Pirelli tyres during day three of F1 Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 28, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

The Pirelli tyres have been a major topic of conversation since the Formula 1 season started. The Mercedes team, in particular, has problems switching on the tyres initially and then with the overheating of their rear tyres.

Sebastian Vettel Lays Tyre Conspiracy Theories In Barcelona To Rest

As the Mercedes team’s performance dipped from the second race of the season, it was attributed to their difficulties with the Pirelli tyres. For the fifth race of the season, an altered construction of the tyres was brought to the Spanish GP due to the newly resurfaced asphalt track.

The Silver Arrows form saw an upswing in this race and a 1-2 in qualification and the race resulted. In parallel, the Ferrari team which was the form team coming into the race, experienced problems with tyre management and pace. Questions were asked about the tyres and if the new Pirelli tyres were the reason behind this.

Pirelli Alters The Tyres For The Spanish GP

During the two pre-season tests in Barcelona, teams experienced blistering on the Pirelli tyres. When this was brought up to Pirelli, the Italian tyre manufacturer thought that it had occurred due to the smooth surface of the resurfaced track.

They decided to reduce the tread thickness on the Pirelli tyres used at the Spanish GP by 0.4mm as a solution. Further, they decided to bring the same construction of tyres to the British GP and the returning French GP, for the same reasons.

Did the Change Benefit Mercedes?

There was talk that Mercedes instigated Pirelli to make the change in tyres for this race and it benefited them. Red Bull Racing‘s Dr Helmut Marko said:“The tyres were changed at the request of Mercedes. When you’re a team and a manufacturer at the same time, you can do that. We produce energy drinks. Of course we cannot influence as much compared to a maker of passenger cars.”

Sebastian Vettel who finished fourth after he pitted for a second time under the Virtual Safety Car also expressed his dislike for the new Pirelli tyres. The German was third in qualification and could not keep up with the pace of Lewis Hamilton in his first stint. The Ferrari cars have been easier on the Pirelli tyres compared to the other cars. They suffered more degradation on the altered tyres than rival teams who were able to do a one-stop race.

Post-race Vettel seemed to think that the altered tyres were behind the Ferrari problems. He said:“You don’t have to be a genius to understand that the tyres get harder when you scratch off four millimeters. That’s how other teams got on better than we did.”

Toto Wolff and Pirelli Hit Back

Toto Wolff, Executive Director of Mercedes F1, defended the Pirelli tyre change and denied Dr Marko’s allegations. Wolff said: “It’s not the first time the doctor sees ghosts. There were problems with blistering on the tyres in the winter tests, even at Red Bull. The rears looked like a volcanic landscape. So Pirelli improved them. It’s bad for business if tyres explode.”

Mario Isola, Pirelli Formula 1 Head, also refuted the charges that the tyre change was done for the Spanish GP to favor one team. He said the change was made on safety grounds after consulting with all the F1 teams.

Isola said:“If you have a high level of blistering affecting all or most of the cars, you have a lottery not a race. It’s not the right approach and we, as a sole supplier, have to provide the same product to everyone that is a safe product, suitable for the circuit and so on.

“I don’t think that the slight modification in the tread thickness changed the balance of the performance of different cars. The compound is exactly the same and the construction is exactly the same, the difference is the thickness. We work with all the top manufacturers, more than just those in F1, so why would we give an advantage to one?”.

Vettel Agrees Pirelli Made The Right Call Now

The Spanish GP was followed by two-days of in-season testing at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Vettel tested for Ferrari on the first day of testing on Tuesday (May 15 2018). The German had an opportunity to test on the altered thinner tread tyres used for the Grand Prix and the original tyres.

Vettel said:“Normally you don’t get the chance to revisit these kind of decisions that are made. But we did now with the day that we had today, and I think the result is that, if we had the normal tyres on Sunday, we’d probably even be worse off. So I think it was the correct call, and it was our fault not to have the same tyre wear or life as other people.”

So Vettel after testing now feels that the altered Pirelli tyres were justified and that the tyres were not the main reason for the drop in performance that Ferrari experienced.

Pirelli’s Mario Isola told Autosport that he felt vindicated by what Vattel said. Isola said: “Absolutely. I am very happy, I cannot hide that I am very happy! After a weekend like the last one, yes.”

Pirelli Tyres Will Play An Important Role

The changes in form at the Spanish GP of the top 2 teams could have been because of the cooler temperatures seen in Barcelona over the race weekend. Mercedes may have found some solution to the tyre-related problems that have plagued them in previous races.

The Monaco GP and how the teams fare there will offer some insight into the change in fortunes. Maybe the Barcelona track characteristics suited Mercedes better. The track in Monaco could suit Ferrari and Red Bull better. The new hypersoft compound tyres, the softest and least durable tyre, will be widely used there.

Pirelli tyres seem to have a narrow operating window in terms of temperature. Also some teams seem to perform better on the softer compound tyres than others. The tyre performance varies from track to track and from session to session based on the temperatures. The team that is able to extract good performance across all the tyre compounds and in varying conditions will have greater chances of success in the 2018 season.

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