Busy times ahead for F1 pit crews
London: Formula One pit crews will be busier than ever this season with the arrival of new sole tyre supplier Pirelli forcing drivers to make many more stops.
Gone are the days when a driver could complete most of a race on a single set of tyres, before a late dash into the pits for the mandatory change, and no more will grands prix be a series of flat-out sprints between stops.
Speaking to Reuters before the March 27 season-opener in Australia, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery said his company`s PZero tyres would wear out far faster than the previous Bridgestone rubber.
While that may not sound like the best marketing for the Italian brand, or for a sport seeking greener credentials, it is all part of a plan drawn up with team bosses and the powers-that-be to make races more exciting.
"If you want to do durability...then maybe Formula One isn`t the right place to do that," said Hembery.
"In any case a Formula One race is only 60 laps, it`s not exactly a huge distance for travelling even if you use one set of tyres."
Drivers who have complained in pre-season testing about degradation and expressed their frustration at how the tyres rapidly `go off` get short shrift.
"We are actually trying to deliver what we were asked to deliver, and it was their bosses that wanted us to try this," said Hembery.
"You are going to see more pitstops, for sure...and you will probably see that different teams will operate different strategies."
Melbourne`s race, said Hembery, could see each driver do three or four pitstops. Managing the drop in performance, and looking after the tyres, will be a new challenge.
Outright speed over one lap is no longer the be-all-and-end-all. Drivers will have to be clever with their tyres and strike a balance in a classic hare and tortoise dilemma.
A slower pace at the start of a stint means tyres will last longer, but a driver who pushes harder, and wears out the tyres quicker, may gain enough time to stay ahead despite having to make an extra stop.
"What you (Pirelli) are trying to do is show that you can provide a performance product that can add to the show," said Hembery. "You want to show that you can influence and impact by use of tyres, by choice of tyres on the strategy of the race."
"The whole objective is you are going to have people changing tyres at different times and depending on what product (compound) they`ve chosen and what stage of wear they are at, you`ll have cars going at different speeds. That should encourage overtaking."
Last year`s Canadian Grand Prix has provided the inspiration. In that race in Montreal, the issue of tyre wear was the talk of the paddock due to the particular asphalt conditions with all teams struggling for grip and balance.
Different tyre strategies, with some starting on the softer compound and others the harder, produced a riveting tactical race with the leading five drivers all in contention at different stages but swapping places during the many pit stops.
"Basically the description was: `We want a race like Canada`," said Hembery. "We`ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to create that situation."
"Judging by the testing we`ve seen so far, I don`t think there`s one clear pattern emerging," he added when asked how the racing would pan out.
"We are seeing quite different influences on the tyres between the different teams and driving styles."
"It`s going to be the balance between performance and not doing that extra stop. I have to be careful what I say because I can see what`s going on on different cars and all I can say is that there are quite clearly different strategies being evolved for different teams."
Australia will be Pirelli`s first grand prix in 20 years, with their last race win coming at the 1991 Canadian Grand Prix with Brazilian Nelson Piquet in a Benetton. This year they are sure to win every race but there is still plenty to worry about.
Apart from four tests in Spain this year, and a young driver test in Abu Dhabi in November, Pirelli have had to develop their tyres in cooler conditions than they would like and with different cars to the ones racing in Melbourne.
The chemical grip, or `stickiness`, of the tyre that also allows a track to be `rubbered-in` comes out only when temperatures rise above 25 degrees Celsius.
"If you rubberise the circuit, you start extending the tyre life and you can get up to a 40 percent increase in tyre life between a Friday and a Sunday just by that action," said Hembery. "So there are still a lot of variables to see.
"There are elements that we clearly won`t have been able to simulate in testing," he added.
"Certainly for the first few races the teams are all going to have their own ideas and that should make for excitement. In time will they all start gravitating to the same strategy? That I don`t know."