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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.


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

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