MotoGP let’s the riders figure it out and that helps to mix up the field as some push their tires too hard and then fade and others get their tire management right and charge through the field in the latter stages of the race. It can be the same in F1.

    1. @velocityboy – on similar lines, I had advocated how there should be no telemetry/data gathering at all in FP (not real time, nor recorded for later use). The only data teams get are speeds/sector timings provided by the FIA, plus they can inspect the car/tyres in the garage). Let the drivers understand the car by feel, and use that to determine setup. Let’s reward the best drivers and engineers, not the ones with the best algorithms and biggest computers.

      I think your idea and mine would complement one another nicely. Deny teams the ability to crunch data to optimize setup and strategy beforehand, let setup be in the drivers hands (without FP telemetry), and strategy be thrashed out by drivers and engineers after their FP runs based on feel and observations, not data spat out by algorithms. In the race, pit boards to do wall-to-car comms, let the driver talk to the pit (one-way), e.g. to announce he’s pitting. (Yes, this can be misused to ask something else and get an answer via pit board, but that response comes only once per lap).

      Very nice point calling out how Le Professeur used that ability of his to his advantage.

      1. @phylyp
        Its the number of engineers and computing power to simulate live strategy that I believe should be restricted, rather than pit to car comms or FP data

    2. @velocityboy, actually, pit to car radio has been in F1 since the early 1980s, if not the late 1970s (and F1 was fairly late in that respect – sportscar racing has had it since the late 1940s, and Indycar has had it since at least the early 1960s).

      Furthermore, contemporary reports from the 1980s show that it was actually commonplace for the engineers to be instructing the drivers on how to manage their fuel consumption – see, for example, this quote from Jenkinson about the 1986 German Grand Prix:
      “These Formula 1 Fuel Economy runs are fun to watch, providing you don’t know what is actually going on in the cockpit or over the pits-to-car radios, and when it was all over one had to admit that the paddock had been more fun than the race track. Perhaps we should all sit around in the sun and write Press Notices or spread rumours, rather than put on the farce that Grand Prix racing has become.”

      Sound rather familiar? That was written 32 years ago in those “good old days” and shows that, rather than leaving the drivers to do everything, the engineers on the pit wall were coaching and instructing the drivers on what times they should be setting and how much fuel they should be using. The reason why the fans think there wasn’t any coaching from the pit wall is because, as Jenkinson notes, they weren’t allowed to listen to what the engineers were telling the drivers.

      1. @ANON, good point, no doubt due to the turbo engines ability to produce prodigious power for short periods which is why we have fuel-flow limits, but I must remind you again that the good old days were even earlier.

  8. tyres should have performance at the time but when you are reaching the end of life the drop should be a clear 5-6 seconds slower. BUT the degrading of the same tyre driven slower (tyre managment) should have the same degrading as when you drove at maximum speed. (ofcourse people who aren good for his tyres should get 3-4 more laps out of them before the cliff)

    Only then the drivers will drive at their maximum and will pits sooner.

    Aero is a separate chapter and msut be adressed so.

  9. You had one job Pirelli. One job. :-)
    Why stick with 7 types of tyre anyway? That’s almost a spec part. Let each team work in secret with Pirelli, Michelin, or whoever they want to hand-cook the best tyres for their car.
    Less is not more. More is more!
    Or just have a dry tyre, a wet tyre, and get on with the racing!

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