It is not only the rebound that determines the order in the field. Tire preparation is also increasingly being used to tip the scales. Mercedes, Ferrari and Alpine slowed down at Imola. It made Red Bull, McLaren and Alfa Romeo shine.
The new generation of Formula 1 is full of mystery. The biggest is the jump, which allows Mercedes to crash into midfield and Aston Martin at the bottom of the table. With the exception of Red Bull, it is still far from understood. Tires have almost the same effect on the result. The preparation and treatment of new Pirelli soles are no longer as transparent as they used to be.
Therefore, there is no clear picture of who benefits from it and who does not. In Melbourne, only Ferrari had a knack for quickly raising the tire temperature for one lap and preventing it from squeaking in the long run. This is exactly what happened to Red Bull.
In Imola it was the opposite. Ferrari was caught in a tire trap this time, just for a sprint. Charles Leclerc lost it twice before the finish because the right front tire started deteriorating too soon. If Leclerc had won the race, things might have gone very differently on Sunday.
Ferrari invested most of his time in tyres
Ferrari and Red Bull tires are controlled most of the time. Good cars always help. With plenty of downforce as a foundation, it’s easy to find an attractive balance for the car. Ferrari has also invested more time than any other team in testing new Pirelli soles in 2021.
“We took every opportunity that presented itself,” confirms team principal Mattia Binotto. For example, Ferrari interfered with a wet tire test which Mercedes rejected on cost grounds. In all, Ferrari drivers tested an 18-inch Pirelli for seven days, for Mercedes only three.
In addition to the jump, Mercedes now has a second major construction site. Tires are slow to heat up. That stayed under the radar in Bahrain and Jeddah because it was warm enough there. He was hinted at in Melbourne and became a killer at Imola in qualifying.
Engineers are still at a loss as to the provenance of this property. Obviously, neither from the aerodynamics nor from the kinematics of the chassis. Then Mercedes will also have to suffer in the race. But this is where weakness becomes strength. The Silver Arrow keeps his tires in good shape from a distance. If you want to win, you have to be able to do both.
Alps burn tires
The Alps are just the opposite. On lap, the A522 is the third fastest car in the field. Regardless of the type of road. But as soon as Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon have to lead a race, the ride is set back. Drivers struggled with the grainy tires three times in four races. In Bahrain from the back, in Melbourne and in front of Imola. Alonso lost four places in the sprint. Ocon couldn’t even follow Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll in the race.
Haas has a similar, albeit not severe, problem. Drivers are faster on the lap than the distance. The American team has always lacked the necessary confidence when handling the tyres. In the race, the engineers listened to the riders who preferred the medium tire because they found it sturdier. Then Kevin Magnussen wondered why almost everyone drives on soft tyres.
McLaren and Alfa Romeo are usually on the better side with tyres. At McLaren, due to a former Bridgestone technician they have one of the best tire experts on the team. At Alfa because Valtteri Bottas have learned how not to get overwhelmed by important front tires early on in their lives.
“Valtteri is incredibly good at preparing the tyres,” says sporting director Pete Zehnder. That’s actually Alonso too. Alan Berman, Director of Alpine Operations, defends his driver, “But what should he do when he’s pushing people from behind? If he’s driving deliberately slow, he’ll be overtaken as well.”
Fewer tire warmers
Tire problems at Alpine and Mercedes may also be due to limited tire temperature monitors this year. The chassis works with normal dampers and springs. Brake ventilation is strictly regulated.
“It is no longer easy to radiate heat from the brakes to the rims and tires in a targeted manner,” admits Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes chief engineer. A colleague of Berman admitted that the tires were still a bit of a bag for them: “The front tires seem to be less resistant to grain.”
Tire preheating is restricted. 80 degrees for splashes, 60 degrees for media and 40 degrees for rain tires. The tire body is designed for temperatures above 15 degrees measured on asphalt at Imola. The rear tire is very strong compared to the front tire. In the nature of ground-impact cars, it is difficult to balance the downforce on the rear axle at the front. Of course, the recoil doesn’t help either.
Pirelli sports director Mario Isola laments: “Cars show a tendency to understeer in slow turns. On a cold track, the front tires start to slip. This causes the surface to overheat, and the rubber is pulled off the tread.” dreaded grains. Isola suspects that at Imola on Friday, several teams opted for a setup that protects the rear tires in the rain. I fell on their heads on a dry road.
Leadership style also plays a role. Leclerc took the blame for defeating the enemy. He had to attack twice to rock Max Verstappen outside the DRS area. On the start lap and at the end of the safety car period. Because the tires lost their temperature during the three laps at a slow pace, the second attack was toxic to the tires. They fired him 12 rounds later.