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Adaptability

November 19, 2013 Leave a comment

Yes that wonderful word that seems to sweepingly take Formula 1 these days in a climate where adapting to your surroundings is just as important as being fast.

The US GP failed to live up to the hype of last year. Pirelli’s continued ultra-conservative route still being taken and the lack of Sebastian Vettel looking vulnerable in any situation. Some interesting points did come from the US GP though if you look a little deeper.

For the first time in a good while we saw some of the rawness of drivers and not just their media fronts. This was firstly noticeable with the brash statement of Pastor Maldonado claiming that the mechanics of his number sixteen Williams were tampering with his car. In any circumstance or situation, even if you are leaving, you do not make such comments or statements. It is hardly an appealing factor to any new employee that you may be going to. In this case it looks like Lotus unless Quantum Motorsports cough up some money and, rightly, take Nico Hulkenberg.

We then have other examples of drivers just simply not adapting. Lewis Hamilton was contradicting himself for fun from what we heard of the team radio messages between himself and his engineer. Firstly claiming he knew what he was doing with the tyres, followed up by wanting to know a plethora of information, massive respect to Peter Bonnington for having the patience of a Buddhist monk. Hamilton once again showing he has speed but not the full package.

When we look at the performances of the second half the season it is clear to see that Red Bull have regained their advantage from last season with the 2012 Pirelli tyre construction being brought back. Even when the 2013 tyres were on the car, Vettel still won Malaysia, Bahrain and Canada. This reflects how he is able to adapt to the car and tyres given to him. Arguably, Fernando Alonso is doing an even better job considering the lack lustre Ferrari he has two wins to his name. But what Alonso portrays is firstly confidence and ability within him but also the mental capacity to be able to adapt. The car is not as good as the Red Bull but he is extracting everything from the Ferrari and has now finished runner-up to Vettel. He learns how the tyres work during the race and uses that to his advantage.

Jenson Button is loved by many in the paddock and many fans, but I am not one. Even during his 2009 championship campaign there was this snide character to Button that came across. Button moans about any given situation with the car. He does not understand or learn what the car is doing; he immediately proclaims something is wrong. McLaren have opted to release Sergio Perez from his contract. Over time it will come out if this is on performance or the Telmex money drying up. Have McLaren released the wrong man? No. Both need to go.

Perez in the second half of the season has done a better job than Button. He has understood the team, his engineers and also the simulator and McLaren are now seeing the rewards. I do not believe Perez is the ultimate driver but he is certainly more adaptable than Button. With Kevin Magnussen now joining the team, I believe in 2014 Button is going to get over shadowed by his young Danish team mate. Experience is a tremendous trait to have, if you know how to use it.

The driver that has been impressing most of late is Romain Grosjean. In 2012 he was erratic, reckless and arguably dangerous at times. In 2013 he has calmed down a lot by seeing a psychologist and learning more about himself. I am not a father but they say fatherhood changes you and while he claims it has not changed him, subconsciously I suspect a change has taken place. I have no end of respect for Grosjean to even mention the fact he sees a psychologist. In modern day sport that could be viewed as a sign of weakness to some. He and Lotus identified the issue and dealt with it. Grosjean has learnt the car and the tyres and is now beating one of the Red Bull’s, mighty impressive.

So where does this leave 2014? Currently you would say on driving adaptability alone the title fight will be between Vettel, Alonso, Raikkonen and even Grosjean. With the amount of changes Formula 1 will go through in 2014 it is vital to be able to adapt. But for me Nico Hulkenberg is the star of the future as long as he gets a drive. He is a driver of raw talent, adaptability and speed. I first saw him in A1GP and knew then he was on for greatness.

If Britain has any hope in Formula 1 in the future, it is coming from lower categories. The current crop of drivers are near write-offs.

Follow me on twitter: @nico888

DRS downfall of Formula 1?

The current state of Formula 1 has become somewhat questionable in recent years. The introduced of Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems (KERS), Drag Reduction System (DRS) and new Pirelli tyres have all created a recipe that appear to be leaving the ‘ die-hard fan’ with a sour taste in their mouths.

 

The sport has gone through a series of shake ups throughout the 2000’s. One of the main reasons was to stop the Schumacher/Ferrari era of dominance but other factors started to become apparent to the sport in terms of the show. Never has Formula 1 focussed on ‘the show’ as it has done recently.

Bridgestone were masterful with Ferrari and Schumacher, they were good across the board as a single make manufacturer, but it was not enough. Bridgestone were not interested in making high degradable tyres to spice up the racing. The Japanese manufacturer sells to a market to appealing to every day drivers and wants to showcase the tyres at the highest level.

Step up Pirelli. The Italian tyre manufacturer gained the contract in 2011 and their brief was to have tyres that degraded quickly to make racing more interesting. Quite simply put this was an intriguing move after having near bullet proof Bridgestone’s for so many years.

 

2011 was already shaping up to be a pivotal year but more was to come, welcome Drag Reduction System. A system devised to create low drag of cars in a straight line by flipping the rear wing main plate to allow easier over taking. Detection zones were created so it did not become “too easy” to use.

Finally we have KERS. The Kinetic Energy Recovery System was introduced two years prior to DRS and Pirelli tyres. It is a system designed to recover the kinetic energy that is present in the waste heat created by the car’s braking process. It stores that energy and converts it into power that can be called upon to boost acceleration. “Currently the regulations permit the systems to convey a maximum of 60kw (approximately 80bhp), while the storage capacity is limited to 400 kilojoules. This means that the 80bhp is available for anything up to 6.67s per laps, which can be released either all in one go, or at different points around the circuit. Lap time benefits range from approximately 0.1 to 0.4s.”

 

In the space of two years Formula 1 saw three fundamental additions introduced, not to mention the complete redesign of the aerodynamics of the cars. So where does that leave us on the weekend of the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix around Circuit de Catalunya? Personally, I see a false way of overtaking, tyres are that unreliable and a system hardly ever mentioned up and down the paddock.

KERS I have no issue with. It is a system that is under heavy development and we are now starting to see be introduced in to road cars and could lead to even greater technology. The potential of KERS is broad and unknown but exciting.

My biggest issue is DRS. Most people will say tyres due to the nature of the design and compound. I believe Pirelli are fighting a losing battle though. They have to create tyres for racing but when the racing comes when a small slot gap in the rear wing opens and the job is done, no tyres are even required.

The art of defending is a dying art form. It is near enough impossible to defend from DRS. Not only that but we are seeing some highly dangerous late manoeuvres to defend the perusing car coming at a much faster speed. Drivers being pinned up against the pit wall in an attempt to defend their position in the following corner. Even if completed, occasionally we are seeing a second detection zone straight after and the hunted becomes the hunter.

Formula 1 has done too much, too fast. They brought three new things in to spice up the racing all at the same time. As it stands currently, thanks to the nature of the tyres drivers do actually have to preserve them and engineers have the challenge of making a car light on its tyres. Those two combined are enough of a challenge. Without DRS drivers could still get close and try to overtake. A Ferrari may burn through tyres faster than a Lotus and we could see Fernando Alonso properly defending a position from Kimi Raikkonen. Give the driving back to the drivers, force the issue, allow them to attack and defend.

DRS is the downfall of Formula 1 for me. Pirelli are fighting a losing battle because everyone only looks at the tyres. The company has done well to adapt to every situation thrown their way. It is has reached a point now where Formula 1 cannot identify as entertainment or a sport. Blending the lines needs to happen soon.

With a completely brand new set of regulations coming for 2014, Formula 1 could be about to enter one of its bleakest periods…

Battle of the Strategies

April 14, 2013 Leave a comment

After a three week gap and the dust settling over the Red Bull saga, the Formula 1 circus rolled in to the Jiading circuit in Shanghai, China. After the practice sessions it was evident to see that the Lotus and Ferrari’s were quick on the long run pace. Tyre degradation was the biggest concern though as the soft compound was degrading at such a high rate.

Qualifying was uninspiring due to the teams conserving tyres for the race. Only seven drivers setting Q3 times with Button, Vettel and Hulkenburg settling for slow times or no times to optimize strategy on the Medium compound tyres. Lewis Hamilton made the most of the soft tyres and taking pole position.

As the five lights dropped the Mercedes of Hamilton had a good jump and pulled away from second position Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus who in turn was swamped by both Ferrari’s of Alonso and Massa. A clean start for the rest of the field behind as Kimi settled in to fourth position.

Fernando Alonso wanted to make an early impression and lay down a marker and on lap three with DRS enabled swept around the outside of Hamilton in to turn one and with a great run out of the final corner, Massa took second spot off Hamilton going in to turn one. The soft tyres, as predicted, dropped away after just six laps. Mercedes gambled and stacked their cars on pit entry, but thanks to some slick pit work Hamilton had a quick stop and Rosberg was serviced in quick sharp time also. Ferrari opted not to stop both cars and Massa lost out massively by staying out one lap longer and dropped to fifth and never recovered from that position.

With thanks to © Getty Images and ESPN

Mark Webber started from pit lane after his car stopped out on track in qualifying without fuel due to a fuel rig bowser error meant that his car was not carrying the required fuel sample putting him to the back of the grid. Red Bull decided to start the Australian from pit lane to break parc fermé and allow for setup changes. This all came undone on lap fourteen when Webber tried to pass the sister team car of Vergne in to turn six but the door was firmly slammed in front of him and it damaged the front wing. After his stop there was an issue with the rear left wheel at it popped off in turn fourteen forcing him to retire from that race.

Story of the opening part of the race was how Hulkenburg was able to get past both Button and Vettel and had great pace in front of Vettel. They pitted on the same lap for new medium tyres but a slow stop for Sauber allowed Vettel through. Sauber on the second stop switched the soft compound but left Nico out for too long and his race pace fell away and dropped backwards through the field.

Due to the strategic warfare playing out it allowed for plenty of overtaking but the DRS zones were too powerful and allowed for relative easy overtakes unless you are Kimi Raikkonen. The Lotus with clearly more grip tried to go to the outside of turns four and five to negotiate a slower Perez at the time but was pushed way out on the grass and speared in to the back of the McLaren damaging the front wing. The Iceman opted not to pit and to battle on, to his credit considering the understeer he still maintained great pace.

If it was not for that damage it would have been likely that Kimi could have made an impression on Fernando Alonso who at this point was romping away to an emphatic victory. Controlled, patient and calculated allowed the ‘all-round’ best driver to secure his first win of the season in front of Raikkonen and Hamilton.

The Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel was on the mirror strategy by starting on the mediums and running them all race until the last five laps where he pitted and came out thirteen seconds behind Hamilton’s Mercedes. Vettel’s imperious driving qualities once again prevailed by holding on to those tyres but also smashing the lap times and came right up behind Hamilton going in to sector three of the final lap. On the approach to turn eleven both cars had to negotiate a Caterham and Vettel ran too deep in to the corner, he ran under the one second marker required for DRS but could not make the impression in the final couple of corners and Hamilton took another podium for Mercedes.

One week now before the chaos resumes in Bahrain. This race will hold special regard for me after visiting the track in 2011 for the race to be cancelled and also my parents living in the volatile country for three years. Protesters have already started to use the F1 as leverage to make their voices heard once again for the human rights campaign. It is likely tyres will again be at the forefront of the teams minds. I for one sincerely hope the tyres are the only issue and the Grand Prix is not over shadowed by politics as the teams head to the Middle-East.