Pirelli to reduce tyres’ performance gap at Indian Grand Prix
Pirelli will take its hard and soft tyre compounds to India when Formula One visits the Buddh circuit for the second time this weekend, just like in 2011, though this year the P Zero Silver and P Zero Yellow tyres are softer compared to their equivalents last year. The tyre supplier says a better knowledge of the circuit and some real data have allowed Pirelli to be less conservative this time, and the brand is confident that these tyres should lead to even closer racing. Last year, the performance gap between compounds was around 2 seconds. Another factor affecting tyre strategy is the 600m pit lane – the longest in F1 – which adds considerable time to pit stops.
Pirelli’s Indian operation in based in Delhi, where the Indian Grand Prix’s Buddh circuit is located. The company says sales of its ultra high performance passenger car products have seen a large increase this year; Pirelli says its participation in F1 has helped it to stake a claim for market share in the burgeoning Indian economy. The tyre manufacturer is also represented in the country’s motorbike sector by the Sport Demon tyre and the commercial vehicle market.
Overall the Indian tyre market is worth around $2.5-3 billion US dollars and is growing at around 15 per cent per year. Though it does not have its own factory in the country, Pirelli collaborates with Indian tyre firm Birla, which produces around 1.5 million units annually from its plant in Orissa. Pirelli’s Motorsport director Paul Hembery said that the company was anticipating “an amazing atmosphere and an extremely warm welcome”, while the circuit poses the “toughest” challenge to its tyres in the second half of the season.
Tyre demands in India
India places heavy demands on the tyres due to high ambient temperatures in excess of 30°C, while the track layout also takes in several fast corners that put plenty of lateral energy through the tyres. This goes particularly for the banked turn 10, which Pirelli compares to turn 8 in Turkey. The front-left tyre is subjected to an acceleration of 4g on the exit of the corner, where maximum grip is required to hold the racing line, but the tyres are actually under full lateral load for six seconds during the corner, which increases wear.
At the beginning of the lap in particular, there are some notable elevation changes that exert vertical forces on the tyres as well, combined with a braking force of 3.6g into turn 4. The main straight, which is more than a kilometre long, is one of the longest of the year: while tread temperature peaks at over 100°C during the course of the lap, it tends to cool down considerably by the end of the straight.
As the circuit is not used extensively during the course of the year, Pirelli expects a high degree of track evolution. A dirty track causes excessive wheelspin as the cars struggle for grip, increasing tyre wear. Generally though, the surface of the Buddh circuit is quite smooth, which means that degradation is contained.
Hembery says: “There was an amazing atmosphere and an extremely warm welcome at the Indian Grand Prix for us last year, so we’re all looking forward to going back. This year we know a little more about the track so we’ve made a less conservative choice, with the hard and the soft tyres striking exactly the right balance between performance and durability.
“The circuit layout is one of the toughest that our tyres will face throughout the second half of the season and it’s also the last time that we will see the hard and soft combination this year, which was previously used in Barcelona, Britain and Japan – which gives you some idea about the demands of this circuit. The Buddh circuit has been specifically designed to encourage overtaking, which is also one of the objectives behind the design philosophy of our tyres, so we should be set for an action-packed race at a crucial point in the championship.”
Karthikeyan: layout “a great mix”
Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan of HRT comments: “Last year the tyre choice was understandably a bit conservative, but with all compounds slightly softer for 2012 and the track in fantastic shape, it may be a different story this time. The layout is a great mix, which makes it challenging for the tyres as there are very few conventional corners, barring turn one and maybe the final corner. The first gear exit at turn three punishes the rears if you are impatient with the throttle. At turns five-six you are turning and scrubbing off a lot of speed simultaneously so it’s easy to test the limits of the track at the exit. There are a couple of fifth gear direction changes as well, with the esses of turns eight-nine and 13-14 negotiated at well over 200kph.
“Finally there’s the seemingly unending turn 10, where you have steering lock on for over six seconds while the minimum corner speed is just under 200kmh, putting tremendous energy into the front-left. So overall, it’s a fairly busy lap but since the surface isn’t abrasive, wear shouldn’t be issue. We’ll have to wait until the Friday sessions to find out what we can expect in long runs with both compounds. The goal would be to see how the softs perform on high fuel. Obviously this is the most anticipated race on the calendar for me, there is already a great buzz around the event considering that the championship is still wide open and I hope all drivers and F1 personnel relish the Indian experience.”
Pirelli test driver, Jaime Alguersuari, says: “I think that the layout of the Buddh circuit is one of the best in Formula One, and it also happens to be one of the toughest on the tyres. I’ve got good memories of the track personally too: last year I finished eighth after a good qualifying as well.
“You get this interesting combination of low, medium and high speed corners, as well as long straights. A lot of the corners are quite unusual: for example we have a chicane right at the end of the lap that we take in fifth gear, which doesn’t happen very often! What puts the biggest stress on the tyres in India is the fact that many of the corners are very long, so there is a sustained lateral load with some fast changes of direction as well.
“You need all the grip you can get and there is a risk of graining as well if you do not manage the tyres properly. The hard and the soft tyres are a very good choice here – the hard will be perfect to race on – and I think that a one-stop strategy could be possible if you look after the tyres in the correct way.”