Pirelli Preview: Tyre strategy vital element of 2012 F1 season

Pirelli tyres pit stop

Mar.14 (Pirelli) Having helped to set the fastest-ever lap of Albert Park, during qualifying last year, Pirelli has a tough act to follow in 2012. But in its second season of F1, the Italian firm has placed the emphasis even more firmly on race strategy by reducing the performance gap between the compounds and extending the window of peak performance on every tyre.

An aerial view of the circuit. Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Qualifying Day, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, Saturday 15 March 2008.
Albert Park

In Australia this weekend, the P Zero White medium tyre has been nominated together with the P Zero Yellow soft – and the difference between them is expected to be in the region of six-tenths of a second per lap. As always, the weather in Australia can be extremely variable, with the P Zero Green intermediates and P Zero Blue wet tyres available as well.

There are some new tyre regulations in force this year, which means the teams will have all 11 sets of their total allocation available to them from the start of the first free practice session on Friday. This is designed to encourage the cars to run as much as possible from the very beginning of the race weekend, providing plenty of on-track action. As well as that, the new technical rules ban blown diffusers, and Pirelli has responded to this by producing tyres that provide more grip at the rear than before. New markings will also make the distinct compound-specific colours more visible to audiences.

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel will start this year aiming to become only the third driver in the history of F1 to lift three straight drivers’ titles. The original person to manage this feat was the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, who won his first title (with Pirelli tyres) in 1951.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 27:  Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium after winning the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on March 27, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Sebastian Vettel
Sebastian Vettel won the 2011 Australian GP

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing:
“This year we start the season in Melbourne with the benefit of a year of working with Pirelli tyres. For 2012 Pirelli have developed new tyres, with softer compounds and improved warm up. After a lot of winter testing on cold tracks in Spain we will have new challenges in the much warmer conditions in Albert Park. The weekend always starts with the track being quite dirty and conditions change and improve all the way through the weekend. It’s bumpy and so easy to make a mistake, and as the circuit grip improves, the behaviour of the tyres changes a lot. There are lots of points to get the right set-up for, in particular, the Prost curve – you need a good set-up to look after the front tyres and avoid understeer to get the best speed on the start-finish. We have had a good Winter testing, but now we start the real business. Last year was very good for us here, so I hope I stay on track and have another good race.

Paul Hembery Pirelli  Barcelona Test
Paul Hembery

Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director:
“Last year, we set the standard high by helping to ensure a season with the most overtaking in the history of F1, but this year we aim to make the spectacle even better. In general, our tyres are going to be less conservative, as can be seen from the choices we have nominated for the first three grands prix of the year. But the teams have a better idea of what to expect from us in 2012, and after nearly 50,000 kilometres of pre-season testing, we are sure they will already have a pretty good handle on the characteristics of the tyres and possible strategies. What we have aimed to do this year with the tyres is to give them more options, which of course makes the tyres more of a talking point. The drivers and cars will always be the stars of the show, but we’d like, once more, to bring the tyres more to the forefront. The teams asked us to challenge them this year, and naturally our aim is not to disappoint them. So we’re looking forward to another great race in Australia, which is always a fantastic place to get the season underway, thanks to its wonderful atmosphere and warm welcome.”

Technical Notes:

  • Australia is a semi-permanent facility that is not used extensively during the year and with smooth, non-abrasive asphalt. This means that the track is quite ‘green’ towards the beginning of the weekend, but evolves considerably as more rubber is laid down.
  • Around two pit stops per car are expected; this turned out to be the winning strategy last year, with 11 of the 14 classified finishers adopting it.
  • Acceleration and braking are the main characteristics of the 5.303 km Albert Park circuit, rather than any especially demanding corners. So the longitudinal forces at work on the tyres are greater than the lateral forces.
  • The rear-left tyre is the most stressed at Albert Park as there are 10 right-hand corners and six left-hand corners.
  • A wide variety of weather conditions is possible, from torrential rain to bright sunshine. The soft and medium tyres represent the most versatile combination of tyre to deal with an extensive range of temperatures. Early forecasts indicate that rain could be expected on Friday for free practice.
  • Last year, Pirelli nominated the hard compound together with the soft compound: the nomination for this year is less conservative – with the medium much closer in character to the 2011 soft.

Tyre choices so far:

Subbed by AJN.