Friday, September 30, 2011

Will 2011 be the year of the Formula 1 pit stop?

We’re nearly there! The driver line up is complete, testing is all done; Formula 1 season 2011 is just about ready for take off. While there is definitely an air of anticipation about 2011, it hasn’t reached the fever pitch of season 2010.
During the 2009 / 2010 off season Formula 1 underwent a wealth of changes resulting in tantalising driver line ups, new teams and one particular returning veteran which generated an unprecedented level of hype.
2011 is a case of evolution rather than revolution, we see the return of KERS after a one year hiatus and the introduction of the movable rear wing, both are intended to encourage on-track overtaking.
These changes have certainly been the subject of much discussion but the issue that promises to have biggest impact on the track is tyres.

Bridgestone have bowed out of F1 after 14 years and Pirelli have stepped in after a 20 year absence. Not only do we have a new manufacturer but also a significantly different design brief to previous years.
Pirelli have been instructed to develop tires that degrade quickly, a decision inspired by the classic race in Canada last year where the teams experienced much greater than expected tyre degradation.
Ultimately this was the result of a Bridgestone screw up where they selected a compound that was too soft for the abrasive track surface.
This all means we’re not going to see drivers pulling a Vettel or Kobayashi and running all race on one set of tires with a token pit stop in the last few laps.
Tyre management will be more important than ever, the drivers that can make their tyres last a few extra laps will be at a significant advantage over the rest of the pack. Interestingly, of the top teams, the McLaren drivers may have the most to gain and the most to lose from the new rubber.
Jensen Button has long been recognised for his smooth driving style which is kind to his tyres; it enabled him to pinch two wins in the early stages of 2010.

This ability may give him and possibly Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg (both of whom have managed their tyres well in the past) an advantage, perhaps opening the possibility of a 2 or 3 stop strategy when others need 3 or 4.
Certainly after his first solid run on the new tyres Button was confident
“I like the feeling of the tyre,” said the Brit.
“It has a stable rear when you enter high-speed corners, a stable rear when you brake for low-speed corners, and that is something I really do need with the car. I am happy with that step.”
On the flip-side Lewis Hamilton regularly struggled with tyre wear last year, his reports back to the pit wall that his tyres were gone were a regular feature of 2010.

His aggressive late breaking style is spectacular to watch and extremely quick, but it is extremely harsh on the tyres. Can he tone it down enough to keep the rubber fresh while still maintaining his front running pace?
This week he expressed some concerns in an interview with the Guardian:
“The cars are slower on a race distance. Last year we had to make tyres last with heavier fuel load and now it’s even slower. I did run the other day and it was painfully slow, it really was. Just not exciting, to be honest.
“The first run – I didn’t think I was pushing very hard – and the tyres were finished after nine laps, down to the canvas. On the next run, I had to go easier. It was almost like doing an out lap and just about made it to 15 or 16 on a soft tyre.”

At this stage of the year we can not be certain of how anything will play out, degradation may end up being lower than feared but we do know one thing: in 2011 the F1 mechanics are going to have a lot more work during races than they have for a number of years.
Whether or not this leads to fascinating on track battles or a return to the ‘pass them in the pits’ strategies that were eliminated with the refuelling ban remains to be seen. Copyright @ 2011 - Theme by NanLimo - Thanks to Google