After the late-race tyre failures at Silverstone last week the easy conclusion to come to is that this week’s second round at the track will risk the same, or worse, given the tyre compounds are softer.
Back when Pirelli and F1 announced they would have a softer range of compounds for the second part of the Silverstone double-header almost everybody said it wouldn’t make a difference. The teams and drivers weren’t convinced that moving one step in softness would have much impact.
Pirelli’s compound allocations still regularly confuse people in the paddock. Pirelli’s got five compounds to choose from over the course of the season – the C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5. They get softer through the range, so the C1 is the hardest and the C5 is the softest. Pirelli then picks three compounds for each event. Last weekend we had the C1, C2 and C3 as the hard, medium and soft. This weekend the C2 is the hard, the C3 is the medium, the C4 is the soft.
It was expected that this change to slightly softer tyres would just mean teams have to manage them a bit more and the usual one-stop strategy may still suffice because unfortunately in the Pirelli teams have just got good at working out how slow they can go to make a one-stop work. A two-stop strategy is rarely preferable given you tend to forfeit track position and this era of F1 isn’t the easiest for overtaking.
However, high temperatures in the UK plus last week’s problems – which to the surprise of many have been put down to tyre wear rather than debris – have changed the situation.
It’s now clear, according to Pirelli, that the failures for Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jr and Lewis Hamilton last Sunday were a result of ultra-long stints on the hardest compound making the front-left vulnerable given the pounding it takes around Silverstone. Daniil Kvyat’s was a separate problem entirely caused by his right-rear rim overheating and breaking the tyre.
The current crop of cars are faster than ever and Pirelli’s efforts to develop newer, better tyres have been thwarted because teams haven’t been happy with the product. You might remember that we are using 2019-spec tyres this season because the 2020-spec tyres were rejected late last year.
So, the tyres are being subjected to greater forces than ever before and haven’t been updated to match. That, combined with Silverstone’s high lateral loads and really long stints last weekend prompted by an early safety car, left the front-left really vulnerable. Teams were pretty confident the hardest compound could manage more than 40 laps so they gambled.
Whether the tyres gave up on their own or were so worn down they were easily cut by lingering debris or kerb edges, maybe we’ll never really know. But Pirelli insists it was the aggressive stint lengths that were the primary problem.
Softer tyres and warm temperatures will almost certainly mean shorter stints this weekend. So no driver is likely to go near the sort of stint that made the tyres so vulnerable last Sunday, which means that actually the change in compounds probably reduces the risk of failures.
“We could see mainly two stops,” reckons Pirelli boss Mario Isola. “Gaining data on the C4, which will face an extremely big challenge at Silverstone, will be the key to the second race.
“Silverstone is characterised by big lateral loads that put plenty of energy through the tyres, so avoiding overheating and managing degradation will be especially important.”
So, fewer failures perhaps, and hopefully different strategies instead. That means a potentially more interesting race, as there’ll be more opportunity for variation around the pitstops and drivers will be able to push more because they aren’t trying to eke out a 40-lap stint on hards!
Fingers crossed that means we’re in for a better race. It ended dramatically last week but it was quite dull up to that point. A two-stop race with potential for safety car intervention is a very different prospect.