F1’s sole tyre supplier Pirelli announced lately that it is going to expand its tyre range for the 2018 Formula One World Championship and make further changes to its compounds to improve the behaviour of its products.
The decision follows the criticism of the company’s rather conservative approach with its 2017 tyres. Pirelli’s five-tyre-compound range has proved to be very durable, creating hardly any flexibility and leading to a one-stopper strategy in most of the races. The hard compound was so durable and difficult to warm up during the British Grand Prix that the Milan-based company dropped it completely from its range for the second half of the season.
Pirelli argued that it expected the cars to put more demand on the tyres after the regulation changes increased the downforce levels by up to 30 per cent for the 2017 season.
The tyre manufacturer announced that it will make changes to its range as of 2018. Instead of five compounds seven compounds will form the range. Both ends of the range will be expanded: the hypersoft will be the softest compound while the extrahard will be the hardest compound.
However, the seven-compound range is only a six-compound scale in reality. The extrahard compound is namely considered as a back-up compound and it will only be used if the next-generation cars wear the tyres faster then Pirelli calculated.
Pirelli carried out careful testing and running during the post-Abu Dhabi GP test. Drivers were keen on trying the new ‘rubber shoes’ out before the on-track action came to a halt for long weeks.
"The feedback from the drivers was positive and the hyper soft turned out to be 1 second faster than the ultra soft," said Pirelli’s racing manager Mario Isola.
"The other compounds were a little closer together in performance than we expected, but it’s not a problem because we are not obliged to bring similar compounds to the races and skipping a step will mean more flexible strategies," he added.
Isola is confident that its technical staff can have a bigger range to choose from which can lead to a wider window for race strategies. Despite to the push to allow teams to choose free from the whole tyre range for an event, Pirelli persists to define the tyre selection for each race itself.
“Considering all the range is one step softer, plus we have the hyper-soft, we now have the option to go soft enough to target two stops. I believe that three stops is a bit too much because we know it can be a bit confusing to have too many stops. We will try to make the selection of having two stops or one of the fastest strategies a two-stop. There is another advantage - with more compounds and a softer step, you give the teams the possibility to design the car that is more gentle on the tyres, so you can push the tyre towards the softer side."
Isola expects bigger differences in the way cars handle and nurse the tyres which can mean some cars can get the best out of tyres
"We believe that these tyres will allow designers to be free to explore two schools of thought: making a car either very fast but hard on the tyres, or kinder with the tyres in order to exploit the softer compounds," Isola said.
Next to the compound changes, Pirelli also intends to work on other factors to improve the performance of its products. The 2018 tyres have also been designed to reduce blistering, and be less sensitive to pressures and temperatures.