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Insight: F1 tyre management - why McLaren and Ferrari are struggling

JA on F1 believes that a combination of high tyre pressures and softer compound choices from Pirelli could be the reason several Formula 1 teams ha...

Insight: F1 tyre management - why McLaren and Ferrari are struggling
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JA on F1 believes that a combination of high tyre pressures and softer compound choices from Pirelli could be the reason several Formula 1 teams have recently said they need to improve their tyre management strategies to avoid losing time in races.

F1’s tyre supplier has cited the increased performance of the 2016 cars as the reason for raising the minimum limit on tyre pressures for this season, a move Romain Grosjean branded “ridiculous” at the Chinese Grand Prix.

Ferrari and McLaren have both said that they need to improve their tyre management strategies, with Eric Boullier, team principal of the British squad, suggesting some teams have found a way to lower their tyre pressures after they have been measured by FIA.

Fernando Alonso

“I don't know what the other teams are doing to be honest,” he said at last weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

“We may have an opinion or some suspicions, but we have to focus on our own problems. I guess we are not the only team with this scenario or this issue, to get the best out of the tyres.

“We are working on it, trying to work around this very high starting pressure, which is hurting clearly the grip of the car, but also makes your tyres grain easier than necessary.”

Dominic Harlow, JAonF1’s technical advisor, suggested that in addition to the 2016 tyre pressure requirements, the greater availability of softer tyres, with three choices available, has meant teams that go with aggressive strategies need to be more carful with managing the life of the softer rubber.

Dominic Harlow

He said: “This year the pressure requirements, or stipulations, from Pirelli have been more onerous than ever before because of the increased performances of the cars, that’s the reason Pirelli are giving.

“It could also be that the compound availability has changed slightly, [as] the softer compounds are available as well. In order to make more aggressive compound choices the teams have to be a bit more active in making sure they are preserving the tyres.”

Ferrari team boss Maurizio Arrivabene blamed tyre management issues for Sebastian Vettel going slower in Q3 than he did in Q2 in Monaco, which resulted the German qualifying lower than the team expected and forcing it to choose an aggressive strategy in the race in an attempt to make up places.

Sebastian Vettel

But Vettel’s early switch to intermediate tyres actually ended up costing him time in the Monaco race, and a podium place to Force India’s Sergio Perez, as the Ferrari driver got stuck behind the slower Williams of Felipe Massa.

At the front of the race, Lewis Hamilton was able to make his ultrasoft tyres last 47 laps when the field switched to dry tyres, a move that surprised many paddock observers.

Harlow acknowledged that Hamilton’s Mercedes team may have found a way to cope with better tyre management, but he believes the uniquely low degradation surface at Monaco and the low temperatures of the wet-to-dry race was the reason the ultrasoft tyre did not wear out as predicted.

“Mercedes might have discovered a few things about looking after those tyres that the others don’t yet, that’s one possibility,” he said. “[But in] Monaco, the first three [finishers] had different compounds on so it was a bit of a unique situation in that race. Also the ultrasoft and supersoft are pretty close in character.”

Lewis Hamilton

So what is the key to setting the pace in F1 when coping with strict tyre management? It’s all about driving style. Harlow explained that drivers who are better at managing the amount of energy going through their tyres and avoid overly stressing the rubber are able to maintain a higher pace.

He said: “The main thing the drivers can do is to manage the energy that they’re putting through the tyres and the biggest influence that they can have on those is the amount of slip that they ask of it.

“The amount of latitudinal or longitudinal slip and it’s a very powerful influence on the amount of energy that the tyre has to absorb. In other words, it’s driving style that makes that work.”

Jenson Button

Harlow also described how vital it was for teams to work on getting their cars the right balance in the practice sessions before each race to help their drivers keep up the pace while looking after their tyres at the same time.

He said: “[The] most important thing for the teams is to get right is the car balance [because] if the driver has a well-balanced car he is able to control more readily the way in which he is using the tyres.

“If the balance is a long way out, in terms of too much understeer or too much oversteer or anything they’re particularly weak in like high-speed corners or low speed corners, then you are not able to drive efficiently and manage the tyres appropriately whilst doing the laptimes.”

Kimi Raikkonen

What do you make of the issue of tyre management in F1? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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