Collective “oohs and aahs” went out recently as Formula 1’s competitors revealed their 2019 title contenders.
As always, the state-of-the-art cars that are the products of clever engineers and countless hours of development grab the spotlight. The drivers tend to attract a few headlines and a pinch of gossip as well.
You could be forgiven for observing the spectacle that is Formula 1 and overlooking the fundamental importance of tires to the whole equation.
Pirelli has been Formula 1’s official tire partner since 2011, and late last season the partnership was extended through 2023.
For 2019, Pirelli’s F1 tire lineup is set to be greatly simplified, at least on paper and from a viewership standpoint. Replacing the broad lineup of seven dry weather tires that ranged from “Hypersoft” to “Superhard” are three dry weather tire classifications: Hard (white), Medium (yellow), and Soft (red).
What hasn’t changed is the wide variation in tire characteristics, which are adjusted according to the track, the length of the race, anticipated (or desired) pit stop strategy, intended grip attributes, wear rates, and more.
In this way, Pirelli Tires really help shape and guide the Formula 1 show. The tires are the principal component and reference point for all the testing, car setup, and race strategy that follows.
They’re also the primary component behind the current record-breaking F1 performance trend. New lap records were set in ten of 21 race weekends during the 2018 season. Two more lap records (Azerbaijan and Great Britain/Silverstone) still stand from the 2017 season.
Formula 1 cars are moving at a pace not seen since the ballistic top speed V10 era, which dates back to 2004.
F1’s new accelerative hybrid powertrains and evolving aerodynamics get some of the credit for the performance gains, but it’s the tire regulation change that occurred in 2017 that really unleashed a new level of F1 performance.
Beginning in 2017, tire widths were dramatically expanded. The 305/670-13 front, 405/670-13 rear Pirelli tires – upgraded some 25% over the previous tires – provided another level of grip in braking zones and corners, which has substantially dropped lap times. In a sport where hundredths of a second can mean the difference between pole position and starting on the second or third row of the grid, the expanded tire sizes have cut seconds per lap on many tracks.
Expect lap records to tumble this year as well as teams further refine and optimize their packages to better maximize the performance of the tires.
The 2019 Formula 1 season is set to kick off during the weekend of March 17 from Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne, Australia.
Pirelli’s role in orchestrating what should be an exciting and competitive F1 season has never been more important.
This author is impartial to race outcomes and hopes for a close, yearlong title fight more than anything else. But Pirelli, if you’re listening, I know a young and frustrated Tifosi member who kindly requests a bit of extra qualifying grip at the Ferrari end of the paddock.