By Adam Cooper, Crain News Service
DETROIT (May 29, 2013) — Pirelli Tyre S.p.A.'s planned changes to its race tires for the Formula 1 race in Canada next month, which involve a switch back to aramid belts from steel, could unfairly handicap teams that have discovered a clever way to use the Italian firm's 2013-vintage rubber.
Pirelli also is coming under fire for a controversial test it conducted at Barcelona in the week after the Spanish Grand Prix involving the Mercedes-AMG-Petronas team
Pirelli had made it clear that it intends to switch to aramid belts from steel for the June XX Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal. The move has been touted on safety grounds, as a result of several cases of delaminating treads, which have caused embarrassment to the Italian tire maker — even though many observers consider that a delamination is potentially safer than a complete tire disintegration, as it allows the driver to get back to the pits.
The tire company has insisted that the change won't have a major impact on the competition, but some teams insist that it will.
Since the start of the season, some teams have routinely been 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 designated for the left side and the right side of the car by Pirelli. However, there is nothing in the rules to stop teams from using them on the opposite side, if they find it works better. That switch is 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 gotten its sums wrong in defining the left and right-side tires.
Intriguingly, sources have indicated 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 aramid, as used last year.
However, aramid-belted tires are not designated to be used specifically on one side of the car, so there is no point in swapping them around.
And that means the teams that have been routinely swapping the tires will lose the advantage they have discovered, and that in turn explains why they are now fighting with Pirelli and the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA over the planned change, and 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 F1 teams Infiniti Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Ferrari, given that it is widely accepted that Mercedes tried the revised tires in Barcelona and thus have the huge advantage of being the only team to have already run 2013 aramid-belted tires.
Inevitably, the speculation is that Mercedes didn't just try tires in Barcelona, but also its own components. It's 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 — and if that turns out to be true, then surely rivals will be even more frustrated than they are now.
This report appeared on autoweek.com, the website of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.