It seems that Bridgestone and the FIA have finally figured out a way to reinvigorate Formula 1. Their solution: make the tires as durable as chewing gum. The recent drama in Montreal was created largely as a result of tire compounds that had an optimum track life of four laps for options and about ten laps for primes.
At least one put stop per race is mandatory, as cars are required to run both primes and options during each race according to FIA regs. But with the attrition rate of tires at Montreal, most cars stopped at least twice, which of course made race strategy tire driven, rather than fuel driven, as it had been during the refueling era.
Tire fragility also meant that drivers who habitually punish their tires were forced to drive more conservatively if they didn’t want to end up gripless before the end of each tire cycle. It also meant that drivers forced to make unplanned tire changes (e.g. Michael Schumacher, because of a puncture) ended up running tires beyond the distance normally alotted for their tire cycles, which became problematic.
In Schumacher’s case, he ran half the race on options, which by race end had as much grip as a sheet of glass. Schumi caught quite a bit of stick for his slow lap times in the second half of the race, but none of the paddock wags gave equal blame to the team for botching their tire planning. To his credit, Schumacher never blamed the team. While Schumi has has been accused of various personality flaws over the years, one thing he has never done is air his team’s dirty laundry in public. Perhaps this is why he and former team mate Rubens Barrichello never got along. Rubinho loves to savor a good whine in public.
After the successful show at Montreal, Bridgestone’s director of motorsport tire development, Hirohide Hamashima, allowed that the company would pursue a similar strategy for many of the upcoming venues.
“Our first priority is to provide safe tyres that are fair for everyone,” Hamashima recently told Autosport, “I don’t want to provide a blistering tire, because that is a risk. But if we can confidently predict no blistering with the super-soft tires, then we will allocate those tires as much as possible in the remaining races.”
Bridgestone makes four basic compound types: hard, medium, soft and super-soft. They bring only two compounds to each race, with the harder compound designated as “prime” and the softer as “option.” The FIA has generally urged Bridgestone to provide primes and options with a step between compounds, i.e. mediums paired with super-softs, or hards paired with softs. It seems now that Bridgestone will opt for deploying super-softs as often as possible.
As far as upcoming races are concerned, Bridgestone will bring mediums and super-softs to Valencia, as they did to Montreal. However, don’t expect to see the same results in Spain. Montreal was cooler, and the track smoother than the Valencia street circuit will be, with the result that the tires never reached peak temperatures consistently. This made for a slippery race. Valencia will be hotter and rougher, which will be hard on tires, but also means that the tires will be hotter and stickier while they last. Tire performance should be more predictable.
At Silverstone, following Valencia, Bridgestone will supply hards and softs. This should result in low tire degradation, which might well translate into single pit stops for most teams. While Silverstone is generally fast-paced event, with a fair amount of overtaking, don’t look for team strategies to be especially tire-driven.
At the German Grand Prix, at Hockenheim, however, Bridgestone plans to push forward with its more radical compound policy. The medium and super-soft compounds will be deployed, and with any luck we’ll see the same type of unpredictable race that we saw in Montreal.