Pirelli begins its F1 adventure
All the speculation and arguments surrounding the new Pirelli PZero Formula One tyre will be momentarily hushed as the action finally gets underway in Melbourne, with teams grappling with the novel conditions of a new tyre with completely different characteristics to the former Bridgestone Potenza model. After 33 days of testing (15 at official tests and 18 in private testing) this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix will give Formula One the chance to see how the new rubber will affect the way teams approach the race; debates around the tyres will begin once again after the race’s conclusion, but what is certain is that those drivers best equipped to deal with the different tyres will be those who prevail.
After the cancelation of the Bahrain Grand Prix the F1 season begins in the same country where it ended for Pirelli 19 years, four months and 24 days earlier, when the 1991 Australian Grand Prix in Adelaide was red-flagged after just 14 laps due to torrential rain, remaining the shortest Formula One race to date. This year, the race is being held in Melbourne’s Albert Park for the 16th consecutive year, and marks race one of Pirelli’s three-season agreement with the FIA, the governing body of world motorsport.
Pirelli’s new PZero rubber is designed to help promote overtaking, both on the track and in the pits, while KERS makes a return and the moveable rear wing is also introduced. The hard and the soft compounds will be brought to Australia, with the soft tyres providing plenty of speed and grip while the hard tyres are more biased towards durability.
Weather conditions are likely to be different to what was experienced so far in testing, which is why the teams will be given an extra set of prime tyres for use during Friday free practice, bringing their total allocation up to 12 sets of dry-weather tyres over the course of the weekend and allowing them to run more laps in free practice to finalise the set-up.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motorsport director, says: “This is the moment that we’ve been building up to for more than a year now and it’s very exciting for all of us. Our tyres this year are designed to be different to what we have seen before in Formula One, but I think all the teams have managed to gather some useful information about them in testing.
We’re aiming for between two and three pit stops in Australia, which in some ways is against our company DNA as our road car tyres are designed to be as durable as possible. But Formula One is a very different case, because our remit from the teams and promoter was to provide entertainment.
“With that in mind, we’re just keen to get going now and it will be fascinating to see exactly how the drivers and teams are going to use our tyres to employ different strategies during the race. We’ve noticed a few differences between the teams already in testing, and it’s going to be very interesting to find out exactly how that translates into a race situation.”
Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing, the reigning champion, has been vocal in the press about the differences of the new rubber: “None of us have ever driven around the Melbourne circuit on Pirelli tyres before so we are all wondering what it’s going to be like. It’s the start of something brand new. I think the only thing that we can say for sure is that it’s going to be different and create a lot of interest.
“Normally, it is a tough track for tyres, so I think that’s something that we are going to have to keep an eye on during the race. Melbourne has a few things to look out for: the track demands good braking stability and some of the corners are a bit bumpy. Getting good traction is typically quite difficult there, so that will be an important factor in the car set-up. We’ll be basing ourselves on the knowledge of the tyres that we have acquired during winter testing – although the conditions in Australia are likely to be somewhat different.
“Everyone is looking forward to the start of the season and I hope it’s going to be a fascinating race, for the drivers and much as for the spectators.”