Pirelli have completed several test sessions throughout the 2016 season, using mule cars provided by Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari to fine-tune their 2017 compounds for the season ahead.
The Pirelli tyres are going to be wider, fitting the aggressive bill that the Championship will be riding in 2017. However, the compounds that Pirelli put forward will be entering the unknown for the initial opening rounds given that whilst the cars they have been testing with were modified, they were nowhere near what is expected to be on the grid in 2017.
With the cars dubbed to be around 5-seconds-per-lap quicker, Pirelli face putting their compounds on cars that will kick up greater forces than they have been testing with. Pirelli’s F1 racing manager Mario Isola said,
“They [the mules cars] lacked a bit of performance. Although the modified cars aimed to simulate the downforce levels we will find, we have not seen the true performance that we will have in 2017.
We have seen from the simulations that we have been sent by teams, based on patterns with the new cars, that the performance will be better than those we saw from the mule cars.
This leads us to still have some question marks on the feedback that will come from the track in the first tests and the first few races of the World Championship. It is not an integrity problem, because our indoor tests are calibrated to the values that have been given to us by the team simulations.
But these simulations are one thing. There will be a completely different performance window in which the teams will arrive in the second half of the season – where we often are on track with high temperatures.
Will degradation and overheating be the same as with the simulations? It’s a check that we can only do on track.”
– Mario Isola
— Pirelli Motorsport (@pirellisport) January 1, 2017
Pirelli do have a back-up set of compounds to fall back on should the initial crop of rubber yield negative effects on the racing. There’s not much point in making the cars quicker if the drivers end up having to preserve tyres more carefully. The issue with implementing a second wave of compounds would bring up another issue though.
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If there was to be a mid-season switch, teams that had done their homework and designed a car that worked fantastically on the first crop of compounds, might end up suffering on the back-ups. This would cause a mid-season shift in performance across the grid and potentially punish teams that got it right the first time around.
Whatever the result, expect Pirelli tyres to be a major talking point in testing and the opening few rounds of the 2017 season.