F1’s incumbent tyre manufacturer, Pirelli, has called for 18 days of testing next year if F1 is to be prepared for the sport’s dramatic rules changes scheduled for the 2017 season.
At present teams are limited to three tests of no more than four days, and are not permitted to complete 15,000km with either their current or previous year’s car in a single calendar year.
However, with a planned move to bigger tyres for 2017 onwards, the pressure is on to ensure that the rubber is up to standard before the first race. Either Pirelli or Michelin – the two companies bidding to become F1’s sole tyre manufacturer – will have to produce tyres measuring 425mm for the rears and 325mm for the fronts, an increase of 100mm and 80mm respectively.
Eighteen days of testing
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director, discussed the need for greater testing with Autosport. His company is believed to be in pole position to win the 2017-2020 sole tyre manufacturer contract.
“The one thing that needs to happen is a proper testing programme, and the first-level drivers need to be involved in determining the product we are going to take into a season. We need their input because they are the ones who push to the limit, who go that little bit extra, more than the other drivers.”
“But at the moment we have no testing, they’re not involved, so as you can imagine there is a discrepancy there, and that’s not normal in my opinion.”
“There are a huge number of factors involved in practically delivering what we are asking and how you achieve that, and that’s something the engineers and teams need to advise on.”
“I would suggest we would need six sessions of three days each next year, and then going into 2017 you’ve got pre-season testing.”
“We’ve not been given adequate support to allow up to perform all of the development we would like to have done, and we have been asking consistently. Without a good testing programme we can’t stay in the sport for 2017.”
Costs and precedents
Having the teams so proactively involved in the development of the 2017 tyres would of course lead to more suitable rubber being developed for racing, but at a cost.
Testing has been limited in recent years to cut down on the travel, personnel and development costs incurred by teams, and reverse this decision for tyre development would be seen as retroactive by many.
Even today Claire Williams called for 2017 costs to be limited to ensure that teams are not hampered or endangered by the development of the sport.
This is precedent for a tyre company to run a near-current specification car itself in order to gather data. In 2010, Pirelli used the Toyota TF109 chassis, with Nick Heidfeld at the wheel, to develop its rubber before its entry into the sport in 2011, with Bridgestone having taken a similar approach before.
Were Pirelli to run another, modern-spec test car to develop 2017 rubber – albeit with leading drivers at the wheel – this would surely alleviate some of the cost implications for teams while ensuring the relevant data is secured. However it remains to be seen whether the Italian manufacturer could afford such an approach, and whether it would be permitted by the drivers’ contracts.