Pirelli F1 boss Mario Isola believes repeated, high-speed impacts with the kerbs has led to tyre issues in Qatar, an issue similar to what they saw in the first visit to the Lusail International Circuit in 2021.
Safety concerns on the tyre front led to changes to the race weekend format ahead of sprint Saturday in Qatar, with tracks limits altered at Turn 12 and 13, while the drivers were given a 10-minute practice session ahead of the sprint shootout to adjust to the changes.
Widespread sidewall damage was discovered by Pirelli on the tyres tested following Friday qualifying, leading to these changes on safety grounds.
Shades of 2021 in Pirelli Qatar tyre issues
Isola explained that Turns 12, 13 and 14 were the main areas of concern, explaining how the drivers repeatedly riding those kerbs at high-speed was the suspected cause, a repeat of the troubles in 2021 which led to multiple punctures.
So now, Pirelli wait to see whether the FIA’s alteration of track limits is enough to address the issue.
“Starting from yesterday, after free practice as usual, we collected several sets of tyres, they have to return one set of tyres used in free practice, and we analyse the sensor,” said Isola.
“We saw an indication that there was in the construction of the tyre on the sidewall, a small, small separation between the carcass cords and the topping compound.
“And obviously, then we went deeper into the analysis and this is due to strong impact, or repeated impact against something, and we believe that it is an impact against the kerb.
“The geometry of the kerbs we have here is similar to the geometry of the kerbs that we had in 2021, the second row of the kerbs, and in 2021 we had the similar issue.
“So, once we have seen this indication, obviously, first step was to inform the FIA in order to make them aware and find the solution.
“Maybe it’s because yesterday in free practice all the drivers were running wide, they had low grip and it was difficult to find the rear line on the track, but our duty is to inform immediately if there is a potential issue.
“So with 20 laps, or around 20 laps, the tyres that they used yesterday and we analysed were in the range of 20 laps, there is just the initiation, but tomorrow the race is 57 laps and that means that we need to understand better after the sprint if with this additional track limits decided by the FIA, the problem is fixed or not.
“Probably the corners that are stressing the tyre the most are Turn 12, 13 and 14, where they spend a lot of time on the kerbs. It’s not just the geometry of the kerbs, because these kerbs are used in many other circuits, it’s the time and the speed they stay on the kerbs. So that is important.
“So here, during the lap, all the drivers are spending quite a lot of time at high speed on the kerbs and this is damaging the construction. That’s to give you a summary of the events.
“Now next steps are that the FIA is defining a slightly different track limits, especially for Turn 12 and 13.”
Isola confirmed that further tyre tests will then be conducted following the sprint, to determine whether or not the issue remains.
If it does, then the drivers will be given a maximum permitted lap count for each tyre set, at which point the Qatar GP would be a mandated three-stopper.
“After the sprint, all the drivers will return the set of tyres used in the sprint, we are going to cut the tyres again, analyse the tyre, find the result of the investigation and inform the FIA,” said Isola.
“If the problem is still there, the solution for tomorrow is to impose a maximum number of laps for each set of tyres.”
There has been a major shift in the Formula 1 tyres used since that first Qatar visit in 2021, with the 13-inch compounds used then having made way for 18-inch specifications.
Isola though shut down any suggestion that this has contributed to these fresh tyres issues, even if the smaller sidewall has not had a positive influence.
“The smaller sidewall for sure is not helping this affect, because you have less opportunity to absorb the heat,” said Isola.
“But in general, when we made some specific tests on the 18-inch style, we realised that the level of resistance of the construction was in-line with the 13-inch. So we are not saying that the 18-inches tyre is weaker compared to the previous tyre.
“The point is that in 2021, this was the second row. And so when they were going out, the first row was 25 millimetres and the second row was 50 millimetres. Now we have only one row that is 50 millimetres. So they jump over the kerb and they go down and that’s probably why we found out this issue in free practice. Or luckily, we found out this issue in free practice.
“And I believe that’s a good example of predicting an issue and also working with the other stakeholders in order to avoid any safety issue during the race. Better to discover in advance.”
Oscar Piastri launches from pole for the sprint, with Lando Norris making it an all-McLaren front row.