Playing Cluedo with tyres

When it comes to tyre failures in F1, tyre companies get rather defensive. It’s not surprising. It’s a standing joke in F1 circles that all tyre failures are caused by debris because tyre suppliers don’t want to use F1 to promote failure. That’s logical. Pirelli doesn’t have to be in F1 and if the firm decided to leave, it would not be easy to find a replacement. But it is also fair to say that there is no need for failures as Pirelli has no competition and thus there is no need to push the envelope for any competitive reason. It’s better to build solid tyres and put up with drivers complaining that the tyres are too hard.

This year, however, Pirelli went for softer compounds across the board, to try to improve the F1 show. The two failures in Baku were perplexing in that while debris was a possibility the similarities between the two incidents hinted at something else. The tyres let go with no warning or vibration, but checks on tyres on other cars that had done similar distances, or more, showed no signs of the same problem.

Pirelli said that an investigation had revealed that the causes of the failures had been clearly identified as being down to “a circumferential break on the inner sidewall, which can be related to the running conditions of the tyres.” It added that this was “in spite of the prescribed starting parameters (minimum pressure and maximum blanket temperature) having been followed” by the two teams, which could thus not be blamed because they followed Pirelli instructions. Red Bull issued a statement saying that it had adhered to “Pirelli’s tyre parameters at all times and will continue to follow their guidance.”

Pirelli added that the investigation “established that there was no production or quality defect on any of the tyres; nor was there any sign of fatigue or delamination.”

Pirelli also said that it and the FIA had agreed a new set of protocols, with an upgraded technical directive distributed to teams, for monitoring operating tyre conditions during a race weekend.

If it all sounds like a game of Cluedo, in which the reasons for the failures is established by a process of elimination, the next question to be asked must surely be that if the failure wasn’t caused by the way the teams used the tyres or by the tyre production process, and it didn’t affect other cars, was the problem one of the design of the tyres, in relation to specific cars with specific drivers?

Lance Stroll has a reputation for keeping tyres alive longer than others, but then so too does race winner Sergio Perez, who didn’t have a problem. Nor did Sebastian Vettel, who has the same car as Stroll. And as we have heard this year, the design philosophies of the Red Bulls and Aston Martins are very different, notably when it comes to rake angles.

So, right now, it’s all rather mysterious. Although that is not unusual with the “black round rubber things” in F1 that few understand, which work sometimes but not always in the way the drivers want.

28 thoughts on “Playing Cluedo with tyres

  1. I appreciate that you have not tried to apportion blame but many others have. It is too easy to blame the tyre manufacturer but Pirelli have consistently take a lot of flac for trying to do what they have been instructed by F1 and the FIA. Occasionally the manufacturers have been to blame ( Indianapolis and Silverstone ). The explanation sounds to me very plausible.
    The race engineers constantly push the boundaries, as one very senior one with a very major team once said to me “whatever it takes”.
    I’m not sure just what can be done to ensure technical compliance but that is what must now happen with instant reaction for infringement.

  2. I am from the auto industry, where such failures (of tires and other chassis parts) cause fatal or near-fatal accidents. We have a process to investigate what went wrong, which has been constantly improved with every year of learning new methods and finding success with proven methods. Post mortems are never conclusive as all we have is the failed part, never precise information of the loads, speeds, and forces involved. Often, we use the process of causal factor elimination.

    F1, I presume should be better with so many sensors in the car and so much attention to everything in the racing car from pit walls and engineering rooms, on and offsite.

    That said, I feel Pirelli has been honest here. Why would Pirelli leave this open to discussion, where people less qualified than them make public statements in the media on the design. They have been receptive to F1 fan’s request to design edgy tires and be an element of the challenge teams are forced to overcome. They have not shied away from designing such tires and never one to bow down to pressure when tires fail. (Silverstone 2020).

    Pirelli must be appreciated for what they do for the sport, and after all, do we even get to see them and their personalities on TV when tires were too hot to handle, and the races ended up being spicy. No. Just beating them for failures, will be excessively unfair.

  3. In a news report of this, it was suggested that there may be some method/s being used to prevent tyre pressures rising and that there will be a minimum tyre pressure set to apply at all times, not just the start, which will be tested, how is not stated – they could hardly do it at a pit stop. Have you heard any more about this?

  4. Hi Joe, I’ve seen it heavily implied on Autosport that some of the teams have found a way to meet the minimum pressure rules when fitted whilst decreasing pressure when running. Similar to gaming other tests, like the wing flexibility tests. Do you think this is likely to be the cause? Red Bull are known for pushing the envelope on pressure.

  5. It strikes me that pinpointing the true root cause on these failures will be extremely hard, based on teh number of variables: car driver, etc. It is likely to be a best guess in the absence of a singular factor.
    As an aside, mygarage notified me this morning that there is excessive wear on the inside shoulder of my right hand rear P7…

  6. What they need is for more Miss Marple turn up at the next drivers meeting, reveal the culprit and go off for a nice cup of tea afterwards.

    1. I seem to recall that in the original turbo era, retirements were often attributed to “an oil leak”, until an exasperated spannerman pulled off the tarp hiding a dead BMW motor, pointed to the gaping void where the crankcase was supposed to be and told the assembled journos “And if you look closely you can see the hole the oil leaked through!”

      1. I’ve heard that story with Ermanno Cuoghi and Andretti’s Alfa at Long Beach. He pointed to the hole in the side of the Alfa’s engine and said, “All the oil leaked out.”

      2. Only problem with that story is that it’s almost certainly false, because people seem to slot a wide range of different figures and engines into it (from Andretti at Alfa Romeo to Regazzoni at Ferrari) – it sounds like one of those anecdotes that keeps getting passed around because people like the myth.

      3. There were also the numerous “Gearbox failures” on the McLaren-Peugeot which spouted smoke and flames from the exhaust.

        Also the (probably untrue) story about a Ferrari race retirement being described as “Electrical problems”.

        This was explained as an alternator failure.

        When probed about the cause of the alternator failure, it was then revealed that the alternator failed due to one of the pistons smashing its way through it…

  7. The drivers have complained about the quality of the Pirelli tire from day one, listen to any ex f1 driver who races in a different series, and they all say how great it is to race on quality tyres again. Big name F1 drivers who are brave enough to speak out against Pirelli, Lewis and Max do. My point is I never heard a good word said about Pirelli’s tyre. Bernie, Jean, Stefano have all tried to silence the drivers/ teams on this. So it begs the question what are f1 jurnos doing when reporting on this? Guess all the journalists have been leaned on too, joe?

    1. What a strange view you have of the media. You must come from a country where one of them can be trusted. That’s something you should reflect on.

      No, we haven’t been leaned on. We understand that racing on Pirellis is better than racing on wheel rims… tyre companies are not queueing up to get into F1. It’s a thankless task because when you win no one says “Pirelli win the race” and when things go wrong it’s always “Pirelli to blame”. To say that they don’t build quality tyres is daft.

      1. So Fernando, Lewis, DC, Mark Webber, JB, Redbull, Aston Martin to name but a few are talking rubbish? Sadly the reality is Pirelli do not make good race tyres, just because they’re the only game in town, doesn’t by default mean they are doing a good job. Maybe do that thing where you speak to drivers off the record and get their real take on the tyres. BTW just wanted to say it may not sound like, but I do appreciate your f1 journalism.

  8. The tyre failures I remember from last year affected Lance, Max, Lewis (who reportedly also had a damaged tyre in Baku) and Valtteri. Of course that could just be a rather large coincidence, but it seems to suggest there’s a common factor.

  9. Joe, to your last post above … something I have wondered about frequently. Is Pirelli being in F1 doing any good to their bottom line? If I were a grey suited accountant at Pirelli I would be strongly campaigning to leave F1. The ongoing investment costs ($$s) must be very significant presumably and I’m not sure that they are benefitting as a brand.

    In a perfect world it would be great to have an F1 tyre war with the manufacturers limited on $$s they can spend (cost cap) and the aim being to produce more durable tyres (say one tyre stop per race maximum – ignoring weather changes) that still produce ongoing grip.

    1. I find myself agreeing with this comment.

      Without having any founded reason to really criticise Pirelli, I can fully understand that it can only be beaten up when things go wrong and not be applauded the rest of the time because it’s hard to praise victory without opposition. Whether that’s because there truly is no other brand willing to take on the challenge or because of the decisions of the rule makers is kind of irrelevant unless one has both deeper understanding and no other agenda, which seems to me to rule out the majority of those with an opinion (probably including me).

      A tyre war would, whatever else it may bring, surely guarantee kudos for the winner.

    2. Did Pirelli’s P Zero tyres come about as a result of their presence in F1, or did it just give them an advertising platform?
      Given their popularity – maybe not in the biggest market, but certainly a lucrative one – perhaps that alone maybe justification enough?

  10. I think the teams are “trying something” for a possible advantage. Maybe altering the tire pressures somehow during the course of the lap? Wouldn’t surprise me…

  11. One other thought – one might think that with the FIA being the self appointed guardians of road safety that they would want to specify tyres rather more robust than what is raced on currently.

  12. Do Pirellli get all the tyre data from the teams? Obviously the teams must want to keep some of it secret, but the teams have constant pressure and temperature data probably from several zones of each tyre. (Presumably the tyre barcode is included as well).
    Without the teams giving this data to Pirelli they cannot expect proper answers or better tyres.
    But it Pirelli do have this data the should be able to say if the tyres were run under specified minimum temp/pressure for each car.

  13. When is someone going to accept that Pirelli is the worst thing which has happened to F1 in years. F1 has become a “tyre preservation” formula and please don’t trot out the excuse that “FIA told them to do it” All Pirelli had to do was tell the FIA they either accepted tyres which performed over a range of conditions and lasted a race or they could look somewhere else. Unless of course Pirelli didn’t have the technical capability to do so, which seems reasonably likely
    As for forced use of unsuitable tyres to create pit stops (and massively increase costs) …….
    Other formulas with other tyre suppliers seem to be able to produce reliable tyres with a reasonable operating range, it would be interesting to see a F1 race with WEC style tyres and no silly rules, but that would make Pirelli look even more pathetic

  14. Hi Joe,
    I write articles for a small independent F1 site – I have some questions about FIA technical directives that you might be able to help me with outside of here.
    Would you be prepared to help me out a little with a question or two?

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