This weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix will see the introduction of two major changes that could have a significant effect on race strategy – but what are they and why could they have such a big influence?
After a stopgap solution for the last race in Germany, Pirelli will introduce new spec tyres at the Hungaroring.
These new tyres, which combine the 2012 construction with the 2013 compounds, were brought in to improve safety after the Silverstone blow-out issues and Pirelli’s aim was to deliver a new solution that was safer but gave similar performance to this year’s tyres, to avoid causing any sway in the relative performance between the teams.
That, however, appears not to have been possible – because when the tyres were tried out in the young driver test at Silverstone, the long run programmes suggested the they degrade less than the old tyres.
That will mean that both the prime (the harder tyre) and option (the softer tyre) will last longer - but who that will actually help remains a big question.
It could help the likes of Red Bull and Mercedes, whose cars are hard on their tyres and have suffered from significant performance fall-off during races, by stretching out the length of time they can run the harder compounds.
But it could benefit the teams who are best at conserving their tyres, like Lotus and Force India, as it may mean they can run longer stints on the softer option tyres during races, giving them extra laps where they gain a significant performance advantage, estimated by Pirelli at around a second per lap.
Whether the changes are enough to cause a step change in strategy, and alter the number of stops a team chooses to take, remains to be seen – but that decision will certainly also be affected by the second big change introduced this weekend.
That change is to the pit lane speed limit, which will reduce from 100km/h to 80km/h following the incident at the last race in Germany where a cameraman was injured when he was hit by a wayward tyre from Mark Webber’s Red Bull following a pit stop.
The new speed limit may not seem that big a change, but at some tracks it will extend the time it takes to drive through the pitlane quite significantly – making a strategy with fewer stops more appealing.
It will all depend on the length of the pitlane but in Hungary, for example, it will add four seconds to an in/out run, which could push teams to favour two-stop races, particularly if the reduced degradation gives them more confidence they can make it work.
But one thing could change that – because highs of 35 degrees Celsius are currently predicted for Sunday’s race and that could lead to the hottest F1 race of the season.
The ideal operating window for the two tyres changes with temperature, so with soft and medium tyres on offer in Hungary the high temperatures could push the soft up out of its optimum window, meaning teams will prefer to opt for the medium in any case.
So we may need to wait a little longer to see how the changes will really affect this year’s title race – but from initial analysis it appears they could certainly make a difference...