Pirelli is open to the idea of developing what have been dubbed ‘ultra-intermediate’ tires to be used as a single wet-weather tire specification in Formula 1 following recent criticism from drivers.
But the situation is more complicated than the criticism might sound, and progress may have to wait until it becomes clear whether the FIA’s ‘spray guard’ project will bear fruit.
The wet performance of Pirelli’s F1 tires has long been under fire from drivers, and the weather conditions during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend just before the current summer break prompted another round of disappointed comments.
Grand Prix Drivers’ Association president George Russell led the criticism, describing the wet as “pretty pointless” given the lack of grip that means drivers usually switch to intermediates for green-flag runs. This led to the fluids being used largely only under the safety car.
Pirelli admits it needs to improve its wet-water tyres, which clear standing water well but don’t offer sufficient performance.
There are two main factors that mean fluids are mainly used under the safety car. First, that the amount of spray creates major visibility problems, which is beyond Pirelli’s control and tends to trigger the safety car. Secondly, the fact that performance in the wet is not good enough when conditions are good enough in terms of visibility and green flag races are possible.
In testing, the current-spec wet tire was around 15-16% off the pace at tracks like Fiorano and Paul Ricard, where it is possible to artificially soak the track. However, in the high speed spa the wets were about 20% of the pace. This means that the junction point at which the intermediates must be obtained is too early.
So the idea of moving to a single type of fluid specification – the “super-intermediates” – is one that has been tentatively discussed for the future.
Instead of the usual spread of four intermediates and three wet sets (with the potential for performance-based add-ons) this could mean drivers have a larger spread of the single super-intermediate spec. Pirelli also suspects this could have sustainability benefits.
The super-intermediate concept has been mooted in the past but was shelved when the FIA rolled out the spray protection project designed to allow F1 to race in extreme wet conditions by improving visibility.
This would require maintaining the current combination of intermediates and fluids, as full fluid would be needed for the toughest conditions, but if this project cannot produce a workable package, then Pirelli favors moving to a single fluid specification.
“If, for the future, the idea is to stay with the current situation, meaning if there’s a lot of water on track, a red flag or a safety car and they’re not going to run because of visibility, then in my opinion the best solution is possibly the development of an intermediate tyre,” said Pirelli F1 boss Mario Isola.
“Let’s call it super intermediate or intermediate plus or whatever name you want to use.
“This is an intermediate that is more towards a wet condition, so we can cover with a product from the limit that is acceptable for visibility to the crossover with dry conditions.
“If the idea is to keep looking for a device that can reduce spray and therefore enable them to work in full wet conditions, we have to keep the two products, stay in the middle we have now and improve the full liquid tire.
“But if the wet tire is only used behind the safety car, I agree with the drivers that at the moment it is a useless tyre.
“So we have to decide what direction we want to go in the future in order to develop the product that Formula 1 needs.”
It is unclear whether the idea of a single tire specification for liquid would gain the support needed to pursue it, especially with the spray protection project underway.
However, Pirelli believes that if given the go-ahead, it would be possible to produce such tires for import sometime next season.
The need to run in a wide range of wet conditions means the tire would require a modified tread pattern. Pirelli has worked on it in the past before shutting down the project.
“Luckily, we already have an idea of the tread design because we’ve developed the concept in the past,” Isola said when asked by The Race about how long it would take to produce the super-intermediate F1 tires to make the switch .
“But we have to produce molds and it takes time.
“So we will probably be able to test the first version of these new tires by this winter. If they are willing to change the tire during the season – why think we have to start production of the wet tire for flights very early in December – that means we probably can’t start the new season with a new tyre.
“But if they want to introduce it during the season, then it’s possible.”
If a functional spray guard design can’t be beat, then it’s worth going in that direction. But it would require a change of mindset with F1 as a whole, accepting that visibility problems, which drivers believe have worsened significantly recently with the current generation of ground-effect cars, mean racing in extreme wet conditions is impossible.
Under these conditions, an extremely intermediate specification tire that works with the amount of water on the track in conditions that F1 can race without visibility issues and still perform well until the track dries out enough for grinding is a solution worth considering there are no imminent plans for such a change.
This is just one of many big tire decisions facing F1. First, there are other big questions to be answered that could dramatically affect the long-term direction of F1 tires, notably who wins the competition to supply tires from 2025, with Bridgestone and Pirelli still in the running.
#superintermediates #scheme #save #wet #races #race