Analysis: Could new F1 tyre rules help Ferrari topple Mercedes?

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While most are expecting the 2016 season to be another Mercedes whitewash, Franco Nugnes says that Formula 1's new tyre regulations could help bring Ferrari into the picture.

F1 will face more uncertainty at the start of the season than it has in recent years, thanks to new tyre rules that mean Pirelli is bringing three compounds to each Grand Prix.

Teams have been given a certain degree of freedom to pick their tyres for each race – and have already decided what they are doing for the early races before the 2016 cars have hit the track for the first time.

But could the new tyre rules, aimed to produce a bit more unpredictability to the racing, actually have an impact in what many expect to be a straight championship fight between Ferrari and Mercedes?

In fact, if you look back at the relative form of the Maranello outfit and its Brackley-based rival, it is not hard to think that a greater degree of choice on the tyre front could help Ferrari better unleash the clear pace it had at times in 2015.

Ferrari’s medium problem

Marrying up Ferrari’s form in 2015 with the tyre choices that were available delivers some clues about how its results were impacted by which compounds were on offer.

In 2015, the soft tyre was selected for 15 races. The medium tyre was picked for 13 races, while the super soft got six outings and the hard just four.

In the four races that did not feature the soft tyre, Sebastian Vettel managed to win in Malaysia, but struggled against Mercedes in Spain, Britain and Japan.

It became clear that the Mercedes were very strong on the medium tyre, but faced more of a headache - and Ferrari challenge - when the compounds moved to the softer end of the scale.

Aerodynamic load

The reason that the Mercedes was more comfortable on the harder tyre is obvious: the W06 produced more downforce than its rival, so was able to get the harder rubber in to the right operating window.

However, the aerodynamic loading would potentially have put too much force through the soft tyres – tipping it out of the perfect window.

For Ferrari, less downforce meant the car was better able to deal with the soft tyres to keep them alive longer.

However, that characteristic meant it especially struggled to get temperature in to the medium compounds, particularly in the early laps of each stint.

Push rod shift

Knowing that it has the possibility to run the soft tyre at every race in 2016 if it chooses, means Ferrari could get a boost to its Mercedes challenge.

A great deal of work has been done at Maranello to improve its tyre performance – and technical director James Allison has been known to produce cars that are particularly kind on their rubber.

Ferrari’s new car is poised to abandon a pull-rod concept and instead go push-rod, which will deliver benefits in terms of handling at the front end of the car even if there are aerodynamic and centre-of-gravity drawbacks.

Furthermore, mechanical changes at the rear of the car – with the MGU-K set to be moved to the left bank of the engine and the intercooler/compressor location changed – should allow for the delivery of better traction at the rear. That should preserve the rear tyres more too.

However, Mercedes will not have been sitting still over the winter and will equally have focused as much effort as it can on improving the performance on the softer range of tyres.

Avoiding the medium

For the first four races of 2016, Pirelli has announced that teams can pick from the super soft, soft, medium.

And, as the rules states, Pirelli has made it compulsory that drivers have available for each of the races one set of medium and one set of soft tyres.

However, the rules do not force them to use both – which means Ferrari can steer clear of the medium and instead concentrate on its preferred soft tyre if it so wishes.

Could that be the key to the outcome of the Australian Grand Prix, and Ferrari delivering the win that its president Sergio Marchionne so desires?

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Series Formula 1
Teams Ferrari
Article type Analysis
Tags pirelli
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