Next up is Silverstone: the former military airfield well-known for its flat-out corners such as the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel complex, which the drivers take almost in one continuous movement; approaching at around 300kph. Many of them say that they breathe in deeply before approaching that particular sequence, taking it all in one breath. It’s mesmerising to watch, and one of the places you can really appreciate the speed of a modern Formula 1 car.
This year’s Formula 1 tyres are the same as those used last year, although the cars of course get quicker with each season. Lap records have been broken both in Austria and Hungary so far this year. Will it be the same at Silverstone?
But the really big change comes from 2022, when the new 18-inch Formula 1 tyres will be adopted as part of a package of new technical measures. With the Covid-19 pandemic having delayed their introduction, it means that we won't be seeing any 18-inch Formula 1 tyres running this year, and the test campaign in the larger size will only resume in 2021.
Yet there’s still one very useful pointer right now to what these revolutionary new tyres will actually be like when they get on an F1 car, and that’s Formula 2. At Silverstone, you can see the F2 cars in action once more, having delivered brilliant races in Austria and Hungary. In so many ways, Formula 2 shows the way to the future.
Having tested 18-inch tyres in a series of private sessions last year, Formula 2 has been racing on the new larger size since the start of this season. Unlike Formula 1 (when it adopts the bigger tyre size) the F2 cars are virtually unchanged since last year: with only some relatively minor modifications to the chassis.
This means that it’s possible to make a direct comparison between the performance of the 13-inch tyres seen last year and the 18-inch tyres used this year in Formula 2. The F2 drivers have now sampled all the new 18-inch tyres in Pirelli’s Formula 2 range, putting them in a position to draw some detailed conclusions.
The larger wheels and tyres, plus the other modifications mentioned earlier, mean that a Formula 2 car weighs about 30 kilograms more than last year, which should theoretically result in lap times that are a good second per lap slower, on paper.
However, the racing lap times have actually proved to be quicker than they were last year, even taking into account the difference in weather conditions. In the action-packed Hungary sprint race, for example, the fastest lap was nearly three seconds quicker than last year.
This comes from the increased grip and speed through corners in particular, adding up to an overall faster lap time.
Not only that, but the drivers themselves enjoyed the feel of these new tyres. Formula 2 adopts a slightly different philosophy to Formula 1, as the tyres still have a deliberate degree of degradation, to help the young drivers learn about tyre management (Luca Ghiotto providing a masterclass on this in Hungary).
Nonetheless, the drivers have enjoyed the extra consistency that allowed them to push more consistently from the very start of one stint to another, with less drop-off in performance. Degradation was also considerably reduced compared to last year.
The drivers also had the opportunity to sample the 18-inch Cinturato wet tyres in Austria, reporting that resistance to aquaplaning was reduced (as could also be seen from the high top speeds recorded at the end of the straight).
While the compounds for F2 this year are different, they are roughly equivalent in level to last year, which means that all these comparisons between 13-inch and 18-inch are entirely valid – providing us with a taste of what to expect from the next-generation of Formula 1 tyres.
In other words: more consistency, more grip and more speed from the tyres – although the F1 cars will be heavier and with different aerodynamics, which will also affect overall lap times. What will definitely increase though is the spectacle, with big tyres providing big thrills. Just watch the Formula 2 races at Silverstone to find out.
Shane Richmond is a technology writer and...