Pirelli brings new hard compound to Silverstone
Formula One moves on from street circuit season to return to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix on 6-8 July. During Friday’s free practice, the teams will be able to test a new development hard P Zero compound, the first new compound to be tried during a race weekend in 2012. Teams will have two sets of the experimental hard tyre in addition to their usual allocation, before reverting to the standard P Zero Silver hard compound and P Zero Yellow soft compound for the rest of the race weekend. The Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue wet will almost certainly be used at some point during the weekend as Britain’s wet summer continues – indeed Pirelli has never experienced a completely dry race at Silverstone. The tyre supplier says the meeting can be considered a second home race, since its motorsport hub – a centre of excellence – is located in Didcot, Oxfordshire around an hour away.
As well as several high-speed corners that put plenty of lateral energy through the tyres, Silverstone is often characterised by a wide variety of climatic conditions over the race weekend, with ambient temperatures between 15 and 30°C possible. The track surface is also quite abrasive, which further increases tyre wear, while the tyre structure has to cope with extended periods when the cars are at top speed and full throttle.
Pirelli’s motorsport director, Paul Hembery said: “Silverstone is one of the most iconic circuits on the Formula One calendar, precisely because it is so demanding for the drivers, cars and tyres. This is why we have chosen to test a new experimental hard compound here during free practice, which we may use in the future.
“The new tyre has a slightly wider working range, which should make it easier for the teams to get the tyres into the right operating temperature window. But with the championship so finely balanced, our priority is to ensure that no one team is handed any particular advantage. We want to keep the performance of the tyres at the highest level for as long as possible, so this is a valuable opportunity for ourselves and all the teams to gather more information about the potential effect of a new compound, and gain some data for the future. Silverstone is a very high-energy circuit that can see some unpredictable weather conditions, so a strong performance from the tyres and an effective strategy are vital ingredients in a successful race outcome.”
Paul di Resta of Force India is looking forward to his “home race”: “Silverstone is a great venue… and a place where you can really appreciate what a Formula One car is capable of, especially the aerodynamic grip and the change of direction. Everybody talks about the speed of Maggotts and Becketts because there really is nothing else like them on any other track in the world. When you’re running with low fuel on a qualifying lap with new tyres it gives you a real buzz, but you need to hook them up just right to get the lap time. I also enjoy the new section of the track and every year we go back there it gets better and better. The new layout has definitely created some more overtaking opportunities, especially with the introduction of DRS, and it’s great fun to drive, while being very demanding on the tyres at the same time.”
The track was partially resurfaced last year, when a new pit complex was added, but it remains quite bumpy. The teams generally run quite high downforce to ensure good aerodynamic grip but they have to adjust the suspension to take into account the bumps: many of which are absorbed by the tyres. One of the fastest corners at Silverstone is Turn 9 (Copse) which the cars take at 290kph, generating a lateral force of 5g. The tyre tread temperature can exceed 110 degrees centigrade at this point, with good lateral grip being the key to quick lap.
Lucas di Grassi, Pirelli test driver, gave a further insight into what drivers expect at the British Grand Prix: “I drove the new Silverstone circuit at the 2010 British Grand Prix and it’s very interesting: high speed and high energy are the main characteristics, which has a big effect on the tyres because of all the aerodynamic grip. But traction is also tested a lot in the slower and more technical sections, particularly in terms of combined acceleration, when you are turning and accelerating at the same time.
“Hard and soft is a very good combination here, with the soft tyre definitely the one to qualify on. The biggest difficulty in terms of set-up is the unpredictability of the weather conditions, so you really have to focus on your car and collect as much information as you can during all the sessions. It’s still easy to get caught out by a set-up that isn’t perfectly suited to the conditions on race day though. I tested the experimental hard compound tyre in Jerez earlier this year: it’s a similar concept to the current hard but with improved combined grip and better wear. It’s particularly effective in warm weather and when the track conditions are poor – so you end up with a tyre that is quicker and lasts longer.”