Jenson Button’s hopes of winning a second world championship have been boosted by his ﬁrst taste of the new Pirelli tyres, which will place a premium on a driver’s ability to manage the rubber during races. The 31-year-old drove last year’s McLaren MP4-25, updated to interim speciﬁcation and designed to simulate the downforce levels of the new car as closely as possible, on the third day of last Week’s Valencia test. Button, like most drivers, believes that making the tyre last will be crucial to making race strategies work.
“There will be degradation on the soft tyre and you have to look after it,” said Button. “But there always has to be a balance. I think with Pirelli we have a tyre that maybe suits me more than the previous tyre we had.”
STRATEGIC PATTERNS EMERGE
At the Valencia test there was a clear pattern of drivers getting one fast lap before losing over one second on the following tour. After this initial degradation, the tyres remained more consistent through a stint. Few drivers completed long runs, although there were several stints of 100km or more.
Many suffered a second drop-off in lap—time after around 18 laps of a stint. “The tyre itself is obviously very different to the Bridgestone,”
Button added. “Over one lap it felt very strong and on a longer run with the super—soft tyre you get degradation quite a bit. But that is what we sort of expected.”
How consistent the tyre is during a stint appears to depend on how well it is treated in the early laps, when the drivers must be cautious.
“The tyre itself is obviously very diﬁerent to the Bridgestone”
This means that they will have to strike a difﬁcult balance between attacking and preserving the rear tyres early in a stint. Mark Webber for example, managed to register an impressive lap of 1m15.8s on his 21st lap of a run on the ﬁnal day of testing after being very cautious a1 the beginning of his stint.
This is good news for Button, who proved in 2010 that he is better able to manage tyres than McLaren team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The Australian Grand Prix was the deﬁning example, where Button managed to make his soft tyres last 52 laps on his way to victory while his team-mate had to make an additional pitstop.
Button’s ability to eke out tyre life will be doubly beneﬁcial when it comes to tyre choice in qualifying, as he will be more conﬁdent of making the faster options last long enough at the start of a race. This could give him an advantage in qualifying over those who have to use the harder tyre in Q3 amid fears that they will destroy the option tyres only a few laps into a race.
As well as over longer stints, the way that the rear tyres are preserved during the warm—up lap in qualifying will be critical — another challenge to which
Button is well— suited. The 2009 world champion completed what appeared to be a qualifying simulation during his test outings.
GOOD NEWS FOR PIRELLI
These characteristics are positive for Pirelli, which has been tasked by teams to come up with a tyre that would encourage multi-stop races — as seen last year only in the Canadian Grand Prix.
Although most drivers pointed out the rapid degradation after one ﬂying lap on fresh tyres, many were encouraged by the fact that tyre strategy will become a more important factor this year. Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery believes that it will suit some drivers more than others depending on their skill set.
“If you get a driver who is more conservative with their driving style, they might be able to conserve performance and limit consumption,” Hembery told
AUTOSPORT magazine 2 weeks ago. “You see it in other forms of motorsport and in F1 in the past, so some drivers are excited about it.” Some minor tweaks to the compounds will be made between now and the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, but the die has been cast in terms of the strategic demands presented by the tyres.