Australian Grand Prix Preview: Melbourne
Following three pre-season tests during which the teams tried out their radical new cars for the first time, the 2014 Formula One season begins in Australia with a complete range of new tires. With a far-reaching set of fresh regulations in 2014, this is the fourth brand new range of Formula One tires in as many years from Pirelli, underlining the Italian’s firm’s unprecedented emphasis on technological development.
Pirelli has nominated the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft compounds this weekend, which are best suited to the Melbourne street circuit. Like all the tires in the 2014 range, the medium and the soft are slightly harder and more durable than their equivalents last year, but without compromising performance.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director:
“This is the most radical rules shake-up of the modern Formula One era, so we’ve had to create a completely different set of tires for the brand new dynamics presented by the 2014 cars. Pre-season testing has shown just what a big challenge these new rules are for everybody, but we have worked very hard throughout last year and the winter to come up with an entirely fresh range of tires specifically designed for these latest-generation cars, featuring new compounds and constructions that actually cut down on degradation while maintaining the same level of performance. As a result, we’re still expecting between two to three pit stops per car in Melbourne, although we’ll be able to make some more exact predictions after we see the cars run in free practice. The first race of the season is always unpredictable but this will be the case more than ever in 2014.”
The circuit from a tire point of view:
Melbourne, which has hosted the Australian Grand Prix since 1996, is low grip and generally quite slippery. This increases wheelspin, which leads to a greater degree of tire degradation.
Braking is another important element at Melbourne. There are a number of heavy braking areas where the deceleration force peaks at 5g. This can cause wheels to lock up and flat-spot the tires, which will lead to an imbalance and uneven wear.This year, there is a new brake by wire system, which adjusts the braking pressure supplied to the rear wheels to compensate for the effect of the new energy harvesting systems. This too has a certain effect on the rear tires.
There are nine areas of full acceleration on the track, when the cars are trying to put all their power (around 760 horsepower) onto the ground. This often causes more wheelspin, and consequently degradation.
Aerodynamic downforce has been reduced this year and this also has an effect on the tires. More sliding can cause uneven wear and graining – although from what has been seen during pre-season testing, graining has been reduced and blistering has disappeared, despite this loss of downforce.
The left-rear tire is worked hardest in Melbourne, with 10 right-hand corners and six left-hand corners. The longitudinal forces on the tires are more significant than the lateral forces.
Last year, Kimi Raikkonen won the race from seventh on the grid using a two-stop strategy: starting on the supersoft tire and then completing two stints on the medium. This was decisive to his win, with the remainder of the top six all stopping three times.