Always softer,
always faster

Always softer, always faster 01

In any case, that’s the total time that Formula 1 has had off since Wednesday 29 November last year – the final day of the test following the season-closing 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – and Monday 26 February, which is when hostilities officially commence for the 2018 campaign. It’s been a time to rest minds and bodies to heal all the physical niggles that seemed to increase in direct proportion to the number of on-track records that were broken last year. The fastest year ever, as has been noted many times.

The facts are well-known. On the majority of tracks, the 2017 Formula 1 cars pulverised the record books, with pole positions that were up to four seconds faster than those of the previous year. Cornering speeds increased by more than 10%, even though they were already in excess of 260kph the year before. Epic corners such as Copse at Silverstone or Pouhon at Spa-Francorchamps featured exit speeds of close to 300kph: velocities that up until recently were the sole preserve of straights. These mind-bending statistics are thanks to the new aerodynamic rules introduced to Formula 1 last year. But also, thanks to tyres that were 25% wider compared to those used up until the end of 2016. Wider tyres mean more rubber in contact with the road. And this means greater grip and traction, which is what led to all those records being broken and a season that will go down in history. As we now head into the two Barcelona pre-season tests from 26 February to 9 March, all the signs are that the upward curve of speed and acceleration is set to continue.

One year ago, this arms race was evident right from the beginning of pre-season testing. Already on Monday 27 February last year, Lewis Hamilton took his Mercedes to a fastest time of 1m21.765s in Barcelona. Just behind him was Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari with a time of 1m21.878s. Lewis set his time on soft tyres, Sebastian used medium tyres. There was a hidden story behind all those times of course, given that the fuel loads were a closely-guarded secret, which meant that finding out who was genuinely quicker seemed almost impossible. But it was still a significant fact. At the Montmelo circuit, on a ‘dirty’ track with no rubber laid down to boost grip, the benchmark was still three seconds and one tenth faster than it had been at the first taste of testing one year earlier. And that was despite using tyres that were harder compared to 2016.

Always softer, always faster 02

And there you have it: the compounds are the technical key that mean we can expect even faster cars in 2018. The P Zero F1 range expands this year thanks to two new compounds: a superhard (which maintains the orange that has always characterised the hardest tyre) and the Pink hypersoft. The latter tyre, which was tried out for the first time by all the teams at the Abu Dhabi test last November, demonstrated an exceptional level of performance, to the extent that four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton – not usually a man to bend over backwards when it comes to complimenting tyres – described the hypersoft as ‘the best tyre that Pirelli has ever made.’

And this pink tyre, on the circuits where it is nominated, will go hunting for pole positions and so some of the fastest times in F1 history this year. But all the 2018 compounds are in fact one step softer than their equivalents last year, which will lead to even faster cornering speeds and lower lap times. Some experts have even suggested that lap times will be one and a half or even two seconds faster than a year ago.

So, the race is on. The speeds get higher. That’s the destiny of F1, and the destiny of Pirelli.

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