THIS F1 LIFE
Pat Symonds on the future reg changes in F1
In late July the FIA released the tender document for the supply of Formula 1 tyres from 2020. It may seem like dry reading but it is probably one of the most significant pointers to the future of F1 we have seen for a long time.
Beyond the somewhat mundane legalities of the tendering process, the document reveals two major changes to the formula. Firstly it confirms at last the switch from 13” wheels to 18” in 2021, and secondly it requires that these larger-diameter tyres be used without tyre blankets. Furthermore the document has an appendix that reveals detailed technical targets of performance and characteristics that the supplier is asked to use their best endeavours to achieve.
Let’s examine some of these changes. While the wheels will be larger in diameter, the front tyre will be 35mm narrower. The outer diameter of the tyres isn’t specified because although they will have a lower profile than the current rubber, the enormous loads imposed by an F1 car dictate that a reasonable cavity air volume is required to provide robustness, and therefore the diameter will probably grow by around 40mm.
While the larger-diameter wheel will look more contemporary, this isn’t the real reason for the changes. The wake from the front wheels of an F1 car is fundamental in the performance of not only that car, but also the one following it. Narrowing the wake and placing it marginally higher are both steps in the right direction. Also, one of F1’s stated aims is to close the gap between the front and back of the grid. The difficulty of simulating the deflected tyre in both CFD and the wind tunnel is one of the factors that exaggerate that gap, because the complexities of the solutions favour the bigger teams. A slightly more rigid sidewall again moves in the right direction towards this goal.
The appendix gives targets for the supplier to work to, and while it’s the first time something like this has been seen, there is a precedent: the teams worked with the FIA in 2015 to produce a similar target letter.
The headline grabber is the stated desire to have specific performance gaps between compounds with explicit degradation rates for each that should produce stochastic strategies. This was embodied in the 2015 document, but this time the targets are more aggressive since teams will only execute multi-stop strategies if there is a considerable time advantage in doing so (and if this significantly outweighs the risks of losing track position or botching a stop).
Unfortunately the very intellectual capacity of the teams that brings so much to F1 may be the downfall of this altruistic notion. Over the past couple of seasons Pirelli have brought softer and softer compounds to races and yet still we face one-stop strategies. The tyre degradation calculated on Friday is rarely seen on Sunday, and the reason for this is that the teams have calculated that running at lap times below peak performance yields fewer stops and ultimately a better race outcome. While there will be a limit to the effectiveness of this practice, it may well lie beyond the targets set out in the document.
If we suppose that two or more stops is the more entertaining way to run the race, then how do we ensure this happens? The simplest way is to mandate all three
compounds are used in a race and for a minimum of, say, 25 per cent of the distance. The latter requirement would stop the practice of first or last stop laps or single-lap stints behind the Safety Car to get rid of an unwanted tyre. The actual percentage would need careful simulation to ensure multiple strategies were effective – too close to 33% could obviously have everyone stopping together. F1 could also take a leaf out of Moto GP’S book and allow teams to run different compounds on the front if they wished. This could lead to multiple permutations of how to use tyres in a tactical way leading to what is termed ‘peak end effect’, where humans perceive excitement at the end of an event to have a more profound impact on enjoyment.
If multiple stops became mandatory we could consider a different approach to compounding. The appendix suggests the tyre must recover from overheating quickly and that the operating temperature window be much wider. One could go further and suggest the tyres should have very low degradation to allow the drivers once again to push them all the way through the stint. This may determine the tyre has less ultimate performance, but does this matter? Already we’re seeing much of Sunday’s competition being run with strategic nuances that don’t enhance the sport.
The ban on tyre blankets is a good thing, not just because of their extremely high cost and the enormous electrical demand they impose, but more importantly it requires another skill set from the driver – something we’re trying to encourage. No longer will a driver be able to blast out of the pits and maintain any small advantage he had at the pit exit. In future he will have to manage a car with less-than-perfect grip. This in turn will lead to tactics in the race becoming more dynamic, although we must beware of degradation being so low that the overcut becomes the accepted passing manoeuvre.
So, will these changes bring about the required changes or indeed a new supplier? We will soon know the latter but on the former we can but wait.
NO LONGER WILL A DRIVER BE ABLE TO BLAST OUT OF THE PITS AND MAINTAIN ANY SMALL ADVANTAGE HE HAD AT THE PIT EXIT. IN FUTURE HE WILL HAVE TO MANAGE A CAR WITH LESS-THAN-PERFECT GRIP
The switch to 18-inch wheels has been comfirmed for 2021
New rules could mean more stops, but they will not include tyre warmers from 2021