By Hannah Taylor, F1 Correspondent
All ‘tyred’ out in Turkey
The beginning of the Formula One 2011 season, meant it was time to start afresh for all of those involved in the sport. The opening race in Australia marked the implementation of the rule changes made by the FIA, and featured some new elements, which impact upon the cars themselves. Among these sees the return of a familiar brand, in the form of Pirelli, which has taken the place of Bridgestone, as the tyre supplier. The latter made the decision to opt out of the sport after 13 years, and Pirelli has stepped up to the job for the first time since 1991.
We had a new set of primes for the last stint and Mark really made them work.
The teams must follow set guidelines where tyre usage is concerned. The number of dry weather tyres has been limited to 11; instead of the 14 sets they previously had access to each weekend. Across the practice sessions the drivers are provided with three sets, which include two prime (hard compound) and one option (soft compound). These are to be used during the first and second sessions, and one set is given back after each practice has been completed. To cover themselves for qualifying and the race, they are given eight sets of tyres, and one of each compound must be returned before qualifying gets underway.
In terms of the race situation, drivers are required to use the two types of dry weather tyres. These must be put on in dry race conditions, and if they are not used, then the team/driver may incur a penalty. As a result of going against this, the driver may face being removed from the spot they finished the race in.
In the event of a race being stopped and not being able to get going again, if the driver has not used both types of tyres up until that point, then 30 seconds will be added onto their race time.
Luckily none of the drivers have come up against such punishment, following the end of the Turkish Grand Prix today. However, the tyre wear and strategies did play a major part, which led to an exciting race for the spectators. The chosen tyre compounds for Istanbul were the prime (hard compound) and option (soft compound). In order to work out who has opted for which type, the tyres have different markings to distinguish between them. The harder tyres have a silver strip on them, whereas, the soft ones are identified by a yellow strip.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, Paul Hembery, explains how they choose which tyres to take to each race.
“When calculating which tyres we will bring to every circuit, we bear a number of factors in mind such as the weather conditions and the nature of the surface... We then make sure that we select two tyres that will complement each other in terms of racing spectacle and potential strategies as well… so we’ve come up with tyre nominations that should not only be well suited to the characteristics of each circuit but also provide a great race for the drivers and spectators, with plenty of scope for the teams to exercise their strategic skills”.
Despite having dry weather conditions in the race, it was the strategic decisions made by the teams, which went in favour of some and not others.
The main man, who had the perfect strategy, and regained his winning formula, was the reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel. In his Red Bull he had a dominant drive, on his way to the top step of the podium once again. The decision to keep back a set of prime (hard compound) tyres clearly paid off for the German.
Vettel commented on the way in which the smooth strategy led to victory.
“Obviously a very good start which was crucial and then I was able to pull a gap, right at the first stint, which was important as we could then afford to stay out a lap longer, wait to see what the others are doing in terms of strategy and just react. We always had this three, four to eight-second cushion to the second guy and it makes my life easier, easier to find out which strategy really works.”
Before the race had even begun, he was a step ahead of his closest rivals. McLaren drivers, Jenson Button and his team mate, Lewis Hamilton, did not have as many tyres available like Vettel. His Australian team mate, Mark Webber, also raced well to make it a Red Bull one-two finish.
The Red Bull Team Principal, Christian Horner, explained how the team achieved some very satisfying results in the end.
“A fantastic team performance today. It was a very busy race with a four-stop strategy, perfect pit work and a great performance by Sebastian to take what was, in the end, a dominant win. Mark had a bit more on, dropping a place on the dirty side of the grid at the start, but then his recovery was excellent. He worked the tyres really hard to get passed Nico Rosberg and then came under pressure from Alonso, dropped a place to him, but kept calm. We had a new set of primes for the last stint and Mark really made them work, resulting in a great passing move to achieve our first one-two of the year”.
Inevitably, the Red Bull team were the dominant force on the track, and their closest rivals McLaren seemed to struggle from the outset. As the race was well underway today, it seemed to clearly be a matter of strategy and tyre wear, which would affect the end results. Sadly for Button and his team mate, Hamilton, they were unable to catch their rivals in front. As the lights went out to start the race, both drivers already appeared to suffer with a lack of grip. They were at a disadvantage though, starting from the dirty side of the track.
Very early on into the race on lap nine there was a concern that Hamilton was suffering with tyre wear, as he appeared to be dropping back with his lap times. Just one lap later, and the Englishman made a swift visit to the pits for a tyre change. Other drivers who decided to pit then, included Renault’s Vitaly Petrov, who had a suspected slow tyre puncture, Webber, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, and Vettel. Button seemed keen to make his tyres last a little further than everyone else, and he held off from a pit stop until lap 13.
At the time of the first lot of pit stops, it was thought that most drivers would do four stops, but Vettel and Button may do just three. Evidently, Button was one of the few who did the latter, and Vettel made the snap decision to stop a fourth time after all. It was also suspected that the tyres would only last for 12 laps, so it was a matter of working out when the teams may schedule their next stop.
Further on into the race it seemed Hamilton had tyre troubles again. On lap 17, there was a message via the team radio telling him to “Look after rears”. Through the use of the telemetry data sent from the car to computers, the team are able to monitor the cars handling, and can inform the driver of what is happening. In relation to the tyre wear, they could anticipate the steering input required to manage the tyres. As the race progressed to the second round of pit stops, Hamilton appeared to continue to struggle for pace. He was not the only one of the front-runners to face tyre problems. Felipe Massa had flat spotted one of his tyres on his Ferrari near the pits. At the time, his team mate, Alonso was already pitting for his tyres. Fortunately, the timing worked out so that both drivers could pit without delay.
Even with a solid strategy in action, technical difficulties can occur during pit stops. The race in Turkey proved this to be the case. On Button’s second pit stop, the team had trouble with the left rear tyre. They were not able to get the wheel nut onto it, but this did not hamper his three-stop plan. Unfortunately for the Mclaren team though, the mechanics had similar problems when Hamilton came to pit later on. They were also unable to get a wheel nut on and he had a further delay to allow Massa to pass by.
Although the strategies did not work according to plan for McLaren, both Ferrari drivers, Massa and Alonso, seemed to benefit temporarily over their rivals. After timing in the pits had worked well for Massa to get ahead of Hamilton, Alonso also had good fortune on his side. The Spaniard was able to maintain position and keep in front of Webber.
As the race got to the closing stages it was interesting to see how the strategies would change, depending on what other drivers would do, and what the condition of the tyres was like. Once all drivers had made the first pit stop, they were level pegging and running on the hard compound. It was now in their hands and the advice from their team, as to whether the drivers made a fourth stop or continued on the same tyres until the end.
It was clear to see that Button’s plan did not work out, as he and the team would have hoped. The 2009 World Champion had to nurse his car to the end, which resulted in being overtaken by the likes of Hamilton and Rosberg. For Button though, it was remarkable that his tyres survived, and got him across the finish line. It was thought that they would last 20 lap maximum, so Button did well to get a sixth place finish.
“It’s a pity to finish so far back after everything in the first stint seemed to go so well. Strategy-wise, I don’t think we got it right today. My battle with Lewis was great fun and there was a lot of excitement on the track, but I was disappointed to finish where I did: the car felt very good but we just went the wrong way on strategy”, explained Button.
As there were fewer and fewer laps to complete, the opposite of Button’s situation could be seen, with the battle between Webber and Alonso. The pair were on fresh tyres on lap 51, and scrapping for position (second place which Alonso had then). Webber was able to make the most of the opportunity when it came, and he snatched second place on the podium from Alonso’s grasp.
Overall, the race did not disappoint with the action it delivered. It proved to be a good example of demonstrating how the strategy, and tyre wear differed between the teams. The Turkish Grand Prix also set it’s own record, whereby an incredible 73 pit stops were made. This figure is the most in a race since the British Grand Prix at Donnington in 1993.