F1 drivers weren’t too pleased with the 2021 compounds ran during the Bahrain GP FP1 and FP2 sessions but Pirelli felt things are on the right path.
Having selected a 2021 tyre construction after a Portimao test in October, Pirelli tested the homologated compounds of the prototype tyres on Friday of the Bahrain GP F1 weekend, with all teams running the C3 compound which is likely to be used next year.
On the tyres, some F1 drivers had difficulty finding grip, albeit on a track that had been ridded of its grip by rainfall the night prior. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, particularly, struggled to find adequate adhesion, his troubles at one point so great that a following Red Bull of Max Verstappen remarked on the Brit’s “drifting” over the team radio.
Hamilton was uncomplimentary of the 2021 F1 tyres, calling them “worse” than those which have been used in 2020. “What I want to say is weekend in, weekend out every year we’ve got a team here from Pirelli,” he said to media including Motorsport Network, Racefans.net, BBC, AMuS and more. “I have the utmost respect for the guys that load our tyres up, come here and keep us safe and they do an amazing job.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had the same tyre for the last two years. At the end of 2019 they brought a new tyre, which they normally do, and it was quite a bit worse. So then they said ‘well, we’ll just keep the tyre from last year’. They’ve had two years now to develop a better tyre and we’ve arrived with a tyre that’s three kilos heavier and is like a second worse per lap.
“I know for the fans that doesn’t really make a difference but from a driving point of view we’re working with brands and partners who are at the forefront of technology and elevating and moving forwards. And if you’re going back, after two years of development, then I don’t know what’s happening,” Hamilton said, with a sense of befuddlement.
He continued, “It definitely doesn’t feel good out there and it’s a worry. I’d prefer to just stay on these tyres. If that’s all they’ve got and that’s the best they can do, which clearly it is, then it’d be better just to stay with this tyre.”
This comes after drivers have provided input for Pirelli, this fact another source of confusion for the seven-time champion. “I flew to Paris to be a representative of the GPDA, and sat with the FIA, all the teams, and Pirelli,” said Hamilton. “The previous target letter we weren’t involved in and they hadn’t listened to a single word we’ve said in previous years. We delivered lots of emails going back and forth to help them. And it’s still no better.
“So I wouldn’t say that we can do any more. Ultimately it’s technology. I don’t know if we’re at the limit of technology or it’s just their limit,” Hamilton added, somewhat pointedly. He goes on to express concern over how poor tyres could negatively affect the racing product which F1 continually attempts to improve.
“When we go to the bigger rim, I’ve heard we lose grip when we go to that tyre. I think what we actually really need in F1 is slightly less downforce and more mechanical grip and a lot of that comes from the tyres so that we can follow closer. But it doesn’t seem that we’re going in that direction. Naturally I think we don’t want to go backwards, so I think there’s more work to do,” summed up Hamilton.
Similar complaints have come from Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who went as far as to suggest an abandonment of the tyres for 2021 in favor of the type currently in use, from 2019. A proposed 2020 tyre, tested last year, was rejected by F1 teams who favored the continuation of the use of that year’s construction.
“They were not a step forward,” said Vettel. “The opposite pretty much. [It was] probably worth a shot, but I hope we don’t see these tyres again. They are quite a lot worse compared to the tyres that we currently run. If the current tyres are the only option for ’21, then absolutely, I would love to stick with the 2019 tyres.
“I think as long as we don’t have a tyre that gives us anything that the current one doesn’t give, such as less overheating, or a better chance to fight each other, we shouldn’t get onto a different tyre. This one is worse for sure, and it will make all the problems that we struggle with already only worse,” summed up Vettel.
Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, meanwhile, added: “They’re okay. They were a little slow. But to be honest I’m not completely sure at the moment what we’re trying to get from them. I know I think structurally they’re trying to make it a bit safer I guess, with what happened in Silverstone perhaps. But the front tyre felt a bit weaker so there is a bit less grip.”
Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon echoed complaints from their F1 rivals, albeit with the former acknowledging that criticism and correction are both elements of the development process. “We tried some of the 2021 tyres in both sessions but it is difficult to know which compounds we were running,” said the Dutchman. “We were a bit all over the place in terms of grip and balance but that is something Pirelli can look at and it is the point of doing these tests.”
Albon simply stated that the new tyres didn’t provide “a lot of grip.” The London-born Thai driver said after Friday’s running, “We sampled the prototype tyres and swapped between different compounds but they didn’t have a lot of grip so we’ll see how they develop and hopefully they improve.”
Despite a further objection to the F1 tyres from Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, who said, “They’re certainly not quicker. I don’t know if that’s the final tyre for next year but [they] could be better,” Pirelli boss Mario Isola defends the tyres.
Isola said that drivers might be experiencing low grip not because of the tyres themselves, but rather because of the 2020-tyre-oriented set-ups that they are fitted to. “We can understand that not all drivers were positive about these tyres because this setting of the cars was the one expected for the normal 2020 tyres. The 2021 tyres need a different kind of setting of the car which teams and engineers have now time enough to find out and develop,” said the Italian to Racefans.net.
“For Pirelli the results we got from the tyres are positive because we bonded them to a better resistance, considering that the performance of the cars is increasing and increasing and these tyres – the actual tyres – are old by two years. Now it’s a question of setting the cars to exploit them the best and we are quite positive that the drivers can find them much more drivable after that,” added Isola, who also recognised that track conditions at Bahrain – which had been rained on on Thursday night and into Friday – were not exemplary.
“The track was quite slippery on Friday, as every driver has much underlined,” he said. “So this was also the situation: Drivers found it particularly difficult to find the best way to develop them considering that the car setting was not the one that is necessary to have the best from these tyres.”
Here’s Pirelli on the 2021 F1 tyre tests