F1: Teams To Lose Pirelli Tire-Swapping Advantage?
Adam Cooper | SPEED - The Motor Sports Authority
| Posted May 28, 2013 Balen (BEL)
An interesting twist to the Pirelli testing saga has emerged, and it throws a little more light on what Mercedes might or might not have done at Barcelona.
SPEED.com can confirm that since the start of the season some teams have routinely being swapping the left and right rear tires, having discovered – in some cases as early as winter testing – that they found an overall performance advantage by doing so.
The 2013 steel belt tires are ‘handed,’ meaning that they are marked left and right and are intended by Pirelli to be used on that side of the car.
However, there is nothing in the rules to stop teams from using them on the ‘wrong’ side, if they find it works better. However, it’s not something that can be done without a considerable amount of attention to setup and so on, in order to make the change work effectively.
Indeed in the case of some teams, it even goes back to the design stage as they worked with data during the winter, having run prototype tires in Brazil and decided – in effect – that Pirelli had got its sums wrong in defining the left and right side tires.
Intriguingly, sources have told SPEED.com that in Monaco, Mercedes used the swapping technique for the first time – or at least it was the first time that it was spotted by keen-eyed observers.
It would thus be very easy to speculate that Mercedes took the opportunity of the Barcelona test to try out the technique.
However, while it may have helped Mercedes in Monaco, it might not do so in Montreal – assuming that Pirelli follows up on its promise to switch from steel belts back to Kevlar, as used last year.
As is well known, the move has been touted on safety grounds, as a result of several cases of delaminating treads, which have caused embarrassment to the Italian company – even though many observers consider that a delamination is potentially safer than a complete tire disintegration, as it allows the driver to carry on back to the pits.
Pirelli has insisted that the change won’t have a major impact on the competition.
However, Kevlar-belted tires are not ‘handed,’ meaning they are identical on both sides; in other words, there is no point in swapping them around.
And that means the teams that have been routinely swapping will lose the advantage they currently have, and that in turn explains why they a) they are now fighting with Pirelli and the FIA over the planned change and b) why those teams who have not been able to make tire swapping work, or have general tire issues, are only too happy for it to go through.
It’s also clear that the change of belts represents a change of specification, which usually has to be cleared by all the teams.
If the change does happen, it will provide further ammunition for Red Bull and Ferrari given that it is widely accepted that Mercedes tried the revised tires in Barcelona, and thus has the huge advantage of being the only team to have already run 2013 Kevlar-belted tires.
Inevitably, the speculation is that Mercedes didn’t just try tires in Barcelona, but also its own components. It has even been suggested that the team ran a gearbox with revised suspension geometry in an attempt to get to the bottom of its tire problems.
Adam Cooper notched up his 28th season as a racing journalist in 2012. He has written about F1 for SPEED.com since 2005. Follow him on Twitter.