After the British Grand Prix, sole tire supplier Pirelli changed the construction of the tires in order to avoid future delaminating issues. The new construction was similar to 2012’s Kevlar designed belt but incorporated 2013’s tread — a hybrid of sorts. The Kevlar-belted tires ran 10 degrees centigrade lower than the initial 2013 steel-belted tires.
Sunday’s Singapore Grand Prix was a success with no delaminating tires and a healthy delta between the prime and option tire performance but five races on from the change, what can we deduce from the overall impact on the sport with this tire construction change? Has the issue been a success? According to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, it may be the very reason he’s 60 points adrift in the World Championship as BBC’s Andrew Benson reveals:
“We started (the season) in a good way. We were competitive in Australia, maybe not in qualifying, but in the race we were taking care of the tires very, very well, together with Lotus.
“We won in China, we won in Spain and then we seemed to lose a little bit of performance, especially when the 2012 tires came back.”
One could argue that the loss of performance might be down to car development over the course of the season. With 1,000 design changes per week for Red Bull, it is easy to see how other teams might lose the development war that is a major part of Formula One. Continued car and performance gains are made weekly in F1, and these incremental changes add up to serious gains on track over time.
Sauber has shown pace at Monza and Singapore, and those two circuits are demanding in very different ways. The car setup has to be low downforce for Monza and high downforce Singapore, and this is a team with well-known financial struggles, so winning at the development war isn’t part of the criteria.
Red Bull has certainly been on pace since the British Grand Prix with Sebastian Vettel winning four of the last five races. They do have the means to develop their car, but have the new tires helped?
For Lotus F1, Kimi Raikkonen was doing slightly better pre-tire change. The Lotus F1 chassis is known for being gentle on the tires, and it was Lotus, as well as Ferrari and Force India, that were very vocal in their frustration with the tire change midseason. Raikkonen’s podium appearances have fallen off slightly since the tire change, but is that enough to pin the performance dip on the tires?
Some F1 pundits suggested that Mercedes, which had a private test with Pirelli earlier in the year, was the team that would stand to gain from the tire change after the British Grand Prix. Driver Lewis Hamilton had three podium appearances prior to the British Grand Prix while his teammate, Nico Rosberg, had two. Since the change, Hamilton has two podium finishes while Rosberg has not found his way on the podium yet.
Fernando Alonso had five podium finishes, including the British Grand Prix. He’s had three podium finishes since. Three second-place finishes at Belgium, Italy and Singapore. His wins at China and Spain are the key element in the equation, but missing the podium five times is also a critical part of the math.
In the end, Sebastian Vettel has five podium finishes prior to the British Grand Prix, with three of those on the top step. Since the retirement at Silverstone, he’s been on the podium at every race and won all but one of them. That’s the difference, but is it really the tires?