GRR

OPINION: It’s time for F1 to ditch tyre warmers

28th May 2024
Ben Miles

An awful lot of chatter flies around every year after the Monaco Grand Prix, that perhaps its time on the Formula 1 calendar should be over. Most of this centres around the idea that modern F1 cars are too fast or too big to really race around the principality. And while that might be a decent point, the Formula 2 Feature race showcased another element that would improve F1 racing right now: banning tyre warmers.

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The argument for keeping them is that if they don’t use them, F1 cars will be almost uncontrollable and slow, and therefore dangerous when they come out of the pits, even though F1 has reduced the temperatures at which tyre warmers are allowed to operate. The move to reduce the temperature was due to be a gradual step to removing them all together, but then people got a bit complain-ey and the idea was dropped. 

The immediate rebuttal is that the F2 drivers manage just fine. As do those in IndyCar, IMSA, etc. In fact, drivers coming out of the pits on cold tyres actually made the F2 feature race worth watching on Sunday. It also proved that modern racing cars, even bigger ones like F2 cars, can pass at Monaco.

Take Oliver Bearman, who tried an inverse strategy to most in the feature race by starting on the super soft tyre and changing to the softs early. The primary reason was to use free air on the softest rubber to put in some lap times and undercut those in front who would pit later. But when he came upon the drivers who had changed later, it presented a second opportunity: to make some overtakes.

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The drivers exiting the pits on fresh rubber might have had the promise of better grip, but they also had the challenge of getting the tyres up to temperature. And that gave those with older, but warmer tyres a chance. Bearman used his advantage at one point to dispatch his team-mate, Mercedes F1 junior Andrea Kimi Antonelli. So great was his advantage that he nearly passed him into the upper Mirabeau, before settling on a delightful cutback at the hairpin.

Bearman’s pass on Antonelli wasn’t the only one he pulled off because of cold rubber, and he wasn’t the only one to benefit; it’s not an isolated example. In IndyCar, a driver coming out of the pits on cold rubber is regularly a reason to see an overtake. 

I have read the sort-of-reasonable response that these (F2 or Indy) cars run tyres that are designed to heat up quickly, and not come out of tyre blankets, so F1 couldn’t just ditch tyre blankets as it would be a dangerous position. But that’s to ignore the fact that F1 changes its tyres every season, so a redesign would be pretty simple. It would also have an environmental factor, reducing the amount of electricity wasted by teams just to put heat into some reformed rubber.

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At the end of the day, the arguments are simple. Banning tyre warmers would add a new element of strategy, as teams would have to really think about when they want to change tyres, and allow those who were a bit bolder to have a chance at an overtake. Pitting first now doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get ahead, in fact, probably not, as others will be faster while you warm up your tyres. But once you’re up to speed they’ll be struggling and you will have a chance to get by – a chance actually on track, not just through setting faster times and coming out ahead. It’s also a bigger set of variables than just “I pit first, I end up ahead”.

And the final reason is the simplest of all: if these are meant to be the 20 best drivers in the world, they absolutely should be able to control a car on cold tyres. No argument. 

 

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images. 

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