While F1 still awaits an official response from Pirelli and the FIA on the causes of the blowouts that excluded Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen from the Baku race, the topic of tire pressure and teams trying to get around the limits is become a topic of discussion. point again.
F1 teams have long known that there is a speed advantage to using low pressure tires, so there has always been an incentive to try and find ways to reduce Psi.
However, low pressures can put incredible structural stress on the tires, as the construction deforms more under load, which can cause problems.
Bring together a combination of the super heavy F1 cars and current high downforce with ultra low tire pressures – more potentially teams taking liberties – and that can be a recipe for trouble.
One way for Pirelli to avoid the risk of such threats has been to increase the minimum starting pressures the teams have for the tires, but the teams don’t like this as it means a waste of lap time.
Teams know the best way to get performance is to be at the limit when tire pressure is measured and then be below when the car is on the track and needs to perform.
The minimum starting pressure requirement was notoriously in the spotlight when Mercedes came under investigation after winning the 2015 Italian Grand Prix when Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s tires were found to be inferior at the limit of 19.5 PSi when measured before departure.
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W06
Photo by: Sutton Images
In the end, the team was cleared, with the FIA convinced that the tires had been at the correct pressure when first fitted on the cars, but the Psi had dropped as the tires cooled on the grid.
What this brief controversy has highlighted, however, is how much tire pressure can vary between when the tires are first installed on cars and when they actually roll on the track.
All the controls and procedures put in place since the establishment of firm guidelines in 2015 focused on the tires when they were first fitted.
The checks therefore take place just before a car leaves the garage, or shortly before the start of the race on the grid.
This, of course, leaves an opportunity for teams who can reduce the pressure after such checks have taken place to potentially gain an advantage.
In addition, not all tires can be checked when they are first fitted to the car, especially with regard to tires fitted during pit stops in the race.
One tactic used in the past was for teams to use excessive temperatures with their tire covers, so that they end up heating the air inside the tire. The hot air would expand and increase the pressure at the time of measurement, before the tire was then allowed to cool and the pressure dropped when the tire was needed.
This tactic prompted the FIA to step in and implement a maximum tire temperature tolerance for the covers to ensure teams don’t trick the system in this way.
But, F1 teams are immensely smart and it looks like with a clear performance on the table of being able to lower tire pressure after checks, they may have found other ways to get below the limits.
And the whole grid is likely to do it, not just one or two of them, as F1 teams don’t spend hundreds of millions of pounds a year to leave performance gains on the table.
As Hamilton noted following the 2015 Monza controversy: “We run at the bare minimum, all the time it’s above but as low as possible. If it’s 20, we’ll be 20.1 or 20.001, whatever. F1 is everything. “
Lance Stroll’s wrecked car, Aston Martin AMR21
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
The difficulty in judging what the teams are doing right now is that the teams themselves are responsible for all the data regarding their tire pressure.
So if they circumvent the regulations by putting the tires under minimum starting pressures, there is no way for the FIA and Pirelli to have reliable independent data to verify it.
In addition, nothing in the regulations prevents them from doing so, as the current rules only state minimum starting pressures, not minimum operating pressures.
Interestingly, for 2022 F1 is introducing mandatory standard tire pressure and temperature monitors that will give the FIA and Pirelli the exact information they need to better judge situations.
In a recent amendment to technical regulations 2022, Article 10.7.3 states: “All cars must be fitted with sensors for monitoring the pressure and temperature of the tires which have been manufactured by a supplier appointed by the FIA according to a specification determined by the FIA.
“The rims and the tire pressure and temperature sensors must be marked according to the coloring and labeling scheme for the corners defined in the appendix to the Technical and Sporting Regulations.”
While such a move should bring some clarity to what the teams are doing, in the short term, it’s unclear what the answer will be.
Next month, F1 returns to the British Grand Prix, with the high-speed Silverstone swoops known to be one of the toughest tracks of the year for Pirelli tires.
A repeat of the dramas of last year’s British GP, where a number of tires failed in the finals, will be something Pirelli will want to avoid.
So one option may well be for Pirelli to have to play it safe and increase minimum starting pressures well beyond what is ideal, knowing full well that teams will likely try to work around that.
Alternatively, the events in Baku may well be enough for the FIA to increase its verification of what the teams do on grand prix weekends – with a closer look at all the sets of tires used.