Grand Prix of Europe from a tire point of view
For the first time the new medium tire will be seen in competition, having been tested by all the teams during free practice in Canada. The medium tire, used as the prime compound in Valencia this weekend, is distinguished by white markings so is known as the P Zero White. At the Spanish street circuit, the tires will face one the hardest workouts of the year on a track with more corners than anywhere else on the Formula One calendar. We take a look at some of the most important ones.
The 5419-meter (3.367 mile) circuit takes in 25 corners, as well as four straights where the cars reach nearly 300kph (186 mph).
Turn 2 is taken at relatively low speed with reduced aerodynamic downforce. The grip comes mainly from the tire, which manages to generate adhesion through steering and traction. The new medium tire provides increased grip as well as durability, which is absolutely crucial at this point to prevent understeer. The softer compound is more biased towards grip and performance.
Turn 9 is a key point of the lap. The inconsistent track surface heading onto the bridge means that grip is a fundamental issue here. The same problem applies at the exit of the bridge, amplified by an immediate tight right-hand corner. All the engine's power is then unleashed up to seventh gear on the straight, using KERS as well to boost ultimate top speed. The tires have to generate the maximum traction possible under full power.
Turn 17 is a sharp corner that helps bring the tires rapidly up to temperature on an out lap. When using the soft tires, the driver can attack the most demanding sequence of corners of the lap with the maximum grip possible, controlling the car's reactions perfectly. This sequence of bends is taken in seventh gear, so it is important to stick to the line and take the perfect trajectory, driving as neatly as possible to avoid excessive wear. After heavy braking, the driver eases the car into the final corner before the start-finish straight, where the engine's full power is released once more.
One of the main problems that drivers can encounter with their tires is a phenomenon known as 'blistering'. All of the P Zero tires undergo a chemical treatment to minimize the risk of this happening, which is essentially caused by overheating.
There are several reasons why the tires can overheat, mostly to do with the tires sliding too much and generating too much friction. This can be caused by a lack of downforce, problems with the car set-up or a driving style that is too aggressive.
Blistering begins at the innermost edge of the tire, which is most stressed and runs at the highest temperature. The phenomenon occurs when the rubber close to the carcass overheats, creating small air pockets within the tire that gradually begin to pull the compound apart in various different areas.
If uncorrected, sections of rubber detach themselves from the surface of the tire, in different sizes depending on the amount of both heat and mechanical stress they are subjected to. These leave quite large and visible blisters on the tread surface, that often go down to the carcass. The look is very similar to a human blister, hence the name.
In order to prevent blistering, drivers have to concentrate on maintaining a neat and tidy driving style, which avoids sliding the car too much and heating up the tires. Teams also have to make sure that there is sufficient downforce in order to give the car enough aerodynamic grip through corners.
When a car is following closely behind another, the hole in the air robs the car behind of downforce, making it slide more. This is another factor that can lead to overheating and eventually blistering.
The condition of the track has a profound effect too. When a track is 'green', with very little rubber on the surface, there is less grip and the cars slide more. As the weekend progresses, deposits get laid onto the track at a certain rate, covering it in a layer of grippy rubber. This clean, or rubbered-in, line generates exceptional grip when it is in contact with the tire, reducing tire deterioration and the risk of blistering. However, blistering is a comparatively rare event, underlining the consistency and stability of the new P Zero rubber.