Formula One's tyre supplier Pirelli is expecting fewer pit stops this year, but says that will not necessarily result in duller races.
This year's wider tyres have been designed to offer more grip and be less susceptible to thermal degradation, allowing drivers to push harder for longer in races with less risk of damaging the performance of the tyre while racing other cars. After two weeks of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Pirelli's head of car racing Mario Isola believes the compounds are on target to deliver their goals.
"I'm happy to achieve the targets that were decided and the target we have to develop the new tyres," Pirelli's Mario Isola said on the last day of testing. "The request was clear: less degradation and an increase in performance to have the lap times quicker by five seconds. This has been achieved. Less overheating to give the opportunity for the drivers to push, the indications say we are in the right direction."
Tackling the overheating problem was a direct request from the drivers, who would often complain that they were destroying their front tyres while travelling in the dirty aerodynamic wake of another car. Pirelli reports that the new tyres still lose some grip when they overheat, but that the performance can then be restored by letting them cool down on the following straight.
"The overheating effect -- although I don't want to call it overheating because it's more a loss of grip when you overstress the tyre -- is now something that the tyre can quickly recover from -- that was the target. If the driver is pushing too much on the tyres and feeling some loss of grip, the running on the straights is enough to recover the performance of the tyres. That is a very good indication for us."
While reducing the overheating effect is expected to help the drivers race one another, the teams have also reported less degradation in general this year. Some teams claimed a full race distance was possible on a single set of soft compound tyres during testing, leading to concerns that there will be no variation in strategy if all cars stick to simple one-stop strategies.
"This happens for sure if you have degradation that is close to zero," Isola said. "If you have three compounds with different lap times but degradation is close to zero, then everyone will use the softest compound for all the laps except one. But the request is to have different degradation, not zero degradation.
"The overheating was a clear request. The drivers don't want overheating because when they are following another car they lose grip, they overheat the surface and they cannot fight again. That was a target and the feedback is positive in this direction -- maybe not completely zero overheating, but a big step compared to last year.
"Degradation shouldn't be zero, because otherwise you don't have any crossover. We need to have degradation and delta lap times that are making it possible to do different strategies, and in this case you keep the show.
"What we have to consider is that cars will have huge development this year so we have to reassess degradation numbers this year, especially at the last part of the season. I'm sure when we go to Suzuka we will use hard, medium and soft because the severity of the circuit will mean the degradation will be different to what we can see here and now because of more downforce, more power and the normal development of the car. In the first year when you have such a big change in technical regulations, we know that the rate of development is much higher than when the regulations stabilise."
The first race in Australia will see the teams use the three softest compounds in Pirelli's range before the super-soft, soft and medium are used in China and Bahrain. The hope is that higher temperatures will result in the sort of degradation that allows for mixed strategies, but not the sort of degradation that limits wheel-to-wheel racing. If not, the development of the cars, as mention by Isola, may be the key to more strategy variations as the season progresses.