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Insight: What's all the latest fuss about F1 tyre pressures and does it matter?

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Insight: What's all the latest fuss about F1 tyre pressures and does it matter?
Jul 2, 2016, 10:46 AM

Formula 1's sole tyre supplier Pirelli has said that it should soon be able to satisfy the drivers' complaints that the tyre pressures are too high...

Formula 1's sole tyre supplier Pirelli has said that it should soon be able to satisfy the drivers' complaints that the tyre pressures are too high, by bringing them down.

But first the teams have to play ball and stop using clever tricks to lower the pressures and temperatures of the tyres out on track. Pirelli believes it now has a way, together with the FIA, of putting an end to that practice.

Pirelli has been sole supplier since 2011 and the early years were fraught with problems, particularly the 2013 British Grand Prix where a series of tyre explosions were blamed by the Italian company on teams running the pressures too low. Other critical tracks like Spa have seen Pirelli being very strict on the camber angles at which the teams run the tyres and this has led to the current situation where they work with the FIA to mandate how the teams must run the tyres.

But this year, the FIA has been aware that some teams are able to artificiality lower the tyre pressures once the car is out on track, which gives more grip in the lower speed corners. The most common corner on F1 tracks worldwide is the 110-130km/h corner, so the fractions of a second gained from better mechanical grip in those corners from a lower tyre pressure, have made a difference for some of the better resourced teams.

F1 tyres

The tyres can be heated up to 110 degrees in the tyre blankets, but then that temperature drops once they come out of the blankets and the tests were carried out when the tyre were fitted to the cars before.

So what's the clever ruse going on this time?

There have been suggestions recently that some teams have heated elements in the wheel hubs which heat the tyres up in the pits after they have been fitted to the cars and then lower the temperature once the cars are out on circuit.

A new protocol for measuring the tyre temperatures and pressures was introduced in Austria this weekend, whereby the Pirelli technicians now test the tyres in the seconds before they are fitted to the car. Once that has been done, the team is not allowed to change anything.

Speaking to a group of media on Friday night in Austria, including this site, Pirelli's Mario Isola said that it should be able to relax the rules on tyre pressures soon, once the new protocols outlaw the tricky behaviour of the teams.

The drivers will be delighted when that happens as they are unhappy with the way the cars feel on the high pressures. Speaking in Austria on Thursday, Jenson Button said that the tyre pressures for this weekend of 22PSI front and 19.5PSI rear were far too high.

Jenson Button

"At the end of last year we were told we were going to have lower pressures this year and we haven't, so it's really difficult," said the 2009 world champion.

"I think the issue is Pirelli is seeing very low pressures behind the safety car and at certain instances during the race because people are doing certain things. So I think that's why they're putting the pressures up, so the minimum pressure is higher."

Isola addressed this on Friday and said that the solution may be close: "It depends what we see in terms of starting running pressures, " said Isola. "If we see consistent numbers then we might relax it a bit.

Charlie Whiting

How are the mandatory tyre pressures set?

Pirelli receives data from all the teams from its running on the simulators at their factories ahead of the race weekend. They base the pressures for Friday running based on the worst case scenario, which is normally the faster cars.

Then after Friday practice they receive detailed telemetry data from the FIA from all the cars and that should correlate with the simulation data. If they see anomalies then they investigate. They can either lower or raise the pressures based on that Friday data.

On the older tracks, the ones where teams have extensive experience and more accurate simulations, the data is normally very accurate. On newer tracks it can see some variations.

Since the Russian GP this year, the FIA has had the ability to monitor tyre pressures and temperatures in real time and that has revealed that some of the cleverer teams have found ways to get around the rules.

"We'll be happy to reduce the pressures if we are satisfied that teams are not manipulating the pressures and temperatures, " said Isola.

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Series Formula 1
Tags innovation