With just over two weeks left before Pirelli’s second season of Formula One gets underway in Australia, the teams are embarking on the final four-day pre-season test for the 2012 tyres, which takes place once more in Barcelona this week from March 1-4.
As the last opportunity to finalise the car-tyre package before the first race, this is one of the most crucial tests of the season. One of the key points for the teams will be to understand exactly how the Pirelli tyres work with their new cars – at least in the short term. Long-term, the non-stop rate of development in Formula One means that the cars will change considerably as the season goes on. The car that is quickest in Australia may not be the team that is fastest by the end of the year, with most teams finding the equivalent of up to two seconds per lap over the course of the season. One of the challenges for Pirelli is to keep up with this pace of development.
Any new parts that are introduced – such as a new front wing, for example, will always have a profound effect on the tyre behaviour, because the forces acting on the car are shifted to different areas. This underlines the importance of tyre testing over a wide range of parameters before the season begins, which will once again be a key focus of the work carried out in Barcelona. With most teams only working with the first definitive specification of their 2012 cars now, it will be important to understand how the latest modifications interact with the tyres.
At the same time, none of the teams like to show their full potential during pre-season tests, particularly when it comes to tyre strategy, because this could hand a significant advantage to their rivals. With eight different drivers topping the time sheets during the eight days of testing that have been held so far in Jerez and Barcelona, this underlines how difficult it can be to draw concrete conclusions.
The teams have now completed more than 32,000 kilometres of testing to date with the new Pirelli compounds, which have all seen action apart from the Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue wet.
The P Zero White medium tyre, which has been nominated for the first three races (together with the P Zero Yellow soft in Australia and China, and the P Zero Silver hard in Malaysia) is the most popular choice for the final test. Pirelli will bring 114 sets of the medium tyre to Barcelona, along with 94 sets of the soft tyre, 69 sets of the hard tyre and 38 sets of the P Zero Red supersoft. In case of wet weather, there will be 31 sets of the intermediate and 14 of the full wet.
This makes a theoretical total of 360 sets of tyres available for the final test, to add to the 181 sets that were used at the first test in Jerez and the 257 sets used in the second test at Barcelona a week ago. Each team is allowed 100 sets per car per year for testing purposes: in other words 1,200 sets for the whole grid per season. With two tests left to go – in Barcelona this week then at Mugello in May once the season has started – the teams have used a total of 438 sets between them, although not every new car has so far been able to test.
The teams are also able to carry over unused tyres that have been mounted at the previous test, so the real number of sets available this week will actually be higher, as teams finalise their preparations for the season. Most teams are carrying over wets and intermediates, with an average of three sets of wets and three sets of intermediates per team – an additional 36 sets of wets and 36 sets of intermediates in total.
Barcelona is one of the most effective places to try out new tyres, due to the wide variety of speeds and corners contained within the 4.655-kilometre lap, as well as the huge amount of data that has been accumulated from the Circuit de Catalunya in the past. The teams have previously placed the emphasis on aerodynamic development, but the focus is expected to be on race simulations and strategies this week, with the first grand prix just around the corner.
Pirelli’s Motorsport Director Paul Hembery said: “We’re likely to see the teams test the tyres that they will use for the first three grands prix at Barcelona, with the accent switching to race preparation rather than new car development. Once again we have the full range of tyres available for the teams to test, which have been specially designed for the definitive specification of 2012 cars that we should see running at the Circuit de Catalunya. We’ve gathered plenty of data so far and had a very positive first impression from the drivers, so this week should allow us to validate our findings and continue accumulating data that will be vital for the season ahead.”