Why did Pirelli fast-track their new tyre plans and who has it affected most?

Uros Radovanovic
Pirelli's soft, medium and hard tyres on display at the Hungaroring.

Pirelli tyres

Pirelli made significant changes to their F1 tyres in this year’s race at Silverstone.

Why the word significant? Well, there is mounting evidence that the new compounds have had an effect on F1’s overall pecking order.

Let’s take a dive into why Pirelli made this daring move and explore its consequences. Who stands to gain the most? And, who might find it challenging to adapt?

F1 tyres explained: the basics

During races and even in your everyday car journeys, tyres are the sole point of contact with the asphalt, making their quality absolutely paramount.

Understanding how this rubber functions is a major goal for F1 teams, allowing them to utilise the different compounds to their fullest potential. In the current Formula 1 era, Pirelli is the exclusive tyre supplier, while in the past, teams had a choice between two manufacturers.

This uniformity ensures that every team gets the same tyre performance, leaving it to pure skill and strategy to shape the results.

Pirelli currently offers six different compounds, numbered from 0 to 5, indicating their hardness from highest to lowest. Additionally, teams have access to two types of tyres designed for wet conditions.

The 2022 rule changes brought a complete overhaul in tyre appearance – they are now much larger (18 inches) and feature covers that enhance aerodynamics. Furthermore, the maximum tyre blanket temperature was reduced from 100 to 70 degrees.

What were the tyre changes at Silverstone?

Pirelli had initially announced a complete tyre transformation set for 2024. However, with unexpected leaps in car advancements by all teams, the change came much earlier, taking effect at this year’s Silverstone race.

Pirelli, being a meticulous observer of F1 cars, must adjust tyre performance to match the cars’ capabilities and that’s why more durable compounds have been produced.

Pirelli do have the expertise to produce tyres that could last the entire race, regardless of the track, but that’s not what we desire. To keep Formula 1 thrilling for viewers, tyres still need to wear out just enough to necessitate pit stops and strategic decisions. Imagine Formula 1 without pit stops and tyre strategy… it would be much less captivating than it is today.

It wasn’t expected that the downforce would increase so much in such a short time, and the main reason for this is the brilliant work of engineers from all teams. For example, the difference in lap times between this year and the previous year in Miami was almost two seconds. Enormous!

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The new F1 2023 tyres made by Pirelli

The main change is the tyre manufacturing process. This new method has allowed tyres to become much more durable, while other technical aspects and parameters remain undisclosed. Additionally, advanced new materials have been used.

It’s no surprise that these changes were unveiled at a track like Silverstone, known for high tyre wear due to the significant lateral forces, especially in fast corners.

The tyre selection at this year’s Silverstone race was surprising. Russell managed to stay on the track for an impressive 28 laps on used soft tyres, something unimaginable just last year. Only three drivers didn’t use soft tyres during the race, while only a few opted for the hard ones.

The British Grand Prix shows that the desired tyres performance has been achieved. The tyres are now undoubtedly more resilient, and we can expect slightly different strategies as the competition progresses.

Which teams have gained and suffered?

The changes have had different impacts on teams. Many engineers are still uncertain about how their teams will adapt to Pirelli’s new tyres compounds. Ferrari, in particular, emerged as the biggest loser in this scenario. Despite their upgrades in sidepods and front wings, the Italian team seemed to struggle at Silverstone, marking perhaps their worst race of the season.

Both Ferrari drivers had a tough time with hard tyres, which have been problematic for them throughout the season. The strategists clearly made a big mistake by not providing their drivers with tyres that would suit their car’s performance best.

Ninth and tenth place were disappointing results for the Scuderia at British GP. Unfortunately, the tyre problem persisted at the previous race in Hungary, where both drivers again had weak pace and poor results.

Aston Martin’s hype train has also come to a shuddering halt with star driver Fernando Alonso having to settle for P7 and P9 finishes since the new tyres were introduced.

In contrast, McLaren used hard tyres at Silverstone, yet they achieved much better results. Lando Norris, for instance, impressively held off Hamilton on soft tyres after the race restart. It appears McLaren’s engineers made smart choices in their updates, capitalizing on the changes Pirelli made to the tyres. Both McLaren drivers showcased strong performance on medium and hards.

Thus, apart from Red Bull, which hardly felt any difference and continued its dominance, McLaren emerged as the team that best adapted to the new tyres changes.

The next race will be in Belgium, which is known for also having a very big impact on tyres that will degrade very quickly.

Also, we will almost certainly see two pit stops each on this track which opens up the possibility of different race plans. Given that we’ve seen some unexpected strategies from teams at Silverstone, don’t be surprised if that’s the case again at Spa.

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