In a recent interview for the Italian website Motorionline, Mario Isola, Pirelli’s Motorsport Director, who talked about various topics and in particular focused on an issue that was much discussed last season, especially after the Japanese Grand Prix which crowned Max Verstappen as world champion for the second consecutive time.
At Suzuka, the high amount of water raised by the full wet tires considerably reduced visibility, and from that moment on, proposals have arrived on the Formula 1 table to try to reduce the effect of the spray. Motorionline.com asked the Italian manager for an opinion on the new qualifying format that we will see on two occasions in the next Formula 1 season and Mario Isola pointed out that he was in favour of the idea. Finally, he focused on the new C1 tire developed for the season that is about to begin, which will alternate with last year’s (called C0) under certain circumstances.
Here is the full interview of c for Motorionline.com:
We have heard many drivers complaining about the splashes of water, especially in Japan, and there has been talk of possible wheel arches to be applied to the single-seaters to facilitate visibility. What can Pirelli do to improve all of this? Have you had discussions with the teams to jointly seek a feasible solution that works for everyone?
“There are discussions, we are always present at meetings where this type of proposal is discussed in detail: idea of some bodywork to be mounted to reduce the spray generated by the tires was presented. Honestly, we can do very little on this front, because if you want to have a tire that can resist aquaplaning at high speeds, you have to throw the water somewhere, so in many cases it goes up in the air. Much has been said about the effect of the diffuser, because if you put a bodywork that somehow manages to control the spray that is generated by the tyres, then however you need to understand how much water the diffuser throws into the air and therefore, consequently, how much worse the visibility gets. Studies and tests will be carried out, we will obviously be involved, but what becomes important for us is to understand when it will be considered safe to let the drivers run on the track, because if thanks to these wheel arches it is possible to improve visibility a lot and therefore race, we will have to design a much more extreme full wet tire, in order to be able to cope with certain conditions”.
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“If, on the other hand, the issue of visibility remains unsurpassed, i.e. the drivers continue not to see and the Federation, rightly so, for safety reasons does not feel like letting them run on the track, it would not make sense to design an even more extreme tire, because it would never be used, and therefore it will be better to design a slightly less extreme wet tire, which has a little more crossover with the intermediate so as to have the right tire for the conditions in which they will be running on the track. What happens if you do a full wet too extreme? They don’t drive with all that water, they wait for better conditions and at that point you’re close to intermediate. We know what it means to save a stop, we are around 22-25 seconds, that’s a lot, and therefore the drivers will always be pushed to put on the intermediate tyres too soon, so we need to make a reasoning that takes all these factors into account to say: do wheel arches work? Yes, then we have to make an even more extreme wet so that they can drive even in very wet conditions. If the answer is no, because in any case visibility remains low and you don’t want to put the drivers at risk, then you need to think in the opposite way and build a tire closer to intermediate”.
In two Grands Prix in 2023, the teams will have to use hards in Q1, mediums in Q2 and softs in Q3. How functional is this format in your opinion? Do you think it can be constantly used in the future?
“I am a great supporter of this format, I have never made a secret of it. Today we supply thirteen sets of slick tires to each car: six are used in free practice, and two are returned after each session, the other seven are used for qualifying and the race, but what happens? Since you have to go with the softs in official practice, in general the teams choose to sacrifice the hard and medium tires available on Sunday to keep lots of soft tires for qualifying. This is the situation today. The discussion started by saying: but is it possible that we, by not affecting the show, therefore always encouraging different strategies, fail to reduce this objectively high number of sets? Thirteen sets per car per weekend, that’s really a lot of tyres, and from here we started talking to the FIA and Pat Symonds (technical director of Formula 1, ed), an initial idea came up which was then modified, because every time what do you talk about, they see far ahead, they are used to working with regulations, so they already have in mind what can happen under certain conditions”.
“It was quite a long job and in the end we thought that the free practice sets could even be reduced to five instead of six, because the mileage isn’t that high, so in the end the cars will still run on the track, it won’t be empty. So we’re starting to take a set of tires out of free practice, so can we do something that allows the drivers to get into the race with a slightly more spread out allocation? Because, from a racing perspective, with two hard, two medium and two soft you can make a billion combinations, which today you struggle to do because drivers often come to the race with one hard, one medium and then all softs. We need to get to have more different situations in the race, and what is the only possibility? Forcing them to do qualifying using the compounds they will have on Sunday. So a seventh set will no longer be needed, the hards will be used in Q1, it’s a compound that also allows you to do more laps, the medium is used in Q2 and finally you bring the soft in the fight for pole position. We will thus see a progression of lap times, it is also a good thing to see, because they will go faster and faster between the three qualifying sessions, it was something they did with the engine mappings, then they were frozen and therefore it was no longer possible .
We still don’t know in which races this format will be used, right?
“Not yet, first they had to establish the Sprint races. We know we will have two test weekends this year, and if it works, the idea is to have this format stable in the future. About 15% of tires are saved to produce, transport and use, so also in terms of sustainability it is something that has an impact without affecting the show. I mean, you can also give six sets of tires a weekend, but then the cars don’t run on Friday, in qualifying you only do one lap because then you don’t have any left, you can only stop, and therefore there are circumstances that inevitably affect the show. By doing so, however, a solution has been found that has an environmental benefit and which will then perhaps be further refined. In the meantime, let’s start like this, let’s see how it works and then we discuss it”.
Small leap into the past: in 2018 you had seven slick tire compounds available, from super hard to hypersoft. When did you realize they were a bit too much? Why didn’t this solution work?
“We have a shared document which lists a series of tire characteristics which must be respected. These include the level of degradation for each of the compounds available and the delta time hard/medium, medium/soft and so on. These numbers are simulated: we, the teams, the FIA and the FOM carry out virtual tests and see what the delta is, we compare the data, a thousand proposals are made, and then we arrive at the common one, but it is done on paper, it is not something that you know it will work 100%, also because you race on more than 20 different tracks. At one point we found ourselves in a situation in which we said to ourselves that to achieve these objectives we needed to homologate more compounds, otherwise we risk being outside certain parameters in some circuits, and thus we will also have the possibility and flexibility to select three to our liking. At the time there were all the names, there were no hard, medium and soft for each Grand Prix, but we could also skip a level if necessary.”
In that regard, it was interesting to skip one, or even two compound levels for each weekend.
“We also did it in 2022: you know that a new C1 has been introduced (harder tire in the Pirelli range, ed) because last year’s worked very well on some tracks, there was the right difference with the C2, while in others, such as Barcelona, it didn’t light up, and therefore all the teams went to C2 and C3, avoiding the hardest one because it didn’t have the optimal level of grip. In developing the new C1 we found a product that we believe works well on those tracks where the old one didn’t work. So it was decided to homologate six compounds instead of five, let’s keep the old C1, it will become C0, and we’ll probably reuse it on the tracks where it went well, so you’ll see C0, C2 and C3 on certain tracks, on other C1, C2 and C3. If the development is faster than we think we also have the possibility to do C0, C1 and C2. There will be much more flexibility, then it is clear that there will always be a balance between the number of homologated compounds and combinations, because you cannot homologate 25, you don’t even have the time to develop them, but in 2018 we reached seven to try to have the possibility of reaching a target at every track, and this reasoning was made this year with the introduction of the sixth compound”.