Esteban Ocon foresees strategy and safety impacts from tyre blanket ban

Jamie Woodhouse
Tyre blankets in use. United States, October 2022.

Tyre blankets in use heating up Pirelli tyres in the paddock.

On this path to a 2024 tyre blanket ban, “forget any strategy goal” says Esteban Ocon, who also has safety concerns.

As part of Formula 1’s push to become carbon net zero by 2030, one of the initiatives on the horizon is a complete axing of the tyre blankets, commonly seen in the garage and on the grid ahead of a race to put heat into the tyres.

That would mean less energy being used, but it is safe to say that unanimous support from the drivers is something which has not yet been achieved.

Tyre blanket temperatures were already dropped this season and were set to reduce again to 50c for next season, but after driver complaints, plans changed for the temperature to remain at 70c, but with a shortened usage time of two hours instead of three.

It came after Pirelli conducted a test of their 2023 prototype tyres in Austin, using the originally planned 50c tyre blanket temperatures.

With the warm-up phase being a main area of complaint, Alpine driver Ocon expanded on the issue, saying that without tyre blankets, not only would strategy options go out of the window, but he also feels that the safety of the drivers would be at risk.

Tyre blankets have now been absent from feeder series Formula 2 for several years.

“It’s not working at the moment,” Ocon told media, including, regarding the route to eliminating tyre blankets.

“We’ve tested in Austin, which was quite a warm weekend. It’s a high energy track and we were improving every lap, but we were very far off the pace on the out-lap, it was like being on ice, for example, in the first couple of corners.

“So it is not Formula 1 philosophy let’s say, you can forget the undercuts, you can forget any strategy goal, because you will take three or four laps to warm up the tyres, so it is quite boring.

“And especially for safety on a weekend like Spa, where it’s 12 degrees or 10 degrees, it’s just going to be not safe to start with.”

Ocon does believe that Pirelli have the ability to ultimately reach a point where their compounds can operate without tyre blankets, but reaffirmed his belief that the current path is not working.

“I’m sure Pirelli will find a way to get this thing to work if we keep the non-blankets rule in, but at the moment we didn’t test something that was working,” he said.

“And next year, we revert back now to 70 degrees for two hours. So that’s working, so that’s that’s fine, that’s going to be similar to this year.

“And yeah, if we keep testing things that are so slippery like this at the start of the lap, then I’m sure the FIA will revert to how it is this year if we can’t do it.”

Tyre blanket ban can increase driver skill role in strategies

Tyre strategy is a factor that can play a crucial role in the outcome of a race, whether it is that team getting a decision right or wrong, as well as the pit stops which can either give that helping hand, or see the strategy fall apart with an extended stay in the pit box.

To Ocon’s point, if Formula 1 bans tyre blankets at a point like now where the drivers will struggle badly for grip for the first few laps, then teams may see little benefit in attempting undercuts as he suggested. However, on the flip side, maybe they will, just in a different form.

This is where the driver would really come into play with their ability to get the tyres up to temperature, and extract as much performance from them as they can in the meantime. If a driver does a good job of that, then this could be even more valuable as part of an undercut than the current benefit of fresher tyres.

What would change is the potential passing point, as while it would very unlikely be as that driver stopping later exits the pits, it would then be over to them to fire up those tyres as the pursuing driver, or drivers, close in fast. Then we will see who gets the job done.

We potentially also could see a greater pace advantage from fresher tyres. It is common to see drivers trying to extend their stints to the end of a race due to the time loss of stopping.

But, if you then add in the deterrent of warm-up laps too, that could create a situation where one driver is on very worn tyres and in survival mode, presenting rivals with an opportunity to roll the dice and look to make rapid progress in the closing stages, which would certainly provide some gripping action for the viewer.

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