The Singapore Grand Prix from a tyre point of view
Pirelli’s P Zero Yellow soft tyres and P Zero Red supersoft have been nominated for the Marina Bay circuit in Singapore, the only race of the year that takes place at night. This produces some unusual variables, with the Formula One paddock living on European time (as every session takes place six hours later than it does usually) and ambient and track temperatures that tend to fall, rather than rise, during the course of the grand prix. One constant is the humidity, which tends to remain within 75% to 90% throughout the weekend.
Marina Bay is a street circuit where traction is critical as it contains the second-highest number of corners (23) seen all year. The asphalt tends to be bumpy and slippery, and grip is further compromised by street furniture such as manhole covers and painted white lines. Nonetheless, the cars manage to generate up to 4.3g under braking despite the lack of adhesion.
With 61 5.073-kilometre laps, which are run anti-clockwise, the race tends to come close to the full two-hour time limit, so coupled with the heat, humidity and constant bumps, this makes it a very physical experience for the drivers as well as tough on the cars and tyres. In the opening sequence of corners from turns one to three for example, there is a double change in direction that places particularly heavy demands on the tyres.
The driver tends to leave the braking as late as possible, turning in and decelerating at the same time. This subjects the tyre to both longitudinal and lateral forces at the same time, working the structure hard. The integrity of the construction though guarantees the driver optimal precision and perfect adhesion to the racing line: vital in the tight confines of Singapore, where mistakes rarely go unpunished.
Pirelli’s motorsport director says:
Paul Hembery: “Personally speaking I love the Singapore Grand Prix: it makes for an amazing spectacle at night with a great atmosphere and a fantastic challenge for our tyres. Due to the unusual circumstances in which the race is run, under more than a thousand spotlights, the teams and drivers have to think very hard about strategy – as track conditions and evolution are somewhat different than you would find in a normal daytime race. One factor that could certainly come into play is safety cars: during every single Singapore Grand Prix that has been held so far since 2008 the safety car has come out at some point. This means that strategies have to be flexible as well as effective in order to quickly take advantage of any potential neutralisation. While the humidity is constantly high, it hasn’t yet rained in any Singapore Grand Prix so this should be the same again this year and we are likely to see the ultimate performance offered by the two softest slick compounds in our Formula One range. Last year’s race was won with a three-stop strategy by Sebastian Vettel, but Lewis Hamilton finished fifth after stopping four times and taking a drive-through penalty as well. As average speeds are not very high, degradation should not be an issue if wheelspin is controlled out of the slower corners, which can lead to overheating.”
The men behind the steering wheel say:
Heikki Kovalainen (Caterham): “Singapore is a very cool race. It’s an amazing place to have a grand prix and it must be incredible for the fans, watching the cars running flat out through the streets at night. In the cockpit it’s really no different to a normal street race: the lights are so good we don’t have any problems with visibility. But I’ve seen the TV images from above the track and the overhead shots from the helicopters with the whole circuit lit up, which are pretty hardcore!
From a technical point of view one of the keys to set-up in Singapore track is finding good braking stability and maximum traction. It’s a high downforce track that is hard on brake temperatures and still pretty bumpy, especially around turns 13 and 14, even after it was resurfaced in 2010. We’ll have the soft and supersoft Pirelli P Zero tyre compounds in Singapore, just like we did in Monaco, and while it will be hotter in Singapore than it was in Monte Carlo it’s likely to be similar in terms of degradation. All year tyre management has been key to performance and I think hotter track temperatures and the nature of the track might suit us. It did in Monaco, so hopefully we can have a similar race in Singapore as we did back in May.”
Pirelli’s test driver says:
Jaime Alguersuari: “Singapore has high thermal degradation because of the high temperatures, but the main thing that everyone notices is the humidity, which is one of the factors that makes it such a tough race for the drivers. Soft and supersoft is a very good choice for this track: it’s nice to get back to the softer compounds after the recent races on the harder ones, as you get so much performance from them. The feeling in Singapore is a little bit like Monte Carlo but actually more fun as there are more opportunities to overtake. I don’t think you could try a one-stop strategy like Monaco though: instead I think we will see two stops. Having said that, the actual tyre degradation itself is low and that is because there is not so much energy going through them, because while there are lot of corners they are all quite slow.”
Technical tyre notes:
• The cars start the Singapore Grand Prix with the heaviest fuel load of the year, which affects tyre wear at the beginning of the race in particular. As well as being a long race, fuel consumption per kilometre is one of the highest of the year due to the stop-start nature of the circuit. Around half the lap is spent on full throttle, but there are also several braking areas.
• One of the toughest corners for the tyres is Singapore Sling, which comes after the longest straight of the lap. Although it’s not the fastest corner the drivers use the kerbs to carry more speed, with the tyres hitting the kerbing hard at around 130kph.
• An important factor affecting the race strategy is the time needed to make a pit stop. Singapore has one of the highest pit stop times of the year, due to a lower pit lane speed limit than most races (60kph) and a 404-metre pit lane.