In August, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes are set to test the first iteration of the 2017 Pirelli tires with their new, wider dimensioned specification. The teams will provide what Formula 1 calls, Mule Cars, to test these tires but the teams will not know which compounds they are running.
The teams currently select their tire compound choices a few months in advanced of the flyway races and this was new to 2016 with the addition of the Ultrasoft compound but F1 says it may offer a fixed compound selection for the first few races to avoid a team choosing a tire that provides a performance advantage beyond other teams as none of them would have knowledge of the compounds. The teams who have tested the compounds might have a bit of an advantage if they can select their choices for the flyaway races.
Williams technical director, Pat Symonds, explained his concern over the testing program and how it represents an unfair advantage:
“I think it’s an enormous advantage and I think it’s something we need to consider,” he said. “Even in this blind testing we do, there always is the advantage that the comments you make steer the direction of the tyres.
“When Lotus was running the Pirelli test car [in 2012] they went through a bit of a golden period. I’m sure that they weren’t saying ‘make the tyres like this’ or ‘make the tyres like that’, but what they were doing was testing a tyre and saying ‘I like that one and I don’t like that one’ and based on that, Pirelli would move forward with that one.
“Another team might have preferred it the other way round and then there would have been more debate. So I think those that are doing the testing have the advantage from that.”
So why is Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes who get the benefit of testing the 2017 tires and could harvest information for their 2017 chassis development? Is that fair? Symonds answers his own concern:
“We did a lot of design work on it but we couldn’t get full clarity on what the test regime was and as we started to get towards it and costed it out, we simply couldn’t afford to do it. It was too expensive for a team like us. Pirelli was paying something towards it, but it didn’t cover all the costs and we just couldn’t afford to do it. That’s not a great thing for the sport, is it? When you can find out about the tyres, but only if you have got enough money to do it”
It’s expensive…that’s why and the top teams can afford it while the smaller teams cannot. Symonds main concern, and I agree with him and agree that Pirelli’s idea of a fixed-compound solution makes sense, is that by the time the teams start testing in February, they will have already placed their orders for the tires two months prior and won’t know what their chassis will do with the new rubber until the first test yet be already committed for the first six races of the season. A good point.
Hat Tip: ESPN F1