The last time slick tyres were raced in Formula One was that infamous European Grand Prix in 1997. It will be remembered more for incident involving Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve than anything else, but the race is etched in my mind as the day smooth rubber left the sport. The reason for the change came down to the FIA wanting to reduce the cornering speed of the cars, and at the time they chose the tyre route. Since then though, the FIA have worked closely with the Technical Working Group to come up with better ways of controlling the ever-escalating speeds, centering their efforts on the aerodynamics more and more.
Tyre warmers, or blankets as they’re commonly called, were introduced before my time, I believe. I cannot remember a grand prix where the tyres were not pre-heated before venturing out on to the circuit, but I’d hazard a guess and say they were introduced in 1994/5 after it was suggested that cold tyres (in a non-blanket related way) may have contributed to Ayrton Senna’s accident.
The reduced downforce part of the equation above comes from the change in the rules for 2009. In fact, everything mentioned in this post is to do with the potential changes for next season, and some drivers feel it could be a recipe for disaster. The main argument against the raft of adjustments which will see the cars with fewer winglets generating downforce, is that the drivers may struggle to get enough temperature into the tyres. And considering that in the past two races we have seen how dangerous high closing speeds can be between two cars, I can understand some of the drivers’s concerns. While neither incident in Malaysia or Bahrain had anything to do with the tyres, the issue of running a car with cold tyres against a car with warm tyres can mean a considerable difference of pace.
When Bridgestone tested slick tyres in December last year, David Coulthard spoke of how scary it was joining the race track with cold tyres and pitched against cars that had already warmed up their boots. It was cold in Spain the day of that test, but Coulthard and Bridgestone said that the compound they used then caused an imbalance between the front and rear, making the car harder to drive and thus slower to warm-up.
Yesterday and today though, Formula One’s sole tyre supplier turned up in Barcelona with three slick compounds to test, which have been much more comfortable for the drivers. But combined with a 2009 spec. aero arrangement that a lot of teams were running, and sending the car out cold, concerns are still being voiced.
We had a lot of problems in Jerez to make them [the tyres] work without the tyre warmers. Here it was better. It’s still difficult but it was somewhat better, because Bridgestone has created a compound that works in lower temperatures.
The first lap is very slow, and that’s the danger. There are cars which are up to racing speed and you are coming out of the pits very slowly. You are like a mobile chicane.
That’s the problem that this kind of rules has. But Bridgestone has taken a big step forward and we still need to improve a lot. Pedro De La Rosa.
Are the FIA creating a disaster just waiting to happen? Surely we can all see that minimising the speed differential between the cars is good for safety. Nothing happened to Lewis Hamilton or Fernando Alonso when they collided in Bahrain, and thankfully Nick Heidfeld was able move around the McLarens in qualifying at Sepang. But Robert Kubica couldn’t do much when he came across Jarno Trulli’s Toyota in Canada last year. Neither accidents were a result of tyre temperatures, but all are related to having cars on track travelling at a considerably different pace to one another.
I think it is a ludicrous idea to ban them. David Coulthard, speaking in 2007.
The Technical Working Group have suggested that removing the blankets will force Bridgestone to create tyres that work better at lower temperatures, thus slowing the cars slightly. Apparently the boots will lose less pressure though when travelling slowly behind the safety car, but that is the only benefit I can see from this ruling.