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Monday, February 11, 2013

What Pirelli brought to Jerez

We and the teams got our first impressions of the 2013 Pirelli compounds in Jerez last week.

Pirelli brought 385 sets of tyres to the test of which 251 sets were used.  The interesting statistics, which are not broken down into teams show that:

  • of 7 sets of supersoft tyres, 3 sets were used, but no timed lap was set on them
  • 42 sets of intermediates were brought and 35 sets of wets and, even though the weather was dry for the four days 3 sets of inters were used and 1 set of wets (someone trying to work out how quickly they went off on a dry line perhaps?

The other interesting factoids were that Jenson's time on the hard tyre does remain very impressive being set on day 1 on a totally green track.  Nobody else beat his time on a hard tyre until Day 4 when Sebastian Vettel bet it by 3 tenths of a second.  By that stage the track had been run on for three days solid, some teams running 2 Grand Prix distances per day.

Felipe Massa set the best time on the soft tyre:     1m17.879s

Nico Rosberg set the best time on Medium tyres: 1m18.766s

Sebastian Vettel set the best time on hard tyres:    1m18.565s
I think we can discount the Medium Tyre Time given that the Medium sets seem to have done the most of the grunt work over the 4 days.  157 sets of mediums were brought tothe test and the teams got through 137 of those.  That would put the difference between the hard and soft tyres at around 7 tenths of a second per lap. Factor in the mediums in the middle and we're talking 0.35s between compounds.

Pirelli were expecting 0.5s between compounds at their launch so, unless the figures in Jerez are underestimations and can be blamed on poor track conditions, the difference is a lot less than they anticipated.  They said in their press release that:
With the conditions and track layout at Jerez not really typical of anywhere else this year, the time difference between the compounds is not expected to be completely representative of the rest of the season.
Paul Hembery, of Pirelli, summed up the four days as follows:
The four days spent at Jerez, with most teams running their new cars, gave us all a good general impression of the characteristics of our 2013 tyres on track, with completely new compounds and construction. It seems that we are very much on the right road and the changes we wanted to see are all there: the tyres are faster than their equivalents last year, and they have a wider window of peak performance. Conditions at Jerez were not ideal this year however, as it was an extremely abrasive track – the most abrasive of all the circuits we visit all year – and consequently it was hard to draw any proper conclusions, given that the surface had actually become even more abrasive than last season. We came away with plenty of data for the hard and medium tyres, very little for the soft tyre and none for the supersoft. Now we look forward to the next two test sessions at Barcelona, which will provide another very valuable opportunity for the teams to extend their knowledge of this year’s tyres.
The new Pirelli Tyres have softer sidewalls this year which means that the teams either have to run at a higher ride height to compensate for the movment within the tyres themselves or have to run a stiffer suspension.  The stiffer suspension may resulted in the tyre degratdation I described the journalists saying about the new Ferrari.  a stiffer suspension means the car hurts over the kerbs and bumps on the track and that wears the tyres out and cuts them up more quickly than the adjustment in ride height.

Any increase in ride heights will however mean that the car will lose downforce, so the pay-off has to be determined by each individual team.

As I was discussing the cars in my last post it's worth pointing out that all of the commentary in respect of front end grip, loss of back-end grip, lack of downforce, single line cars, etc. could all be symptomatic of the teams making these decisions and then trying to address the shortcomings which arise as a direct consequence.

The surface of the track was also extremely abrasive according to Paul Hembery and this brings its own characteristics in that the tyres go off more quickly but there is also more grip available within the operating window.

The fact is that every issue which has been attributed to the cars could result from the teams compromising the cars set-up to account for the characteristics of the tyres and the track itself.

I take back everything I learned reading the accounts of the tests last week.  We are no better off than we were after the car launches.

I refer you to my recent post in respect of the Pirelli Tyres; The cold weather in Barcelona will not provide enough data for the teams to understand these tyres until they get back to Europe.  Even Pirelli are saying that they will only understand what's going on by China at the earliest, that's three races into the calendar - it'll take the teams at least two more before they are comfortable in deciding race strategies.

Last year that was a surprise, this year I think we can expect a conservative approach to the first five races by the front runners and this might give the midfield a chance to snatch surprise podiums and perhaps a surprise win should they make a more daring strategy work.

What is sure is that Jenson Button is going to have to come out of the box strongly if he is to avoid the problems he had last year.  A great race driver, he needs to get comfortable with the tyres quickly to make sure he keeps Sergio Perez in check.