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    INSIGHT: Getting to Know 2018's Tyre Changes Several regulation changes ...

Several regulation changes have been introduced to Formula One for the 2018 season, with one of the most significant rule tweaks being to the tyres.

'There are quite a lot of changes happening in 2018'

Tyres. It's easy to take them for granted, but they're undoubtedly one of the most crucial elements in F1. Understanding the tyres can be the difference between a race-winning car, and one that's second-best.

Other rule changes - such as the Halo - may have dominated discussions and headlines over the winter break, but arguably the most important regulation reshuffle this season is to do with the tyres.

"There are quite a lot of changes happening in 2018," explains the team's Chief Vehicle Dynamicist, Loic Serra. "The first thing is Pirelli has added two extra compounds for the new season.

"We have got the Superhard tyre, which is the orange colour, and the Hypersoft, which is pink. On the colour side, there is another change, the Hard tyre is now ice blue."

But it's not just the colours that have been given a refresh... the construction has also changed drastically too. Loic adds: 'On the casing side, 2018 dry tyres have changed mainly on the fronts. It is quite a significant step, in terms of the profile we will have.

'The compounds have all gone one step softer, a bit more on the aggressive side but more grip for us this year.'

And while the extreme wet and intermediate tyres don't make appearances particularly often, there's a small regulation tweak for them too: 'For the wet tyres, we keep two extreme wet compounds - as we had last year - but on the intermediate side, we have an additional compound - so two inters, instead of one.'

But, the big question is, why has Pirelli made these modifications? That's a query we put to the team's Chief Strategist, James Vowles. 'The reality is last year there were only three two-stop races,' he explains.

'The compounds have all gone one step softer, a bit more on the aggressive side but more grip for us this year.'

Loic Serra

'They accomplished that goal, but the tyres were too robust on their first attempt'

"The remainder were fundamentally one-stops, although some were wet and some were interrupted by red flags. The problem with that is, with the low degradation, you didn't have a lot of what I consider 'racing', a lot of cars able to do different tactical options.

"Really you were cornered on where you could go. Pirelli had to build a tyre for 2017 that was robust to what was one of the most significant aerodynamic changes we have ever gone through.

"They accomplished that goal, but the tyres were too robust on their first attempt. Really, what they are trying to create now is better racing, more tactical options, more abilities for two-stops and a range of compounds that suit more circuits."

Work for 2018 started in early 2017, before Pirelli embarked on an extensive 25-day testing programme, in order to come to a final conclusion at the post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test.

When teams aren't testing, all they can do is follow Pirelli's progress as closely as they can, to try and get an idea of what direction the compounds are taking - in order to anticipate what to put on their 2018 car.

That final Abu Dhabi test proved to be crucial. 'It was the test to be at, to understand where you are going to be,' James admits. 'Those were the tyres that we will face in 2018.

'Unlike where we were in 2016 going into 2017, where we did a similar test with mule cars, now we had a car somewhat closer to the loads we will be seeing in 2018. So, for us, it was a huge revelation.'

Of course, due to Pirelli's deadlines, tyres have already been selected for the first few races of the season - before the cars have even hit the track!

'It was the test to be at, to understand where you are going to be'

James Vowles

'We haven't done any testing on the new car, the new car doesn't exist'

"We have to select tyres eight weeks before a European race and 14 weeks before a flyaway race," James said. "To put that into context, on the 14 December we selected the tyre for Melbourne. Fresh out of the Abu Dhabi test.

"With what is very little information, you don't really know what the tyres are going to do and by 4 January we have selected the first three races worth of tyres.

"We haven't done any testing on the new car, the new car doesn't exist. It is bits of carbon fibre and we are already selecting what tyres we are going to have."

Each driver has 13 sets of tyres per race weekend, three of which are chosen by Pirelli - one qualifying tyre (the softest of the three compounds chosen for that weekend) and two race tyres, one of which must be used during the race.

Now those have been selected, teams choose the remaining 10 sets of tyres. 'We have a working group that consists of Loic, myself and a number of others, and we sit down and go through what we believe to be the correct selection to cover all eventualities,' James adds.

The key unknown with all of this, though, is whether it will produce better racing, because that's what everyone wants and is one of the main reasons for these tyre changes.

'These tyres are softer, which means more degradation, more lap time drop and more stops required,' James explains. '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.'

For fans of the sport, that sounds very encouraging indeed and Loic adds that lap times should drop 'by a significant amount, clearly more than one second'. Which is an added bonus, too.

'These tyres are softer, which means more degradation, more lap time drop and more stops required'

James Vowles
9:17

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