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Pirelli in Valencia

The first group test of the 2011 Formula 1 season wrapped up earlier this month at Valencia, and much attention was given to the tires as Pirelli had its first official test of their new rubber compounds. Cold temperatures and a tight race track had some effect on tire testing and while they do not represent conditions experienced during the rest of the season, drivers got a sense of what they will be working with this season.

Several teams were launching brand cars in Valencia, while others were starting new drivers, so the learning curve was pretty steep. Each team had a dedicated Pirelli engineer assigned to them for the rest of the season, tasked with conveying technical information and aiding in optimal car set-up for maximum tire performance during each race.

The super soft compound tires do not like the cold so, with temperatures below 50F/10C, they had very little testing. Rain was forecast, but never came so the wet compound testing was put aside as well.

Testing of the remaining three compounds showed that rear tire performance drops off after the first fast lap and the tires continue to degrade very quickly, creating an oversteer situation. To manage the degradation problem, a balance of driver style and car set-up to reduce stress on the rear tires will play a vital role in the 2011 season, as will the increased role of race planning.

With the top ten drivers starting each race with the same tires used in Q3, it is thought that these cars will wear through their tires sooner, giving the midfield new opportunity to challenge the front. Essentially, the new tire compounds act as a leveler of sorts, adding a new ingredient to the Formula 1 of late.

Many drivers have expressed excitement about racing on these less predictable tires, while other drivers have voiced concerns about tire stability. From the start, Pirelli was instructed by FIA to make tires that are less durable, making for more variable racing, and yes, more lead changes as drivers can be assured of at least two pit stops per race. While Pirelli still has work to do before the season gets underway in Australia, it appears the Italian tire maker is on the right track.

(Bahrain withdrew its hosting of the season opener due to the continued unrest in that country.)

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