Tyre development is set to make F1 even more interesting over the next few seasons
If you thought that the incident-filled 2022 F1 Singapore Grand Prix was exciting, wait until the 2024 season. According to Pirelli Motorsport Director, Mario Isola, the change from 13 to 18-inch tyres starting from this year has been one of the most significant changes in Formula One.
This is evidenced by how teams such as Mercedes-AMG Petronas have struggled in this season after dominating for most of the previous decade.
Speaking at a media reception at the Italian Embassy in Singapore last week, Isola explained that the shift to the bigger size is to make the technology more relevant to road-going cars.
Much of this relevance includes the drive towards fuel efficiency though lower rolling resistance for example, that leads an overall reduction of the sport’s carbon footprint.
Significantly, this year’s race sees the shift towards eventually doing away with tyre warmers altogether. Last year for example, the electric blankets would heat to 100ºC for the front and 80ºC for the rear. This year, the temperatures have been lowered to 70ºC. Next year, they will be lowered further still to 50ºC and 2024 will see a ban on these electric warmers altogether.
The ban on blankets has been mooted for some time. Pirelli however, requested a gradual step-down in temperatures to allow a more consistent developmental timeline.
For Pirelli, the exclusive F1 tyre supplier, the blanket ban means that it will have to create racing tyres that get up to operating temperature in a very short space of time.
Ironically, 2022 Singapore Grand Prix winner Sergio Perez warned that the decision to lower the tyre blanket temperatures and eventually remove them could “put drivers at risk”.
The concern is that the cars would be uncontrollable until they get up to their working temperatures which could take a longer time.
An example of this could be seen when George Russell struggled on slick tyres around Marina Bay where the track surface was still damp. It wasn’t until many laps later that the British racer saw an improvement in pace when the tyres got up to temperature to reach the levels of grip they are capable of. Until then, Russell looked precarious as he struggled to keep his Mercedes from sliding into the barriers.
In addition to lowering costs, doing without electric tyre blankets will also see less energy consumed in the sport. Cost reduction in operating expenses would also be another advantage in the move toward doing without the tyre warmers.
This then, puts the pressure on the Italian tyre manufacturer’s technological expertise. According to the CEO of Pirelli Asia, Fabio Lopes. The key to this, he says, is that Pirelli’s mentality is to always think like a startup by continually bringing in new people, be it from management or engineers. “If you do that, you can continue forever.”
After a two-year pandemic-enforced absence, the return of the Singapore Grand Prix coincides with the 150th anniversary of Pirelli just 14 years shy of the unification of Italy. The Ambassador of Italy to Singapore, Mario Vattani who hosted the event at his embassy was enthusiastic about how Italy plays a part in making this possible as a “showcase within a showcase”.
“This is a time of many celebrations,” said His Excellency. “From the return of F1 to Singapore, to Pirelli’s 150th anniversary, a brand so deeply connected to Italy and its culture, art and technology.”
Come 2024, it would be interesting to see tyre development pushed to its limits and perhaps more tantalizing would be that F1 technology would be more accessible to everyday drivers since our road-going cars have to do without blankets too.