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How Imola tyre trial could offer path to better racing in F1



With drivers forced to use hard (Q1), medium (Q2) and soft (Q3) compounds in Saturday’s three races, rather than being completely free to choose, this could play a role in the battle for grid positions.

However, perhaps the biggest impact of the way the new tire experimentation works may be felt on Sunday, as it could result in an interesting case study of a way to make F1 racing more exciting.

In a season where the Spectacle has suffered from predictable one-stop strategies, Trials could actually help open the door for two-stops to come back on the table in the future.

improve the program

There are many reasons why this year’s racing is not as good as in previous years, not a single factor.

Increased car wash and the resulting increased downforce, shorter DRS zones that limit overtaking opportunities and a preference for one-stop racing have all created the perfect storm in a season of utter team dominance.

With car designs set for the season, the only change in the entire event that could change everything from here on out is Pirelli’s choice of tire compound. Softer rubber means a higher chance of multiple races.

However, Pirelli also has to be careful not to take things too far and turn a grand prix into three or four races, which are equally unpopular as they end up being chaotic events beyond the comprehension of fans.

Teams will have to use three different compounds of Pirelli tires for qualifying at Imola

Teams will have to use three different compounds of Pirelli tires for qualifying at Imola

Photography: Zak Mauger / motorsport pictures

Additionally, tires that degrade too quickly proved unpopular with drivers and teams, as they forced them to be too relaxed about things, rather than feel like they could push harder on more stable rubber.

What is always difficult is pushing teams to adopt a two-stop strategy, rather than automatically favoring one. Lost time in the pits, the risk of getting stuck in traffic when overtaking is difficult and not having enough suitable compound are all factors that drive teams to take a conservative route.

Pirelli racing chief Mario Isola said turning the race into a two-stop strategic affair went far beyond degrading tire performance even more.

“What we’ve learned in previous years is that if we go too soft or too aggressive, there’s a general tendency to control the pace for a one-stop race,” he told Autosport.

“But a big factor is how difficult it is to overtake. If you know you can overtake, you can risk getting back into traffic. But if you can’t overtake, then you don’t take that risk, you stay in front and protect your position.

“So, I believe just by (looking at replacing) tires, we’re not going to find the right solution, we’re going to go on a cycle of more degradation, then less degradation, then more degradation, then less degradation. That It’s not going to make anyone happy.”

Forced Questions Are Not Answers

One proposal that has emerged to encourage more two-stop races is to make them mandatory. Just as one-stop is now the least, because drivers have to use two different types of tire compounds, so two-stop races can be forced by having teams run soft, medium and hard tires during the race.

This switch makes a lot of sense and in theory should lead to the possibility of strategic diversity, as teams have to choose the right moment to use a tire that is not good for the race – either soft because it degrades too much, or hard because Not competitive.

But Isola threw cold water on the idea of ​​the work. Discussions about implementing the rule had occurred in the past, he said — and concluded that it would not succeed in delivering better, more varied programming.

More pit stops don't automatically mean better races, according to Isola

More pit stops don’t automatically mean better races, according to Isola

Photography: Steven Tee / motorsport pictures

“We did some analysis on this with the athletic director years ago,” he said. “We ended up concluding that the more new constraints you make, the more teams will adopt the same strategy.

“So, if you restrict them to all three compounds, maybe at first they will have a different strategy because they have to adapt to the new situation.

“But at the end of the day, they’re going to end up with the same options. So we’re going to have the same pit times, the same options and so on. We’ve got to accept that.”

It’s important for Isola not to force the team into a fixed number of stops, but to have a strategic option where being more aggressive on a purely competitive basis makes sense. Two stops must equal at least one stop on the stopwatch.

“We can try to encourage different strategies, but in the end only one is the fastest,” Isola added.

This possibility of providing teams with an alternative route to the checkered flag is where Imola’s first attempt at a new tire allocation comes up.

new rule test

Imola trials are underway to help F1 and tire supplier Pirelli better understand the impact of a more sustainable approach to F1 weekends, with the aim of reducing wasted sets on Sunday nights.

The normal allocation of 13 groups per race weekend is being reduced to 11 groups, with a marked change in the number of compounds available for each.

On a normal weekend, the 13 games are divided into eight soft games, three mid games and two hard games. For the Imola trial (and other sites where trials will be conducted), the 11 groups are divided into four soft, four medium and three hard.

Will experiments improve Imola's game?

Will experiments improve Imola’s game?

Photography: Erik Junius

Forcing drivers to use the hard tires in Q1 and the mediums in Q2 would mean a very different approach to qualifying, but the results are likely to be felt more on Sunday.

That’s because the way the tires were distributed over the weekend means drivers should now end the race with at least two sets of hards and two sets of mediums.

Until now, drivers have tended to race on either the medium tire or the hard tire – and sometimes just those two.

With softness rarely enough for the race, it means teams are automatically pushed into a conservative one-stop strategy that rarely provides great entertainment.

The change in allocation for Imola, and the fact that there should be at least two sets of hard and medium tires available, has allowed Pirelli to be more aggressive with its tire selection for the Imola weekend – knowing the team won’t be running out of rubber on Sunday.

For this year’s Emilia Romagna GP, Pirelli has opted for a milder configuration than last year, opting for the mildest configuration possible.

As Isola explained: “We need to find a way not to use one set of medium and one set of hard tires for the race because they (teams) keep all the soft tires for qualifying and they are useless for the race So, because of this (new allocation) approach, we decided to take a more modest approach in Imola.

“The original allocation was C2, C3, C4, now it is C3, C4, C5. With the alternative tire allocation, all teams will have two sets of hard tires, two sets of medium tires and two sets of soft tires for the race.

“So, we can go a little softer, and even if that increases the number of stops, they have enough tires.

Pirelli Motorsport Manager Mario Isola

Pirelli Motorsport Manager Mario Isola

Photography: Alexander Trienitz / motorsport pictures

“Under the current system, I don’t want to say it’s risky because they have to do more pit stops, but if they come into a race with one hard set, one medium set, the rest is soft. Yes, the soft ones are too soft for the game. Then we have an unnatural situation, which is not what we want.”

How Imola will perform is hard to predict right now and could be derailed by inclement weather that could affect tire choice. But Isola thinks F1 is right to allow such trials so everyone can better understand what works and what doesn’t.

Even if Imola doesn’t throw a two-race thriller, another event with a similar allocation later this year, possibly the Hungarian Grand Prix, should help provide a clearer picture.

As Isola said: “If it works, we keep them, if not, we go back to the last one.” This approach is correct, because unfortunately, even if you try to predict any possible details, there are always some things that are Unpredictable.”


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