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2019: Tyre Talk

Let us conjure up a little mental picture for you: it’s the climax of a grand prix, and your chosen driver (one of ours of course) arrows towards the pit lane for a make-or-break pit stop to change tyres.

And then it happens; the driver hits his marks, the tyres are fitted, the car roars out of the pit exit, there’s no graphic on the screen and the camera immediately cuts away. 

“What’s he got on?” you howl. “What are those? Are they white or yellow? Are they supers? ultras? hypers? Is there another on beyond that? The ‘so-soft—they’re-almost-a-liquid’ compound?”

Over the past few seasons, tyres became extraordinarily complicated things as compounds proliferated and colours blossomed. We found ourselves keenly monitoring the performance gap between purple-banded ultrasoft tyres and pink-painted hypersofts and studying the operating temperatures of yellow softs and red supersofts. Indeed, there were so many that Pirelli ran out of blues and had to invent a new one – ice blue. 

Now, when the choice of tyres get to resemble a Dulux colour chart and we’re agonising over whether to go for teal or seafoam blue then something has to change. 

Any colour you like – as long it’s… 

And so, in 2019 tyres colour coding is getting a lot simpler as Pirelli is ditching its established rainbow of dry tyre compound colours and going back to basics with a white-banded hard tyre, a yellow medium and a red soft. No more purple, no pink, no ice blue or orange. That’s good right? Nice and simple. Three tyres to rule them all, plus an intermediate and extreme wet tyre. Well, not quite. 

Compound interest

Note that we said colour coding is getting simpler but that doesn’t mean the tyres are getting any less complex. The idea behind the efforts to make it simpler is that while the number of colours slims down and Pirelli will bring the three tyre colours to every event, the compounds those tyres utilise will be subtly different, depending on the circuit we’re racing at. 

Pirelli will use five different compounds during the year, designated as C1 to C5, with C1 being the hardest and C5 the softest.

How it works 

To best illustrate how it works, let’s look at the first four races of the season, for which Pirelli have already announced sets. In Australia, we’ll have the three colours but the white hard tyre will use compound C2 (so pretty durable), the yellow medium will be C3 and the red soft will be the C4 compound. In Bahrain will get C1, C2 and C3 and in Shanghai we’ll range from C2-C4. 

Teams are still required to select sets (from 13 dry tyres from the three compounds on offer) no less than eight weeks before the start of each event held in Europe and 14 weeks before the start of each event held outside Europe.

Is it so very different? 

Well, yes there are now five compounds rather than seven (though to be fair we only saw the ice blue hard tyres in Silverstone last year and we didn’t see the orange superhard at all), but we have a feeling that the colours are likely to take a backseat in TV and fan analysis of strategy and we’ll instead spend hours debating the performance gap between C1 and C2 and what will happen to C4 at front-limited Shanghai.

Any other changes? 

Yep, we’re moving to a thinner tyre tread in 2019. Last year in order to combat blistering problems at certain tracks (and to avoid the kind of extreme tyre management resulting from heavy blistering seen at some races) Pirelli last year brought a thinner tread tyre to three races – Spain, France and Britain – where new surfaces were expected to increase the risk of heavy blistering. The thinner tread wasn’t brought to Austria and a number of teams experienced blistering issues. We didn’t and won the race so we won’t complain about that one.

Anyway, Pirelli have decided that the tactic of shaving a little off the tread (it was 0.4mm last year) is good. Why is that? Well less tread means less rubber to deform as the car corners and thus less heat energy being released into the tyre. It also leads to slightly shorter stints (less rubber to get through) and thus less time for heat to build up.