Will contrasting strategies make for more interesting racing, or will tyre management take an unwanted centre-stage?
If Mercedes shows similar pace in 2018 to what the team has achieved in recent years, it’s unlikely that overtaking will be a huge feature specifically for the Silver Arrows. However, the team’s chief strategist James Vowles does believe that Pirelli’s softer compounds will aid overtaking in 2018.
Whilst the new superhard and hypersoft compounds are being introduced for this season, all dry compounds have been revised to degrade at a more extreme rate in an attempt to bring shorter, faster stints to the races, and also bring more significance to pit strategies. Vowles believes that this is the right direction for the current regulations, saying:
“These tyres are softer, which means more degradation, more lap time drop and more stops required. But, also, last year when you caught another competitor, they wouldn’t have a huge amount of lap time drop from the tyres. So, in the areas where you need to overtake - the braking zones and traction - there wasn’t a big enough differentiator. In 2018 we will have more differentiators and it will generate more overtakes. We don’t know how much at this point in time.
My personal opinion is we will see more pit stops, a little bit more overtaking than last year and cars dropping a lot of performance trying to hang onto a tyre.”
Hopefully, the difference in characteristics between teams will be stark enough to justify different tyre strategies so that at certain phases of a race, some teams will be on fresh rubber whilst others try to eke out the life of a tyre in order to make one less stop.
But softer compounds may also justify some cars dropping off and avoiding the dirty air generated from the car ahead. It’s worth noting that aerodynamicists often try to make the dirty air funnelling from the back of their designs as appalling as possible to deter opponents from finding any comfort at close range.
The real positive is that with Pirelli confirming a more significant drop off in performance when a tyre runs out of life, strategy should vary. Probably not back to the crazy levels we saw in 2012, but enough to make it interesting again.