Analysis: How Pirelli Montreal change will handicap ‘tyre-swapping’ teams

An interesting twist to the Pirelli testing saga has emerged, and it throws a little more light on what Mercedes might or might not have done at Barcelona.

This blog can reveal that since the start of the season some teams have routinely being swapping the left and right rear tyres, having discovered – in some cases as early as winter testing – that they found an overall performance advantage by doing so.

The 2013 steel belt tyres are ‘handed,’ meaning that they are marked left and right and are intended by Pirelli to be used on that side of the car.

However there is nothing in the rules to stop teams from using them on the ‘wrong’ side, if they find it works better. However it’s not something that can be done without a considerable amount of attention to set-up and so on, in order to make the change work effectively.

Indeed in the case of some teams it even goes back to the design stage as they worked with data during the winter, having run prototype tyres in Brazil, and decided – in effect – that Pirelli had got its sums wrong in defining the left and right side tyres.

Intriguingly sources have told this blog that in Monaco Mercedes used the swapping technique for the first time – or at least it was the first time that it was spotted by keen-eyed observers.

It would thus be very easy to speculate that Mercedes took the opportunity of the Barcelona test to try swapping the rears around.

However while it may have helped Mercedes in Monaco, it might not do so in Montreal – assuming that Pirelli follows up on its promise to switch from steel belts back to Kevlar, as used last year.

As is well known, the move has been touted on safety grounds, as a result of several cases of delaminating treads, which have caused embarrassment to the Italian company – even though many observers consider that a delamination is potentially safer than a complete tyre disintegration, as it allows the driver to carry on back to the pits.

Pirelli has insisted that the change won’t have a major impact on the competition.

However, Kevlar belted tyres are not ‘handed’ meaning they are identical on both sides – in other words there is no point in swapping them around.

And that means the teams that have been routinely swapping will lose the advantage they currently have, and that in turn explains why they a) they are now fighting with Pirelli and the FIA over the planned change and b) why those teams who have not been able to make tyre swapping work, or have general tyre issues, are only too happy for it to go through…

It’s also clear that the change of belts represents a change of specification, which usually has to be cleared by all the teams.

If the change does happen it will provide further ammunition for Red Bull and Ferrari given that it is widely accepted that Mercedes tried the revised tyres in Barcelona, and thus have the huge advantage of being the only team to have already run 2013 Kevlar-belted tyres.

Inevitably the speculation is that Mercedes didn’t just try tyres in Barcelona, but also its own components. It’s even been suggested that the team ran a gearbox with revised suspension geometry in attempt to get to the bottom of its tyre problems. However a Mercedes spokesman says that no new parts were tried, and it was only about tyres.

This story is far from over yet…

31 Comments

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31 responses to “Analysis: How Pirelli Montreal change will handicap ‘tyre-swapping’ teams

  1. Stone the Crows

    Not looking at all good for Pirelli, and Mercedes’ behind the scenes maneuvers have Ross Brawn written all over them.

  2. If Mercedes were running the car with test components other than tyres then surely there will be punishment. Pirelli are allowed to do the tyre test only, but Mercedes taking advantage of this by running with revised geometry is basically illegal in-season testing.

    Heard today the case could go to the International Tribunal. If they’re found guilty then they could face a ban or worse a McLaren spygate scenario – total disqualification. I hope it does not come to this!

    • F1 Kitteh

      I would be really surprised if Ross Brawn did not do everything according to the letter of the law.

      • Stone the Crows

        That is true, however Ross is very good at exploiting the letter of the law as he did a few years ago with the regulations concerning diffusers.

  3. D.S

    Interesting. Very underhanded from Merc.
    Thanks for the information!

  4. GeopregK

    If, as has been reported, teams were invited to particiapate and they never accepted, then they have nothing to complain about. How the Barcelona test could be described as “secret” is another overblown bit of hyperbole. All of the teams knew they were there an no doubt what they were doing.

    • Nano_F1

      Remember that they have filming days too, and near to Montmelo you can find Idiada for aero test. Stay at the circuit at the end of GP does not mean test.

      • Exactly and also a lot of (non-car carrying) vehicles stayed there for a few days before going to Monaco. Including the FIA’s I’m told!

      • GeopregK

        This is not intended as a knock on your reportage, but do you really think an F1 team could have tested for three days, and run up a 1000K of mileage without the other teams being aware of it??

        Sounds incomprehensible to me. These guys know when other teams hiccup, let alone testing in a public place!

      • Daniel

        The other teams knew of the test but not of the 2013 car and current drivers used.

      • Not true as far as the team bosses I have talked to are concerned

    • Domenico

      GeopregK I think it is looking like it was very much trying to be hidden. There are so many examples of this that have been shown by Cooper and others and very little support for the argument that it was all ok’d by the FIA to begin with as Joe Saward would like people to blindly believe simply because he made that mistake. I guess he really is the “average Joe” F1 blogger… pun intended. :)

      It was interesting that for F1 drivers who use twitter so much to post things as ridiculous as what they ate for dinner somehow didn’t mention anything about the testing they were doing during the testing.

      It seems the argument supporting MB and Pirelli is a lot weaker than the argument against them as the facts are definitely mounting.

      Some bloggers are now also suggesting that this is all a big FIA conspiracy because Jean Todt wants Michelin to get back into the sport and not Pirelli. The reason for this is unclear to me and to the people peddling this angle as they haven’t supported their views at all.

      I would have thought that Jean had more of a soft spot and allegiance to Ross Brawn given their history than some nationalistic connection to a French tyre manufacturer… I don’t see how there is an interest for the FIA to have Michelin in the sport instead of Pirelli at all but would welcome some facts about this if this was the case.

  5. Domenico

    Thanks for the informative review Adam.
    Once again you can be trusted to present the facts and not simply knee jerk posts with no foundation like a number of other F1 ‘Joes’ that shall be left nameless. :)

    Well done!

  6. CTP

    I think the situation – and the resolution that will be arrived at – is much more political than it first appears. I think there are factions at war, and this “test” is a battle in said war.

  7. stone the crows

    Pirelli clearly made a mistake by being more “aggressive” with the 2013 tyres despite having limited opportunity to test them beforehand due to the restrictions and it has suffered some reputational damage as a result. But now the matter has become intensely political and is about far more than teams having to change their race strategy. The issue is not about testing, it’s about F1′s dysfunctionality at this moment. The FiA, FOM and the teams have created the situation they find themselves in, not to make excuses for them but Pirelli cannot operate according to the rules set for them and provide an adequate product. They are allowed to use cars that are out of date, which makes no sense since the data acquired is nigh on useless for the development of current or future tyres.

  8. I can hardly remember an F1 season without any technical or political controversy, so it was about time, usually it’s around Monaco every year.

    That doesn’t mean that I’m promoting unfair game, but that has been the case for a long time. Bad stuff, Pirelli, too late to revert what has been done.

  9. Do we know which other teams have been swapping rears?

  10. Do we know if the teams that suffered the delaminations were the ones who swapped the rear tyres over? Could they have disintegrated because of that? And would that be why Pirelli wanted to test with a team who practised tyre swapping?

  11. If it was a Pirelli test is it really likely that Pirelli would have tested the tyres on the “wrong” sides? Why would they do that? It’s all really highly speculative what you are saying isn’t it? Sounds unlikely as well

  12. JCTK8888

    What I’m wondering is if swapping the rear tyres can give better degradation and performance, what would happens when/if Pirelli address this problem~?

    Even more pitstops and more slow cruising by the drivers~?

  13. ElDani

    What I’m actually much more interested in: who ran the actual test?

    The way I understood the first reply from the FIA on the topic, the only way it could be legal to do a test with a current season car would be, if the test was done by personnel of the tire manufacturer and not the team. But the way I understood some interviews from leading Mercedes representatives, they did the test themselves, but didn’t know which exact tire they were testing.

    Am I right in this estimation of what happened?

    • Yes it was the Mercedes team with Pirelli supposedly deciding what tyre was run and when etc

    • Quade

      Would Pirelli know the first thing to do with a strange Merc car delivered to their doorstep? It is obvious that only Merc has the personnel to run their car.
      Read the FIA response again, and you’ll find that it allows for the team to supply both car and driver.

      This whole thing is just a mess, and if the FIA doesn’t get a grip soon, it could spell the end of F1. These stupid crisis we get every year are beginning to reach a crescendo from which things cannot return; first, rotten tyres, next a foolish political storm over testing the rotten tyres. We have a buggy FIA (whose murky legal documents have shady loopholes you can drive a bus through) governing ultra efficient, high-tech teams that have absolutely zero trust for each other in an arms race for technological supremacy. There is no better recipe for mayhem.

      F1?… P Zero!

  14. Lauri

    Could it be that those reversed or wrong-way-on tyres are those who suffer from damage and delaminate? Like for Massa twice etc? Could we find a pattern there?

    • I believe Pirelli doesn’t think so

      • Isha Goel

        Or maybe they just dont want to link the delaminations to themselves in any way. “Its the debris” is just simpler to say and explain. Even if tyre swapping is a small contributory factor they dont really have to say anything because they already recommended putting the tyres the other way round.

      • I’m told that there’s no evidence that the swapping is a factor in the delaminations, although it does appear that some of the ‘swapping teams’ have been affected.

  15. Isha Goel

    Could Force India be one of the other teams to be swapping the rear tyres? They have been pretty vocal about their opposition to any change in tyres even though they were one of the teams to suffer delamination.

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