"There are three critical elements towards the success of any Formula One car, the chassis, the engine package and the tyres," says Ferrari's Technical Director, Ross Brawn. "The Malaysian Grand Prix could again be all about tyres for the heat and...
"There are three critical elements towards the success of any Formula One car, the chassis, the engine package and the tyres," says Ferrari's Technical Director, Ross Brawn. "The Malaysian Grand Prix could again be all about tyres for the heat and the track surface is very tough on the tyres and consistency is vital," he points out, remembering last year's race where the Michelin shod BMW-Williams cars took the win.
"We have formed a very strong partnership with Bridgestone and after last year's race they did a fantastic job developing a more consistent and durable tyre for the rest of the year. Magny Cours is another difficult track on tyres and we knew that would be the next big test but the tyre performed perfectly and we stuffed Michelin on their home turf, " added Ross. This year he is optimistic that there will be no specific tyre problems in Malaysia but whatever the outcome of the race; the tyres will play a critical role.
The new regulations have made life a little easier for the team in some directions. "Each team may now have only two choices of dry tyres for the race, but each team can make their own choice of compound and construction. That could mean that Bridgestone would need to make ten different dry weather tyres to supply their five teams, but on the positive side, they do not need to make overall as many tyres to cover all possible options like they did in the past, so their response time is much quicker. We can now test and choose a tyre between races and then race that tyre the next weekend," explains Brawn, the team having chosen their tyres for Malaysia following test session in Fiorano right after the Australian GP.
The new regulations and one-lap qualifying rule has also influenced the way the team go about preparing for race day and tyre choice. "It would be possible to choose a soft tyre for a quick time on Friday and thus a better qualifying starting position for Saturday, but then qualify a harder tyre that has to then stay on the car to start the race. Qualifying is now effectively part of the race with the new regulations," explains Ross.
"In fact, we prefer to concentrate entirely on the race preparation, so the tyres we choose are both variations of race rubber one of which we choose for qualifying and the race depending on what we see during free practice. The emphasis now has to be on consistency and the tyres cannot be scrubbed now like they used to as we only get one lap in qualifying and we have to start the race the next day with the same tyres."
"The track in Malaysia absorbs the heat and is very severe on the tyres. You need a softer tyre to get the grip, but it cannot be too soft because of the heat. It's a bit of a compromise. We have had to work on a new compound philosophy with a more durable tyre in the heat, while the new regulations means that the tyres do not have to have as long a life as they did for a one-stop race strategy," points out Ross.
Where things could become difficult in Malaysia is in the case of rain. The new regulations have not made things any easier by stipulating just one type of rain tyre for each team. "Malaysia can have a sudden monsoon downpour during the race and be dry again 10 laps later. With only one rain tyre it is impossible to cater for all eventualities. You either choose a deep grooved full wet which can be dangerous and start chunking when the track begins to dry or you choose a shallow groove intermediate tyre and their will be cars falling off the road in heavy rain. We have chosen a compromise between the two that we have developed during wet weather testing during the winter, but it is not the ideal solution," says Ross.
There are also very limited changes that can be made to the set-up of the car in the event of rain. "The front wings can be adjusted and brake ducts taped up, which is not really a safety problem, because all we do when it rains in a dry race is stick on some wets and perhaps change the front wings to balance the car better."
"The new regulations have put a lot more emphasis on tyre performance and Bridgestone have really proved that they are up to the job of producing the right tyre for the job," says Brawn.