Tyres, licences and a Chinese driver: The 2011 regime takes shape

July 6, 2010

Pirelli will be supplying F1 from 2011-2013. Photo: Jenkins, Pasternak & West

The withdrawal of Bridgestone tyres from F1 at the end of 2010 marks the departure of the last of the large Japanese automotive companies from F1, with Honda and then Toyota having withdrawn from running F1 teams in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Following on from the World Council meeting at the end of June the FIA announced that Pirelli will be replacing Bridgestone as the sole F1 tyre supplier from 2011. What is not clear is whether or not the tyres will be based on the road going low profile tyres which use 18” rims, or whether the current ‘high profile’ F1 format of 13” rims is maintained. There has been much talk of the benefit for a tyre manufacture in using the 18” rims – as these are used in sports car racing, such as the Le Mans 24 hours – and they are also closer to the road going tyre specification. However if the teams move to the more modern, larger rims, then this could have major repercussions for the suspension systems currently in use. As Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner recently observed – tyre performance is now almost as critical to car race performance as aerodynamics, and so my bet would be that in order to keep the changes made to the 2011 cars minimal, the existing F1 tyre format of 13” will be retained and Pirelli will have to design new tyres to conform to this.

Another interesting outcome of the FIA World Council Meeting was the mention that the introduction of FIA World Championship licences for F1 staff was under consideration. This is an outcome of the ‘Crashgate’ saga when Renault Team Principal Flavio Briatore and Engineering Director Pat Symonds were banned from F1 by the FIA, Briatore for life, and Symonds for five years. The ruling was subsequently overturned on appeal by a court in Paris on the basis that the FIA could not ban anyone as they did not formally issue a licence for their participation. This is the case with drivers who have to be issued with super-licences to compete in F1, but for other personnel there is no requirement to hold a licence. The message is therefore that this could change in order to allow the FIA to effectively withdraw the licence as they see fit. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out, if in the FIA/FOTA dispute of 2009 the FIA could have withdrawn the licences of certain team managers, would this have allowed them to effectively get the teams to back down? I suspect this may be a step too far for the teams and FOTA may well come up with a voluntary code as a basis for moving this forward.

Another interesting announcement for 2011 was the reintroduction of a rule that bans cars which are too slow from competing in the race. The 107% rule was previously applied in 1996-2002 and was removed when single lap qualifying was introduced (great for the sponsors – but very boring for the fans). If we had applied the rule at the first Grand Prix of 2010: Sebastian Vettel’s pole position was secured at a time of 1minute 54.101 seconds, the cut off time is therefore 2minutes 2.088 seconds which means that the Virgin Cosworth of Lucas Di Grassi was the last car to quality at 2minutes 0.587 seconds, and that both the HRT Cosworths of Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna would have failed to qualify. It will therefore be a tough call for whoever gets the extra (13th) place on the grid for 2011, as they may take some time to get up to speed, and therefore be travelling to races without actually racing – not good as far as the investors are concerned.

The final note from the FIA meeting was that a four race probationary super-licence had been granted to Chinese driver Ho-Pin Tung. Ho-Pin Tung is currently competing in GP2 and will become the third driver in the Renault F1 team. Renault F1 is now mainly owned by Luxembourg based investment firm Genii Capital, an organisation who have been successful in bringing a Russian driver and sponsors to F1, clearly now they are focusing on working on China as well, At the time of the acquisition of their stake in Renault F1, Genii board member Gerard Lopez issued the following statement: “Formula 1 has an extraordinary level of global awareness that can be used to develop new business-to-business opportunities in traditional and developing markets, and there are exciting new revenue streams to be explored.” It is clear that Genii are exploring these new revenue streams and some of the more established teams would probably benefit in learning from the way in which they are engaging with Russia and China. Although F1 has races across all the major continents its strongest viewing base does not reflect this, with Europe remaining the prime location for F1 enthusiasts. The one factor that creates national interest in F1 is not the race, but the nationality of the drivers, just look at the transformation of the viewing figures in Germany and Spain since the ascendence of Schumacher and Alonso. If the same can be done for India and China – then this is where the next phase of exponential growth for F1 will come from.

3 Responses to “Tyres, licences and a Chinese driver: The 2011 regime takes shape”

  1. Trevor Says:

    Hi Mark,

    I think the Pirelli deal is for 13″ tyres for the first 3 years of their participation. What will be interesting from a “brand image” point of view is whether they’ll be aggressive in tyre choices to try and emulate races like Canada. I believe they will have just 3 compounds on offer though, so I can’t see how they’ll manage that.


  2. muaz Says:

    From what I read, moving from 13 to 18 would require the change of the whole suspension system, brakes and aerodynamics. Since most of the teams already started on the next year’s car, perhaps it’s wise to consider the move to 18 few years down the road.

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