New tyres to be major factor in F1 Melbourne GP

New Formula One tyre supplier Pirelli believes the introduction of faster-wearing tyres to the sport should make strategy and tactics a major factor in deciding Sunday’s season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has directed Pirelli—which replaces Bridgestone as the official F1 tyre manufacturer from this season after a 20-year absence—to create a compound that will force two to three pit stops per race and create the tyre degradation that will result in cars travelling at different speeds and therefore fostering more overtaking.

Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery told the Associated Press on Thursday that the Italian manufacturer has clear instructions to reintroduce some “movement and spectacle” to the sport.

While faster-wearing tyres had been met with a mixed response from drivers and teams, Hembery said they had the potential to take F1 back to the years when a good strategy had the ability to beat a good car.

“It would be fantastic for the sport if maybe some of the teams not normally in the top four come up with a strategy that allows them to get on the podium, and maybe cause a mini upset,” he said.

“People in the last few years have forgotten that strategy was an integral part of the sport,” he added. “If you take the example of Michael Schumacher and Ross Brawn [at Ferrari], they were the experts almost at race strategy, and won many a race because of a good call and coming in for either a fuel stop or tyre change, and those are factors that will become important again.”

Teams tried the new tyres during preseason testing, and opinions ranged from world champion Sebastian Vettel’s prediction they will add excitement to the race, to that of his Red Bull team owner Dietrich Mateschitz who described them as a “catastrophe”.

While the durability of Bridgestone’s tyres—even the soft compounds were capable of doing an entire race—had reduced the role of tyre strategy, some critics had said the new Pirelli rubber had lurched in the other direction to where it may be too important.

“Clearly change is often something that causes people to maybe get excited, but at the end of the day what we’ve said to them is ‘look everybody has the same, somebody on Sunday will be on top of the podium as the first winner on Pirelli tyres in 20 years, drinking champagne and very happy.’ So they have to be sure they’re the ones,” Hembery said.

What makes this year different to the Schumacher-Brawn era at Ferrari is the absence of refuelling, which makes the number and timing of pit stops entirely about tyre strategy.

Hembery said teams preparing for Sunday’s race will decide between a two-stop or perhaps a three-stop strategy. They will also need to decide whether to spend more time on the softer “option” tyre or the harder “prime” tyre for longer—“balancing absolute performance with the ability to stay on the track longer”.

“They’re also going to have to understand the evolution of the track over the weekend, which is something that is an unknown for most of them because testing was done in very cold weather and with relatively small numbers of cars,” he said.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso agreed, saying the new tyres could also herald a new era for F1.

“For sure there is a new way of doing the races in terms of strategy,” Alonso said.
“So let’s say a new Formula One is starting here in Melbourne in terms of the strategy point of view. We need to learn from here all the new things for the coming races.

“We need to be very concentrated, very focused on strategy because it can play a big part in the result of the race. On the other hand, qualifying has a little bit less value than last year.”

Melbourne’s Albert Park track—which hosts the season-opening race after the Bahrain GP was cancelled due to civil unrest—was not Pirelli’s ideal first race back in F1.

“We would have liked to have gone to Bahrain to be perfectly honest,” Hembery said. “We’ve done a lot of testing there and have a lot of data, and it’s a very good representative circuit for a tyre maker in the sense that it can be hot but it can also be very abrasive.

“Melbourne brings a lot of factors. The conditions can change rapidly here. It’s an event where you could have 20 degrees Celsius and rain, up to almost 40 degrees Celsius track temperature. It’s very challenging from that point of view.”

Melbourne is forecast to have cool and cloudy weather over the race weekend, with the chance of occasional showers.—Sapa-AP

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