Formula 1 should reconsider whether using tyres which degrade quickly is producing good races, Pirelli’s sporting director Mario Isola believes. The sport’s official tyre supplier has been given a target of producing tyres which lose performance quickly in an effort to increase variety between strategies and encourage overtaking. However Isola pointed out teams are instead leaning towards one-stop tyre strategies and extremely high levels of tyre management to eke out their rubber.
Drivers complained about the performance of the hyper-soft tyres following Friday practice for the Mexican Grand Prix, describing them as being “like driving on wets” after three laps. But drivers had supported the move towards high-degradation rubber as set down in the ‘target letter’ issued to Pirelli by F1, according to Isola: “Negative comments are never nice,” he said on Friday. “I accept negative comments or criticism because if they are made in a good way they are useful to improve. I think the big step was in 2015 when we had the first target letter. The target letter now is appended to the new tender so it means that the document was successful. And the target letter was agreed not only with FIA and FOM but also with the teams and the drivers. So don’t forget that also the drivers were involved in the target letter. Ideally for the future we would like to have another target letter with new numbers, new conditions, new targets agreed with the drivers also. Because they drive the car, they have to tell us what they want. Then it’s a compromise between everybody. But it’s important to have them onboard.”
Pirelli softened its range of compounds this year and introduced a new, softer hyper-soft compound. But this has largely failed to increase the amount of variety between race strategies.
In Mexico, despite tyres graining and losing performance rapidly, several drivers ran one-stop strategies on the softest compounds available while being urged throughout the race to manage their pace. Charles Leclerc was told 50 times to back off to save his tyres and given a lap time target at least five seconds slower than he was capable of.
During the race Nico Hulkenberg described F1 as the “world championships in driving slow” and Kevin Magnussen called the tyres “a disgrace for Formula 1”.
Mario Isola suspects the problem is with the brief: “We did what the sport asked us in terms of going softer to generate more grip in terms of delta lap time between compounds but also, and especially, in terms of degradation.” – he said before the race. “Now the hyper-soft is degrading [in Mexico] and drivers are not happy. So is it really useful to have high degradation tyres or not? It’s a question. We should sit around the table, discuss that and understand which is the best way to go. Because what we are seeing now is that if we go softer and softer they manage more the pace. So probably it is not the right direction.”
He is confident a solution can be found. “It is not a problem, we just have to consider that and to change a little bit the direction and to find a different way to achieve the same targets. That’s all. I’m happy and it’s absolutely correct to involve the drivers in the decision.”
The FIA has set further targets for high tyre degradation in the tender issued to prospective suppliers for the 2020 to 2023 seasons. Michelin cited the targets as one of the reasons why it chose not to respond to the tender.