Tag Archives: WEC

Formula One : The Future of Pirelli in F1

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Pirelli returned to Formula One in 2011 as the sole tyre supplier and official championship partner. Pirelli, founded in Italy, recently acquired by ChemChina, joined the championship with a clear mandate from Formula One Management to ‘spice up the racing’ through the development of a range of tyre compounds with significant performance variables and accelerated levels of degradation. Initially, this new philosophy around tyre performance at the pinnacle of motorsports was well received with a positive response from fans and media around a new element of unpredictability surrounding an F1 weekend.

However, as teams and drivers adapted to the Pirelli approach to tyre compound chemistry, car set up and driving techniques evolved to minimise the challenges the tyres presented. This led to increasingly aggressive approaches to performance and degradation levels in tyre development culminating in the “challenging” 2013 British Grand Prix in which teams were supplied with tyres which were not capable of performing at the levels required. The result of which was a race which saw numerous failures throughout the field and a strategic re-evaluation from Pirelli.

In the seasons since 2013, Pirelli has maintained the vision of producing a range of compounds with varying levels of performance and high levels of degradation but with a more conservative approach. The result of this restraint has been races in which teams and drivers focus on tyre management over performance, understanding the optimal approach to a race has often been to extend the life of a tyre rather than push it to its limit. As such, in recent seasons, drivers have rarely complimented the performance of Pirelli’s efforts over a Grand Prix weekend.

Creating positive media coverage in a sole supply situation will always be a challenge. Since there is no competitor to beat, victory becomes the default leaving the only newsworthy coverage that of failure.  In such an environment it can be a challenge to understand how Pirelli quantify benefits from its sponsorship of Formula One. Over seven seasons they have developed a reputation for producing tyres with excessive degradation and minimal differentiation beyond coloured side walls. Would an F1 fan seriously consider buying Pirelli tyres for their own car based on how they perform in Formula One?

So where does this leave Pirelli?

At the end of each season, Pirelli produce an end of year summary detailing all every fact and figure imaginable around; corning speeds, top speeds, lap times, number of overtakes, number of compounds used by each driver and the figure which stood out to me the most, the number of sets of tyres produced in a season.

In 2017 Pirelli produced 38,788 sets of F1 tyres, which equates to approximately 3,258 tons of tyres. Of these, only 12,920 sets (1,085 tons of tyres) were actually used. This means two-thirds of F1 tyres produced in 2017 were never raced and simply destroyed. Whilst Pirelli makes it clear all tyres were recovered, a system in which such a vast number of tyres are produced and shipped around the globe and never used is hugely wasteful and frankly embarrassing for both the manufacturer and the sport. The strategy of an ever-increasing range of tyres being made available for a Grand Prix weekend has resulted in the requirement of an inefficient and cumbersome supply chain. Something which will only increase in 2018 with further tyre compounds and team selection freedoms being added to the Pirelli ‘menu’.

In recent years Michelin, a leading industry competitor, have repeated statements that the current philosophy of Formula One around the use of tyre degradation as a key variable in racing, is of limited strategic merit and is not in keeping with how they believe tyre technology should be presented in motorsport. Instead, Michelin has focused their efforts in Formula E and the World Endurance Championship, showcasing innovations around all-weather tyres, low profile tyres (18-inches, compared to the 13-inch profile used in Formula One), and minimal degradation allowing competitors to push the performance of a tyre throughout an event.

Increasingly Formula One and its regulations are focused on reducing unnecessary waste. limiting fuel use through a race, and limiting the number of power units available to a team through a season. This focus on efficiency appeals to existing OEM’s in the sport including Mercedes, Renault, and Honda, and again sits in contrast to the wasteful and confusing approach mandated to Pirelli. For the 2018 season there is no longer any opportunity for Pirelli to change their approach to racing, but with minimal technical regulation changes set for 2019, perhaps the management of Formula One should look to change the conversation around Pirelli’s role in F1 and encourage the manufacturer to innovate relevant style.

For 2019, perhaps Pirelli should look to consider a simplified approach to tyre compounds, produce tyres with increased variance in performance yet minimised levels of degradation, and adopt 18-inch low profile tyres, enabling the end user to better relate to the product they see racing on a Sunday.

It is understood 2019 is the final season of Pirelli’s current agreement with Formula One. Without change, will it be their last?

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Formula One: Porsche Red Bull Racing? 2+2 = 5

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The eagle-eyed F1 Fan will have noticed a few interesting faces in and around the F1 paddock over the weekend of the Austrian Grand Prix. After attending a recent meeting to discuss the future of F1 Power Units a number of Porsche ambassadors made their presence known through the event. As a pundit for Channel 4’s F1 coverage, seeing Mark Webber in the paddock is not an unusual sight. Less usual though was his choice of attire, as pictured below Mark spent much of the weekend wearing Porsche team wear. Similarly, Mark’s former teammate and former Red Bull Junior driver Brendon Hartley attended the Grand Prix and he too wore Porsche team wear combined with a Red Bull cap for much of the weekend.

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Of course a logical explanation for this is that both drivers were taking part in demonstration runs through the race weekend, but a far more exciting ‘hollywood’ story is that fresh from having achieved their objectives in the World Endurance Championship securing 3 back to back victories at Le Mans, Porsche are seeking a new challenge. Given Webber’s recent history with Red Bull Racing, he, perhaps under the guise of his ambassador role with Porsche is in someway involved in discussions to bring the two parties together with a role for Brendon Hartley as a driver within the package.

I have stated previously that the relationship between ExxonMobil, BP, and Renault for me is not logical. Fuel and Lubricant solutions must be developed in conjunction with power unit development. It is not possible to define a one size fits all development roadmap for the Renault Power Unit. At some point in the near future, if not, at some point in the past. BP or ExxonMobil will identify a performance opportunity with the Renault power unit which does not favour the other supplier. At this point power unit development will split. Renault will produce one power unit format for the works team and a different solution for Red Bull Racing and Scuderia Toro Rosso. Who will fund this alternative solution, and at what point is a Renault Power Unit no longer a Renault Power Unit?

Could Porsche be considering redirecting budget from the World Endurance Championship, a figure believed to be in the region of $100M towards a power unit development plan in Formula One? Paying Renault to use their technology as a basis for involvement would minimise the risk of ‘doing a Honda’ ensuring reasonable performance from the word go.

One thing is for sure, Porsche are seeking a new challenge, drivers, unlike fans, don’t attend race meetings in team wear when they are not competing for the fun of it. Perhaps in this case 2+2 might just equal 5.

Thanks to Sean Bull for pulling together incredible concept artwork for a Red Bull Racing Porsche mash up.

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WEC: The Season Starts Here

Qualifying for the first round of the 2016 World Endurance Championship took place today in mixed, at times snowy, conditions at Silverstone. The No.7 Audi R18 of Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler ended the 20-minute wet session by claiming a sensational pole position with an average time of 1m53.204 at the head, with the No.8 Audi of Duval and Di Grassi make it all-Audi front row, although last gasp Di Grassi   attempt on pole ends in trip through gravel. Porsche fill out second row with No.1 heading No.2 Porsche 919 Hybrid, Disappointment for Toyota Gazoo Racing after issues leaves then 5th and 6th.

Ahead of the season opener check out Mobil One’s The Grid Preview to the 2016 World Endurance Championship:

Despite a challenging opening qualifying session Porsche remain confident they will be the team to beat in 2016, see their preview to the season here:

OPINION: GP2 & WEC – Bahrain Rookie Test, the future of career development?

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With the size of your sponsorship portfolio rather than the success seen in your racing career continue to be a key determining factor in a driver stepping from junior racing category into F1, drivers whose skills are focused on keeping their car between the white lines are increasingly looking towards a career in endurance racing.

Owing to the cancellation of the German Formula One Grand Prix earlier in the season, in one month from now GP2 for the first time in the series history, take on the support race role for the World Endurance Championship in Bahrain. Following what promises to be a thrilling weekend of racing, the World Endurance Championship will run a series of rookie test sessions. These sessions will offer a selection of drivers from GP2, who may have otherwise lacked the budget to further advance their career, the opportunity to test championship winning LMP1 machines.

The test line-up will include Richie Stanaway, already competing the WEC with Aston Martin in the LMGTEPro category, who will be testing the Audi R18 e-tron Quattro. Mitch Evans, who has already discussed he ambition to move towards endurance racing, testing the currently dominant Porsche 919 Hybrid, and 2013 GP2 runner up, DS Virgin Racing Formula E, and LMP2 driver Sam Bird testing the Toyota TS040 Hybrid.

Does this test represent a seed change in the mind-set of drivers and promoters towards Endurance Racing? No longer should it be perceived exclusively as the place for retired Formula One drivers (although the Colombian variety of these will be represented and very welcome!) Endurance racing offers drivers a formidable racing challenge, arguably superior in many respects to Formula One. The World Endurance Championship is rapidly becoming the home of a driving elite. How long will it be before Formula One drivers don’t just dip their toe into the Le Man’s experience, but when it comes to contract negotiations consider a seat with an LMP1 team as a true alternative to an F1 team.

This event in Bahrain is a huge step forward for Motor Racing.