Drivers differ over Pirelli’s response to 2021 tyre criticism

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Pirelli’s defence of their heavily-criticised new tyres for the 2021 F1 season has prompted a mixed response from drivers.

The sport’s official tyre supplier provided examples of its new tyres for teams to test on Friday. The 2021 rubber was widely criticised by drivers, many of which said they should not be used next year.

Pirelli responded by pointing out teams had not been able to set their cars up to optimise the performance of next year’s designs. But not all drivers are convinced that would make a significant difference.

Alexander Albon was among those who rejected Pirelli’s explanation when asked by RaceFans for his view on it.

“Balance-wise, I’m sure you can speak down the grid, but no one’s saying there was a big balance issue with the tyre, it was just that we didn’t have grip” said Albon

Alexander Albon, Red Bull, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Set-up changes won’t improve the tyres, says Albon
“We optimise it as much as we can. They tell us the compound of the tyre, more or less what we should aim for and what to expect from it. So the guys do their research or their best estimates and honestly, like every time, they get very close to the optimal set-up of the car on the tyre.

“But you put the old tyres on and you go much faster.”

Albon’s team mate Max Verstappen also doubts whether set-up changes would improve the performance of the 2021 rubber. “Of course the cars are not fully set up for these tyres but honestly the difference we had yesterday in practice is not set-up,” he said.

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“You can adjust a few things but if the tyre is not turning, it’s not working. You can turn the car upside-down, it’s not going to be the same speed. I hope we will not use them but let’s see.”

Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Gasly was receptive to Pirelli’s explanation
However Pierre Gasly said Pirelli had made “a fair point” about the differences in set-up.

“Obviously we maximise our car with the current tyres, and obviously [we are] fitting something else with different characteristics, different construction.

“At the end of the day it was more like a discovery for us, trying to understand this tyre rather than performing with this tyre. So ultimately we’re going to have a better feeling with the current one than the new one.

“I think it will change if we work a bit in terms of car set-up around what we’ve been given if we understand a bit more the temperature, the pressure, et cetera, and maximise everything. But as the first feeling, obviously it didn’t feel great.”

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Pirelli’s head of car racing and F1 Mario Isola said he could “understand” the critical comments from some drivers about the 2021 tyres given they have two years’ experience of the current rubber.

“They are running on cars that have been optimised on the current tyre [for] two years now, because they are the same tyre that we have used in 2019. So they have a level of confidence, of preparation and they are able to set up the car with the current tyre that obviously is at the end of the life cycle.”

Last year teams rejected the new tyres which Pirelli produced for the 2020 season, and decided to keep using last year’s tyres. Isola said: “Every time that you propose a new tyre, there are some criticism there is a change in balance.

“For example, I heard a comment, I believe it was a team radio from Verstappen saying that he was feeling some understeer. We warned the teams that with the new construction they can have more understeer. We invited the teams to correct the set-up in order to re-balance the car. This is obviously something they will do next year.”

Isola said the test had mainly been a data-gathering exercise for the teams rather than an opportunity for the drivers to assess the performance of the tyres.

“I’m sure that they will find the way to balance the car and to extract the performance from the from the 2021 tyres next year. But they have been focussed mainly in collecting data rather than extracting the performance from the tyre. And the driver feels the performance, not other elements.

“[It] was important for the teams to collect aero data. We saw some teams with the rack to collect aero data because the front [tyre] profile is different. We decided not to change the rear profile to avoid changes in the design of the floor. But the front profile is different and for sure it needs some adaptation. They have to adapt the car a little bit to the new product.”

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2020 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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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8 comments on “Drivers differ over Pirelli’s response to 2021 tyre criticism”

  1. To be honest, less grip, with more thermal stability is good. As long as the tyres are better to operate, dont overheat the moment you push a, bit.. Peak grip is fine, but being able to race well is better.

  2. Pirelli might be right about setup, but then why even bother to test this tyres with this cars? if they are not designed with these tyres in mind, the whole test is irrelevant.

    I don’t think Pirelli, generally, are doing a good enough job but even so they should go before every year like: “this is what you’ll have next year, deal with it”. They were selected as tyre supplier, and as such they should have the power to make their own decisions in terms of tyre design. Maybe these tyre is more consistent but less grippy, and by their calculations, they feel it’s right. Why make the teams decide on it? they are not the experts.

    1. Pirelli can’t be right about setup, because your setup is purely for longevity of the tyres and minimally for performance. The cars currently run 3 different compounds during a race weekend and can’t have 3 different setups for the 3 compounds, yet the change the tyres and are instantly fast.
      Pirelli is hoping to achieve something with the design of the new tyre compounds, but they may not have arrived at their goals and if all the drivers are complaining then it means the tyres have issues which may get even worse with the new downforce reductions for 2021

    2. They were selected as tyre supplier, and as such they should have the power to make their own decisions in terms of tyre design

      This is what Michelin insisted on, and why they were not chosen.

      Pirelli have just done what was asked of them even if they have taken a lot of flak for it, so kudos to them. Not always perfect as we’ve seen with the dangerous blowouts, but could just as well have been unrealistic data from the teams, or simply unexpected rate of development (downforce).

  3. I’ve been an avid F1 fan for more years than I care to remember.
    That said, in the last 3 years, I’m not impressed with how tyres have become so important.
    F1 is the cutting edge of motor car racing. The Engineering & Technical pinnacle of motor sport.
    This tyre is now the dominant factor, is beyond disturbing.
    Despite all the negativity from this test. The data will be pored over. Analysed infinitely.
    Then the whole setup addressed to use the “new” tyres as optimally as possible.

  4. Just allow competition again so that we have multiple suppliers all aiming to make the best tyres possible & where teams have the option to switch to a supplier they feel is doing the best job.

    The tyres are as they are because Pirelli have no reason to change them given how they aren’t competing with anybody. Drivers, Teams & Fans can all complain about how bad they feel they are in various ways but Pirelli have no reason to care as the tyres been slower, overheating, graining etc… doesn’t affect them as there is nobody to beat them.

    We’ve had a decade of the tyres been sub-par now & regardless of why the tyres were as they were at times I just think it’s time to go back to pushing for the best available because that to me is what F1 is supposed to be about as the pinnacle of the sport. Putting up with sub-par tyres just because ‘it’s the same for everyone’ isn’t a good excuse as far as i’m concerned.

  5. I’m sure the tyres are better the drivers just have little to no faith in Pirelli. Teams down the grod might want a shake up, the top surely not.

  6. Watching Hamilton “drifting” around the track with the new tires on, I’m not sure what kind of suspension change would be needed to make the cars stable. With all the downforce on those cars, especially the Mercedes, it’s one thing for a tire to be “less grippy”. It’s quite another for an F1 car to be doing a powerslide through a turn at Bahrain, with one of the most abrasive surfaces on the grid.

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