Pirelli seeking aggressive test program for 2014 tire

Mustering impressive amounts of courage to continue their discussion over 2014 tire construction and the program needed for delivering a decent tire, Pirelli are certainly gunning for the bravery award this year in Formula One.

Pirelli were asked to make an inferior tire and they did so but the 2013 season isn’t working to plan as exploding tires and a mid-season construction changes has left egg on the face of the Italian tire maker.

As the PR department struggled to get out ahead of the issue and manage the talking points, Pirelli ultimately have to ask themselves if the average tire buyer will remember all the hard work they’ve put into making a high degradation tire this year or will they enter their local tire store and tell the salesperson “no thank you” when offered a Pirelli option because they don’t want the tire that exploded during that race in England?

I think I know which scenario is most likely and that would have me concerned over continuing to supply a series who has supplanted the moniker, “the Pinnacle of Motorsport” for the new and improved, “Spiced-up Show” in the quest to convert racing to entertainment.

Pirelli can make a darn good tire but they need a current chassis to test with and as well as more testing to insure that the issues experienced in 2013 don’t recur in 2014. It’s an interesting position as not 8 months ago I asked Pirelli motor sport director Paul Hembery how they could manage to create tires for the series in 2013 with their old test car as the relevance was marginal at best.

His answer was, like all the teams after the 2008 economic crunch, was Computational Fluid Dynamics and simulation work. He was very confident, at the time, that they would not need a test car any longer as their systems were so complex and detailed that they would no longer really need track time to vet a tire construction.

Today Hembery said that they need a 2013 chassis and a comprehensive winter testing program to provide certainty that the 2013 exploding tire issue would not repeat itself. He told AUTOSPORT:

“What if we get there and find out that one of the cars is one second quicker per lap than everyone else, because they have a huge advantage with their powerplant? That could open up another Red Bull scenario, where people suggest the car is too quick for our tyres.

“Equally, we must go and do some wet weather testing. People are saying in the simulators that the 2014 cars will spin their wheels in fourth and fifth gear.

“Well, I don’t think any driver wants to go to Malaysia when it first rains and find out there that they are stood still at the first corner because of wheelspin.

“There is a whole load of detail we need to look at as a sport before we get there.”

Ultimately Formula One banked all of this tire nonsense on a one-off race that Bridgestone misjudged. The race occurred back in 2010 in Canada and the high graining effect of the tires meant lots of overtaking and a chaotic race. Someone in F1 decided that this could be done at every race and pragmatism took over from there giving us this construct known as High-degradation or HD tires as well as giving Pirelli a bloody nose.

Fans will divide into different camps based on the desire to never see another processional Formula 1 race again and others who feel that the pinnacle of motor sport is not a “show” and shouldn’t be tinkered with willy-nilly. This knee-jerk reaction to adding constructs only avoids the pink elephant in the room, which is aerodynamic downforce.

Should we do away with aero as it has far surpassed any road car relevancy or is it the sacred chalice worth protecting? Right now, aero wins races and it is the single biggest area of the car that can be exploited and can win races if done properly. Few are as good at it as Red Bull’s Adrian Newey but what if we took aero down a notch or two and allowed traction control and dynamic ride height adjustments to increase mechanical grip?

Surely there are other areas of the Formula 1 car that can be opened up to allow for innovation while reducing aero. When the first rear wing entered F1 back in 1968 it was a revolutionary idea and some were wary of its presence and didn’t like what it signified back even back then. Come forward to today and it has progressed to a point of outlandish performance that has little to do with our road cars or improved safety in mobility campaigns.

In the end, tire innovation is a technology that is completely relevant to road safety as is traction control and ride adjustment. Aerodynamic downforce, on the scale that F1 delivers, is beyond relevancy and while it allows teams and engineers to learn how to develop aerodynamic innovation, it is incredibly expensive and delivers the sport wonky contrivances that quite honestly debase and devalue the sport as a whole.

Talk of circuit-wide sprinkler systems, shortcuts and even reverse-order grids are some of the continuing concepts to “spice up the show” but if those constructs are the future of F1, good luck finding suppliers like Pirelli who have a business of selling products based upon good brand image.

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